Improving Troublesome Passages: Five Tips for Bass Players

Bass music

Photo by slgckgc

Continuing our series of “Tips” columns, here’s one on breaking down troublesome musical passages.

1. Take it Slow

Practicing technically difficult passages at slow tempi is nearly essential for mastery. Learning something at a slow tempo is learning it well. Doing so helps us avoid unconscious errors such as incorrect notes, fingerings, rhythms, errant string hits, etc., all of which can result from playing something too fast too soon. Playing something slowly also allows us to learn it correctly the first time. The saying is “Slow practice is fast practice.”

2. Take it apart

Rather than simply trudging through a long difficult section, isolate the passages that are problematic and fix those in isolation. Once they are solid, incorporate the small sections into a larger passage. String them together, little by little, as needed.

3. Vary it

Change the rhythm of a passage, play it pizzicato, play it arco, play only the right hand part, play only the left hand part, play it at various tempi, change the style,….be creative. Crafting new problems for your brain to solve can speed up the time it takes to be able perform a passage well.

4. Speed it up slowly

Once you can play a passage at a slower tempo, inch up the speed, don’t jump. Go from 60 bpm to 65 bpm, rather than 60 bpm to 95 bpm. Doing so will guarantee you get it embedded solidly in your brain and your body.

5. Repeat it

Getting it correct once is just the start. Aim for being able to play the passage correctly several times in a row. How many? How solid do you want it to be?

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. That’s sound advice.