We all know that the greats have put in serious time on their bass to get to a very high level of bass playing.
You’ll often hear in interviews that they’ve practiced anywhere from 6-12 hours a day for a few years. And many of the bass greats, like Victor Wooten, still practice with a high level of intensity.
But how do you still clock in the hours when music isn’t your full-time gig and you can’t have your bass with you at all times?
Here’s one of the best things you can do when you don’t have your bass. And the best part is, you can do this almost anywhere, anytime.
How to practice bass without a bass
Your primary role as a bass player is to be able to outline the root movement of a song.
So, if you are stuck in traffic, or traveling and don’t have your bass with you, you can always work on hearing bass lines.
Focus on hearing bass lines over practicing bass scale exercises and advanced techniques.
You can get far by practicing hearing low root notes in songs. And you’ll find that when you reunite with your bass you’ll have a much easier time playing along to tunes. You’ll also have more confidence in the next jam session you go to. And you’ll enjoy transcribing more.
So, here’s how this works. You’ll need access to an mp3 player or any device that can play and repeat music.
- Start by playing music that you enjoy. But, try to stick to simple music at first. The cool thing about the bass is that even the simplest bass lines still sound and feel awesome.
- Play the music and listen.
- As you listen, see if you can hear the root motion of the chord progression.
- When you are able to hear the root motion of the chord progression, try singing whole-notes with the song.
- While you sing the root motion listen to the bass line.
- Now try to sing the bass line. And try to sing it how it actually sounds. Notice the articulation, note duration, the tone, and the rhythm. Does the bass line sync with the rhythm of the bass drum? Or does it have its own pulse. How does the bass player approach each bass note?
- Sing along to the music a lot. Make it feel as good as you can. Groove to the music. The whole purpose of this is to connect with the music on an emotional level.
- Once you’ve jammed out for some time with your voice and the radio, try to figure out what the hec’ you’ve been singing. Is the song in a major or minor key? Does the bass line start on the I of the key? What are the notes? Use your ears. Take it slow and break down each interval. Are you hearing arpeggios, pentationic scales, or chromaticism?
I’ll do this practice a lot when I’m stuck in traffic. I’ll have a song playing on repeat, and try to figure the notes that I am hearing.
Sometimes, I won’t repeat the song and see if I can start singing the root motion in the first take.
Once you return home, you can check yourself by playing the notes on your bass.
What to do if you can’t hear the bass in songs
If you’re having trouble hearing the bass in songs, practice harmonic ear training.
Harmonic ear training will teach your ear how to isolate and hear each note in a chord.
When you can do this, you’ll have a much easier time isolating the sound of individual instruments.
Soon enough you will be able to hear the bass line loud and clear.
The key is to set realistic goals for yourself.
If you struggle with identifying what the bass player is doing in a song, practice with simple music. Listen to music with a few chord changes comprised of only a drummer, bass player and a guitarist.
It’s much easier to practice hearing bass when there isn’t too much going on.
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I have found Armen Donelian’s ear training books to be the most comprehensive and applicable to improvising. Check out this book on Amazon: By Armen Donelian Training the Ear: For the Improvising Musician [Paperback]