Ask Damian Erskine: Uneven Playing?
Q: Whenever I play, I tend to speed up, and my play is kind of choppy and uneven. Do you have any tips to help my playing become more consistent?
A: I’ve probably touched on this in previous articles, but it’s worth repeating. The best way to work on any facet of your playing is to really hone in on the issue and focus on that until it’s no longer an issue.
I like to practice in a reductive way, meaning that I isolate issues and whittle down what I’m allowing myself to play until I’m truly focusing on that one thing.
For example, you mentioned speeding up while you play. You need to work on time, so eliminate all but one note and play nothing but rhythmic figures with a metronome. (I also found that playing along with CDs helps with your time. Even if they’re not playing to a click, it’s pretty close and if the time does waiver, it’s usually in a musical way). Just make sure to listen to yourself in context. Make sure you sound good.
Set your metronome to a medium-slow pace (not so slow that you can’t internalize the pulse of it but make sure that there’s some dead air in there so you have to internalize the subdivisions and work on your internal clock).
Set it to, say, 70 or 75 bpm. Now work on playing just quarter notes for a solid minute or two (just one note!). Next, switch to eighth notes, then eighth note triplets, 16ths, 16th triplets, etc…
Get a drum rudiment book and work on different rhythmic figures.
Spend thirty minutes doing nothing but rhythm with a metronome.
I guarantee that if you do that every day, you’re time will be strong in surprisingly little time.
If you’re playing is choppy and uneven, assess what the issue is.
Is it your right hand?
Is your index finger stronger than your middle, resulting in unintended accents?
Again, reduce the notes with the left hand down to one or two and focus on that right hand.
Play nothing but eighth notes and don’t allow yourself to play anything else until you’ve gotten a more even sound. Really focus on the tone and technique and develop those fingers.
Now practice arpeggios playing each note twice (or more), and record yourself. How does it sound? Do you need to slow it down to get it to sound right? Don’t practice mistakes! Slow things down until you can play them correctly and keep repeating it until the muscle memory develops and then speed up.
I encourage everyone to really take an honest look at how they practice. I find most beginners and intermediate players don’t really practice at all but, rather, noodle, go nuts and blow chops and see how fast they can play.
Practice must be intentional and focused. Take a break every thirty minutes from your practice and just play! It’s good to balance it out but be honest with yourself about whether you’re really practicing or just noodling.
Both are good, but practice makes you a better player. Anytime you have your bass in your hands is a good thing. Noodling in front of the TV is fine for muscle memory, etc. I often work out on technique stuff while watching a movie at home. I’ll just repeat a technique and slowly speed up as it gets comfortable. That’s great for muscle memory. I’ll never really get that third mode of the melodic minor scale down that way, but my fingers will be stronger.
Last thing: If you’re practicing, shut off the computer/phone (close Twitter, email, Facebook, texts, etc.) You have to be of one mind in order to really practice efficiently and retain information. Lock out distractions and really practice. Assess a weakness and explore that weakness from every angle until you really gain an understanding of what you could do to improve upon it.