I’m often asked for recommendations on how to best allocate practice time, or time in the woodshed. It’s difficult to answer that question with any sort of specificity without first thoroughly assessing a player’s musicianship and identifying any “holes in their musical bag.” Many of us bassists are self-taught, so those voids will tend to differ from player to player.
That said, I do have some general recommendations regarding how to set yourself up for success in the woodshed! The time allocations will probably need to be tweaked depending upon your particular situation on any given day, but these can serve as a starting point.
By the way, I urge you to block out time in your schedule to practice every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day—although 30-45 minutes is even better!—I’ve found that the most important thing is consistency. You’ll make much more progress practicing 15 minutes every day vs. 4 hours every other weekend…because we’re striving to develop autopilot (where it doesn’t require tons of conscious thought and effort just to get your fingers to execute the part). Autopilot doesn’t really come together 4 hours every other weekend. But it does over time if you’re consistent with your shorter woodshed session every day.
Also, make sure you warm up and do some stretches first (at least 3 minutes). I gave myself a bad case of tendonitis early in my playing experience by neglecting this step—super important!
Ok…here we go:
- Start out with something fun. I’m convinced that most people won’t stick with a practice routine unless it’s enjoyable on some level. It could be working on a slap lick, playing along to your favorite tune, or soloing along with your looper pedal, etc. (10% of your practice session)
- Dive into something that kicks your tail. What this is will differ for each of you. For me, it’s probably sightreading, studying jazz harmony, transcribing solos, etc. Many players will spend their woodshed time focusing on material they already know quite well. While I suppose it can be helpful to reinforce, this approach virtually ensures that you won’t GROW. The woodshed is a safe place to attempt things that are challenging, or even impossible at your present level of playing…but the amazing thing is how those things become easier over time with consistent practice. Soon, you’re wondering what was so difficult! Then you move on to the next “impossible” thing. (25% of your practice session)
- Multitask! Most of us can benefit from including technique, fingerboard familiarity, scales, and timekeeping exercises to our woodshed time. Why not accomplish them all at the same time? For instance, you could choose a technique (fingerstyle, slap, using a pick, etc.) and play through the modes in all keys (perhaps in staggered intervals for more experienced players) while verbally naming the notes (or scale degrees) as you play them along with a click track or drum loop and employ a repeating rhythmic phrase. Of course, you’re welcome to make them all separate exercises if you’ve got time to burn! (25% of your practice session)
- Work on your repertoire. The reality is that most of us have gigs or weekend services for which we need to prepare. Here’s where you learn the songs for upcoming dates. There are busy times when this will likely require most (if not all) of your practice time…but hopefully only occasionally. (20% of your practice session)
- End with something fun/groove-oriented/creative. I love to end by playing along with a drum track and just exploring the groove possibilities. Or working on a solo arrangement. Or getting weird with some effect pedals. Amidst hectic schedules, many of us lose the creative expression that was the impetus for even wanting to pick up the bass in the first place. I am a firm believer in keeping creativity alive. Explore and have fun! And above all other musical considerations…groove. (20% of your practice session)
Then. . . do it again tomorrow. Have a blast!
(Adapted from curriculum at ArtOfGroove.com)