Bass Playing is Like Martial Arts

Bass Playing is like Martial arts

Practicing Tip: How Playing Bass is Like Martial Arts

by Wolfgang Wein

Playing bass is a lot like martial arts:

  • There are rules and best practices
  • The stakes are high – play a wrong note and the singer might attack you with lethal force (read: fire you from the band!)
  • There are masters of the craft
  • There is a tradition and a lineage – we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, we study them, learn from them, show our respect – but we don’t worship
  • We honor the traditions and are encouraged to innovate
  • Craft must be applied creatively and appropriately to each combat situation – or else your mind behaves like the ineffectively trained “monkey mind” (to borrow from the Zen Buddhist’s “monkey mind”)
  • Physical and mental training are equally important
  • Without ethics and a high moral standard, advanced skill can be dangerous to others (like when bassists with super chops overplay and disrupt the harmony with an outpouring of “look what I can do!”)

The ultimate goal is not to be victorious in battle – it is to master ourselves so you never even have to fight.

The higher our skill level, the more we widen our perspective. We eventually can prevent the “fight” by coming from a position of internal (and external) strength, rather than from copping out.

The technique exercises in our course Music Theory for the Bass Player, called “Finger Kung Fu”, are inspired by that thought. The above is an excerpt from “Music Theory for the Bass Player“, our twenty unit flagship course. Each unit contains videos on technique, theory, groove creation, fretboard knowledge, analysis and also a practice nugget. This one as from Unit 16.

Learn more below.

An Eye-opening Ear Exercise

ear exercise ariane cap

A Quick and Useful Ear Exercise

Developing confident ears remains one of the most requested items on my student’s intake forms. Below I will show you a great new Ear Exercise I have been using lately with my students below!

There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding what ear training is, does, and can do (or not!). I’d like to examine a few terms and give you a great exercise to get you started or as a useful addition to your ear-path.  Let’s look, for example, at “Perfect Pitch”.

Perfect Pitch versus Relative Pitch

I encountered many outrageous claims about perfect pitch.”Perfect Pitch” means being able to identify any note without a reference. Someone with perfect pitch is able to sing any note (A, F#, etc) without checking for it on an instrument first, just out of the blue.

You may be closer to it than you think – think of a piece of music you know extremely well (a particular recording, the one you have listened to so much that you contributed to half of its view count on youtube or you wore out the tape if you remember those). Focus on it and hear it in your mind. Now try to sing the starting note. Then hit play and check yourself. Did you hit it correctly? That’s an ability someone with perfect pitch consistently has, even without thinking of a specific song. People with Perfect Pitch can also identify any note just by hearing it, in an “absolute” fashion – they don’t need to hear a key center or reference pitch first.

I don’t think you need it, though. What you need as a musician is solid relative pitch. Relative Pitch means to hear relations between notes. In tonal music that’s hearing the sound of notes in relation to a central note – the tonic – and to each other. It means hearing intervals, scales, chords etc as musical building blocks, but in contrast to Perfect Pitch, you don’t necessarily hear the absolute pitch. That said, once you know the pitch of any reference note, you can tell the absolute pitch of all notes in relation to this reference.

Then there is this: Am I Tone Deaf??

That’s another term that is often thrown about causing much confusion (and pain, especially if that ignorant choir teacher in second grade told you that’s what you supposedly were!)

There is such a thing as clinical tone-deafness, called amusia. If you like music, most likely true tone-deafness is not your issue (if there is an “issue”). You can do tests for this (here is a good one that goes beyond just tone-deafness), but, trust me, it is a rare medical condition, and likely what you are experiencing is just lack of a bit of regular and targeted practice.

Great Ear Exercises

In my Ear Confidence – Six Paths to Fearless Ears course I show you six paths (ways of practicing your way) to fearless ears. Most of you likely know apps that can quiz you on intervals. While it is good to know your theory (really good!) there is often a disconnect to how being able to identify a major third makes you a better bass player. I get that, so in my course, I focus on six highly practical learning paths that help you not only feel more confident when playing on the bandstand and in jams but I also explain why sometimes concepts in theory seem so different than your immediate experience on stage.

Today’s Ear Exercise

I have been experimenting with this exercise lately with my students and we have achieved some great breakthroughs.

In this exercise you are practicing:

  • how musical context is crucial
  • basic note identification
  • sound permutation
  • solfeggio (if you’d like to add the singing syllables, you can, I prefer to use numbers)

While this exercise may appear quite basic, it is often very eye-opening (or ear-opening, rather!), because it addresses the topic of context, creates flexibility and practices internal hearing. And it is astonishingly simple.

Step 1: 1 2 3

Here are three notes, all a whole steps apart: 1 2 3 (I use CDE)

The context of these three notes in this case is C major. Play the entire scale so you hear the context:

Ear Exercise Ariane Cap

  • Then play just the three notes again: 1 2 3.
  • After you heard them sing them (best you can, croaky voice is fine 🙂  )
  • Sing “1” “2” “3” (In solfeggio this would be Do Re Mi, but as we go along you will see that numbers actually work better, though, I will admit that they are less singable!)

Now that you have the sound of these notes, try hearing inside your mind and then singing: “3”  “2”  “1”.

After you tried the internal hearing and singing, play “3” “2” “1” on the bass.

Now keep “permutating” the options (as always: first hear the three numbers in your mind, then sing, then check yourself:

  • 132
  • 123
  • 213
  • 312
  • 231
  • 321

How is that going for you?

Tip: If three notes are too many, use just two!

Step 2: 4 5 6

The tonic (root, point of reference) in the above example was “1”, or “C”.

Now I am keeping those three notes the same but I am putting them into two different contexts (these are the only contexts three whole steps can show up in a row within the major scale universe). “Putting them into a different context” essentially means I change the numbers:

These three consecutive whole steps could also be numbers “4”, “5”, “6” or, in solfeggio terms “FA”, “SO”, “LA”. Now (using the same three notes, CDE), I am in the key of G

It’s important to start with playing the entire scale, so you hear the new context and lock yourself into the key: ear exercise ariane cap

Same drills as above:

  • 456
  • 654
  • 465
  • 546
  • 564
  • 645

How was your experience with these three notes?

Step 3: 5 6 7

The only other place in the major scale, where three notes a whole step apart occur, is in positions 5 6 7 (SO LA TI). This puts us into the key of F if we keep C D E the same:

As always, start by playing the new reference scale:

Ear exercise ariane cap

Your permutations, hear inside, then play, keep F as the root in your mind’s ear:

  • 567
  • 576
  • 675
  • 657
  • 765
  • 756

Warning: The desire to resolve these notes to the tonic (F) will become overwhelming. Grant yourself the relief of this tension after some practice.

The purpose of this drill

  • gain flexibility by mapping notes across to sounds and moving them around like lego pieces for different effects
  • realizing: scale degrees are not abstract numbers, they are “sounds”
  • practice internal hearing and then playing what you hear (imagine the usefulness of this – no more poking around!)
  • practice checking what you hear inside against what you sing and then play (trains the ear)
  • keep the root (C) in your mind’s ear as the reference note (this type of ear training is called “Functional Ear Training” – a spacial aspect of Relative Pitch. It is one of my six favorite paths).
  • Ready for the next step?

Ear Training Exercises like these can get you instant results. My students report lightbulb moments and sense an immediate shift in perception once it “clicks”.

Hope you enjoyed this drill. What results are you getting? Let us know in the comments.

The Next Step

Check out much more ear training in this vein in Ear Confidence – Six Paths to Fearless Ears. An ear-training course for bass players, to help you find your voice, be able to jump in on the jams and feel more confident and free playing music:

Ear Confidence Ariane Cap

Tiny Habits™ for Practicing Musicians (and their Kids)

tiny habits for tiny musicians

Getting Yourself (or Your Kids!) to Practice Without Nagging or Guilt-tripping

Practicing – or even just playing – your instrument ideally is a joyful activity you look forward to. And often when you have gigs on the books, tours coming up, recording dates, auditions on the horizon – motivation will be super high and long days of practicing will fly by.

Maybe your musical diary is not quite filled with the above items (yet!) or maybe that’s not even your goal. Or maybe you had a full calendar and are now under shelter-in-place orders (never thought I’d say those words!) and the days are just blending one into the next. You can’t even see your teacher for lessons.

So, how do you keep your practicing routines strong when motivation fails?

Tiny Habits™ method to the rescue! Don’t wait for inspiration to hit. Don’t wait for motivation to magically appear. Instead, follow a powerful, scientifically proven, three-step formula, and make it a habit.

As Dr. BJ Fogg, the creator of the method and behavior scientist who runs the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, teaches us: contrary to popular views, habits do not form through repetition, but rather through good feelings. In fact, BJ shares Emotions create habits. (If you have ever given a smartphone to a teenager, you witnessed a habit form instantly – no waiting on the famed “21 days” for the habit to form – that teen and that phone were instantly inseparable!)

I am excited to show you how to use this simple method to create powerful practice habits. As a Tiny Habits™ Certified Coach I am hosting two Tiny Habits Expert Sessions on Saturday, May 9th. I will be talking about creating music practicing habits for kids (say goodbye to nagging!) as well as adults (say goodbye to guilt-tripping!).

Watch now:

Tiny Habits for Tiny Musicians:

How to get little Mozart (or mini Jimi) practicing without nagging, agonizing, or guilt-tripping. Talent is overrated: explore powerful practice habits!




Tiny Habits for Practicing Musicians:

Celebrating the good notes: Bring the joy back to learning music and make practicing your instrument a favorite part of your day!




Other resources:

Tiny Habits – the Book

BJ Fogg interviews Ariane Cap

May I Have Two Minutes of Your Time?

Why Just Keep Playing is not Working

Other Tiny Habits Expert Sessions you may be interested in


I will leave you with this great quote (thanks Shirl!) by Octavia Butler

Tiny Habits Expert Sessions

Expand Online Summit

Expand Online Summit

As many of you know I built my own teaching platform online. This is a monumental effort for which I soon discovered I needed help. I found a trusted developer named Jaime who has worked on some design and technical aspects of my setup over the last few years. As a matter of fact, I became one of her star clients, who she wrote and podcasted about.

Recently she invited me to be interviewed for an online summit she has put together for creatives. The “Expand Online Summit” contains a lot of useful resources that are applicable to creatives, musicians, Etsy store owners, coaches and teachers. What is unique about Jaime is that she focuses on the creatively minded who are full of ideas and need help implementing them online.

The “Expand Online Summit” starts on May 4th and you can participate. Many musicians and music teachers are part of it sharing their expertise. I highly recommend you check it out. Jaime offers several bonuses at the moment and huge savings, so go to the Expand Online link now!

I usually keep all my posts music focused. I am making an exception here because so many of my musician colleagues are hurting due to the cancellation of all gigs and closure of so many schools for teaching. They urgently find themselves needing to expand online. Jaime really is a good partner in this because she understands the kind of help creatives need.

You receive tech, marketing, and business advice, help for follow-through, a community, and hands-on help.

Here is a message from Jaime with more info:

Have you been dreaming of expanding your business online, especially in the current state of the world? Stop dreaming and join me for the 1st annual Expand Online Summit for Artists from May 4 – May 8, 2020.

Expanding online doesn’t have to be overwhelming or out of reach. You can do this, and this completely online event includes a ton of inspiration and practical advise for carving out your online space.

No matter how tech-adverse you might be, you can create something online. The amazing thing about this summit is that it’s specifically for people like us – masters and meddlers of the arts!

You’ll learn about online visuals, online messaging, where to sell, what to sell and avoiding mistakes to make the move online faster and easier for you.

Whether you want to take what you’ve always done in person and translate that directly into something online or want to dig deeper into the part of your business that brings you the most joy, you’ll find a way in these sessions.

There are over 20 interviews and training sessions included and you have access to all of them by signing up for free!

Click here to sign up for the Expand Online Summit!

You’re passionate about your art and I want to see you succeed in the online space. I know you’ve got what it takes, so join me for the Expand Online Summit today!


PS: There is no cost to attend and each session will be available for 48 hours so that you can carve out times that work for you to watch them!

Click here to sign up for Expand Online. [Seminar over]

More questions answered in my “Take Your Teaching Online” Seminar

teaching music onlineI have continued to receive questions about online teaching and have added more answers to my free online course “Take Your Teaching Online“.

Here are a few of the new questions I answered:

  • how to improve the teaching experience on zoom (sound, logistics)
  • how I create easy sign-ups for students
  • and how I host my courses online
  • how to work around not being able to accompany a student and transpose on the fly

I continue to update the course with questions I keep getting. If you have additional questions you may submit them here.

See you online!