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Improving your Technique: Habits and Awareness for Bass Players

Bassist's left hand

Most bassists are looking to improve some aspect of their technique. Certainly if there is something in our technique that is creating a problem, physical or musical, then we need to make a change. Sometimes this is a major change, other times this is simply a refinement. Oftentimes, it is the acquisition of technique that motivates a young student to seek out a teacher.

It is true that, for the greatest progress, it is often advisable to seek the help of a master teacher. By doing so we can save ourselves both time and frustration in our journey to mastery. However, it should always be remembered that the bulk of responsibility for our progress will always be on us, the individual player.

In addition to the constant application and reinforcement of concepts presented by the teacher in daily practice, the student must be aware of their mind, their instrument and their body each time they play. They must notice as much as possible about how the instrument responds, how they move their body, how their mind works, etc. Self-awareness is paramount to our technique.

This is true, because ultimately, an instrumentalist’s technique is nothing more than a collection of their habits. Improving our technique simply means building up good habits in a many areas. Of course, in order to change or refine our habits, we must first know what they are.

Awareness is further important because every time we pick up the bass we are solidifying these habits. Each and every time we play we are creating and/or solidifying our habits at the bass. We should know what we are solidifying.

Whether we take time to notice it or not, we are constantly creating/reinforcing, our habits on the bass every time we play. So, why not be intentional about it? In this way we can constantly be moving forward.

When developing technique, most students are given scales, exercises and etudes. Such material has been part of the music student’s daily diet for hundreds of years. This is because they are great vehicles for establishing and refining technique. They help us to focus on a particular habit, or collection of habits, in a pointed manner. When done properly, they shorten the time required to develop our skills.

Scales, exercises and etudes are indeed ideal vehicles to help us overwrite our bad habits and reinforce our good ones and a student neglects them at their own peril. If we are to get the greatest benefit, however, we mustn’t play such material mindlessly. We must be self aware and practice them attentively. Awareness is they key to improving our technique and is essential for mastery.

What do you find helps develop good habits that lead to good technique? Tell us about it in the comments.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at www.donovanstokes.com and check out the Bass Coalition at www.basscoalition.com.

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