My Five Favorite Practicing Tools [quick read]

My Five Favorite Practicing Tools

Practice Time! If you have been wanting to upgrade your practice sessions, here are five simple tools that will boost the effectiveness of your practice immediately!

Your practice nook can be simple with just the essentials (e.g. amp, bass, music stand, tuner…).

Or more elaborate with the walls decorated with inspirational posters, my music theory cheat sheet (of course), maybe this wall clock and any other paraphernalia that inspires you.

But no matter what your room looks like, make sure to have these tools at hand:

#1: A good old fashioned pencil

Aris favorite bass practice toolsWhy?

Whether you are learning a piece of sheet music or are transcribing music by ear, a pencil can help you in the following ways: when you make a mistake, stop and observe what happened. Did you hit the wrong note? Is there a better fingering you could use? Dropped a beat? Mark it!

The hardest part about this is taking your fingers off the strings and stopping playing! Some continue on after a mistake which is a bad idea because they haven’t fixed the issue and it doesn’t just go away on its own. An even worse “strategy” is starting over from the top. All this accomplishes is getting very good at the beginning of the piece but still struggling with the trouble spot. And since it is not getting better (no surprise, really!), you just throw up your hands and give up. Definitely avoid this. Read my article on how to making your practice much more effective by following this important tip!

#2: The Program “Transcribe!”

While any slow downer/transposition tool will do, my favorite is Transcribe! for Mac (or for Windows). But you can also try Audacity which is free or even a smartphone app such as Anytune Pro.

Why?

Transcribing the masters is one of the best strategies you can use to enhance your skills. If you use a player such as YouTube or iTunes, it is quite hard to isolate a spot in the music. With these great tools, you can not only isolate single notes or short phrases, you can also loop or utilize advanced functions such as changing the key or tempo. Even if you want to stay away from slowing things down, you can use these tools to navigate through the song better. And easily loop problem spots!

Transcribe! is also really user-friendly and intuitive. Click the image above to watch my tutorial on the software.

#3: The Metronome

favorite practice toolsIt is no secret that practicing with a metronome will help your timing – many creative uses of the metronome to train timing exist (check out Victor Wooten demoing a few wicked ones here!).

Equally important is that a metronome is like holding a mirror up to yourself.

Imagine this: you play a tune or exercise by yourself and zip through the parts you know with confidence. Then comes a little fill or run, or you’re in a difficult key if it’s a drill, so you slow down just a tad. Or you hesitate a beat to “think it through”. At the gig, then, you struggle at that same spot- and potentially lose it altogether… Oh, no! You thought you knew it, but you didn’t really. Truth: In music, unless you know something in time (ie to a click!), you don’t really know it!

Does this mean you should always use a metronome? No. When you first learn a part, switch off the click, and sort out the notes. Then, find the toughest spot and let that determine the tempo. Then, inch your way up to higher tempos.

A metronome is also a totally awesome tool for technique drills. I show my students how to get faster and faster by using the metronome while practicing valuable drills. And even if fast playing is not your goal, you benefit from heightened precision when you are able to play smoothly, with control and in a relaxed state when the tempos get higher. Plus, seeing those numbers increase in your practice log (our next tool!) is super motivating!

I have much more on the correct use of a metronome in my new book (subscribe to the blog to be in the know!)

#4: Practice Log

Whether you use an app or a good old fashioned notebook, keeping track of your practice is a must. Do not underestimate the power of journaling your progress. There is magic in seeing something in writing- especially when it shows your movement forward!

My personal practice logs contain these general topics:

  • Ear Training
  • Technique
  • Theory/Improv
  • Fretboard Harmony
  • Timing and Groove
  • Reading Practice
  • Repertoire and Analysis
  • Transcription

And even when other things like song-learning for a gig (or other “life gets in the way” moments), take precedence over these on a temporary basis, I always come back to them because they are so important. My students get concise lesson notes from me after each lesson so they know precisely what to practice. Here is an example:

#5: Recording Device

This would be #1 on my hit list if I was ranking based on importance, but I put it last because it is a bit of a challenge for some (at least at first). Similar to using metronome, recording yourself gives you an accurate, unfiltered snapshot of exactly where you stand. Things you don’t notice when you are in the midst of playing, show up when you go back and review the recording. Try it, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. So, record yourself – don’t let the tech get in the way – a simple smartphone will do – just hit record and start playing!

Record. Watch.Observe. And by all means: Keep a positive attitude as you watch. I cannot overstate the importance of that…

Not:

  • Oh no, I sound terrible! I should sell all my gear and crawl under a rock!

But Rather:

  • I am pulling up my left shoulder. Remedy: relax left shoulder, tweak arm position.
  • I am a little late on beat 1 in bars 3, 4, 5, 6. Why? Those are big jumps. Tweak fingering (uses pencil to write it down!) Remedy: slow down, loop, using improved fingering.
  • I played a wrong note in bar 3. I played an F. Remedy: play an F#! 

Do you see how this type of granular and concise feedback will do wonders for your practice? Participants in  our New Year’s Cohort have to send in recordings of themselves executing one or more of the exercise in each Unit of the Course regularly. We have a super supportive vibe on our boards (thanks to our program structure and amazing coaches who we train!) so everyone in the Cohort took the plunge and just did it. The feedback on just how helpful recording oneself is has been tremendous! 

Even if you never show it to anyone but yourself, I highly recommend doing this! You can upload videos to your YouTube account and keep them hidden from public view by uploading them as unlisted (only those who have the link can view) or as private (only specific email addresses that you define can view).

There you go, my five favorite practicing tools. There are others I use and recommend, but these are my mainstays. How about you? What are your must-haves tools for practicing? Type them in the comments!


To join our next New Year’s Cohort put your name on the list. We are going through our flagship course – Music Theory for the Bass Player – with support. Various levels of support are available. Check it out. If you’d like to talk to one of our coaches or attendees, we can make that happen, too!

Four Part Fugue with Stuart Hamm

 Four-voices Fugue on Basses

What a pleasure to record this with not only one Stu Hamm, but two of him!

What’s a fugue?

It is a musical composition in which a musical “theme” (called a “subject”) gets repeated over and over in various ways by various voices. A fugue is a bit like a canon on steroids. They are prime examples of contrapuntal texture which is a fancy way of saying that each voice works on its own and is independent in some ways from the other voices, yet they all work together and complement each other to form a cohesive “whole” that is much more than the sum of its parts.

I have fond memories of a very hard (but totally awesome!) series of harmony and counterpoint classes at the University of Vienna in Austria where we learned how to write simple fugues. There were lots of rules to follow and it seemed impossible to come up with a theme that would work beyond a few beats. An amazing challenge, for sure.

On Basses!  (Really?)

This fugue – the first of the Well-Tempered Clavier by JS Bach, was composed for two hands operating a keyboard instrument. So, naturally, we thought – why not do it on basses! This would give us an opportunity to nerd out as we try to make four basses that are quite close in range, not sound muddy! Stu takes the lead with Voice 2 and chose the perfect bass for it – his Warwick Signature bass. Below that comes Voice 3, for which Stu used his acoustic-electric – a great way to distinguish the sounds!

I decided to use my Soprano Marleaux for Voice 1, which would stay out of the heavy low end sonically, and to bring in my six-string Consat Marleaux for the lowest voice. I used that low B string only once on the very last note for a nice fat ending.     

Big thanks to Stu for stepping into this labyrinth of voices with me! And to Wolf for taking on the mixing!

Here are a few mind-blowing tidbits about this piece:

  • This fugue has four individual voices (four leads, if you will.)
  • Even though it has only 27 bars, the theme gets quoted 24 times!
  • The theme shows up in various keys – G major, C major, A melodic minor, F major, Dm… I even found one that is technically B Locrian (you hear it as C major though)!
  • Sometimes the theme starts on the root, other times on the five, as well as other scale degrees (like the seventh!)
  • It shows up on the upbeat of every single beat of the bar: 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and!

That there can be such beauty in repeating structures that are organized in quite sophisticated ways never ceases to amaze me. When I listen to this (or play it!) I can’t decide what is more enjoyable – to follow and appreciate the delicious complexity and depth or to just let the music take me away through a beautiful kaleidoscope of sounds. I invite you to listen and decide for yourself.

Notes:

  • In the video, I marked out the spots of the individual voices playing the lead by framing them with orange lines.
  • I have the score – which in its original is a piano score – as individual voices for you below. I marked each occurrence of the theme with a pink star.

BLOGPOST Bach Fugue in four voices FIXED

Thinking about playing this?

Go for it! It’s a blast! The score is above. Some voices require treble clef, but most I put in bass clef.

I don’t have TAB, but you can make your own by downloading this zip which contains compressed and uncompressed .xml files, midi as well as the Musescore version. Pull into your favorite notation software and create TAB there, if that helps you.

Enjoy!

Markbass

GHS strings

stuhamm.com

arianecap.com

Marleaux Basses

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bach Prelude Number 2 with Mark Smith   with TAB for four-string and six-string

Easy Bach pieces to learn on bass

Bach for Two with TAB for Bach for Two

Bach for Two in Three with TAB for Bach for Two in Three

VIDEO: Kids Taking Music Lessons? How to get them to practice!

Ariane Cap Tiny Habits kids

Helping Your Kids Practice using Tiny Habits

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

Watch this 15-minute video that provides you with great tips for your youngster’s music practice!

Also read:

May I Have Two Minutes of Your Time?

tinyhabits.com

Tiny Habits – the Book

BJ Fogg interviews Ariane Cap

Why Just Keep Playing is not Working

Other Tiny Habits Expert Sessions you may be interested in

 

 

This Technique Habit will hold you back on the Bass

I see it with almost all of my students – from beginners to pros – it’s just too easy to overwork the thumb! Even experienced players are guilty of this from time to time. What’s so tricky about this bad habit is that even though I am talking about your left-hand thumb, to cure the habit you may need to make adjustments in other areas of your body, since it’s all connected:

  • the way you position your right arm on the bass
  • the way you come to the bass neck with your body 
  • and even in the choice of your equipment!

Watch the video to learn the technique set up I recommend that will help you avoid this mistake!

Why Should I Care About This?

  • Over-gripping slows you down. So, even if you have no issue right now, eventually you will run into a speed bump!
  • Even if you are not faced with a lot of quick passages that require you to play fast – just being able to do so will lead to more accurate playing!
  • Over-gripping can lead to chronic pain and even injury!
  • Over-gripping causes tension- and tension causes choked tone and less control!
  • Effortless (relaxed) playing allows the music to flow through you. Don’t stop the flow by overworking yourself.
  • Typically when you overwork one part of your body or hand, you have to overcompensate elsewhere…resulting in even more tension!

Here’s how to change it

It is an unconscious habit, so just telling yourself to stop, won’t work. In the heat of the moment – on stage, in the jam – the habit will come back. To change it for good use my PORA Method!

Handy Quick Start Guide to Ari’s PORA Method (all you need! Just follow verbatim!)

Watch the Method in action [VIDEO]

How to take a load off…

Try the exercise in this 2-minute video – it will help you out!

Watch the rest of this five-part video series on 5 Small Tweaks for Big Results on the Bass

Thumbs down on Over-gripping

Over-gripping is one of the most egregious technique problems that I encounter. Relax that thumb by using the basic technique set up I demonstrate in the above video! Call it holistic bass playing!


My Book Music Theory for the Bass Player contains a wide array of technique drills and best technique practices. Chapter 12 is entirely dedicated to technique. Why technique in a theory book? Because while we are learning all these useful shapes on the fretboard (with good fingering!) we may as well add good form to the mix. Technique and theory is one beautiful package in my book. Buy Ari’s book Music Theory for the Bass Player on your country’s Amazon or at bookdepository.com

note naming exercise in music theory for the bass player