Practice Tips For Bass – Making The Most Of Your Time

2019-02-06T10:46:42+00:00May 17th, 2014|Categories: Bass Playing Fundamentals|Tags: , |17 Comments

This lesson covers five useful areas that will increase the efficiency of your practice time and generate a quality over quantity mindset. I also explain how strict practice routines are not always effective and how you should be really honest with the amount of time you have available.

Tips on Practicing

  • Always practice things you can’t play
  • Practice as much as your lifestyle permits
  • 10 minutes of quality practice is worth 24 hours of mindless practice
  • Study music first and bass second
  • Don’t be scared of missing practice time

Designing YOUR practice schedule 

  • Look at your week in the same way you might plan a monthly budget
  • Make a written plan of an average week to visualise where practice can be fitted
  • Be careful not to cut out time for responsibilities or family

Alternatively, you could make a weekly list of things you want to focus on and work through them in your own time. This can be beneficial if you are struggling to find the motivation to practice.

What To Practice

Start with a warm-up. If you have cold or stiff hands then gently massage them warm water to loosen them up. Then it is your call on what to play next. You may feel that you are ready to jump straight into some fun bass lines, or you might want to take things slowly and try a few simple exercises first. Whatever you choose, don’t go too fast and start playing difficult lines straight away. This could cause an injury.

Split your practice up into different areas if you have a lot of time on your hands. Alternatively, you can focus on your weakest points or cover those areas over a few days if you have limited time.

The five main areas I generally look at when practising are:

  1. Reading 
  2. Songs and Repertoire
  3. Ear Training and Transcription 
  4. Improvisation and Creativity 
  5. Applied Harmony and Theory 

1. Reading

Reading will completely change your playing in ways you don’t even realise yet. It will open the doors to paid gigs and the opportunity to become a full-time professional (if that appeals to you).

Any translation of music from the written page to the instrument is useful and it all helps you get to know the fretboard a little better. Chord charts are just as important as regular notation so find as many types of charts, transcriptions and lead sheets as you can and play through them on your instrument.

2. Songs and Repertoire

Learn as many songs in as many styles as you can. This will also help your reading/ear training depending on how you choose to learn songs. Having a strong repertoire of songs in different styles is one of the most useful skills to have. Repertoire will also develop your general bass playing and will make you more of a well-rounded player rather than just a rock/pop/ska player etc.

3. Ear Training and Transcription

Practice learning songs by ear by playing along to the radio, TV, CDs or any other means of finding new music. Work out melodiessoloschords – anything that catches your ear. Singing lines as you play them or singing a line and trying to copy it on your bass will improve your ear quickly.

All forms of ear training will help to link up your internal and external musical voices so you are more prepared when it comes to playing an idea you can hear in your head.

4. Improvisation and Creativity

This area consists of making anything up on the bass including lines, riffs and songs. It also includes improvising around a chart or chord sequence as this is often required for gigs (especially jazz). Improvising is a practical way to apply any knowledge of chord tones or scales you may have been working on.

Walking bass lines are a perfect way to practice improvising as you have to use theory in a practical way to link different chords together.

5. Applied Harmony 

This area could consist of learning and using chord tones, scales, arpeggios and basically anything else you may learn in theory that can be applied to the neck. It is essential to really understand the theory behind any technique so you can apply it appropriately.

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  1. Michael O'Mara May 11, 2015 at 2:07 am - Reply

    Thanks Mark for the very useful thoughts on practice productivity

  2. Mark Butler May 17, 2015 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    I love it when I think I’m learning something specific (bass), and it turns into a life-lesson such as this video. Bravo!

  3. Vince June 1, 2015 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    This is a FANTASTIC ‘lecture’. Thank you so much for your honesty and wisdom from years of learning. This is very, very helpful and applies to any instrument.

  4. Jonah Craven July 10, 2015 at 5:42 am - Reply

    I’m going to try your pratice program

  5. David Badilla August 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you Mark, I tried to learn guitar some years ago and used a lot of those mindless exercises and in the end I never managed play anything but that and I was going in the same direction with the bass, I should have seen this lecture 15 years ago

  6. Prakrit Adhikari August 22, 2015 at 12:41 am - Reply

    You’re the best mark!!

  7. Maryann Squassabia October 2, 2015 at 7:14 am - Reply

    Hey there!

    I just bought my first bass. Though I’m not an ancient dog, I’m no pup….I hope I can learn a new trick. Most of my gigs have been as a vocalist, but I do play piano and compose.

    Many of your tips for practice rang true as they echoed sentiments my piano teacher (who graduated a music conservatory) shared with me decades ago. Thanks : )

    So far I’m just trying to play the first riff of “Another one Bites the Dust.” When I play the A on the E string, it vibrates most of the time. Out of curiosity, would it be bad form to just play the open A string instead?

  8. Wojtek Ciszak January 19, 2016 at 3:16 am - Reply

    Very intelligent and thoughtful approach to practicing on any instrument, not just bass. This will also help me with my saxophone practice.

  9. Srini Bulusu January 25, 2016 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    KUDOS! Marc, your lectures and teaching styles are amazing, just what I was looking for. I have learnt more in a couple of days by using your time management ideas and clear learning objectives. You are right about mindless practice routines as muscle memory is so volatile. I had that ah! ah! moment as you said when I started reading my son’s basic music theory book to understand some concepts…now it makes sense. I am on an uphill journey to learn bass right now but your inspiring videos will keep me trudging on. Thanks! Appreciate your efforts in sharing your knowledge to the world.

  10. Aleksandr February 2, 2016 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    Hello Mark, thanks for the videos!

    I find your course immensly helpful and really well structured. Moreover, you got amazing pronounciation, which is kinda important for someone without proper knowledge of Shakespeare’s.
    I agree with what you’ve said in this video. I vividly remember the days back in my elementary school when I was learning the violin, only literally throwing it away after half a year. Practicing scales and w/e is important, of course, but when there’s absolutely no joy in what you’re doing, then there’s something wrong. And if that thing is meant to be a hobby, than it’s truly a disaster.
    Maybe if I’d have a teacher like you, I wouldn’t be exploring the joy and magic of music after a thirty years long hiatus. Shame, shame…

    During the “play with your favourite song” part I really smiled, as it’s exactly the thing that the pupils should be allowed and encouraged to do, no matter how silly and/or difficult is their beloved song, as this gives a sense and meaning to their torment.

    I decided I won’t die musically-illiterate and I purchsed a bass guitar right before Christmas – talk about “handy Xmas gift” – and thankfully I immediatelly ran into this wonderful website. Back when I was 6 (and then later fifteen and 20 and 26 and so on) I always shied away from active music due to all the stress and importance and drama and sincerity. Past my Midlife Crisis – got the allusion? – I just said to myself “bah, screw that, lets just have some fun”. Thanks for strengthening my point of view and giving me the power to FIGHT my bass.

    Cheers, Aleks

    PS: Btw, as my song of choice, I prefer Darkthrone: Transilvanian Hunger… :-))

  11. John Tooley May 17, 2016 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    You hit it on the head with practicing. Awesome video

  12. Dave May 25, 2016 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Thanks for the lesson, this is good stuff ! Really got a chuckle off the tut, eye roll and ebay sale of Fender precision bass also 🙂

  13. Darren Woodley June 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Thanks Mark, this is really helpful as I normally just end up noodling when I practice

  14. Shawna Love November 8, 2016 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Shared this on FB.
    Thanks for some the best advice ever!

  15. Warren Blackwell December 4, 2016 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Hey Mark simpy fantastic lesson information and as one said life lessons. Great advice , I am 65 yrs old and just starting to learn bass. I am an old school drummer but needed to move on with something new for retirement. Thanks. I will be signing up for the Gold as I progress.

  16. Bill McCarthy February 5, 2017 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you Mark this has been a big help

  17. Brendan October 9, 2017 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Hey Mark, just wanted to say thanks for another great lesson, your material and talkingbass is the one source I keep coming back to. I really appreciate your frank, informative, humorous style and especially the mix of theory with practice. I started playing bass at age 46, not easy as you say with family commitments, I love playing bass even though its taking me while to get “good” at it. I’m certainly weighing up which of your paid material would best suit me and hope to skype with you one day when I get the courage and have some confidence in my ability.
    thanks heaps
    best wishes

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