COVID Practice Fatigue: How to Beat the Funk

COVID Practicing Fatigue? The puzzling phenomenon!

My students know they can always talk to me about practicing challenges, as can my Music Theory for the Bass Player cohort participants. I have been getting quite a number of emails, posts to my Facebook Group, and comments on the topic of “COVID practice fatigue” (some even go so far as to use the words depression or trauma).

The tenor of these notes is similar. Something along the lines of:

I know I should be grateful. So many have lost so much – from loved ones or their own health to a basic sense of safety (going grocery shopping or going to frontline jobs), from losing entire livelihoods/jobs/businesses/houses to being able to mark key life transitions such as graduations or other celebrations. I am – considering all that – doing okay! Like, more than okay! Why, then, am I feeling so “off”? Why am I having such a hard time concentrating and practicing?

Many have also reported just being confused about what they are experiencing – just a general sense of emptiness and lack of motivation. Like so many things, acknowledging an experience in and of itself can be very helpful.

It may also help to know that if this is you – you are definitely not alone!

We humans are way more connected on some levels than we consciously realize. Even if it wasn’t our loved one who died alone without us holding his or her hand, we still feel that trauma in our own bones when hearing about others.

Compassion, fear, uncertainty… it’s no wonder that we feel a bit off. And that “off” part in us may cause us to feel that playing an instrument (or doing anything at all for ourselves) is petty, pointless, or downright frivolous right now given what some others are facing

First of all, I want to encourage you to please be gentle with yourself!

Then, if you find yourself in an unmotivated state of funk (the bad kind!), here are a few ideas that might help you deal with these feelings.

Express your feelings musically

Musicians, and artists in general, have a longstanding tradition of expressing their emotions through their art. Sometimes the inspiration comes from some type of pain or uncertainty in their lives, and often they recount how their art allows them to express these feelings in ways that words alone can’t. Then a cool thing happens when this artful expression connects with their audience who are comforted by the knowledge that “they are not alone” and that others are trying to figure things out too.

When faced with a challenge such as COVID fatigue this one can be tricky though, because when tasked with “writing something”, feelings of pressure and “not good enough” can emerge. Set those voices aside: “I officially absolve you from writing something that is perfect… or important, or holds up to critic’s scrutiny…or is meant to cement your reputation as an eminent artist”. Give it a try and approach it from a non-serious place. 

I used to ask kids in my music school to play anger, a thunderstorm, sadness, or a train going up a mountain. They usually had an easy time creating those sounds.

Why not try to play the funk (the bad kind!) you’re feeling and turn it into the good kind?

Or play a compassionate song for one of the many who are negatively affected by the current situation. Musicians (all artists really) who express how they feel about current events in an engaging way, or who manage to capture the vibe around them, can help their audience realize that they are not alone in what they experience, and that there can be hope. Artists can help build community.

Create a reason to pick up your bass

How about making a video with someone (or for someone)?

When COVID first hit, I knew I had to do something creative to stay sane. I missed my bandmates! I missed gigging and connecting with an audience. So I initiated a video collaboration. I have written about this online video collaboration here with instructions on how to do this. (One easy to use, simple way to collaborate with friends (or even total strangers, which is super cool!) is with an app called Acapella). Even though the connection with my band happened exclusively in cyberspace, it brought us together, reminded us that there is good in the world and that music is a great gift – both to give and to be able to perform.

Having a creative goal like this can do wonders to balance your inner well being. You being the instigator will call you to task. And, it is nice to gift your family and friends with an uplifting song.

Instead of Rehearsing…

This tip has helped one of my students recently: Use the time you ordinarily would have spent rehearsing to meet online with your bandmates and listen to music together! Everyone can come up with a short watch list. Share your comments about the music. One of these songs may well make its way on to your band’s actual setlist, inspire you to create a cover version or write something in the same vein. But even if that doesn’t happen – it is just nice to spend time with your buddies and talk music! Enjoy!

Play something you used to know very well

I used to write these super ambitious lists: songs to learn, hours to practice, recordings to make, songs to write and drills to do. If you need to break the spell of the bad-kind-of-funk, put all these lists aside. They’ll still be there for you later on. Instead, pick a song you used to know very well. Maybe you played it with your band and it always got people dancing. Or it got you the gig at an audition. Or someone paid you a nice compliment. Even if it’s Freebird or Stairway – just play it!

It can help you feel connected and it’s just nice to sense your fingers moving on the strings. It can be a good start!

Use a Music Training App

Eartraining apps such as the Functional Eartrainer or Meludia can do wonders to break the spell. They are easily accessible and give you a sense of learning and making progress. Try it!

Reframing Motivation

It is common to hope for motivation to show up to make us want to practice. But a more useful strategy is for us to show up for a small, doable task – regardless of motivation being involved or not – and then celebrate the fact that we did the task.

Motivation  is overrated.

Regular short practice bits (and feeling better about ourselves for having done them!) are underrated.

Focus on a short task – one scale, one verse of a song, one technique exercise. Then high five yourself for having done them. The good feeling the high five creates will have you coming back tomorrow. (If you want to know more about this, check out this book).    

Get your bass out of its case

If your bass is in its case and in the back of the closet right now, do this one thing today: take it out! Put it on a stand and place a cable right next to it. Take the cover off the amp and get your tuner out. For now, that’s all you have to do. Maybe something else happens, maybe not. But take a look at your stringed friend and enjoy its presence. Don’t forget to high five yourself for doing this, because even doing such a seemingly small task means you just won a major victory against some bad-funk.

Take a break

It’s important to realize that it is okay to take a break. Time off can recharge your creative battery. If you do, make the decision and schedule the break! This will help with any feelings of guilt. Stick to your break and enjoy it!

Then break the break with a very small, easy to do task. And don’t forget the “high five”.

Or try a different instrument for a week 

Have a drum kit? Or an iPhone app that mimics a different instrument? Vocal cords? Your brother’s guitar? A cool kalimba you bought on a trip?

Dust ‘em off, put on a favorite track and play along. Mistakes allowed. Heck, this is not even your main instrument! Just feel the music and allow your musicianship to flow.

There will not be a test on Monday and nobody is watching.

This can really break the spell! Try it!

What are your strategies for overcoming bad funk? Let us know in the comments.    

That Exercise in my Book on Page 6… Note Naming Drills!

note naming exercise in music theory for the bass player

How Notes Work

One theme I have seen over and over again as a teacher is students being very confused about how notes work:

  • How many notes are there within an octave?
  • How do notes get higher and lower on the bass?
  • How many note names are there?
  • How does note naming work in major and minor scales?
  • Why are notes sometimes called by their sharp names, sometimes by their flat names?
  • E# is such an unintuitive note – why wouldn’t you just call it F?

I find it vital to clear up these fundamental questions early on. How would one ever succeed in creating a D7 b9 #9 #11 b13 chord without understanding how notes relate in their basic intervals?

Luckily this really isn’t that complicated and can be easily explained.

But here’s the thing: just “knowing” how notes work and being able to use that knowledge in a musical situation (meaning “in time” to a beat) are two completely different things. Many of my students think there is something wrong with them if they aren’t immediately able to jump from the theoretical understanding to the frets to use this understanding! Not to worry – nothing is wrong – it just takes time and the right practice.

Note Names Need Practicing!

So I created a set of exercises years ago specifically to shed note relations. This comes into play when communicating notes, learning scales, chords, intervals…. everywhere, really. And very importantly, these types of exercises constitute mental practice – away from the instrument! There is a powerful benefit from visualizing the notes on the fretboard that helps us learn the fretboard in surprisingly effective ways.

In my book, Music Theory for the Bass Player, some of these exercises are on page 6. They put note-naming into evocative exercises using a set of 16 drills – ranging from easy to pretty hard – that really shed note names – from all directions and in odd combinations. They are doable for anyone with a bit of thinking, but doing them to a click is challenging for most.

Some of these drills have stumped even very experienced players who may never have thought in terms of note-names in quite these ways. But they sure appreciated it when they did!

Here are a few examples:

  • Ex. 1 – Say the musical alphabet ascending
  • Ex. 3 – Skip every other letter name ascending (A–C–E–G–B–D–F, etc.)
  • Ex. 4 – Skip every other letter name descending (A–F–D–B–G–E, etc.)
  • Ex. 5 – Skip two letter names ascending (A–D–G–C–F, etc.)
  • Ex. 6 – Skip two letter names descending (A–E–B–F–C, etc.)
  • Ex. 8 – Skip three letter names descending (A–D–G–C–F, etc.)

or from the tougher lot:

  • Ex. 13 – Ascend by whole steps, identifying the black keys by their sharp names: A–B–C#–D#–F–G–A and repeat. Also start from A#: A#–C–D–E–F#–G#–A#.
  • Ex. 16 – Descend by whole steps, identifying the black keys by their sharp names: A–G–F–D#–C#–B–A and repeat. Also start from A#: A#–G#–F#–E–D–C–A#.

How to Practice the Note Naming Exercises

Here’s how to do these exercises for maximum benefit:

  • Do them in order. Start with number 1 and make your way through all the exercises to 16. There will not be the proverbial test on Monday, this is a long term project.
  • Do the exercises without a metronome at first. Take all the time you need to figure out the notes. Then add the click at a very slow tempo. Rather than setting a super slow tempo, let 2, 3 beats go by at tempo 70 or so. This gives you more of a sense of a beat. Setting super slow metronome tempos has its uses (for shedding timing it’s great for example!) but this drill is hard enough as it is and getting a sense of a beat will be more beneficial because it mimics what happens in songs.
  • Keep a logbook and keep track of the tempos!
  • You can also do these exercises when walking. I used to do them on my walk to the bus station in Austria. Walking creates a beat, like a metronome. So, before you know it, you have walked two miles and done some commendable shedding! Seriously cool multitasking, I say.
  • Some people think they need to master all the exercises on this page before moving on in the book. Not so. If you have a hard time with them – and most beginners and intermediate players do – approach them playfully and set a timer. Two minutes twice a day will have a great effect on your note learning!
  • If you are unsure about when to move on, use this measure: What is important is not that you nail the particular exercise but that you spend a few minutes engaging with it every day. You may be finishing the book and still come back to these exercises and that’s great. Focus on the two minutes and do these short bursts often. Every time you do you restart the engine and once you have restarted the brain it will keep processing long after you have finished the exercise. It works. Trust the process!
  • You can also try this: every time you exit the bathroom say the first half of drill #13 – that means saying just six note names – and will literally take you seconds. But after doing that for three days you will get pretty darn fit with that sequence. Then add the next one…
  • Part of the power of these exercises is that in order to know the answers it requires you to visualize your instrument – the fretboard on the bass (or the keyboard if you know it!). That is beneficial for more reasons than I have space in this blog post to explain – and that is true whether you are a “visual learner” or not.


I hope I have piqued your interest and you will want to add these exercises to your practice routine. Many are skeptical at first because they don’t see the value of drills away from the instrument or can’t appreciate practicing anything other than songs and transcriptions.

To those I say: give these wicked exercises a try! Keep it playful, focus on two minutes at a time, and prepare to reap unexpected rewards!

Music Theory for the bass player the course Ariane Cap


PS: One of my newsletter readers, Joseph, just sent me this:

Hey Ariane, I hope you are doing super and your days are full of music. This is my daily routine since I bought your book. It´s a very deep exercise and wow! Thanks to you… Here I am working away[…] with your book.

Peace and love