Steps to Learning a Lick
There are 5 steps I use and am currently using to learn any lick. In this video I’m learning a lick from Jaco Pastorius’ song Havona that he recorded with Weather Report. However, you can apply these steps to any lick you are wanting to learn, at any level of playing.
- Learn the notes
You can do this by tab, notation, or by using your ear. Always try to learn the lick by ear first. Always be working on developing your ear!
- Locate the notes on your bass
Locate the notes and figure out the best fingering for the lick. There are usually more than pattern that you can use.
- Nail down your fingering
Know exactly what finger is being used for each note, on both hands. This is tedious and can be frustrating to learn, but once you have it down, you’ll nail it almost every time!
- Practice the lick perfectly, repeatedly
Of course, in order to do the lick perfectly, you’ll need to do it at a very slow tempo. That’s the idea, work it slowly and perfectly.
- Increase the tempo
Increase the tempo while maintaining steps 3 and 4 until you have it down at the original tempo. This might take a while, but the results are well worth the time and effort.
Why don’t many of our practice routines last for very long? Because we plan an unrealistic routine. This video shows a few suggestions for creating a simple, yet sustainable practice routine. The key is in planning a routine that is sustainable. Consistency is King!
Here’s a technique I use on almost every song, varying octaves. In this video you’ll learn how to use octaves in 3 different variations. But, the variations I show you are not the only ones out there. The beauty of what we do as artists is that there are almost limitless possibilities to how we can inspire emotion, create grooves, and add different “feels” to the songs we play. Learning a technique is only the beginning. However, to use the technique effectively requires that we listen to how other artists use the same technique. Spend time listening to some of your favorite artists to see how they use octaves and other techniques to enhance the song.
As always, I welcome you’re questions, requests, and feedback! Mike
Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping-stones to success.
–Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), world-renowned author and speaker
Last Sunday, I filled in for the music director at our church here in St. Louis and had a great time working in that role again. There’s a great joy for me in working with and leading other musicians for a worship service and yesterday was no different. However, there was one part of the service that we rehearsed and I made a last-minute decision in the arrangement of a song that ended up not sounding, in my opinion, pretty bad! This was clearly my error as the leader and felt pretty discouraging afterward.
Have you ever had moments like that? Most of us have, and many of us can be brought down pretty low after such moments. Some of us will even be brought to the point of quitting or questioning our calling. Failure of any kind is a hard thing to endure. Here are a few ways I’ve lifted myself up after some of my most epic failures. I hope you find one or two of these helpful!
- Remember, failure is an event, not your identity. This is a paraphrased quote from the great Zig Ziglar, and continues to ring in my memory, especially after I blow it! A failure is simply A failure. It is something that has happened and will soon be in the past. So keep it in the past and off of your nametag!
- Failure is feedback. Using our failures as feedback will speed our growth and experience. Failure is teaching us something about ourselves. For me, yesterday’s failure taught me that I should’ve listened to my gut. If I don’t like the way something sounds in rehearsal, then I need to address it by either fixing it right then, or cutting out of the service.
- Expect Occasional Failure – “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis
Remember that Failures and Discouragements WILL come, and sometimes in multitudes. But you need to continue, press on, persevere, and don’t allow the enemy any opportunity to take advantage of you! (Eph. 4:27)
Making too many mistakes? Check your fingers
Play a song, play one of your favorite fills, runs, or scales. Now play it again, but this time pay attention to your right hand fingers (or left if your left-handed). Observe your plucking fingering with the eye of a teacher assessing a student. What did you discover? Are you playing the part with the same exact fingering each time? Now slow it down and play it again thinking through each note and which finger is plucking which note. If your experiencing some frustration during this process, then you’re doing the right thing! Stay with it and nail it down. The reason you’re playing is proving to be inconsistent is, quite possibly, because your fingering is inconsistent. Although there are many reasons we can’t play a part as well as we desire, the main reason for many of us is that our fingers are out of control.
Hopefully, this tutorial will get you on track toward getting those unpredictable fingers under your control:-)
Why can’t I ever seem to get this right?!!
Every one of us experiences some form of dissatisfaction with our playing. We want to be able to play this song more smoothly, be able to create killer fills, or play a particular lick without having our fingers trip over each other. Some of us are just wanting to make it through a worship service or gig without making a noticeable mistake (that was my goal for many years!). Regardless of where your dissatisfaction lies, you can get out of that rut and overcome that area of frustration. The reason many of us take so long to get out of our ruts is that we see our “musical monsters” as too big to overcome and try to overpower them by buying more books, watching more videos, and collecting as much information as we can hold. Yet, we find ourselves not making the progress we had hoped.
Too Much Information
We live in a world of information overload. You and I can access the greatest minds in music through the internet and spend days upon days gathering information. There are over 100 bass guitar instruction books on the market that can be downloaded, or delivered to your home through Amazon. The problem with all of this information, for me, is that I will become distracted, redirected, and overwhelmed. If I want to work on improving my fingering on my bass, I’ll begin finding excellent videos and blog posts on the topic, but then find out that there’s another technique that I didn’t even know about. The three books I ordered differ in their approaches. Should I have been working on that? Should I change the way I’ve been playing this song, or this lick? Then, I look for videos on YouTube and come across a three year-old playing a Jaco Pastorius song on bass which makes me start feeling like a loser. Don’t get me wrong, having access to all this information is an amazing blessing. However, it can also be a debilitating curse.
Focus on One Thing
Identify a goal. Take some time to think about what it is you’d like to work on and write it down. Keep a piece of paper with that goal either on your music stand or a place where you will always see it. Let that be a reminder to you every day to stay on that goal. If you’re anything like me you will need reminders, constantly! Keep some form of a reminder in front of you so you stay on task.
Here are a few suggested goals:
- Learn one song a week
- Play through a favorite song without error
- Learn and play the 7 chords of a major key
- Read and understand chord charts.
Try focusing on that one goal for 2 weeks. Stay on your goal until you realize some success. My favorite acronym for Focus is from EOFire’s John Lee Dumas, Follow One Course Until Success. Take this time to follow ONE course. Stay on that course and see how you improve upon your goal. Believe me, if you focus on that one goal for the 2 week period, you will gain more ground than you ever would by working on it occasionally.
The sea of internet will still be there when you’re done:-)
Be like a postage stamp—stick to one thing until you get there. – Josh Billings
A few months ago, I wrote about a brief post on the importance of learning songs and how the practice adding songs to our repertoire serves to make us better bassists and musicians. However, I failed to offer some suggested songs for to begin exploring. So, here are some quick thoughts and suggestions:
You will never go wrong listening and learning to play any Motown song! Seriously, some of the best and simplest grooves have come out of the amazing work of the Motown crew. Many of the great bass lines were recorded by the legendary James Jamerson and later Bob Babbitt
My Girl – Temptations (bass -Jamerson)
Just My Imagination – Temptations (bass -Babbitt)
The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King
Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughn (great shuffle feel!)
Our God – Chris Tomlin
This is Amazing Grace – Phil Wickham (work this with 8th or 16th notes, but use this song to practice your timing and build your endurance to keep a consistent drive)
These songs are simply suggestions. The key is to learn as many songs as possible, really. One of the best ways to improve your technique and improvisation is to learn and play songs.
Learning the Soul of the Song
Playing actual songs is the practical application of all those scales, arpeggios, finger exercises and memory work you’ve been practicing! If we ONLY do those things as our practice, then we will play without personality, we will perform our bass lines with little to no “soul”. Great bass lines are not only great notes played together, but notes played with a particular feel. As you learn a song, listen and learn how that line is played. Most of the memorable bass lines in music are simple, yet to replicate the feel requires way more than simply playing the notes. Take note of how the bassist articulated each note, the sustain, the tone, the volume dynamics. In fact, it might be good to put the bass down for the first few listens and think about these things before trying to play.
I hope you enjoy your learning experience and take the time to appreciate what has made these songs the hits that they have become.
The Power of 2
It’s one of the most recognizable bass lines in music history, yet it contains only two simple notes, a 5 followed by two 1s (G-C-C).
In my school classroom sessions I’ll bring my bass and play a number of bass lines from some popular “old school” songs to see what the kids will recognize. Sure enough, this one is always known. Although they might not all know the name, these elementary and middle school kids can, almost instantly, identify this memorable bass line from the Motown hit My Girl, by the Temptations. I’ll play another “old school” 2-note groove that will also cause eyes to light up and hands to raise as one yells out “Ice Ice Baby!”. Recently, upon hearing that bass line, one fifth grader actually said, “that’s a Queen song”. That young man made this Queen fanatic’s day as some might not know that Vanilla Ice used the groove from Queen and David Bowies powerful song, Under Pressure. The point? Both of those brilliantly simple bass lines that have served to make these songs famous were created with TWO SIMPLE NOTES.
Think Beyond the Notes
Your assignment for the day, listen to these bass lines, without your bass. Put your ears and mind to work and think about what is great about these simple lines. How did James Jamerson and John Deacon approach these recording sessions? What kind of technique was being used (there are many valuable techniques that go unnoticed or unpracticed by many of us). How did they make those 2 notes so amazing? Can I replicate the sound or feel of those lines? Why or why not?
Next, start a drum loop or metronome and see if you can create you’re own 2-note groove, try it with 1 note. Doing this kind of listening and practicing regularly will help you to think past the notes and put you on your way to creating your own simple, cool, and maybe even memorable, groove!
One day back in the late 70s, my friend asked me if I ever listened to the bass on Jim Croce’s classic hit I Got a Name. I had probably heard the song over one-hundred times, but thought I should listen to my friend, Mark Patterson, and go listen one more time. I was blown away at how much the electric bass (believed to have been played by Motown bass legend Bob Babbit) drove this acoustic classic from Croce! Take a listen for yourself.
Less is More?
Yes, I do believe that we bass players can sometimes overplay and get in the way of the intent of the song. Now, I don’t believe this bassist was overplaying, however, it makes me wonder what it means to “overplay”? What do you think? Would you have told him to lay back, play less, let the guitar and vocals drive the song? Would love to get your thoughts.
(I’ve been away from my website and Youtube channel for the past 2 months, but have returned after a crazy summer full of home renovation and moving across town. I apologize for the delayed responses and absence. It’s really good to be back!)
Perhaps you’re like me and struggle with maintaining a solid, regular practice regimen. You know scales, arpeggios and modes are good to know and helpful to practice, but have a difficult time keeping the routine going. Although I believe the fundamentals of music such as those mentioned are essential for any serious musician to grasp, they are certainly not the only things necessary for strong growth in your craft. In fact, the more I read and hear from other professional musicians, the more I realize that the greatest thing you and I can do to grow and improve as bassists is to learn songs.
Sit down and learn a song today. Learning songs will develop your ear, your recognition of patterns and common chord changes and it will keep you engaged more than any other practice routine, in my opinion. In his book, The Music Lesson, Victor Wooten teaches that we learn to speak our language by engaging in conversation. We first learn to use the language in context before we go to school and learn about the language (you can also hear Victor talk about this in his interview with Scott Devine on the SBL podcast). This is also the idea behind the Suzuki method of learning music.
Find a song you like that won’t frustrate you too much and take 15-30 minutes to focus on learning as much of the song as you can. Chances are you’ll put in more time than you had planned and will enjoy playing along with the recording. Further, you’ll have a new song in your repertoire. So much will be gained from this process. As you get to know songs, pay attention to the chord progressions. Find a chord chart and take note of the major and minor chords. As you become familiar with a particular genre and/or artist, you’ll be able to feel where the song is going and start to see the commonality of many chord progressions. Learning theory will then help you to see the how’s and why’s of the songs you’ve been learning and performing. The theory will become a light to help you navigate through creating new lines and learning new songs.