Happy New Year, Bass Blog Friends!
Ah, a fresh start! 2018 is here and a new adventure begins. In a way, it is just a date on the calendar, but since our time on earth in our current form is limited, a new year is always a milestone, reminding us of that fact while feeling fresh and full of possibilities.
The beginning of the New Year is a great time for new year’s resolutions, though some have mixed feelings about them. Whether they work for you or not, here are two tips for you regarding…
New Years Resolutions
If you are looking for help practicing consistently and with lasting results in this New Year, please sign up for info on my upcoming program (currently in development).
I am also teaching a method that in my experience works better than New Year’s resolutions to adopt new habits,; learn about the Tiny Habits method here.
In any case, a beginning of the year assessment and skills snapshot is a great idea.
While we are in the process of learning and developing our skills it is very easy to lose track of where we are. A good practicing routine will always push us to play beyond our comfort zone; in the beginnings of learning a new style, new piece or set of drills we feel challenged (maybe even discouraged) at times rather than like we are any good (yet!).
And that feeling is exactly part of the learning process!
It is, then, very helpful, to once in a while take a snapshot of your skills. Good times are when starting a new program or evaluating a teacher or method, or, on the first of the year!
This enables you to take a step back and take a good look at
where you were at the last time you did a check-in,
where you are now and
where you’d like to be.
It is super motivating to make these “before” and “after” skills assessments, because they can show us just how far we have come! Or they can show us that what we are doing is not working and we need to change it!
The more concrete you are in your skills snapshot the better. Therefore it is helpful to measure your abilities. Not everything in music is easily measurable, but here are a few examples of what works well as a skills assessment yardstick:
Think of the hardest tune you are currently playing. Write it down.
By the same time next year, what would you like to be able to play? (Favorite milestone tunes are Continuum, Giant Steps, Teen Town, Dean Town, or a fast disco tune such as “I feel Love” (that is Giorgio Moroder synth bass in its original, but hey, if Flea can do it, so can you!)
At what tempo can you currently comfortably play sixteenth notes on one pitch? (be able to stay with it for at least one minute without cramping up or tensing up)
By the same time next year, how about a 20% increase?
Good technique means playing with relaxed control. Play a tune that is a bit hard for you and scan for tension. If you are not used to doing that it may be very hard for you initially because tension often happens unconsciously. Consciously we are aware of stress and that it does not really flow. Ask yourself if tension is holding you back. Imagine your favorite bass player – and with how much ease they usually play.
By the same time next year, how much more relaxed can you play? What would that feel like when the music can freely move you (by the way, relaxed playing may mean you are head banging and putting on a heck of a show. Music flows freely. That is different than tension throttling the flow of the music and movements being forced and uncomfortable like you are fighting against yourself. Ease and flow are the goal).
Sharpening our ears is always a goal. Maybe it is hard for you to hear the functions of notes in context, or you struggle with focusing on the bass sound in a tune you are looking to transcribe, or you are trying to pick up chords by ear and want to understand the entire chord structure, not just the root note. State your current ear skill and goals for next year. There are many ear training apps available for multiple computer platforms. They typically have functions that track your progress – make good use of them!
Timing and Groove:
Record yourself playing, single out your track or record with just a metronome. How accurate are you? Does it make you bob your head and want to dance? If not, why not? Frequent culprits are unintended unevenness of tone, unruly phrasing, not playing according to the feel of the drummer or the underlying subdivision.
Get an app that allows you to record yourself playing to a drum groove. Zoom into the wave form and check how close to the beats your playing is. You can even measure this in milliseconds and keep track of it.
Got your basics covered? Know your chords, scales, modes? Only know the stuff or ready to use it creatively? You can test yourself on how fast you can recall what you have studied. use a stop watch – how quickly can you recite diatonic triads, the cycle of fifths… whatever you have been working on.
And how quickly can you play it on your bass?
What is the hardest piece you can sight read right now and at what tempo? Track the tempo by using a metronome.
How many notes can you read ahead? How quickly do you recognize key signatures, key and meter changes, the overall range of the piece? Again, you can time yourself.
What milestone piece would you like to be able to read on 1-1-2019?
Are you equally comfortable playing in all keys? All areas of the bass? What is the next step for you?
We will explore this in much more detail and systematically in our upcoming Pattern System course. Stay tuned!
Equally important, but harder to measure areas are:
There are other aspects to examine – how confident are you when playing? How comfortable are you improvising? What is your practice experience now versus what you would like it to be? Are you hearing music internally that has not quite found its way through your fingers yet? What else can you think of?
You can diligently examine each of these parameters at length by yourself or with someone more experienced. Get direct feedback from an experienced player or teacher.
Skills Assessment (or should it be Bassessment?) Sheet
For a quick self-assessment fill in the attached questionnaire. Hang it up in you practicing room and let it guide you throughout the year! Remember, if you see no improvement in what you are doing after three months, change your approach. If you are unsuccessful doing that, ask for help. Remember, just keep playing is not working. But the good news is there are strategies that work.
Use this assessment sheet as a yard stick and tool for self observation.