How good can you get in a year?

On any instrument.

Using good practice methods.

It's a question I've been asking myself for a while now. I've been giving advice to others on practice for the past five years in person and via my website. I've played as a professional musician in London and all over the UK in various orchestras, bands and shows. The trouble is that the practice I tend to do on my main instrument is of a maintenance type - I put in the hours of hard work many years ago. This has left me feeling a little detached from the feelings of the beginning musician.

What I'd like is to recapture some of those feelings of inadequacy, frustration, joy, excitement and everything else that being new to an instrument can bring. I also think it wil bring a huge benefit to the advice I offer others on practice.

So it's back to basics for me.

Or rather BASSics.

What I'm going to do is to see how good I can become on the bass guitar in the space of a year. I'm going to commit to doing regular practice everyday in order to try and meet some goals (tbc). I'll post warts and all updates via fora and video so that everyone can see how well, or badly I'm doing.

This will also be a test of self-teaching and of how the internet can help you learn. If approached by someone in the same boat I would usually recommend going to a teacher - however this is part experiment so I'm going to go down the self-taugth route on this occaision. Who knows, next year I might learn something else with a teacher . . .. . .

Where am I now?
The good news for me is that I can read music without any problem at all. So I guess an advantage over those that are startign completely from scratch. I don't really read TAB so that's something I'll need to pick up. I did dabble for a few weeks with the bass a couple of years back but let's just assume that I'm a complete beginner (which is about my standard )

I've got a 5-string Ibanez Soungear Bass and a Marshall 4x10 combo. I'm not going to focus on gear as it's learning, technique and music I want to focus on. Better gear might make me better in future but not now.

By the end of the year I would like to:
To be good enough to play in Jazz/Pop/Funk band
Play good gig within a year
Comfortably 'walk the bass' on basic jazz tunes
Read well enough to play in show

Preferred Styles:
Jazz, Soul, Big Band, Pop, Funk

Earth Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, Horn led pop, Buble, Sinatra, Connnick Jnr

I have so many questions about all this it's tricky to know where to start. I'm really hoping that the above doesn't sound naive to more experienced bassists out there. I'm sure there are already some errors in my thinking - but hey, I'm here to learn

How good do you think I could get?
What materials would you recommend?
What techniques/exercises would you recommend?
Any good sites?
Video lessons?

I'm really looking forward to any tips, help or advice I can get. I'm going to continue to read and prepare for a week or two longer before jumping in with both feet.

Wish me luck
Last edited by Mike Saville at Jul 27, 2010,
Really it all depends on a few things.

-How much you are going to practice
-How quickly you can learn vital information, like where the notes are on the neck etc.
-How quickly you can master techniques
-Whether your teaching yourself or taking lessons, how frequently

There's probably other things as well, so it's down to you really, it could take you a few months to achieve your golds or it could take years.

Ibanez K5
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Can I just say that if you want to get your walking lines to a respectable standard, scales and arpeggios are a must. Learn them, and learn them well
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It's entirely, 100% possible to accomplish your goals within a year, it really just depends on you, how quickly you pick things up, and how much time and effort you put into it.

A book would be a good place to start off if you're self-teaching, the Hal Leonard books get a lot of love around here. You also mentioned getting into TAB a bit more, which while handy, isn't something you need to focus too much on. They're more guidelines for playing a song, like a reference tool, and sheet music will always be more useful if you can get your hands on it.

You mentioned your previous musical experience a bit, and just out of curiosity, what instrument(s) do you play already?
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Guys, thanks for the feedback so far - all really useful stuff.

On the scales side I'm anticipating that I'll need to put quite a bit of effort into those for a number of reasons - learn the fretboard, build speed and build strength. On the plus side - I've got loads of ideas on how to make scale practice more interesting

I'm not going to measure my progress by how much time I do each day. That way of thinking is a bit old school for me. Instead I'm going to set daily/weekly goals and work to them - if I get them done quickly then great I've got some more free time and I can either chill or work towards another goal. If I work in this way I can always see my progress. If I just aim for hours then progress is more difficult to gauge . . .

Tostitos - thanks for the Hal Leonard tip - I'll check those out. I already play trombone and piano (those are the things I've done my pro work on).

Cheers for now.
Today was day one of practice!!! 8)

I'm exploring at the moment before formulating some more firm practice plans for next week.

Today I spent some time going up and down each string trying to learn the note names for each fret - a slow process at the moment which I'm hoping will get faster.

Also had the metronome on to do some right hand fingerpicking - just trying to keep in time - amazing how uneven the rhythm is that my fingers seem to produce!!

I've also tried a couple of left hand finger exercises from TAB. 1. To try and read TAB. 2. To get them fingers working. Pinky and Ring finding it particularly difficult. I'm not going to push it at this stage. Just want to get a feel for things.

Anyhow more to follow
So what exactly is your goal for the first week?
You shouldn't aim for anything to hard, but at the same time you should push yourself to the edge of frustration if you really want to know what a beginning musician feels like. As an experienced musician you know that quality over quantity is of upmost importance when practicing and from what you've posted I can see that you're really going for quality. However, you mustn't forget that - for beginners - quantity can't be sacrificed as it allows for you to get aquainted with the new instrument and everything that comes with it (i.e. blisters, sore joints, shoulder pain, pulled ligaments, etc.). But chances are, you already knew that.

"How good do you think I could get?"

Not nearly as good as you'll get in two or three years, but you'll be much better than you think you are.

"What materials would you recommend?"

Hal Leonard. Not only does he write great books, but he's also a pretty nice guy and an excellent musician.

"What exercises would you recommend?"

Scales, arpeggios, scales, chord structures, scales, and more scales. They'll let you learn the notes of the fretboard very quickly and if you practice them enough you may even be able to improv a decent walking bass line before the end of the year, something I've yet to achieve.

"Any good sites?"

Youtube, and studybass can be very helpful when starting out. Because all my money goes to books for college, an online metronome is a must. However, you probably have one lying around somewhere.
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Hmm, dull?

That's a tricky area. Is it dull to develop a technique that allows you to play the music you want later? Or is it dull just to try and play tunes and not develop any technique?

There are arguments on both sides of the fence I guess. You do need a mix.

This is what I have been doing the past couple of days:
Learning notes up and down the strings - trying to get familiar with which notes are on which frets.
Working with metronome on right hand picking - trying to get it rhythmic and even.
Some finger building exercises that I found on active bass
Major and Minor Scales and arpreggios.

Going ok - pinky finger is as weak as a kitten at the moment though
Try spider exercises as a warm up during your practice sessions. It will help develop your left hand technique, most notably your reach between frets and your finger strength in addition to helping you become a bit more familiar with the fretboard. As always, start of very slow, and when your accuracy is good and your rhythm is steady, increase speed.
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Quote by Mike Saville
...Or is it dull just to try and play tunes and not develop any technique?

No, that's nearly impossible. Especially at your level.
Quote by Hal-Sephira

We all have the rights to be mad

So does you
it could take you a few months to achieve your golds or it could take years.
Quote by Mike Saville
Guys, a video update on my first week: Year in Bass Week 1

I totally forgot about the problem I had evening out the sound from my right hand. I think this will be extremely interesting to any of us who teach bass and will remind us of all the little things we've forgotten since learning how to do them. It looks like you're progressing a steady rate, I look forward to seeing how the rest of the year pans out.
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We all have the rights to be mad

So does you
Hi All,

Once again thanks for the valuable input so far - it's helping a lot.

This week I'm working on some picking exercises from the Fingerstyle Funk booklet:
Ex 2 which is alternating notes - aim is to get this to 108 bpm by end of the week
Cross string picking Ex 1 & 2 aim is to get these to 124 bpm by end of the week
Cross string Ex 3&3 - aim is to get these to 108 bpm by end of week

I'm also doing some more work on major/minor scales.

Question - where on the fretboard do people play their scales? I find it much easier to play higher up the fretboard - less stretching for fingers between frets. Any issues with this.

Question - I've got the fingering for an octave. What do folks do to take it to two octaves? Currently I'm ending scales on pinky with fretting hand which kind of leaves me stuck on where to go if I want more than one actave???

Also doing some arpeggios and finding minor much easier than major.

Question - how do you guys end a major arpeggio? Both notes with pinky?

For the minors I can play the 5th and top root both with ring finger and 'flatten' it to cover frets on both strings. For major my pinky won't seem to flatten in the same way. Is this something I need to work on??

I also started the Building Walking Basslines book today. Played through the first few exercises without any issues. However I've now got to Ex's 8/9/10 which are just chord symbols and my brain is currently WAY ahead of my fingers

Aim for this book is to try an master one exercise per day. . ...

Cheers for now.
"Question - where on the fretboard do people play their scales? I find it much easier to play higher up the fretboard - less stretching for fingers between frets. Any issues with this."

No issues with this. Lots of finger exercises and such suggest this as well for beginners. It will help your fingers get used to playing in a position like that. I would recommend eventually moving back to the lower part of the fretboard when possible. It is like stretching any other ligament in your body. It will feel uncomfortable stretching past your normal point, but at any point if you feel pain you should stop. Using the higher parts of the fret board will allow you to stretch and practice but will have less of a chance of having the bad pain until your hand becomes stronger.
Hi All, interesting day today. First time since start of the month that I wasn't itching to get started on practice. Had a million and one other things to do today - and practice wasn't a priority.. . . .

Nonetheless I used a piece of advice I often give to others - just start. I picked the bass up and just started to play. Before I knew it I had done most of what I'd wanted.

I even made a start on Midnight Hour - well listened to a recording a few times. Seems the basic shape of the repeated phrase is very similar to that of a major scale (with a couple of notes missed out!). So I'm hopeful it shouldn't take too long to learn that.

Anyhow, onwards.
I've made quite a bit of progress with the Friedland book over the past few days. I'm finding the written exercises ok - I guess because I could read music already. What's not so easy is playing these without looking at the fretboard.

I'm also finding the chords more difficult than sheets. Especially now that I've just moved onto the rhythm changes ones . . . .

Next week I'm going to change up the finger building exercises I've been doing. Any ideas for new ones I could try?
I've now posted a vid of last weeks practice

There's a transcription of Midnight Hour there for anyone that's interested

I got myself an audio module (M-Audio) so the sound quality is much better this time . . . .just need to improve the picture now

This week I've changed up some of the exercises

General routine goes something like this:
Scales (focusing Major and Minor Pentatonics this week)
Finger building - Active bass Lesson 17015
Fingerstyle Funk - Exercise 9
The Friedland book - Trying to apply the stuff learnt so far to the 10 standard progressions at back of the book
Also learning new piece - trying James Brown I Feel Good . . .

That's the material, I'm making sure to play all of it at the speed of no mistakes. Tracking speeds/bars etc as usual. We'll see how it goes . . . . .:help: