“How do I practice bass?”
At first take, practicing seems so simple. You just sit down, plug in your bass and play, right? In a sense, yes. Obviously, practicing most of the time will involve sitting down and playing. But when? How often and for how long? And then, the question becomes what to practice. Should you practice playing with a metronome or learn scales and riffs? Navigating this maze of ideas as a newcomer to music can unexpectedly become a daunting task. It can also be dangerous; feeling unsure of your practice routine can quickly turn into feeling like doing anything but practicing. But fear not, help is here. To avoid this practicing pitfall and help you develop a consistent, productive, and enjoyable practice routine, I’ve laid out my favorite top 10 tips to practicing your bass guitar.
1.) Set a schedule - or don’t.
One of the first concerns most people have with practicing is how often to practice and when to do it. My recommendation is always simple; Practice as often as you can! Granted, sometimes even the most hardcore musicians have days that feel uninspired, but I generally say that to progress at a comfortable pace you should get at least one or two good sessions in a week. I’m also a firm believer in that there are two kinds of people: those who run on schedules, and those who don’t. This is obviously oversimplified, but in general, music is a passion. Some people prefer to schedule their lives and passions out, and if this is you, then treat your practicing this way. Find a good time in your schedule and pencil in as much practicing as you feel like you want to get done. But if you’re the more spontaneous type, I recommend picking up your instrument whenever inspiration strikes, whether at lunch time or 2AM. Thank goodness for headphones!
2.) Get organized.
My next piece of advice is one that often gets overlooked: organization. While not all organizational strategies will work for everyone, taking some basic steps to ensure stress-free practice sessions is a must. Obviously, have your practicing area and equipment clean and ready for use (more on that in tip #3). I recommend having any written materials you’re working on printed or written out. iPads are great, but can be seriously unreliable making pencils king in the practice room. If you’re working on a variety of things at once, keep your pages separate. Nothing disrupts your flow like having to stop and dig through messy papers to find that one example you need. Accordion folders and binder dividers both work equally well here. Computers are invaluable tools for music, but when it comes to practicing materials or song ideas I always prefer a hard copy.
3.) Have the tools you need.
This tip can be a bit more finance-dependent than the others, but excellent tools for practicing and writing are available to those on any budget. You'll need a bass, a guitar cable and some sort of amplifier,
large or small. I’d also invest in a simple music stand. Another absolute essential is a metronome. Don’t bother with a dedicated unit if you have a smartphone as there are a variety of excellent metronome
apps (many 100% free) for both iPhone and Android. These will work great for almost any practicing need.
Another excellent investment - albeit a bit larger - is a simple computer recording setup. While this can be a bit more money, it’s often not nearly as expensive or difficult to set up as you might think. It is also an incredible practice tool, as you can record yourself practicing and hear your progress afterwards. Unless your computer is 10+ years old, you can easily get into simple recording for a few hundred dollars or less. All you need is a basic audio interface, speakers and recording software. A decent setup may run around $200 but you can get away with a lot less should the need arise. Head to your local music shop and ask them; If they can’t help you get the right equipment, they’ll know who can.
4.) Don’t force yourself.
This builds on my first tip. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you just won’t feel like playing. Maybe you’re distracted, in a bad mood, or dealing with other things. This is OK and totally normal. It’s important to play when you are inspired, and not force yourself to play when you’re not. If you try to force yourself to play, you can quickly come to associate negative things with practicing. It becomes work instead of play. I always think back to piano lessons when I was a kid. My teacher was (somewhat unfortunately) very strict and overly organized. She required practice logs and schedules, homework assignments, and bi-weekly recitals which were all quite intimidating to anyone new to music, let alone a 9-year-old. As such, learning to play became a lot less fun and a lot more stress. This can happen to anyone at any age, and can quickly kill your musical drive. Don’t feel bad for not feeling like practicing. There’s always tomorrow for a fresh start and fresh inspiration.
5.) Have goals.
Another important aspect of a good practice routine is having clearly-defined goals in mind. Whether it’s mastering a new technique, learning a song from start to finish, or nailing a theory exercise, I recommend always having something specific and concrete to practice. This gives your session time purpose and keeps you progressing. Avoid vague goals and long timelines. Goals like “I want to be able to play just like Paul McCartney this time next year” aren’t as productive as listing specific songs and ideas to learn. This also breaks your larger goals down into manageable bits and provides real feedback in terms of the pace of your learning.
6.) Don’t beat yourself up.
This one is extremely important. It’s very easy to get frustrated, annoyed, or even angry when we face a challenge that seems insurmountable. Maybe your favorite bass part is just too quick for your current technique, or there’s a line or riff that you just can’t quite figure out. In these trying times, you have to step back and approach it methodically instead of getting mad at yourself. If it’s a particular line or exercise you’re trying to learn, try setting up a metronome at the fastest speed you can successfully play the part. Then bump it up a few clicks, and practice there until you’re comfortable. Repeat until you’ve reached the full speed of the part. This is an easy way to get your playing up to par without any stress or frustration.
7.) Streamline and prioritize your practice routine.
Prioritizing what we learn and how we learn it is key to staying on task. When the time finally comes to actually sit down to practice, it can be challenging to know how or where to start your session. What’s the best way to get into the right mindset? As we discussed in tip 5, we should always have a particular goal in mind to achieve. Usually that’s an exercise, technique, or specific piece of music. Regardless of what the goal at hand is, it’s always a good idea to have some sort of structure to your sessions. I like to begin with a few simple scale exercises.
Full Speed Demonstration
This is a simple scale warm-up exercise - major and minor scales, ascending and descending, in the key of C. Repeat the pattern, raising it by 1 fret each time - ascending by half-steps through the scales. Name each key as you go along - C, C#, D, D#, E, F, et cetera.
Full Speed Demonstration
This is an expanded exercise from the first one, a simple “2 up, 1 down” approach to a C major scale. When you get to the top of the scale, note how the pattern inverts itself - it becomes 2 steps down, 1 step up
until you make your way back down to the root note. You can do the same with this pattern that we did with the first exercise as well - move the pattern up incrementally by 1 fret each time, naming the keys as
After doing a few of these warm-up exercises, you’ll be in a musical mindset for whatever else is on your docket for that session. Your fingers will also be loosened up and ready to go. You can then move on to working on your material for the day. Some players also like a ‘cool-down’ period of simple exercises or a favorite easy song at the end of the practice session - you can definitely do that as well if it suits you. But the important thing is that your practice routine becomes exactly that - a well-honed routine.
8.) Expand your practicing possibilities.
It’s important to keep in mind that practicing isn’t limited to dedicated alone time with your bass. There are many ways to expand your musical knowledge beyond your practice sessions. Listening to the bass parts from songs on the radio is a great way to get to know the feel of different styles of music. Pay attention to TV, too - lots of jingles and theme songs rely heavily on the bass. You can also practice in your head - thinking over fingerings and scales is a great way to pass the time on your morning commute. These all count towards practicing.
9.) Know where your long-term musical aspirations stand.
It’s also important to keep your long-term relationship with music in mind. What are your goals as a musician over time? Are you a hobbyist, or are you considering music as a career? What types of music do you enjoy and want to learn? While these answers can change over time for each person, they are important factors in shaping your practice habits. If you are learning for passion and pleasure, stressing out about a regimented practicing schedule can dampen the fun. On the other hand, if you’re auditioning for a touring band next week, taking a carefree approach to your practicing can doom you. Knowing where you stand will help keep your routine in line with where you are as a player, and keep your musical experience as fun and productive as possible.
10.) Have fun.
While there are many things that I can say about practicing, I still herald this as the most critical. Whether you’re a seasoned pro musician or just picking up a bass for the first time, music should be one thing
first and foremost - fun. Never lose sight of this. If you find yourself having a bad time while practicing, just stop for a bit. No good comes out of stress and frustration, especially not when it comes to
your playing. Staying positive and staying inspired will ensure you a long and wonderful musical journey.
I know that just hanging out and playing bass is one of my favorite things to do, and I hope it is for you too. But taking time and getting a solid practice routine going is invaluable for becoming a great musician. I hope the tips in this article help you to accomplish this - they’ve certainly worked well for me. Just remember to sit back, relax, and enjoy this wonderful instrument to its fullest potential. And - most importantly - have fun!
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Thanks for reading.
Thanks for reading! Have fun with this weekend and be sure to leave any questions or comments you might have in the comments below!