Ask Jeff: timing

Hello Jeff. I have several questions concerning playing improvement.Why do you have such an aversion to metronomes? Colin, via Facebook

Hi Colin. My problem with metronomes is that players believe that their time will improve if they practice with one. It won’t, because good time never comes from a box that clicks in a steady manner. Players with good time acquire this ability if they can play their ideas without thinking about them. Take the British National Anthem and try to play it in time in Ab starting on the 13th fret of the D string. Even though everyone reading this knows this melody, few will be able to play this in time. No metronome will help you to play this, or other music in time if you haven’t first learned it out of time, which is how all new music is learned. As another experiment, take your lowest bass string and play it in a steady time pulse. You will find that you can do this easily, which proves that you already have good time. Your problem is not with time, or else you couldn’t play that single note over and over in nearly perfect time. Your problem is with your lack of knowing music on your bass, which can be proved when you fail to play your anthem, an extremely familiar melody to you, but never practised on your instrument. This shows that music on your instrument is the difficulty with players, not their sense of time. Practically no one actually has a problem with time. They have a problem with playing bass.  

Why do you dislike rock music?

Jeff BerlinI love rock music! But I do tell players to avoid any lessons where rock music is taught because you won’t learn how to play rock this way. No one famous in rock ever learned how to play rock in a school, which simply proves that this learning method has no precedence of actually giving players what they are looking for – an improved ability to play rock in its various styles. Paying to jam is a waste of money. But paying to play music and representing it on your instrument at your level of ability will improve you in three to six months of playing this way. 

How do you suggest that players improve their technique?

Technique is having the ability to pluck or slap or tap strings and finger bass notes. Everybody can do this right now. Your technique is perfect. What isn’t perfect is knowing the right notes to play and physically play them. This leads back to the concept of learning music first, or at least learning certain licks or songs and using your technique to represent the notes. It is always like this: one must have a reason for using your fingers, or else how does playing technique serve you if you have little musical reason for using it?

Why do you believe that reading music helps you to play better when most bass players of repute don’t know how to read?






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Players that teach themselves can either learn musical content or not, as they wish. But when someone pays to improve as a player, then this is where academic music comes in. Players often ask me what is the best way to improve as a player. There are only two ways to improve. You can teach yourself how to play, which incidentally is something that even ‘educated’ players have done. All studied players are also self taught, 100 per cent of us. The big point is if you pay to learn. If you pay money to a teacher or a school, then you should be getting what you paid for. Music is the best way for all players to improve, and ironically, it is the one element of bass education that almost every bass player reading this chooses to avoid. I would like to know why this is. Write me your reasons and I will include them in the next issue. 


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2 comments on “Ask Jeff: timing
  1. Mike Fudakowski says:

    “Even though everyone reading this knows this melody” – I think the main problem people will have with this exercise of yours isn’t timing, it’ll be trying to play it in two keys at once. The British National Anthem (God Save The Queen) begins on the tonic, and you’re telling us to play it in the key of Ab but start on an Eb note?

  2. Greg says:

    As as full time instructor I totally disagree. This is really bad advise. Irresponsible.

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