A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Accidentally memorizing a song/exercise

understanding-memorizationI didn’t have to go out to work today, on account of Memorial Day weekend, but I did have a conference call this AM. A co-worker shared the news that John Nash, the mathematician from Princeton who was played by Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and his wife passed yesterday in a taxi crash on the Jersey Turnpike. They lived nearby to his house, in Princeton, so it bothered him quite a bit and was also a strong reminder about the frailty of life on Memorial Day weekend.

So yesterday, I worked on those 12-Bar Blues from the HLBM. I ended up using the Korg Beat Boy as a metronome. I couldn’t find a drum track that I thought worked with blues, so I ended up just using the metronome function. I started at 50 BPM and incremented by 5’s until 85 BPM, which felt like a natural speed at which to play.

I found that by the time I ran it a few times at 85, I had it mostly ingrained in muscle memory… something I hadn’t really counted on, as I was using the exercise to learn to read, not necessarily to memorize the exercises. I’ve posted about my concerns about that a little in previous posts, but this time, I decided to see what more experienced bassists thought about this happening in their own practice, so I asked the folks over at Talkbass.

Basically, this is what they told me and some of my thoughts about it:

  1. Reading: I’ve read it well enough to learn it. After playing it through well enough to not need the sheet music to play it, I’m not getting anything from the sheet music anymore. I think that this is true, but I think they’re also overestimating my ability at this point. 😉 My hands know what they’re doing, but I still don’t actually read it well enough to simply read the notes and know how to play right away… basically my brain is still slower than my hands with this exercise.
  2. Application: I can take lessons from the feel and ideas in the exercise and apply elements of that to other music that I play. This is actually great advice. I was thinking a bit about this last night actually, about short chromatic runs and about moving along the notes of a scale across strings and incorporating open strings – all because of bar 8 of the exercise, so its definitely given me some food for thought.
  3. Exercise: Even after memorization, these lessons still have value as finger exercises or warm-ups and cool-downs. This makes a lot of sense, especially the exercises that I found difficult. Those are obviously going to be related to my problem areas, so naturally, working through them regularly is going to help me improve in those areas. I also think that simply running it at different tempos and varying the note durations to change the overall feel or groove will be interesting to do. I already do that with scales when I practice them.
  4. Theory: I don’t know if I actually know enough yet, but I should be analyzing these for theory usage. I can recognize chromatic runs and chords a little. There are a million things that I’m probably looking right at but not seeing.

Apparently working through the exercises and sight reading are two different things, which I completely agree with. I worry that I’m not getting enough from the exercise if I can’t “read” it through when playing, but taking what the Talkbass folks said, I think that it does make sense to just move on to other exercises and go from there. Reading and learning new material will force me to learn to read more than practicing the same exercises over and over. I guess I just didn’t necessarily know when to move on, and when I’d gotten enough from an exercise to signal the page flip.

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