Structuring Your Practice: A Checklist for Bass Players

Sheet music for bass

Any serious musician will practice regularly. While consistency is the most significant factor in our progress, we need to make good use of our practice time if we want continued improvement. No one set of specific materials (i.e. specific etudes, etc.) will be appropriate for everyone, but any successful long-term plan will hit on a few distinct areas each day. Working on material under each of these headings every day will make sure that we progressing in both the long and the short term.

The possibilities of what you might do under any given heading are infinite, and should be fine-tuned to fit your personal goals. If you have a teacher, they should be providing the specific material to insert under most of these larger headings, and your personal goals and performance responsibilities will determine the rest.

Here are the major sections to hit each day for a successful long-term practice plan:


As with any physical activity, you should spend a few minutes slowly working into your session. Keep it simple, simple, simple. I advise warming up the right and left hands separately before working them together. The more out of shape you are (bass-wise) the longer you should spend on this. This is where you prepare yourself for the day’s work.


This is an expansive heading that can include specific technical exercises (e.g. vibrato, off the string bowings, etc.), scale and arpeggio work and etudes. The specifics of what you play here will vary based on your musical style(s), teacher, pedagogical background, playing level etc. Although specifics vary from person to person, I advise working on a specific exercise, scale, etc. until you have mastered it, rather than jumping around from day to day. It is this area that contributes the most to long-term growth.


This is where we play pieces we already have performance ready. In this way we make sure we aren’t backsliding on anything we can already perform. This area ensures we are always ready to hit the stage.

New Material

This is the time we learn music we can’t currently perform but want to be able to! Again, the specifics will be based on your personal goals and performance schedule. Some material we will learn especially for a specific performance, others will become a part of our repertory.

The amount of time you spend on each section will vary based on your practice regimen (i.e. how many hours a day you practice), what your personal goals are, and what your upcoming performance commitments are. There may be times when you spend most of your session learning new material due to the sheer amount of concerts you have in front of you. At times, this may be the appropriate thing to do, but do not neglect the other areas, or you may find you are stagnating or even regressing.

While the specific material we might put under each heading will vary, a successful long-term practice plan will make sure we work each of the general areas listed above each day. By doing so, we not only ensure we are ready for imminent and future performances but we also ensure long-term progress on our instrument.

Photo by Takis Kolokotronis

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

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  1. add sight reading to the list. just for added awesomeness.

  2. True, Tiffany. That really changes you as a musician.

  3. This is great. Makes a lot of sense. As a new player ( < 1 year ) I've been experimenting with different ways to go about practice…. I'll try this and see if it sticks.

  4. To warm up I include some physical exercises for fingers before taking bass

  5. This is a good reminder for me. I’ve been spending all of my practice time working on new music and I’ve almost completely neglected every other category.

  6. Good stuff. I would also recommend at least a half-hour of transcription (whether notated out or not) – a full is even better.