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Treat Yourself to Some Inspiration

Bass on fireAs artists, we are constantly on the search for one thing: inspiration. Inspiration fuels our art, influences our style, and pushes us to perfect our craft. It’s what keeps us learning bass line after bass line, way into the wee hours of the morning, and it persuades us to call one drummer over another.

It also pushes us to look for new ideas or perspectives, new exercises, new teachers, new students, and new creative outlets.

Despite it’s positive power, the lack of inspiration can be equally detrimental. Creative people, whether they are visual artists, writers, chefs, filmmakers or musicians, go through periods of time of feeling particularly uninspired. We go through a “funk” (not the Bootsy kind) and may feel as if we’re not improving or as if our careers are stagnant. This lack of excitement can inhibit our practicing habits or gigging ability and it may diminish the “spark” that we once had for our art.

That said, it’s important to figure out what inspires you as an artist and as a student. Determine a couple of things that you find to be inspiring, such as listening to a certain artist or album, going to a live show, or attending an educational event. If you’re stuck in a rut and have a hard time finding the “spark,” here are a couple of suggestions and tricks for getting your butt in gear.

  1. Treat yourself to two hours of free time and $15 to buy a new album. Inspiration doesn’t have to be expensive, but we do need to make some time for it in our daily lives. Try indulging in a new record that you’ve been looking forward to hearing and spend time just listening. I suggest not having your bass in hand… you want to focus on just the music and not be distracted by your instrument. You may also want to visit an album in your music library that you haven’t listened to in a while, that way you don’t need to purchase a new album and you can rediscover something that you already own. My personal example: I bought the Tedeshi Trucks record “Revelator” (Oteil Burbridge holdin in down), sat in my room, and listened to the whole thing start to finish. I noted a couple of tunes where Oteil played some really interesting lines and then went back to figure them out.
  2. Treat yourself to a concert. Cash in the coins on your dresser and buy a ticket to a show that you’ve always wanted to go to. Since summer is approaching, a lot of great artists are planning tours… chances are, you’ll be able to grab a seat for one of your favorite bands. Seeing a live show can give you a new perspective and it can introduce you to music that you may never have been exposed to. Whether it’s a stadium show, something in a small theater, an all-day festival, or a local club gig, the energy of live music can be contagious. Hopefully, it will inspire you to head home and turn up your amp.
  3. Treat yourself to movie night. Have a night in, make some popcorn, invite some friends over, and watch one of your favorite music-driven films. Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Ray, The Blues Brothers, The Last Waltz, A Mighty Wind, Amadeus, or (insert your suggestion). You can also watch Palladia, a live concert DVD, or jump around on YouTube. This is probably the cheapest and easiest way to have a few hours of enjoyment and inspiration.
  4. Treat yourself to a lesson with a great educator. Try to get in touch with a teacher in your area and schedule a one-off lesson with a specific purpose (reading tips, playing through a ii-V turnaround, technique exercises, etc.). These days, many professional educators also do Skype lessons, so you can do a lesson from your home with a teacher 1,000 miles away. You may spend $75 and one hour of your time but you’ll learn new exercises and ways to jumpstart your practicing. Plus, you may get the opportunity to study with one of your bass heroes.
  5. Treat yourself to a full-on bass experience. Throughout the year, there are a couple of truly amazing bass player events that are specifically designed for learning and inspiring. It may require a bit of cash, travel, and a few days out of your calendar year, but it’s worth it. A bass event, such as Gerald Veasley’s Bass Bootcamp, Victor Wooten’s Bass Nature Camp or Bass Player Live can make a world of difference when it comes to your approach to music. Not only do these events provide you with clinics and master classes from some of the “greats,” but they allow you to interact with the welcoming and insightful community of bass players. Most of these camps also encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, reflect on what music and bass playing means to you, and learn new approaches to overcoming musical fears or challenges. If you go to one of these camps with an open mind and an attitude of soaking it all in, you’ll come away from it with new friends, lots of material to practice, and a hotel reservation for the following year.
  6. Treat yourself to a jam. Jamming with another player can be just as (or more) important as practicing by yourself or grooving along with records. Call a friend or a band mate, order a pizza, and play through some tunes. If you don’t know a lot of the same songs, just start with a groove, play a I-IV jam, or experiment with the blues progression. Jamming can sometimes be intimidating, especially if you feel as if you’re not at the same level as the other players, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Keep your ears open and listen to how other players approach the music… they may push you to experiment on your instrument. You may also want to use a recording device to listen back at a later date. If you don’t have anyone to play with, try finding a local blues or jazz jam session and bring your axe. Even if you’re too timid to get up and play, being in that environment can inspire you to go home, learn some of the tunes that were played, and then be prepared for next time.
  7. Treat yourself to _____________. This is where you get to fill in the blank. Think of something creative or meaningful to you and make time for it in your life. Take a walk on a nice day, go to a museum, take a long drive, go to the gym, cook a really great meal, spend an hour reading a fiction novel and drinking coffee, or get together with a friend for dinner to discuss how crazy the world is. Consider how much a positive attitude can make you feel ready to take on a challenge (such as sitting down to practice). You may surprise yourself and find new inspiration from something that has nothing to do with music.

Anyone that attempts to tackle something creative is hoping to learn, grow, develop, and achieve. Unfortunately, at some point in time, you’ll probably find yourself bogged down, stuck, discouraged, bored, or lacking motivation. Sometimes, the strides that we make in our playing come from the acknowledgement of being stagnant and then coming up with some way to climb to new heights. As someone that can easily get stuck playing the same tunes over and over again (because they sound great, right?) or allows for “life” things to get in the way, I try to remind myself to push beyond that. Music is a never-ending journey, but sometimes, you need someone or something to push you out the door; that is the inspiration.

I’m hoping that this column has helped inspire you, or has at least provided a couple of good ideas that you can implement on a regular basis to help you progress with your music.

So, what are your thoughts? How do you get inspired? Tell us about it in the comments

Photo by kalieye

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and playing sessions, she fronts an original music project, The Interludes and teaches private lessons. Visit her website to learn more about her music or to inquire about lessons.

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