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Refresh Yourself: Some Thoughts on Musical Growth

As we grow and develop as bassists, we tend to go through different stages of learning. Sometimes we feel inspired and creative, other times we feel as if we’ve plateaued or burnt out. During the good times, it’s easy to find new concepts to work on, specific ideas to write about, or ways to make headway during practice sessions. During the not-so-good times, it’s easy to get discouraged, unmotivated, and reliant upon muscle memory. We all go through these stages, and whether you feel like you’re thriving on your instrument or stuck in minor pentatonic world, here’s a tip for inspiration: refresh yourself.

Of what you ask? That’s easy… refresh or remind yourself of anything you’ve ever played, anything you’ve tried to figure out, concepts you’ve failed at understanding, others that you’ve excelled at, and tunes you simply feel good about playing or listening to. Revisit an artist’s catalogue that you haven’t listened to recently and I guarantee that you’ll have a new or revived appreciation for it. Look through music books that you haven’t picked up in years and try to read through the exercises. Examine old notebooks from lessons, pieces of music, old charts and set lists, and work through them again.

Hopefully, during this process you’ll realize a few things, including (but not limited to) memories of why you learned it in the first place, how you’ve used or “losed” the skill or song, notes or nuances that you never initially noticed, and how far you’ve come from when you first tackled the music.

So what brought me to this deduction? Essentially, it was a weekend at Gerald Veasley’s Bass Bootcamp. I’ve attended this camp for years, first as a student, and more recently as an instructor, but I have to admit that this year’s experience was quite unique. Rather than sitting in on advanced classes, I followed the beginner track during my free time and got to help out some of the other instructors. In doing so, I got to experience light bulb moments, new revelations, and the sudden connectivity of information… all coming from novice students.

Although I often teach beginners, it was truly inspiring to spend a weekend with a whole group of people who have just started their low-end journey. It reminded me of the enthusiasm that I had when I first started out, the clarity I gained from a simple and straightforward lesson (such as anchoring your thumb on the pickup), and the excitement of playing a new fingering pattern or bass line. It was a great way to refresh myself with an important part of the learning process.

During my period of reflection after the camp, otherwise known as the plane ride from Philly to Nashville, I decided to experiment with this concept of “refreshment.” Three days of watching and learning from master players can be inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. In order to detox and hone in on my own inspiration, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and get back to the basics. Luckily I have the CD’s from the book Standing In The Shadows of Motown uploaded on my iPod.

Motown, Soul, and R&B sparked my interest in the instrument, and I can remember spending long nights with my CD player and Squire P-Bass, staying up and trying to play “Bernadette” note for note. Figuring out the first note was a challenge, and trying to mimic the dead notes and slight rhythmic variations in each measure forced me to rewind the music time and time again. As I reminisced about my own experience, bass players such as Paul McCartney, Willie Weeks, John Entwistle, and James Jamerson Jr., told their personal stories about the music. Let’s just say that a lot of players have similar memories, and re-examining masterful bass lines, tapping into your musical roots, and reliving periods of inspiration can help breathe new life into your practice routine.

As we spend more time without instruments and the learning process evolves, it’s easy to forget how difficult it was when we started out. We were challenged by figuring out a simple bass line, following a standard progression, or being able to play fast enough to keep up with the recording. Some of you reading this may currently be in this stage of your playing, and that’s a great place to be (we’ve all been there). If you’ve been playing for years, you may have forgotten how out of reach certain things seemed in the past and how far you’ve come on your instrument. So, take time to revisit a favorite record, take another stab at music that gave you trouble in the past, and remember to say thanks for the memories.

What helps you refresh and revisit your past learning for musical growth? Tell us about it in the comments.

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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