For bass players, visualisation is the process of imagining in your mind’s eye what you would actually hear in your mind’s ear. Being able to visualise and “picture” your fingerboard and the notes you are playing is a valuable skill to acquire. This tactic will enable you to play the bass, rather than the bass playing you.
Visualisation is something that we all do everyday. In fact, forming a mental image of something before we actually do it is all too common in most people’s everyday lives. Actors visualise their performance before they go on stage. Sports athletes of all types have used visualisation techniques for decades and swear by them. Public speakers visualise the speeches they prepare and musicians of all types, including bass players, visualise what they are going to play before they actually play it.
With this in mind, visualisation accelerates the process of learning to play the bass guitar. So, how would you actually visualise something? Here is a simple exercise: Sit in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and imagine your bass guitar’s fingerboard in your mind’s eye. Congratulations, you have just visualised.
Practical thinkers may be slow to get this because their thought process may not initially allow themselves to picture something in their mind as intangible as musical sounds. The key to understanding this concept is that we all associate symbols with sounds. For example, if you were to visualise a middle C note, you might go about this in several different ways. One way is to imagine all the different places on your fingerboard that has a middle C and how you would actually finger that note. On most standard scale 4-string basses there are four different locations where there is a middle C. Another way is to picture the actual note on the musical staff and then a third alternative is to picture that letter name C in your mind and imagine what it sounds like.
There are two distinct ways of going about this related to playing the bass. The first is called Verical Visualisation. This is where you would work on visualising chord structures. The key element in playing a bass line – whether it is supportive or a solo – is outlining the harmonic progression. A simple way to begin this is by taking what are called “guide tones” (see Ex.1) which are the 3rd and 7th of any given chord and imagine these played simultaneously along with the root note. Work the three ways described above by isolating the chord in question and then build progressively by visualising simple chord sequences (see Ex.2) right up to more complex progressions.
The second approach is what is called Linear Visualisation. This is where we are conceiving linear ideas that outline the harmonic progression in our creative imagination. Start slowly by taking short two beat phrases and practicing these in your mind’s eye. Imagine the fingering possibilities; imagine the sound of the phrase and don’t worry about visualising at great speeds, because speed is not the issue here (see exercises 3 & 4).
Often a major set back when practicing the bass (or performing on the bass for that matter) is a lack of focused concentration. It’s so easy to get side tracked when you lack that level of concentration. The downside to this is with many bass players is that they inevitably end up going off on many tangents while they are practicing and find it difficult to achieve their short and long term goals within the timeframe that they have to work. One way to developing this kind of focused concentration is by practicing visualisation. Succinctly put, when forced to practice without your bass in your hands requires superior concentration skills. Often, 5 minutes of visualisation without your bass is equivalent to an hour’s practice with your bass guitar. Saying that, visualisation skills do not replace practicing with your bass in your hands, but just enhances and accelerates your overall progress.
The value of putting some quality time into visualising both horizontally and vertically is that it actually “reverse engineers” the leaning process where instead of the “body teaching the mind” what to do, “the mind teaches to body to follow.” Most bass players learn by the body teaching the mind method- practicing something over and over by rote, while their mind is off somewhere else. When the mind teaches the body, it is able to process the information in a multi-dimensional way. With practice whatever you learn by visualising first, you will be able to play. Give it a try!