Learn songs and let them guide you.... 

What to practice?!

I just finished a really awesome lesson with an older student of mine and we had a conversation that really reinforced some things that I believe strongly when it comes to practice and what we should be practicing. One area in particular. 

Now, I have gone through various phases and ideologies about practicing and I've wasted a *&^$ ton of time practicing things that didn't matter.  I even got my B.A. playing classical double bass - which I was "ok" at then and really kinda suck at now because I haven't played it in any serious capacity in years and the chops that it took hella years to build up are pretty much gone.  Want to see how "ok" I was at it? Look below. If not, skip it and keep on reading. 

I worked my ass off to have intonation that bad. 

What follows in this post is what I have settled on that works best for me and, honestly most people. Particularly people of a “certain age “who are not teenagers who have mountains of time to dedicate to practicing or learning how to practice. If you're in a hurry I'll tell you right now.  Learn songs and let them guide you through the rest of your practice time. 

The Dream

First, let's look at "the dream". I know, I know, that sounds huge but really, what do you think about when you think about playing the bass guitar? I never thought "man, I can't wait to spend countless hours alone in a practice room working on things that I'll rarely if ever use in the real world." The dream for me when I first started playing bass was to play on stage, to perform with other people in front of other people. As I got older and on to various professional stages of playing the needs changed a bit but the story remains relatively the same. The dream was and is to create music with others (or alone) that will exist either at the moment as gigs or longer as recordings, videos or some other medium.  

1. Repertoire

Repetoire is king/queen. Repertoire informs so much of the things that I end up practicing because the goal has always been to play.  Some people get so caught up feeling like they need to know everything about everything before they get out and play. Nonsense! What child wants to know grammar before they start yapping away? None. All of us, and I do mean all of us regardless of our country of origin imitate (cover) our parents, older siblings and other sounds because we want to communicate. We don't look longingly at texts that we don't understand thinking that we need to understand them before we can communicate. Why on earth do we feel the need to do this with music? I understand that some folks find a sort of therapy in scales and theory etc. If that's your bag, totally cool but you'll never be asked to play a scale on a gig or in a casual jam. You may be asked to play "Cissy Strut" or "Rock with You" or "24k Magic" or "Kiss" or....you feel me? 

But...WHAT repertoire?!

I started off playing what my friends and I liked the most but I had to also learn how to play what was being played in my area and what was required of me as a bass player. I remember being a 17-year-old kid who could play any Prince tune that you could name but couldn't play some of the Top 40 stuff that was happening at the time and getting unceremoniously fired from the first working band that I'd ever played with. I didn't just want to play with others, I wanted to gig but I'd never be able to do that if I couldn't (or wouldn't) learn tunes that were being played in the circles that I wanted to play in. 

I had to (you have to) get out of the house (and off of YouTube). You've got to find out who’s playing and WHAT are they playing? Get out, listen and make a list. Just pull out your phone and instead of scrolling through Facebook, make a list on a note app or something or make a recording. What are those songs?? Do you know any of them well enough to sit in or sub? Likewise, you can go online and just Google cover bands in your area. Most, if not all of them will have a song list on their site. Can you play any of those songs?  Get to work! That’s where you’re going start to cover the repertoire portion of your practice time. If your goal is to play with other people you have to know what other people are playing and expect you to be able to play. The end. There’s simply no getting around it. 

Reverse engineer.

Allow that repertoire to then inform how you spend the rest of your practice time in the following areas: 

2. Technique

3. Time & Groove

4. Fingerboard Visualization

More on 2 - 4 later but I wanted to get this one off of my chest while it was fresh! The whole point is that whatever you practice, however you practice it should be in support of material that allows you to play and experience music with and for others.

How do you tackle your practice time? I'd love to hear your opinions!