A common question I get is: “Do you have any tips for practicing with recorded music?”
Your evolution as a player directly reflects what you practice, what you listen to and who you play with. With that in mind, one of the best ways to improve as a bass player and understand a related style of music is to study, listen and play along with recorded music. A common problem exists if all you do is aimlessly jam along without pinpointing the specifics of the music that you are attempting to learn. So, with that in mind, the first tip is to always learn what you want to practice specifically with before you actually start practicing with recorded music.
When practicing with recorded music you must first understand the form, feel and dynamics of the piece of music you are playing along to. Learn to write down a simple sketch outlining the basics of the tune and listen repeatedly before attempting to play along. As you start to develop your simple sketch, learn to write down the specific lines both melodically and rhythmically. As you begin to play along be sure to pause and rewind when you hit a sticking point and problem solve the parts you are having difficulty with before moving on.
As you are starting to develop your transcription, learn to hear the harmony. Don’t be led to believe that you just have to magically hear the chords- there are a lot of key elements in the process of elimination, like analysing lines melodically, where along with trying to recognise the specific chord voicings, will enable you to figure out what the harmonic structure is. As a rule of thumb, it is always good practice to learn music that challenges your current level of playing in order to improve and grow. Of course, this varies from player to player, but I have seen students repeatedly make the mistake of believing that quantity is better that quality. It is far better to work on a piece that challenges you than to work on twenty pieces that you find easy to play and understand. Even if it takes you a year to nail something specifically, quality always supersedes quantity!
Another great tip is to slow down the recording. This will enable you to process the information at a rate that you can take in; this is both helpful when figuring out what the notes and rhythm are, as well as playing along with the recording. There are many software devices available in this day and age that slow down recordings without changing the pitch such as The Amazing Slowdowner or Transcribe. Another key point when playing along with recorded music is to learn to memorize the music you are transcribing. Many people transcribe bass lines and solos without ever taking the time to actually learn what they have transcribed. With all of that said and done, the most important part of the learning process is repetition. By playing a piece of music over and over, the repeated firing of the neurons in the brain in a specific order accelerates the learning process and enables those neurons to fire much quicker when the piece of music is revisited. The result is that YOU, as a musician can play better, play faster and with fewer mistakes through the process of repetition.
If you have any further questions related to this topic, feel free to post your questions below. Until next time…practice smart, work hard and play creatively!