Getting better at an instrument like bass takes time and effort, the former of which can be quite elusive for some people. Many musicians believe that progress requires you to set aside a certain amount of hours in the day to study your instrument by yourself. While this concept is beneficial to musicians, in theory, it can also be a stressful distraction trying to fit this dedicated time into a busy schedule. Thankfully you can still train essential parts of your brain and muscle memory passively and in small segments of time. In this article, we’re going to provide you with five simple exercises that you can use to better your bass playing.
Spider walking is referred to by several different terms, but all revolve around the same concept – playing hand fitness. This drill can be likened to the jogging or skipping of the music world as it only requires intense focus to earn its basics.
1. Starting at fret one on your lowest string, play the first four notes on your neck in successive order. This would be an F on your E-string if you were on a standard tuned bass.
2. Once you’ve played the first four notes on the top string, move down each string in the same chromatic pattern. This might not sound natural in a musical sense, but the idea is to strengthen your fretting hand.
3. When you get to the fourth fret on your highest string (G on a standard bass), move your entire hand up one fret on the neck.
4. Make the same four-note pattern, but work your way back up to the top string. Imagine that your hand is a spider walking its path up and down a garden wall. This is where the name spider-walking comes from.
Right Hand Man
This exercise is centered around getting your plucking hand comfortable when moving between strings. Find a song to listen to that you’re familiar with for a few minutes a day while you’re reading an email or waiting for your food to cook.
1. Count in quarter notes and finger your open strings with a backbeat or metronome. Don’t worry about your fretting hand; focus only on keeping in time with the song’s pocket or click.
2. Play the song through once with your quarter note timing, then again with 8th notes. Once you have those grooves dialed in, switch up to triplet or 16th notes. This is referred to as a rhythm pyramid.
3. Try to use a song with a simple three or four-chord progression so that your brain doesn’t get too caught up in the track’s intricacies. If you’re familiar with the song’s chord structure, then apply this technique when practicing the chord structure.
4. This practice may also feel unnatural without using your fretting hand, but you’ll want to develop each hand independently to maximize its cohesive potential
Octaves are a great way to approach learning how to navigate the neck of a bass. With any exercise or scale, octaves are generally the only notes that stay constant.
1. Pick a specific scale or mode to practice or improve over a set period. For this example, we’ll use a week’s worth of time for reference.
2. At the start of the week, set aside a once-off practice session where you mindfully layout your routine for the week. You’ll want to study the shape, scale, or exercise you’re bettering in this period so that you don’t get stuck figuring it out later in the week.
3. Each day, run your exercise in one and two-octave lengths, respectively; try and figure out different ways to get from one octave to the next using the scale or mode you’re learning.
4. With enough practice, you’ll begin to notice how your hands move more naturally along the fretboard as your mind begins to build a more articulate mapping of how scales and modes apply to your instrument.
This exercise is geared explicitly towards any aspiring funk or disco bassists or any bassist that needs to improve their slap technique. Slapping and plucking are more percussive right-hand techniques that you can use to generate more attack to your overall tone. The better your slap, the harsher your attack can be.
1. Find a backbeat or metronome or even a song you enjoy on your preferred streaming service to practice along to.
2. Disregard the idea that you are a bass player for this drill. Consider only that your bass is a percussion instrument or drum. Your thumb generates a kick and snares with its slapping action, and your plucks produce ghost notes in between.
3. The idea behind this exercise is to turn off the part of your brain that seeks melody so that your right hand becomes rhythmically fluid. Not having to focus notation will also allow you to concentrate on getting a more accurate slap technique. This exercise is nearly mindless once you’re able to produce robust and consistent slapping and plucking.
Listen In Transit
This exercise is highly appealing for its spontaneous and intuitive nature. Developing an accurate ear is crucial to any true musicianship. Your ability to perform will only ever indeed translate when playing with other musicians, so it’s vital to develop a keen and wanting ear.
1. Create a playlist of songs in a genre that you enjoy or are interested in improving. These songs need to be within your range of playing ability, but not to the degree that they don’t push you to improve. Use this playlist when in transit from work or home.
2. On your way home or to the studio (i.e., whenever you are on your way to within arm’s reach of a bass guitar), listen through these songs at random and try to find one that engages you and encourages you to play.
3. Play the song on repeat right up until you arrive at your destination. If you grow tired of listening, turn off your player and let the composition settle into your memory. You’re going to try and play this song as soon as you get to your bass.
4. Sit down with your bass and set a 5-15 minute timer to play through as much of the song as you can remember. Try not to use the track or chord sheets as a reference. You’ll want to test how much of the song you can work out with your natural music ear and memory.
5. In the beginning stages, this exercise may seem very difficult to some. Still, with repetition, there will be a degree of improvement in how you listen to and interpret musical information. Much like learning how to use brush strokes on a blank canvas, musicians must learn how to play off silence.
There are so many facets of bass playing to perfect that it can sometimes be overwhelming for musicians even to start to practice. Remember to run every exercise at your own pace and use a metronome or backbeat for reference when doing your drills. You can perform most of these exercises while passively watching a movie or before you go to bed each day. If you feel stunted in your progress, reach out to a music teacher or online for more drills or exercises. We hope this article leaves you inspired and motivated to further your bass playing. Have fun grooving!