Monday, May 10, 2010

Practice Concepts: Using A Drone With Fretless

Simple practice tip for fretless: Use a drone to practice with so you are always playing against a tonal reference.

Having studied North Indian music, I decided to utilize their concept of 'drone' (playing with a tambura) into my daily practice regimen as it really helps in getting your ears together on fretless bass.

So an easy way to set this up for practice is to use a software program. I personally use Ableton Live and have a whole practice set-up that I use so it is always ready to go. I have drones in all 12 keys set-up plus various chord sequences drum beats and meters all ready to go so I don't have top waste time setting materials up. I am also always adding new materials to it as I need. It really has become an indispensable tool for my practicing.

I then practice scales, arpeggios, and more with the drone so I am always referencing a tonal center. You can do this with tunes and melodies as well. Also, you can try playing with a drone that isn't the tonal center; from the fifth, fourth, third, or wherever. (try from a half-step!) This makes you hear the intervals in a new context. I feel this has really helped in getting my ears together and I hope it helps you out!

Practice Concepts: Getting A Grasp On The 12 Keys

Feeling bogged down and overwhelmed with learning all of your scales, arpeggios, and modes in all 12 keys? Try this great practice idea I got from the great bassist, Putter Smith.

Practice scales and arpeggios at the pace of one key a week. I thought this was a brilliant idea as it takes a big subject and breaks it down into manageable parts. So, instead of trying to cram all of your major and minor scales, arpeggios, plus modes; in all 12 keys, into your daily practice, proceed weekly through the Circle of 4ths. (You can also use the Circle of 5ths if you prefer) So on Monday of you first week of practice, you start in the key of 'C', then the following Monday you move to 'F', 'Bb' after that, and so on... After 12 weeks, you are back at 'C'.

This way of practicing takes a longer time to unfold as you are on a 12-week cycle (You do get through all 12 keys at least 4 times a year); but remember, we're running a marathon here, not a sprint. The 'up' side is that in the long run, you end up with a more thorough understanding of all of the various keys. Also, you don't spend your entire practice time only working on mechanics and burn yourself out. This way of practicing allows you to make this daunting subject manageable so you can get on to other musical items like learning tunes, playing techniques, and whatnot.

Hope this helps!