Ask bass musicians on the street what they need to work on to get their playing in shape and you will hear grave and frustrated comments about lacking harmonic knowledge – they need to get more complex harmony into their bass lines and into their solos.
Go ahead. Hit the streets and start asking bass players what they need to add to their playing skills and you’ll start hearing it.
On second thought don’t bother. You already know what you’re going to hear. It’s what you call a slam dunk. Why do I say that? Because chances are you’re that person!!
Admit it. Words such as “Lydian” or “DmMaj7” or “CMaj13#11” or “Harmonic Major” terrorize you, but if someone were to wag their finger at you and say that your rhythmic skills are weak, somehow it wouldn’t bother you so much. Some might even respond by throwing down some slap bass riffs and chuckle over all this talk about rhythm.
Come to think of it, the words “Harmonic Major” give me a little scare, but I don’t care. Why, you ask?
Because I know that most of the problems with our playing – most of the problems we experience on a regular basis that rob us of the satisfaction a well-played gig provides stem from undeveloped rhythmic skills.
There, I said it. And if you can hang with the rest of us for a while I think you’ll understand. I’m dropping the hammer on your harmony bug bear – the one that haunts your bass lesson nightmares pelting you with chord symbols.
Picture yourself playing your bass with smoke rising from your finger tips and read on. I want to introduce you to a method that you can use to teach yourself smokin’ rhythm skills.
What I want to show you is how to use Rhythmic Contrast to awaken you to rhythmic precision – to understand it and to appreciate it as your first and foremost task in becoming a competent musician and maybe even a great bass player.
Down the road a bit we can use studies for adding rhythmic variety to your playing, and eventually you will start thinking about the actual quality of your rhythm.
But for now I would like you to be happy to play convincing rhythmic phrases with a simple but beautiful precision.
It is the practice of constantly alternating rhythms when working on these types of exercises that “teaches” you the other rhythm. Both rhythms stand out in relief due to the repeated comparisons being made.
The Rhythmic Contrast method is a natural way to learn rhythm. You play a fixed number of measures of one rhythm and alternate that with the same fixed number of measures using another rhythm.
The example that I use in the video lesson for this article is structured with four bars of quarter notes followed by four bars of eighth notes, rinse and repeat for a 16-bar solo.
In the short clip that opens the video lesson I played two bars of half notes followed by two bars of sixteenth notes with a repeat. That is a swinging 16thsgroove (smooth jazz, hip hop, etc) so the measures are counted much slower than other eighth note grooves.
Don’t be too concerned about what materials you will be using to play these rhythmic contrast exercises. To start you will simply be using 1, 2, and 3-note solos on chord vamps. Sometime during the process of developing complete mastery of your basic rhythms you will naturally add all notes of the mode in question.
As your skills get closer to professional levels then you can start in with blues progressions and standards as a basis for the exercises as well.
During your first few practice sessions if you can get to the point of maintaining awareness of exactlywhat you had just played then you will be on the way to developing extremely helpful skills that you can use to bring yourself forward as a musician.
Also, if you can record these exercises, listen carefully and then go back into the practice space and fix your shortcomings, it becomes a brilliant learning model.
From my long experience as an instructor, but also as a student, I say that it’s always better to trade off with a partner when you practice these exercises – any instrument will do. You can greatly benefit by having an extra set of objective ears around.
Listening carefully while others play and being able to recognize exactly what you are hearing is an important skill to have, but listening carefully as YOU yourself are playing is a much more difficult skill to develop. Please be patient and give yourself time to get your listening skills together.
Word to the wise: If you are not used to demanding precision from your playing and from your listening it can get frustrating when and if you hear some playback of your attempts at these exercises. So you will have to learn how to deal with this learning process. But if you can work to develop your concentration for these types of exercises there is a huge payoff in store for you.
If you want to tear up the bandstand with your playing it will start with your rhythmic skills. Anything that you add to great rhythm – whether it’s your best blues riffs or even the most spacey Harmonic Major explorations, it’s going to sound pretty darn good right from the start.
Thanks for stopping in. I truly hope you enjoy the video lesson. Make sure to use the link for the download play-along tracks if you’d like a little help with some comping materials for the exercises.
Visit me online at basslessonswithkevin.com