I’m not doing much right now except running the Cycle of 4ths on the E string, in an effort to start practicing again and to learn the notes on the neck. I think its starting to work. My ears know when I make a mistake now. They anticipate the sound of the next note in the Cycle, so in some way, I know what an ascending fourth sounds like in all 12 keys. My hands are also arriving at the right notes faster than they were when I started – and its only been a few days.
So, I had six 15-minute practice sessions today (90 mins total), each concentrating on a different exercise in the Hal Leonard Bass Method from ex. 45-50. As an experiment, I incremented the tempo after 3 mins for each session, going from 50 bpm to 60, 69, 80 and finally 92 bpm. It feels like the least productive day I’ve had in a while, even though I ran through the most exercises at a broad range of tempos. 😦
Today: ran each exercise for 3 mins at 50 bpm, then 60 bpm, followed by 69 bpm, 80 bpm & finally 92 bpm.
I think 5-min runs work better for me than 3-min runs – they give me time to feel out an exercise and really focus. To speed things up, maybe I can do three 5-min runs per exercise, which is 15 mins per exercise at 3 different speeds. But, what speeds then? Maybe 50 bpm and either 72 or 76 bpm, and then 92 bpm? Those jumps might be too large. The past few weeks have shown that I do respond well to slow increments of 5-6 bpm for new or complex exercises, and then 10-12 bpm increments once I have them somewhat under my fingers and can read the notation more easily.
Or maybe I should just lessen the number of exercises I attempt? Like just focus on 3-4 exercises instead of 6, like today? In the past few days, I’ve mainly had four or five 5-min runs per exercise, so I’ve run each exercise for 20-25 mins, incrementing the speed every 5 mins. I also ran either 1, 2 or 3 exercises, not 6 like today.
Tomorrow, we have a birthday party to attend, about an hour north – and I think its going to snow. I’ll have to see if I can carve out time, because I’m sure things will come up, but I want to either scale back the number of exercises or increase the duration of the ones I’m doing. Today just didn’t gel at all.
Also, running exercises in 3-min bursts makes me focus on the clock more than on the exercise, which is another problem. Keeping my eye on the clock, and then jumping to increase the metronome speed and log the start time of each tempo increase so I get a solid run at 3 mins seems to be a surprising interruption or distraction. I hadn’t anticipated that.
I guess there’s right way and a wrong way to use a timekeeper.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I got in 80 mins of practice today, which is a staggering amount for someone who, only a month ago, was lucky to squeeze in 15-30 mins a lot of the time. I worked through exercises 47, 48 & 49 in the Hal Leonard book in 4 sessions spread through the day.
Yesterday, I was posting in the Hal Leonard Bass Method thread on Talkbass. I mentioned how sore my fingertips were from practice recently. Today, it was a bit better, and I think I know why. Previously, I drilled the same exercise a lot. Sometimes an hour at a time in the past week or so. I’d do this repeatedly, and I think it repeatedly taxed my fingertips in the same places because of how I fret the strings when I play those particular exercises. Add to this that I essentially do what weightlifters call “ascending sets”. Basically, I increase the tempo of the exercises as I play them, so I’ll practice an exercise at say, 50bpm, then 58bpm, then 69bpm, 80bpm, 92bpm, etc. I go from holding poses as I play at slower tempos to running a race. It really hits my fingers where they come in contact with the strings.
Today was much better though. I suspect its because I played 3 exercises instead of drilling one continuously. It varied my hand positions a bit and – I think – let them share the physical toil of playing in a more fluctuating manner, so the same places on my fingertips and pads weren’t as isolated as before.
I’m thinking about varying practice a little more in this regard. One idea is to play exercises consecutively at a given tempo. So, play 47 at 50bpm, then 48 at the same speed, then 49. THEN I increase the tempo and play the exercises again, and so on.
The other idea is to play for shorter durations and add more exercises. I used to practice in 10-minute increments – so I’d play an exercise for 10 mins at a certain speed, then increase the speed and play the exercise for 10 mins at that speed, and so on. My thought is to shorten what I’m doing even more – maybe 2 1/2 or 3 mins per exercise at a given tempo, before increasing that speed. This way, I can expand out to practice more exercises each session. But, anyway, I also noticed that longer sessions tend to show more results than shorter ones, so I’m going to continue to try to carve out as much time as I can. My goal is an hour a day for now. We’ll see what this weekend brings.
Regarding the actual exercises – 47 had me practice octaves. 48 has us use octaves, along with other notes, in a short groove. I haven’t tried playing to the accompanying track, so I don’t know what the actual tempo is. That’s the same for the past few exercises with tracks, actually. 49 takes me into even newer territory – notes on the G string. It starts in 2nd position and covers G, A and B on that string. So, I’m making progress like this. Yay!
 I had another 30 min practice run after making that video. I made it up to 92 bpm. Looking at my practice log, it took me just shy of 3 hours to do that, in mostly 5 and 10 minute speed increments. I’m no hare.
So, I tried using the Canon R700 that I grabbed on Cyber Monday to make a slow video playthrough of ex. 46 from the Hal Leonard book. The video picks up my mug with no problems. If you think I’m ugly now, you should see me in HD. However, there’s pretty much no audio. The bass frequencies are just too low for the camera to detect. I read a blurb somewhere about going to custom options and making a change so sound doesn’t clip at any frequency, or something to that effect, but its 2:15 AM, so I’m not going to do that right now. Maybe I’ll experiment later.
What I did try, as a workaround, was recording directly into the PC using Audacity again – so I can’t actually hear what I’m playing and have to just trust that its ok. I then took that audio and synced it with the video using a program I recently grabbed called Filmora. I tried the trial version earlier this week and really liked it. The trial leaves a big watermark over my fugly grill though, so I registered it. You’ll wish I hadn’t.
Anyway. here’s ex. 46 at 60 bpm. I’ll try again later at different speeds. At some point I want to video most of the exercises in the HLBM like this so that other people who are working through the book at the same plodding pace I am have something to gawk at.
You know – until today, I haven’t uploaded a video to my channel in 5 years. How merciful…
So, last night, after watching that video from samuraiguitarist about efficient practice, YouTube suggested another video from a Danish guitarist named Claus Levin. It was about learning scales faster. I watched it, and a second video from the same author showed up in the related videos, also about learning. I found it fascinating. It proposed a different learning/practice method from what I’ve seen before – basically asking us to practice in short bursts and then try to forget what we’ve practiced.
The idea is that when we practice, we’re taking information into short-term memory. By forgetting it and relearning it, we’re telling our brains that this is information that we have to relearn repeatedly. In order to better support having this now frequently-accessed information at hand, the brain then moves it from short-term to long-term memory, where we have it forever. Claus goes into more detail, starting with a human brain/computer cpu & memory analogy that makes much more sense a few mins in.
The other video is about practicing scales by taking the notes and learning them in a random order or pattern, instead of the usual method of running up and down scales from lowest note to highest, or vice versa. In a way, its similar to improvisation. Its goal is to leave us with usable knowledge of the notes and their locations and functions – essentially enabling fretboard freedom. Claus labels the standard method as learning sequential information. What he suggests, instead, is more akin to learning a scale pattern and then using it to create licks (or for us, basslines). Its more functional and musical.
Here’s a video from Steve Onotera, aka samuraiguitarist, from Canada. It talks about 7 concepts to which musicians can refer to make practice sessions more productive. In a nutshell, these are:
- Have a clear vision of why you are practicing
- Create a practice schedule
- Don’t over-practice
- Isolate the problem
- Incorporate practicality
- Attack concepts from different angles
- Practice slowly and gradually speed up