Global Bass Online October 2001
Making the Most of Your Limited Practice Schedule
A Church Bass Article
By Paige Garwood
Greetings and Salutations!
September was a terrible month for all of us to live through, and it made it all the more difficult for me to think about, let alone write an article about my thoughts on playing the bass - something that is so mundane in comparison to the events that unfolded on September 11th. My prayers and thoughts are with those who lost friends and loved ones.
But life does move on, and so I will attempt to meet my commitment to Global Bass and get this article in on time.
I set the agenda in the very first Churchbass article in July, and touched on the first point in the August/September article – playing in the pocket along with the fact that the churchbassist - though not necessarily the center of attention - most certainly is the chef that serves up a generous helping of groove to the band and the congregation (yes – you CAN groove in church – it’s ok, really!). My point was to say that the churchbassist is a servant- to the band and the congregation.
Having gotten the attitude out of
the way, I want to try and see if I can cram almost 30 years of playing into a
short article about how to get the most out a limited amount of practice time
– a situation most churchbassists find themselves in. Let’s face it – most
of us are NOT full time bassists and for many of us playing in the church praise
team or orchestra is all the playing we are involved in. We have day (or night
jobs) that control much of our calendar, we have wives (or husbands) and
children – and all of these things are more important to us in the overall
scheme of things than playing bass. But…… we LOVE to play the bass! How can
we become more effective as players in less time? (Gads! I’m sounding like an
Let’s start with the practice time you manage to carve out of your week.
§ First of all – even though it will be limited, try to fix a regular time to practice and make an appointment to practice and keep it. Even if it is only a couple of half hour sessions a week, do it. You will be surprised at how much improvement you will see in your playing even if you only have a couple of times a week to practice. But know this – the less time you have for practice, the more critical it becomes for you to practice smarter.
§ Next – in this limited amount of practice time you have, remember this … you are here to learn something new, or to master something you haven’t yet got a grip on… so don’t monopolize your precious practice time by whipping through exercises or tunes that you already know. I wish I could count high enough as to how many times I have seen students of mine or other players I know sit down to practice, only to waste 20 minutes playing patterns and/or grooves they already have down solid – all in the name of “warming up”. Or, (and I think this is the case more often than not) they know that the patterns/grooves they are playing sound really cool. On the off-hand chance someone is listening to them practice they don’t want to suck. Got news for you – practice time is when you are SUPPOSED to suck – at least at the beginning a new exercise you are developing. IF you only have half an hour a couple of times a week – don’t fritter it away showing off to yourself and covering old ground..
§ I generally split my practice time into two areas…
o Something that forces me up and down the neck of my bass – chord arpeggios, some scales (though I am not a big fan of scales – but I can address that prejudice of mine in a later article), string crossing exercises etc.
§ This is how I get the most out of THIS portion of my practice – I try and sing the patterns I am playing. Why? Because once you learn a pattern (arpeggio or scale) on the bass, you can play that pattern anywhere on the bass. The temptation is then to allow your mind to drift away while you play this thing up and down the neck of your bass. In order to keep my mind in the game, I sing along with my playing – you will be surprised at the benefits of this. The ear-training that results will be of immense benefit to you later.
o Practicing tunes I am currently playing in my band.
§ Again – hit on the song that is giving you the most trouble. Don’t waste time on any song that you can do in your sleep. If no current song your Praise Band is playing is bothering you, then put on a CD of your favorite band and try to play along with their bassist and try to learn what he or she is playing.
During all of this practicing – use a metronome. Set it to play all four beats to the measure, then after you start to master the exercise you are working on, set the metronome half as fast and let the clicks be on beats two and four. This will force you to be even more accurate in your note placement and will get you in the habit of listening to 2 and 4 from the drummer.
The point in all of this is simple – concentrate on what you don’t know in order to get better. This is especially important for those with limited practice time available. When I was in the Armed Forces School of Music, there was a student – a monster of a player – who could go in and practice for 30 minutes and get more out of that time than I could get in an hour. Why? Because he did what I just told you to do. I haven’t forgotten that lesson. And now when I am limited in my own practice time I am even more challenged to practice smarter.
o Make an appointment with yourself to practice.
o Keep that appointment.
o Concentrate your time on mastering what you don’t know.
o It’s ok to suck sometimes when you practice.
o Don’t clutter up your practice time with a lot of things to work on – keep it simple… at the most be working on two things per session – getting to know your bass better, and getting to know a song better (for example).
Now you can vary this, if you wish… maybe only working on ONE thing for your practice time. The more you narrow your focus the more you will see measurable results. If you can practice every day for half an hour, then you will have the luxury of working on, say, three or four areas during the space of a week. But if all you have is a couple of times a week – don’t put too much on your plate.
I hope this helps somewhat. Next month I will cover how to be more effective in a rehearsal with your band.
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