Category Archives: Lesson

Bobby Ross Avila – Transcription

Broken Heart – Booker T Feat. Jay James

I haven’t posted a blog in a while, so I thought I’d put up a transcription I was working on a few months back. I hadn’t heard this track before, but it turns out the vocalist (Jay James Picton) is from near where I live, we’ve hung out and jammed a few times since first meeting….he’s a great guy and a cool musician too. Check him out!

He told me about this track he did with Booker T, so I decided to check it out, and was floored by the bass player and his feel. His name is Bobby Ross Avila….you might not have heard of him, but you will have probably heard tracks he produced (with his brother IZ – check them out!) and you will definitely have heard a lot of the people they work with! It shocked me that I wasn’t aware of him, he’s an absolute beast. I felt I could learn a lot from doing a transcription of this song.

So here is the track:

And here is my transcription of his bassline for you to check out. It might not be 100% perfect, but that’s what the recording is for! If there are any major howlers you think need correction, comment on this post or use the Contact Page.

View/Download Transcription PDF

I thought I might do an outline analysis to demonstrate what I’m looking at when I do a transcription like this. As a quick aside, when working on something like this, I learn it from memory up to full speed first, before dissecting it for content. This dissection can be taken as far as you want, so I’ll just mention a few bits and bobs to hopefully spark some thought processes/research avenues for you to go down.

Analysis of the Transcription

Time

Note Lengths: Especially on beat 2 but also beat 4, the bass cuts off or sustains his notes to clear room for the snare drum. Not normally a conscious decision when playing but can really help with your groove if worked on in the practice room.

Feel: It’s not fully addressed in the notation, but there is a lazy, behind the beat feel going on in the bass. The drums, especially hihats, are very much “on” the beat most of the time with occasional snare and kick drum behind the beat, but this is only on rare occasions.

On-beat/Off-beat Balance: The on-beat of beat 1 is utilised heavily in the bassline, but the  other subsequent beats tend to be more syncopated. When the other on-beats are then used, it grounds the feel of the bassline, leading to it feeling heavier. Additionally, when beat 3 is played, often it is just a preceding note to the off-beat (+ of) 3, which is more heavily accented. It’s the balance of rhythmic lightness/heaviness which makes for a rhythmically interesting part. Too much of one or the other will make things uninteresting/unstable. To me, this bass part has great rhythmic interplay.

Mute/Ghost Notes: In this style these are very common, and can add real momentum to a song. In a mix context they can be very difficult to distinguish from the kick drum, so should be experimented with to see what feels the most comfortable and makes it groove the most. The thing to bear in mind is that the ghost are primarily derived from the subdivision of the groove; in this case straight 16th notes.

Harmony

Tonality: Essentially this is diatonic C Major, but additional chromaticism in the bassline adds interest and connects the dots. Major chords tend to be treated pentatonically, and C pentatonic really is providing the core of the material in this bassline.

Chromaticism: There are lots of chromatic approaches from 2 semitones above or below the chord tones in semiquaver phrases. In slower crotchet or quaver based phrases, single semitone approaches are favoured from either above or below.

Tone/Dynamics

While this isn’t addressed in the transcription itself, it is very important. To me this seems like a classic Fender-style bass tone, possibly a Jazz Bass, or something similar. The sound of the bass, while being very round and low-end heavy, is relatively uncompressed, with the compressor functioning as a peak limiter only when he plays hard. This means the muted ghost notes poke through more sonically.

Instrument Specific Techniques

As well as the ghosts, there are a large amounts of slides over larger intervals, and hammer-ons over smaller intervals of a semitone or tone.

Contouring

Melodic Referencing: The bassline references and plays in unison with the vocal melody quite often. This balance between hinting at and joining with the melody, and playing countermelodically against it give contour, dynamic and motion to the song.

Build: Verse 1 – Lots of space during beat 2 and the first half of beat 3. From Pre Chorus 1, the on-beat of beat 3 is filled more often (primarily every other bar) but not with a hugely regular structure. There is also a build of intensity from beginning to end by mostly playing off the quaver until the bridge. After that, the bassline steps up a gear by playing more off the 16th note.

Conclusion

This is a great bassline transcription to learn/analyse, and is full of interesting ideas which could be applied to your own playing. Hopefully you’ve got some ideas on how to extract information from something like this and apply it to your own playing….this transcription definitely expanded my horizons.

As always, any questions/suggestions/whatever, please comment below or contact me.

Learning Licks – Good Or Bad?

The Pro’s and Con’s of Licks

So, over the time I’ve been playing, I’ve been instructed at various points to “learn licks” and “don’t bother learning licks”. In this post I’d like to discuss what I’ve found in terms of the pro’s and con’s.

Tom Sinnett - StudiOwz Pre Production - Hill of DoorsWhat is a lick?

A lick, in modern musical terms, is basically “a stock pattern or phrase” (defined in the book “Studying Popular Music” by Richard Middleton). It’s that basic. Some licks are as short as a beat, others seem to go on endlessly. Some are pattern based, others don’t repeat the same note twice. You can learn a lick from someone else or come up with your own. But they all have two things in common, in my opinion; content and context.

Content – The actual notes, rhythm and structures contained in the phrase
Context – The situation in which the content is played, in other words the time and the chordal harmony.

To learn/not learn licks

I believe that both instructions are equally useful. People who are for or against licks seem to neglect the fact that learning licks is a process, which actually utilises both learning licks and not learning licks.

Sounds weird, right? How does that work?

Let’s draw a comparison with language, because music is basically another language we communicate with. We learn complete phrases comprised of words when speaking, but in music we use notes/pitches instead of words. These are learned via reading, or learned aurally (heard). We then learn what the context of the sentence is. In other words, which situation we use it in (in musical terms, this is the chord/chords the lick is used on). After this, we use either the whole phrase or fragments of it to make our own phrases/sentences, based on the knowledge we have gained from the initial phrase. We can also use our own phrases in different contexts if we want to.

Here is an example:

Initial Phrase – “The investors got a negative return on the money they put in.”
Context – The investors got less money back than they spent.

Core Content – Negative return, meaning getting out less than you put in.

New Phrase – “Dave got a negative return when he bought that girl a drink at the bar.”
Context – Dave got nothing for spending his money on buying the girl a drink.

To my mind, when it comes to music, licks are a way for people to deduce structures they can then apply in similar contexts. The point which most people fall down on, in my eyes, is they learn a lick and what chord it goes with, and then play that lick whenever they see that chord.

That’s all well and good but to me it shows that they have not absorbed the content of the lick, they are instead just playing the exact lick whenever they see that same familiar context. You should be able to expand it, contract it, increase the range of it. Hell, you should be able to manipulate it in any way you want to express yourself as a musician, not express yourself the same way someone else did.

So what are we looking for in terms of content when we learn licks? I look for structures, including any scales or arpeggios, rhythmic patterns, notes which are “outside” the harmony and notes either side of them, and how all these things relate to the chord progression, time, groove etc.

My Personal Lick Learning Process (Roughly)

  1. Once I’ve found a lick I like, I transcribe the lick and the context off a recording and learn to play them. Alternatively I learn it from notated music.
  2. If it isn’t already, I write it out and note the harmonic context above it.
  3. I analyse the content. I look for any scale and arpeggio patterns first, chromatic approaches, diatonic approaches, rhythmic figures, and any other aspects of note.
  4. I work initially on reducing the lick to its parts which fit with the chord (chord tones), and derive exercises based on that. This enables better understanding of chord tones and diatonic structures.
  5. I then go back to the initial lick and play the whole thing, paying attention to how the chord tones are approached. I then derive exercises based on that.
  6. Finally, I take those structures through all 12 keys so I can play them in the same harmonic context but in any key. As a development from this you can also experiment with varying the content to fit a new context. As an example, if your lick is in C Minor, change the diatonic notes to C7 and see what comes out.

I cover this in much more detail in private lessons, as this is a methodology which takes time to refine, but it should give you an idea.

Conclusion

How do we learn licks but not learn licks? By learning them, but by paying attention not to the lick itself, but the underlying structure it is made of. We are learning licks, then learning structures, not licks. These structures can then be tweaked and altered to fit new contexts or the same one.

Hopefully this is of use to people, and as always, if you have any questions feel free to email me from my contact page.

The Major Scale – Foundation Knowledge

The Major Scale – What It Is And Why It’s Important

The major scale is one of the primary tonalities in western music……as such, it’s a really important musical tool which everyone should understand, and it’s components should be part of every musicians vocabulary.

In essence the major scale is a very simple thing: it is a sequence of tones and semitones in the ascending order from the root:

Root – Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

or

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

and these notes continue to repeat above and below the one octave contained above. For example, when you hit the C at the top, you begin the pattern again as if it was the C at the bottom, and like before D comes next but one octave higher. Conversely, if descending, when you hit the C at the bottom you go back to the top, and the pattern extends so your next note below C is B.

This scale can then be analysed and approached in a variety of ways, using concepts I have previously discussed in my blog lesson about intervals.

The PDF for this lesson on the major scale can be downloaded here.

Learning The Basic Sound Of The Major Scale

First, get your instrument (be it bass, guitar, piano, any instrument with pitches will do) and play one octave of the major scale. If you’re stuck on recognising the notes as written, and relating that to where they are on the fingerboard, I’ve previously written a relatively handy reference sheet on reading notation which you can download here.

Just match up the notes you need from the major scale reference sheet and slowly, with the notation reference sheet, find them on the fingerboard and play them up and down. If you’re struggling with recognising the notes, say them out loud as you play each one, as this will help reinforce what they are called and where they are.

You should find that it’s a very familiar sound; one which we all become accustomed to hearing from a very young age. Most nursery rhymes from your childhood, many Christmas carols and all sorts of adverts from TV and radio are all constructed using this scale. Try noodling round and playing a few, you’ll see what I mean.

Breaking Down The Major Scale

So, if a major scale consists of 7 different notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), how can we break this down into smaller chunks of information which are easier to deal with? The two most common ways, as shown on the PDF, are to break it down into 3 and 4 note groups. 3 notes are called a triad, 4 notes are called arpeggios or chords, depending on whether you break them up and play one note at a time (arpeggio) or all 4 notes at once (chord).

Regardless of whether they are triads or arpeggios, there are still only 7 notes of the major scale to build them from, and as triads contain less notes we will start there.

As you can see in the PDF, the triad is constructed by missing out the 2nd and 4th notes of the scale so we only play 1, 3 and 5. This can then be extended by using the same principle of playing every other note, starting on any of the possible notes of the scale, so you have 7 triads going up (see lines 4 and 5 on the PDF sheet), and these can also obviously be played coming back down as well. Another thing to remember is that as bass players we will mostly be playing these broken up, 1 note at a time, triads can and should be practiced by playing all 3 notes at the same time, too. This can be quite challenging on bass because of the size of the instrument, but it is very achievable with the right guidance. If you have trouble with it on bass, try it on a piano or guitar.

However, if we look and analyse the types of triad in the major scale, we can see that there are actually only 3 types of triad: Major, Minor, and Diminished. Simple. So it stands to reason in my mind that firstly, especially for guitarists and bassists, we should work out every possible way of playing these 3 triads. I would suggest working out shapes on the fingerboard starting them on each finger of your left hand, using 1 finger per fret, and seeing how each one feels. These three types of triad can then be played based on the order of tones and semitones from the top of the page. So I would think of this exercise something like this in C Major:

C Major Triad – Move Up a Tone
D Minor Triad – Move Up a Tone
E Minor Triad – Move Up a Semitone
F Major Triad – Move Up a Tone
G Major Triad – Move Up a Tone
A Minor Triad – Move Up a Tone
B Diminished Triad – Move Up a Semitone

You can then also play this backwards for the descending version back to the root. This is a great technical exercise, but also a great musical exercise if you transpose this through all 12 keys. I’ll be writing a lesson on that in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, there is a good article on the construction of the major scale which is helpful with transposition here.

Extending Triads Into Arpeggios

Now we have become more familiar with triads, they can be extended by adding the 7th (continue missing out every other note of the scale, in this case the 6th). If you look at the last 2 lines of the PDF sheet, you can see that there are only 4 different arpeggio shapes contained in a major scale, so it is still a relatively small amount of information. These arpeggios should again be worked out in a variety of different fingerboard shapes, starting on different fingers of the left hand. The 4 different arpeggios you need to know are:

Major 7th
Dominant 7th
Minor 7th
Minor 7th Flat 5 (or Half Diminished)

This then gives us a similar order to the triads:

C Major 7 Arpeggio – Move Up a Tone
D Minor 7 Arpeggio – Move Up a Tone
E Minor 7 Arpeggio – Move Up a Semitone
F Major 7 Arpeggio – Move Up a Tone
G Dominant 7 Arpeggio – Move Up a Tone
A Minor 7 Arpeggio – Move Up a Tone
B Minor 7 Flat 5 Arpeggio – Move Up a Semitone

Again, all the learning principles from the triad work stands for this. The approach to learning it is exactly the same, but you have one extra note added on to each triad. I don’t think I need to say it all again, so I’ll leave it for you to work out by yourself. However, as always, if anyone does have any questions, feel free to get in touch via the contact page of this site.

Why Do I Need To Know This?

Whatever type of music you listen to, from classical to metal and everything in between, you will hear this stuff all the time. You may not recognise it, but it’s there. If you do a little work on familiarising yourself with the major scale, you can then expand this knowledge to enable you to understand what is happening musically in an piece of music you like, and then use and manipulate that same information to copy that music or create your own. It’s all about understanding what you are hearing. This is just the start, and the principles we’ve used here can be applied to many other scales and chords which are commonly used in particular genres. That comes later, but you have to lay the foundations first.

Notation on Bass Guitar – Reading Music

Reading Notes/Notation – A Dying Art?

Many, many musicians who play modern music, especially on fretted instruments such as guitar and bass, have a real weak spot when it comes to reading notation or “dots”. The thing that really confuses me is the unwillingness of many musicians to even consider trying to learn it. I understand that many people only like their own particular “thing”, whatever that may be, but I strongly believe that the more you know about music and your instrument, the better.

The fact of life is, if you want to be a professional musician then reading music is a skill you can’t really live without, and I have witnessed this first hand many times, getting gigs because I can read and seeing others lose them because they can’t.

The most amazing thing is that learning to read music doesn’t take that long to understand, and once you have the skill it will keep developing and never be lost, enabling you to draw ideas/concepts and influences from any piece of written music you can ever find (and there’s a lot out there!).

Why not just use guitar tabs etc, I hear you ask? Well, they tell you where to put your fingers, agreed……and can be a really handy thing at times……but tab doesn’t give you enough information. There is no mention of rhythm at all, so if you don’t know the piece and have no reference recording of it, you’re a bit stuck. Notation on the other hand conveys many components enabling you to play music, without needing other references. You have pitch, rhythm, dynamics, sometimes harmony and other necessary information all combined into one system. If you can read that, you don’t need anything else.

How to Start

To me, the logical place to start with notation is note recognition, or learning where all the notes are on your bass and how they look written down. We will focus on this first, before rhythm or other aspects of notation are introduced. I have provided a PDF for download below, and this will be followed by a video lesson in the near future.

View/Download Bass Notation Reference Sheet

Also, reading around this subject is definitely advised. The first half of the following link explains how notation works, and the second half deals with further aspects should you want to read on.

Method Behind The Music – Notation

The Aim of this Exercise

The objective here is to increase familiarity with note names, how they relate to the fingerboard, and how they look in notation form. This will be coupled with technical practice relating to the use of 1 finger per fret concepts (Left Hand) and alternating index and middle fingers (Right Hand), so you’re actually working on about 4 or 5 musical topics/elements at the same time. This is how to practice efficiently. Also be aware of the fact that string players have the issue of being able to play the same note in a variety of places on the fingerboard, and you should be consciously trying to see patterns of where the same notes repeat themselves.

How to do The Exercise

Play each bar through slowly, out of time, while concentrating on what the note looks like written down on the page. While doing this, say the note name out loud (sharps on the way up, flats on the way down). Also be aware of what your left and right hands are doing, so change your focus every so often from the note names and how they look written down, to what your hands are doing.

Right hand should be strictly alternating index and middle fingers (this can be flipped so you begin on the middle finger then alternate middle, index). Left hand should be using one finger per fret, thumb roughly in line with the middle finger and dropped down towards the bottom of the back of the neck. Fingers should be arched and pressing into the string and fingerboard, not pulling or pushing it, and once a note is fretted it should be held down (on the way up) and all fingers should be fretting on the way down. The previously used finger should then be simply removed a small distance to play the next note when descending.
Play one line at a time, until you are comfortable, then move on to the next line. Once that is also comfortable, play all the way up and down one string, whilst still saying the note names out loud. Repeat this process for all strings, then put it all together. Also try breaking it up by skipping strings and starting at the 12 fret so you play descending then ascending.

Developing Your Notation Reading Skills

Now you have a reference, you can pick any bass music out there and slowly work through it to identify how to play the notes, and what they are called. I will develop these concepts on in a further lesson in future, but should you have any questions, feel free to get in touch via my Contact Page.

Intervals – Building Blocks of Music

Intervals – The Distance Between Notes

Intervals are one of the most important constituent parts of music, in my opinion, and yet many students do not understand what I am talking about when I mention intervals during lessons. This is why I have written this post, to provide an online permanent reference for my private students and anyone else who might be interested. To begin, download the Lesson Sheet below. This sheet is in Bass Clef, but if anyone would like a Treble Clef version, feel free to message me via my Contact Page.

View/Download Intervals Lesson Sheet

What is an interval?

This is really simple, an interval is just another word for “the distance between two pitches”. Obviously two pitches can be played one after the other (Melodic or Horizontal), or can be played together, at the same time (Harmonic or Vertical). In western music, the smallest interval we have is called a semitone and equals 1 fret up or down from the note you start on, on a bass or guitar. Any other interval is constructed from “jumps” of more than one semitone, for example a Major 3rd is 4 semitones above or below the note you started on, a Tone (or Major 2nd) is 2 semitones.

Using Semitones

We can work out how big intervals are by using semitones. As bassists or guitarists, we gauge intervals using fret numbers. If we count the note you begin on as 0, then move up or down by a given number of semitones/frets, we can also say we have moved by a particular interval, given below:

  • 0 Semitones = Unison
  • 1 Semitone = Minor 2nd
  • 2 Semitones = Major 2nd
  • 3 Semitones = Minor 3rd
  • 4 Semitones = Major 3rd
  • 5 Semitones = Perfect 4th
  • 6 Semitones = Augmented 4th / Diminished 5th
  • 7 Semitones = Perfect 5th
  • 8 Semitones = Augmented 5th / Minor 6th
  • 9 Semitones = Major 6th / Diminished 7th
  • 10 Semitones = Minor 7th
  • 11 Semitones = Major 7th
  • 12 Semitones = Perfect Octave

There are more names for some of these intervals, and it is also worth doing some reading on Enharmonic Equivalents for further clarification on notes that sound the same but are named or notated differently. Also, for fretted instruments, be aware there is more than one way to play a lot of intervals e.g. a minor third can be 3 frets above the first note on the same string, but also 2 frets behind on the string above. So a C to Eb Minor 3rd interval can be either: 3rd fret to 6th fret on your A string, or 3rd fret A string to 1st fret D string. This is another reason you need to know what all the notes are all the way across the fingerboard.

Intervals in Scales

Everyone has heard of a scale of some description when talking about music, even if it’s people saying “I learned music when I was young and hated playing scales”. This is actually a very common reaction when the dreaded scale is mentioned. In reality, there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s sort of like when you were a kid and you thought there were monsters under your bed at night, it was all really scary until your mum or dad turned on the lights and you realised there was nothing there.

A scale is just a series of intervals played one after the other. The gap between each note in a scale is generally no more than a Tone, although bigger intervals do occur every so often. So, for example, a C Major scale consists of these notes:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

And then repeats as it goes up or down. If you look at this in terms of tones and semitones, it goes like this:

C Major Scale Intervals

The construction of scales and arpeggios etc. will be dealt with in a further lesson which I am currently writing, but in the meantime all you need is to understand that scales and things can be broken down into individual intervals between each note. There are also a finite amount of intervals in the world, some of which are much more commonly used than others.

Describing Intervals by Name

An interval name is broken into two parts: the Quality (Major, Minor, Perfect, Augmented or Diminished) and the Number (2nd, 3rd, 4th etc), giving you all the information you need to work out what the interval is.

The Number

The Number is based on something called the diatonic staff position. In other words, the lines and spaces of a musical staff. If we refer to the example staff above containing C Major, we can count the lines and spaces to work out the interval, for example, C to G is a 5th: we can see that C is a 1st, D is a 2nd etc. until G is a 5th. E to G is a 3rd, because E is a 1st, F is a 2nd and G is a 3rd. That’s all there is to working out the number of an interval. Easy!

The Quality

To my mind, the Quality is the description of the “sound” of the interval. There are only 5 possible options with this: Perfect, Major, Minor, Augmented and Diminished. Once you learn the details of how these work as well, and see a few examples, everything will become a whole lot easier.

Perfect intervals were traditionally considered “perfectly consonant”, so Unison and Octaves are Perfect, as are 4ths and 5ths.

Major and Minor intervals are not considered perfect, and apply to the other, non-perfect numbers. These are the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th. As a rule, the larger interval is always called Major, and the smaller is called Minor.

Augmented and Diminished intervals are either greater or smaller than Perfect, Major or Minor intervals by a semitone, but still have the same interval number because they are on a particular line of the staff. For example, C to E# is an Augmented 3rd, because it has exceeded the major 3rd interval by a semitone. Similarly, C to Gb is a Diminished 5th because it has exceeded a perfect interval by a semitone.

As a rule of thumb:

Major and Perfect Intervals up by one semitone become Augmented.

Major Intervals down by one semitone become Minor.

Minor and Perfect Intervals down by one semitone become Diminished.

Inversions

Inversions occur when intervals are switched around: either the lower pitch of an interval is raised by an octave, or the higher pitch is lowered by an octave. In my mind, when inverted, intervals become opposite. So:

  • 2nds = 7ths
  • 3rds = 6ths
  • 4ths = 5ths
  • Major = Minor
  • Augmented = Diminished
  • Perfect = Perfect

And, as in mathematics, the equals sign works either way around e.g. C to A: a Major 6th inverts to a Minor 3rd.

Compound Intervals

Compound intervals are simple in concept as well, and will aid in your understanding of chords and harmony. Once you go past the octave (8th), the numbering of intervals continues. So a Compound 2nd becomes a 9th, a Compound 3rd becomes a 10th, and so on. These are sometimes known as the upper extensions of a chord, and certain extensions/compound intervals are more common than others. I have included these in the Lesson Sheet at the top of the page.

How They Sound

This is the most important thing to me, as knowledge is great but needs to be used in practical situations. If you can learn how intervals sound and how to play them on your instrument, you have the makings of strong relative pitch. When I was younger and I learned all this, I began by working out the shapes of the intervals on the fingerboard and wrote them all out, so I knew how to play them all. I then began memorising how they sound by playing them over and over.

I have since been shown a much better way. Still begin by working out the shapes and writing them down so you know what they are on the fingerboard, but for learning to recognise the sound of each one, I recommend Functional Ear Trainer Basic. This exercise was given to me by my teacher, Joe Hubbard, and his article on using this exercise with the software to develop relative pitch/interval recognition should be read and followed by everyone. Check it out here.

Help

This may seem like a lot of complex stuff to learn, but trust me, once you know it you will be amazed at how much easier it is to play music, by ear or written out. It’s absolutely worth it.

To begin, read this article over and over, and make notes, sit down and work out what all the intervals are, and try the ear training. Also, Google can be a great asset, so if there are things you are unsure of, have a search and read other peoples writings on this subject. Just bear in mind that articles may or may not be wide of the mark, so take all the information on board and try to draw your own conclusions on the subject. The information will also stick in your mind better this way. Finally, if you really want some help or clarification on any of this, a 1 hour lesson with me in person or on Skype will be enough to completely deal with this topic. Feel free to contact me if you would like to do this.

As I keep saying, Knowledge is Power and learning is fun………..so just enjoy the ride, you will definitely get better!

How to Practice Music Efficiently

The Importance of Correct Practice & Good Teachers

Over the last year during my studies with Joe Hubbard I learned a lot about how to practice, and the benefits of having a good teacher. Up until that point, even though I had got through a 4 year degree in jazz, I hadn’t really given enough consideration to my approach to practicing music. Joe helped me clarify a lot of things, and confirmed or disproved many thoughts and opinions I had. I’m a great believer in taking one to one lessons with a teacher if it is at all possible, and with the improvement in internet communication over the last few years, it is now possible to study with quality teachers from anywhere in the world.Tom Sinnett and Jake Venables at StudiOwz

Here, in my opinion, is why having a quality teacher is a good thing when learning music: they know more than you. Even if people tell you “You’re amazing at bass” or guitar, or whatever instrument you play, you can and should find a teacher who is better than you. They will definitely have knowledge to pass on and some of it you will not even know exists. Everyone, without exception, has more to learn than they already know. That’s why I still study and practice, and that’s why the best in the world still study and practice. The fact of life is that there will never be a point as a musician when you know everything, or even half of it probably.

It’s good to have the humility to admit you still have things to learn, even though you may have confidence in your own ability to play your instrument.

My Practice Ideas

Everyone develops their own practice routine and approaches, and the list below is merely my own opinion, but I believe there are some key concepts to making much more rapid progress when learning an instrument. Obviously, seeking guidance from a teacher is best, but here are some things for musicians of all ages and experiences to bear in mind:

  • Break things down into small, manageable pieces. This is one of the most important things you can ever do. Then practice one small piece until it is PERFECT. I’m not talking just when learning pieces of music, either. The small chunk of information could be work on the left hand, right hand, the sound you get from your gear……..anything really, just be a perfectionist about each chunk.
  • Embrace the fact that things don’t happen instantly, and these small pieces of information could take 5 minutes or 5 weeks to get right, and then even longer to be used in a real life context.
  • Efficient practice methodologies are vital. By this, I mean taking a holistic approach to practice exercises, making exercises which work on multiple things at the same time. For example, playing one arpeggio can work on left hand, right hand, ear training, tone, fingerboard knowledge and theory all at the same time, if the concept for your approach is good.
  • You should never just learn something for the sake of it, unless it is a means to an end. Ask yourself “What do I want to get out of this?” and even if it is just because you like it, that’s a great reason. Just consider how you will use what you learn once you are in other situations, to make the time spent on it worthwhile.
  • Practice out of time first, to get your fingers around what you are trying to do. You will also learn how something sounds much more accurately when you can hear every note cleanly.
  • The metronome is good for you, but only once you have practiced things slowly enough that they are flawless every time. Once that is done, then you can ramp up the speed with a metronome. Mistakes slowly will only get worse when you get faster.
  • Listen to as many different types of music as possible, get your teacher to show you new music and ask what is happening in it and why. Then see what you can learn from it……every style of music will have new, beneficial things in for you.
  • If you aren’t sure about any of this: GET A TEACHER WHO KNOWS ABOUT THIS STUFF. If you feel your teacher doesn’t: TRY ANOTHER ONE.

This is not a definitive list, and as my ideas evolve, so do my teaching methods and playing concepts. This list will be added to/edited as things evolve.

Is This Useful?

Many people will now be asking “Is this of any use to me, though?” as they may only like one genre of music, or not have the inclination to work that hard at it. What I would say is this: a good teacher will be able to link these concepts to any style the pupil is interested in, and it will make the pupil a better musician for it. Not only that, but with a good approach to practice you can actually learn more in less time, regardless of styles. At the end of the day, it’s all just music, and the underlying mechanics are the same whether you play blues, rock, jazz, pop, punk or anything else.

As far as I am concerned, knowledge is power, so learn as much as you can. The more you learn and the better you get, the more you will want to know. So get your head down the rabbit hole.