There is no magic fairy dust that can make you a great bass player. In the end, it comes down to hard work and organizational skills. The best way to excel on any instrument is to set short-, medium-, and long-term goals. This will ensure progress and productivity.
Unfortunately, some musicians only set short-term goals, like learning how to play a specific bass line or how to play a particular song. Others only think about far off, distant goals like being able to play as good as, say, Paul McCartney or Geddy Lee. It's good to have musical heroes and it's okay to aspire to greatness; however, lofty long-term goals should be tempered by more realistic short- and medium-term goals.
Before you even play one note, sit down and make a comprehensive list of short-, medium-, and long-term objectives. Then design a practice routine based around these goals. Don't know where to start? That's okay! The following are some questions to consider when setting goals.
What are my current skills? List them under subheadings. You may want to create the following categories: reading skills, improvisatory skills, stylistic skills, technical skills, creative skills.
What do I play well? Think about your strengths and weaknesses.
What needs work? Again, consider your strengths and weaknesses.
What style(s) of music do I want to learn? Be as specific as possible. Most teachers encourage students to learn general concepts and skills. However, it's okay to say to yourself, “I want to learn modern rock” or “I want to learn slap bass.” It's important to determine what you want out of music.
What style(s) of music should I learn in order to expand my musical horizons? For example, rock bassists who have no intention of becoming jazz players often study jazz in order to learn more about harmony and improvisation. Foreign styles of music can expose you to new, creative possibilities.
What style(s) of music and/or artists should I avoid? This is a tough question but one that is important to consider. Generally, you should be open to all genres of music, but be careful not to emulate questionable musicians. Remember, anybody can make a CD these days.
How do you define what is bad? As you become musically educated your discerning ear will answer this question for you.
What are short-, medium-, and long-term goals? A short-term goal is something that can be achieved in a day, a week, or, at most, a month. A medium-term goal might take you many months or even a few years to achieve. Long-term goals fall into the category of dreams and aspirations. These are lifetime goals. If anything, long-term goals may be the hardest to settle on. If you're not sure what you want out of music, remain patient and observant and focus on short- and medium-term goals for now.
Many musicians aspire to be rock stars, but very few musicians actually achieve rock stardom. Those who do get famous often find that being a rock star is not as romantic and glorious as they thought it would be. Avoid vanity goals, which are based on ego and conceit. It's better to pursue musical excellence.
Music instructors can help you to define goals, but ultimately you should decide what is best for you. No two people are alike; therefore, no cookie-cutter list of objectives can be applied to you. Reflect on music and decide what it means to you. If you're not sure, listen to a variety of artists for inspiration (and not just bass players). Find out who motivates or excites you to want to pick up the bass and play.
If you don't know where to begin, first outline your short- and medium-term goals. If you're a beginner, your short- and medium-term goals should be to learn the basics of playing the bass. In general, all beginner and intermediate- level instrumentalists should focus on:
Technical studies (practicing scales, arpeggios, and other mechanical exercises)
Music theory (understanding harmony, melody, and rhythm)
Reading and writing music (understanding notation and, for guitarists and bassists, tablature. Also, you should know how to read charts and lead sheets.)
Ear training (the ability to identify intervals, chord types, and rhythms through listening)
Improvisation (Contrary to traditional, classical instruction, all musicians should learn how to improvise on their instruments. This is especially true of those who play instruments commonly found in rock, pop, country, jazz, and Latin bands. The bass is a key instrument in all of these styles.)
Once you understand the basics of music, you will be educated enough to start making informed decisions about your musical future. As you hone your skills, you will likely redefine your goals. This is okay. It is even encouraged. As you progress, you will need to update and revise your objectives because new possibilities will come into view.
Using Your Time Wisely
In order to make the most of your practice time you will need to be organized. Many students waste time in the practice room. Logging time is not enough. Instead, you should focus on how you spend your time. You can practice eight hours a day and get nothing done or you can practice one hour a day and make great strides. It all comes down to efficiency. To make the most of your time, think about the following questions:
How well do you prioritize?
How well do you concentrate?
Can you focus on one task for at least ten minutes?
Do you stay on task or do you get sidetracked easily?
Do you work in a logical, step-by-step fashion?
Is your practice routine based around short-, medium-, and long-term goals?
If you're excellent at prioritizing, concentrating, staying on task, and working in a logical, step-by-step manner, then you're right on track. However, if you're unorganized and scatterbrained, then you will need to change your approach. The best and simplest way to stay on track is to create a to-do list before you practice. Once you've created this list, make sure you adhere to it.