Sunday, May 22, 2016

Setting Practice Goals to Become a Better Bassist

Do you know what your goals are for bass?  I have known for a while, but it helps to clarify them when you write them down.  After you know the goals, you can devise a plan for reaching them.

My goals:
To be a competent jazz/swing bassist.  Specifically:
1.  To be able to compose smooth, walking bass lines on the fly, by reading chord symbols at the top of the bars.

2.  To be better at sight reading notes.

3.  To know at least 50 popular jazz tunes, but 100 would be even better.  Once I get to 50, I'll start on the next 50.

4.  To be able to play in jam sessions without being embarrassed or feeling inadequate.

5.  To be well known among the jazz community so I can more easily get gigs.

How do I get there?  Here's the path I see before me:
1.  To practice playing arpeggios all over the neck.  Arpeggios are chords played one note at a time, as is necessary on bass.  See Scott Devine's Bass Lessons 12, 13 & 14.

2.  To learn smooth transitions from one arpeggio to the next, not always starting on the root or ending on the 5th.  A bass line should sound smooth, not using large jumps from one note to the next.  You may find it smoother to land on the 3rd of the next chord rather than its root, for example.  Ever more, you don't always have to play a chord note at all.  To move from one chord or chord note to another, you can also use scale tones or chromatic tones.  The latter are used as passing notes.

3.  To practice playing up and down the neck, not confining your playing to one section of the nexk, e.g. the first position.  Always playing in one section of the neck sounds boring after a while.

4.  To develop a repertoire or inventory of chord changes that you can use over and over again on different songs, to produce smooth basslines each time you play.  Obviously, you don't always want to play the same phrase over and over again, but developing a basic inventory of chord changes will provide you with a foundation for further enhancement of your basslines.

Once you have a feel for playing arpeggios all over the neck, create a bassline for a simple song.  Most bass instructors seem to prefer "Autumn Leaves" for this purpose.  You can download the sheet music for free from the site "Learn Jazz Standards" at this link.  Click on the C instruments button.

Now you need to experiment a bit.  How can you play the chords in the top measure using smooth transitions between each chord?  The top chords are C7, F7, BbMaj7 and EbMaj7.  Try different combinations of the chord tones until you find a smooth way to move between them.

This will be hard at first, but it will get easier.  Later I will post some links to videos that illustrate these concepts.