Do you struggle with remembering musical concepts and how they’re used?  It’s okay as this is very common.  If you’ve been playing for years, it’s safe to say that you’ve probably forgotten more techniques than you learnt in music school.  And, if you’re a newcomer to the bass guitar get ready for the same thing to happen.

Wait a minute!  Does this mean that all is lost, and you’re destined to wade your way through a cacophony of musical concepts for the rest of your life hoping that one or two of them stick by the end?

No, because today I’m going to share with you 5 extremely simple steps that will help you to remember any musical concept and make it stick.

Before I enumerate them, let’s explore an important concept when learning new principles and concepts called The Dimmer Switch Phenomenon.  There are many people who believe that learning is an all or nothing experience.  Like the times when you’re learning a new musical concept for the first time and presto- you suddenly develop a complete awareness to how to add this immediately into your vocabulary.  As we all know- it doesn’t happen like this.  This would be like turning a light switch from off to on.  A better metaphor for understanding how to inculcate a new technique or concept would be to envisage the process as a dimmer switch.   This is how learning new concepts work- gradually and incrementally.

Step 1: Practice a Series of Exercises that Relate to the Concept

The first step when learning any new musical concept is to understand how it is going to translate to the bass guitar.  The way that this is done is through developing a series of exercises that will enable you to get over the technical and instrumental hurdles to then start to learn what the concept sounds like.  Sadly, this is usually where most bass players’ education begins and ends.

Step 2: Practice the Concept in Context

Once you have sorted any technical issues on your bass and start to become familiar with the sound of the concept learnt, then you are ready to put the concept into multiple musical contexts.  It is essential to study a concept in its natural habitat.  This would consist of writing bass lines and solos over static chords, familiar chord progressions like II V I patterns, standard songs or free (no chord changes).   If you try to skip step 1, you will most likely encounter resistance because it’s important to first get past any technical hurdles as well as understanding the sound of the concept that you have learned.

Step 3: Make a Personal Connection with the Concept

Making a personal connection with the concept learnt is best done through composition.  When writing a piece of music where you are purposefully using a specific concept will enable you to absorb what you have learnt at a much higher level almost immediately.  You don’t have to write a symphony but rather in the beginning just think about short 16 bar etudes where you will document an original interpretation of what you have learnt.

Step 4: Learn the History of the Concept

Do some research about how the musical concept has been used historically throughout the history of Western Music from classical, rock, jazz, pop, etc.  This could also dovetail nicely with the process of transcription to find out how somebody else used this particular concept.

Step 5: Use “Semantic Chunking” to Organise the Concept

Read the list of following musical concepts carefully, then cover the page and try to write down as many of them as you can remember.

8th note, tritone substitution, melodic retrograde, hemiolas, II V I, approach notes, metric modulation, secondary dominants, motific development, odd times, diatonic substitution chords and tensions.

How did you do?  Most likely you were able to remember some but not all- right?  It would be a lot easier to remember these 12 different concepts if I chunked them down into three different categories.  Check out what this would look like.

8th note Melodic Retrograde Tritone Substitution
Hemiolas Approach Notes II V I
Metric Modulation Motific Development Secondary Dominants
Odd Times Tensions Diatonic Substitution Chords


By using what is called “Semantic Chunking” allows you to categorise every musical concept you will ever learn into only 3 categories which is much easier to remember and store into your musical mental lexicon.  Until next time- practice smart, work hard and play creatively!

To learn more similar concepts, you’ve got to get my book, “How to Practice With Maximum Efficiency.”  

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software