Getting the Same Swing Feel on Electric and Upright (or… Be Patient in Practice)

Q: I can’t get the same swing feel on electric as upright. Any advice?

A: While I don’t play upright, this does present an opportunity to share a broader concept that may help you.

Patience, padawan… patience (and focused practice).

I’ve found with a vast majority of my students that whenever something is not “clicking”, you can break down the problem pretty simply:

20% of the problem: less than effective approach to what it is you are working on

80% of the problem: lack of time spent doing it

I’ve made mention of the concept that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Think about that for a moment. At one hour per day, it’ll take over 27 years to master your instrument.

This tells me that information is somewhat slow to internalize for us humans. On the bright side, I have found that it’s also exponential (meaning that, with everything you learn, the next thing comes more quickly, essentially).

As an example, I had a student who was really trying to learn to read notation. The biggest problem with studying notation that, for most of us, it is an extremely slow and boring process. After months of working through various classical pieces and Real Book melodies, I found that he could not sight read much better than he could on day one. So we got to talking about it. I discovered that he, while practicing at least an hour per day, his pattern would be:

  1. Work on memorizing the piece of music for about half an hour on day 1
  2. Get bored
  3. Practice other things
  4. Not have the fortitude to force himself to practice reading again for a few days
  5. Come back to it
  6. Start over (because he had to)

I believe that I’ve spoken of this before but, in order to master anything, you really have to force yourself to work on it in a focused way. My solution for him was to spend just 15 minutes on reading, but to do it every day.

Anyone can force themselves to do something for 15 minutes, right? For this student, after another few weeks, he was improving drastically. By the way, there’s also that bonus of how good that sort of progress feels.

The reason for his success was based on him learning just a little bit every day, allowing him to retain and build upon that knowledge the following day. A daily routine of 15 focused minutes will always beat 4 hours straight every few weeks.

That’s just one example of “smarter” practicing. There are many but a part of my point is that we have to really think about how we learn individually and then take the wisest approach to our endeavors.

This might feel a bit off-topic as it relates to your specific question, so I wanted to address that as well.

Much of our “feel” on the bass comes from:

  • Familiarity
  • Comfort
  • Internalization of the music we’re playing

It may be that you are simply more comfortable on the upright and, therefore, have a harder time copping the right feel on the electric.

Or it could be a familiarity with the style.

I’d suggest doing these things as part of your focused practice routine:

  • Listen to a lot of jazz
  • Transcribe a lot of walking bass lines
  • Practice walking on the electric a lot

Pulling it all together, I’ll say it is important that we keep our impatience in check as we develop on the instrument, as impatience serves no positive function (unless it inspires you to practice even more). We need to be proud of the work we’ve put in and enjoy the process of struggling through new material because of the opportunities for development it will provide.

Practice smart, practice often, and remember that there’s no finish line. There is only the journey. We never “get there”, so don’t worry about how far you’ve come or not. Just keep moving forward.

As always, I love when readers share their insights too. Readers, what would you say helps you most when it comes to focused practice? Tell us in the comments.

Photo by Almond Butterscotch

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Focused practice for me is playing the song ’till I can get thru it once without stopping. Then I work on something else for a while. Then before I stop for the session, I’ll go back over everything again, looking to find the “feel”. The key, like Damian says, is to come back to it. A session in the morning, then one in the evening, and I can often do 10 songs in a day. Gets a bit tiring if you have to do 40 songs in a week. 40 songs is one very big workload, and I haven’t had to do that often, but the process seems to work for me.

  2. The two things that really helped me with the problem mentioned in the question were: 1) Playing up by the neck position when walking, and 2) Working on making a tune swing when playing a ‘2’ feel (a tip from my dear friend, drummer Rich Franks). On point 1, getting that long, legato, Ron Carteresque growl is much easier in that position, and will help in getting that upright feel. On point 2 – I found that I felt more solid time-wise playing walking lines once I learned how to make a 2-beat feel swing. Hope this helps.

  3. Turn down and thump it. For real. I played electric for three years and picked up an upright and immediately noticed that the huge difference in effort really gives a more solid swing to the upright;.

    So, to get the same thing, I just turn the volume on the elctric down and pluck the livin crap out of the strings, and it feels a lot better. Of course, I’ve been doin this for maybe four years and haven’t graduated any scchool yet, so.. believe what you like… =D

  4. Ray’s Comments on getting a long tone are absolutely correct. My teacher, a be bop guitar player, had me practice with the metronome hitting on 2 and 4. That’s the drummer sock cymbal. Then listen to Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown, and any session with Kenny Clarke and Paul Chambers. ‘Magic Time’.