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From the Shed to the Stage: Translating Practice to Performance

Bassist in the Light - by Patrick Wright
Photo by Patrick Wright

Q: I’m having a difficult applying what I’ve learned into playing. When I play, my fingers can’t seem to do what they did when I practiced. Is there any suggestion to making things stick?

A: The first word that pops into my head is repetition.

Lines, licks and harmonic devices – such as arpeggios, scales and so on – need to be played so many hundreds of times until you can do it in your sleep. We’ve talked quite a bit about repetition here, so I won’t beat it into the ground too much.

Aside from repetition, there is also permutation (or displacement). Take any line, lick or shape and move it around the beat in any and every way you can imagine. As an example, take your favorite lick and start it one 8th note later. Then try it one 8th note triplet later. You can move it around by any subdivision. This gets tricky quickly!

Exploring what you know in this way will help you immensely when it comes to real world applications. Also, play the things you are working on all over the fretboard. Often, when I think I have a lick down but can’t seem to pull it off on the gig it’s because I’ve only worked it in one, limited way.

For example, imagine playing a fast lick starting from the root, always on the E string, always starting with your right index finger. When you are making music in real time, you may find yourself on a different part of the fretboard, coming from a line that forced you to use your index finger on the last note. Now, you are faced with playing the lines out of your comfort zone.

We must always strive to expand our “comfort zone” by continually practicing outside of it. The more variations on any given theme (lick, line, etc.) we get under our fingers, the more capable we will be to deliver that theme.

My advice is simple: continue to up the ante with the difficulty level for what you are comfortable with and you will be that much more masterful of your original idea.

Think you know that Major scale? Can you play it in one position starting with your pinky?

Can you play it at speed on one string?

Can you play it from the lowest note on your instrument to the highest at speed, without flubbing it up?

Can you play it in broken 3rds on one string?

See what I mean? Take what you know and dig deeper. Contemplate other angles to look at. Play it upside down and inside out. This is how you will get to a place of complete control.

Readers, how do you work to translate from the practice room to the stage? Share your approach and ideas in the comments.