Chunking and Slowing Down

One of the first things I’ve discovered whilst trying to learn new bass lines for songs is that learning them at performance tempo can be really tricky. There are two main reasons for this.

First, there is the issue that it is rare for a bass part for a song to consist of only one line/groove/lick/riff (call it what you will). Stand By Me is a song where that is the case (others include U2’s With or Without You and Bullet the Blue Sky, and Radiohead’s Creep), but most songs have several distinctive sections which together form the bass part. The way to learn these sections is …

… one at a time! Now, the majority of the on-line tutorials I’ve viewed so far do teach song bass-lines in distinct sections, but … and here’s the rub … they usually teach the whole song in one video. Over at  How to Play Bass, Paul Wolfe’s tutorials are an exception to this rule which is why, as a beginner, I’ve found them especially helpful. Paul usually breaks his tutorials into chunks so you can see the intro, verse, chorus, bridge and outro sections for a song in isolation from one another and once you are confident with the various sections, you can link them together.

The second issue with trying to learn at performance tempo is that, for beginners like me, that tempo is too quick. Too often I’ve found myself struggling to keep up with a song that is simply going too fast for me at this stage. What happens then is that I make numerous mistakes, my already poor technique disintegrates further and I find myself tempted to re-enact some of The Who’s infamous instrument smashing exploits. So what to do about that?

The answer is simple and obvious: I need to slow things down. Another feature of Paul Wolfe’s videos is that many of them have the parts played at a slowed-down tempo, as well as at performance tempo. That means that you can play along with Paul while you’re learning – and that’s great.

But what about playing on my own? What can I do to play at a slower, but consistent tempo while I am learning songs? Well, obviously I can play along with a metronome set to whatever tempo I’m comfortable with, but I won’t be doing that on-stage, in Joe’s Garage or wherever. I’ll be playing along with a drummer and some other instruments … and you need to keep time with them, especially the drummer! So how about learning my lines along with a slower-than-performance drum beat? But where might I find such a thing?

Kris Rodgers of Learn Bass has the answer. He’s provided a useful resource for the aspiring bassist (or indeed any other practising instrumentalist): a number of drum rhythms in 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4 time signatures and at a range of tempos from 80 beats per minute upwards. This is where I found them. Thanks Kris.

Naturally, as I get more proficient with the bass-lines that I’m learning, then I move on to a quicker beat until I can play at performance tempo.




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