Rejuvenate Your Playing

It happens to all of us. We practice. We have our routine (which is good!). We have our allotted practice time and organized it into a balance diet of exercises and music for an efficient route to progress.

And then after a few months, stagnation sets in. We’re zoning out, tuning out, and feeling generally flat.

What can you do to get you out of this artistic rut?

Take up an artistic hobby that you’ve never formally studied – and don’t intend to! I took up photography several years ago – by accident. I acquire a digital through my school’s technology buying program. At first I used it just to take pictures of my classroom and events but it quickly turned fun. I took pictures of students and instruments at different angles, perspectives, and in black and white. I consciously decided to not take a photography class. I did subscribe to some photo magazines and joined the local photography club which out to be rather dull. But above all, I took lots and lots of pictures. Thousands. And why not? It was digital so I could delete as many as I wanted. I played with all the knobs, buttons and settings. I experimented and took more pictures – and tons of ‘bad’ ones. Who cared? I wasn’t a photographer so all of this was just fun! There was no pressure; just like when I was a teenager in a garage band with no formal musical training. Just a cheap guitar with a Guitar Player or Guitar World magazine. Ah pure, uninhibited creativity! Give it a shot!

I then noticed many parallels to music – the rule of thirds relating to phrasing and the golden mean. Learning what should be the focus and what’s the background. I learned to selectively focus on a subject – or not. My musicianship definitely improved after I picked up that camera.

Another idea is to try playing a genre that you’ve never worked in before. And it doesn’t even have to be a ‘real’ genre. Pickup a jazz real book but play the melody, or try your hand at comping the chord progression. Turn on a heavy metal or alternative music station and play along or try to transcribe a modern rock tune. Sit in on a bluegrass jam – odds are they’ll be happy to have an upright bassist and they generally have lead sheets (but come, use your ears, it’s just I, IV, V!)

Pickup your instrument and doodle, let your fingers wander and play anything. Improvise! Sing along with crazy lyrics or even a commercial. Chill out with your bass. Grab a beer, turn on the TV and try to figure out whatever theme song or jingles are playing.

Play a different style, improvise, transcribe (especially something different!). Bow along to that dusty Bon Jovi album!

Meditate with the bass. One of the things I really enjoy about playing is the tactile aspect of playing. I like how the bass feels. Just sit or stand with your bass and feel the weight of it. Notice the neck and feel the strings and wood. This isn’t something ‘out there’, just another way to connect with your instrument. When I first started playing the bass in high school, I marveled at it. I touched the bridge full of rosin. The neck with its lack of finish just called to be held.

Go ahead and experiment, there are no rules. Just play around.

I think you’ll be amazed at the results – mentally and physically. Hopefully you’ll reconnect with your instrument and discover why you chose the bass.

Recommended reading:

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within

The Inner Game of Music


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