Why Practicing For Long Periods of Time Can Hurt You

One thing to remember about practice time is that quality ALWAYS beats quantity. One of the common mistakes and misconceptions that I’ve noticed about practice among musicians is that lengthy practices have become equated to an effective practice. Personally speaking for a moment, I’ve seldom been able to muster and maintain the concentration and focus needed to practice for anything more than 2 hours let along be able to maintain concentration for MOST things past two hours.

So why is it that long practice is equated to successful practice routine?

For the same reason we equate long hours at the gym with a successful workout, there is an aspect of “I did work today” that goes into this. In order for something to feel like we did it to the point of improvement and beyond, our default go-to is to do it for a long period of time, often past the point that our mind is still as actively engaged as it was within the first 30 minutes.

The mind can only stay engaged at an optimal level for only so long. Our concentration and willpower to go through and stay with tasks are finite. Very finite. So by going through irrationally extended periods of musical practice, time when our motor skills are working alongside of mental and cognitive abilities, is wearing down your brain at a much more alarming rate.

Using the workout analogy again, fewer reps with more weight using proper form will always beat out using poor form with an irrational amount of weight for 3 hours and continuing to work out for the sake of working out. Frankly in that situation, you’re well past the point of stressing muscles so that they can become stronger – you’re now flatly damaging your body. The same applies to practice. Past a certain point, you’re not improving anymore – you’re just going through the motions.

So the moral is this: practice with achieving a goal in mind and once it’s reached, put the bass down. You’re done for the day. You achieved what you set out to achieve. With regards to time, most things can be achieved in at most 90 minutes. Anything longer than that any you need to reassess how you’re approaching the problem to begin with.

For more reading on this topic, check out this cool article discussing methods to develop a good practice routine for bass players.

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Creating Smooth Walking Bass Lines: A Sonic Journey

creating walking bass linesWhen building walking bass lines and improvising in jazz, one of the things to remember is not to be bound up by technical components and aspects of what make a “good” or a “bad” walking bass line.

The thing to remember is to make your bass lines musically attractive and functional to the needs of the music being played around you. Often times, the audience listening to your music will not bash you for being “technically lacking” or something nonsensical like that. The audience and your fellow band mates are looking for your musical contribution to be…well…musical.

And, at least to my ears, one of the most interesting a musically appealing things about walking bass line is how just 4 notes can be shaped and molded to express such a wide range of musical complexity. And deep within this musical complexity comes the physical manifestation: the way the line is actually moving and navigating through the chord changes.

To me, what makes a good bass line great is when it begins to lose the sharp, “angular” qualities and begin to adopt more smooth, flowing patterns of movement.

Creating walking bass lines that are both smooth and sonically appealing can be a challenge. It is certainly one of those things that is something that develops over time with a keen understanding of your instrument as well as chords.

Over time, with the right amount of mindful practice and continuous improvement and a strong practice routine for bass will you be able to develop this ear for yourself as well. You begin to understand that there are not just one or two entrances into a chord, but rather there are many more doors Рback doors, front doors, side doors, skylight windows, garage doors and so many more Рthat can get you from one chord into another.

Over time, it will also become clear that you can manipulate the same four chord tones and scalar options to give you even more note options and voicing that you typically thought not possible.

The possibilities are actually pretty remarkable! And to sit back and think: what must have been going through the mind of Ray Brown or Scott LaFaro as they were part of these all-star lineups of musicians in a time when jazz was still in it’s early stages. The kind of intimacy that these musicians must have developed with their instruments, the kind of ear they’ve developed to find these back doors through chord progressions and make their lines as smooth and musically complex as possible.