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How to improve sloppy playing?


jitter

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Hi!

 

I'm playing bass for about 2.5 years now and one part of my practice routine is to play songs that are technically challenging (for me, that is). While I'm playing it sounds kind-of okay, but when listening to the recording I hear lots of little mistakes: string noise, insufficient muting, sloppy timing, and so on.

 

To illustrate this I recorded myself playing about a minute of Clean Slate (Tower of Power, the snipped shown below) to a drum machine at two tempos:

 

http://www.sbox.tugraz.at/home/t/trobin/clean_slate.png

 

Slow Track (82bpm), about 510KB ,

 

Fast Track (98bpm, approx. original speed), about 440KB

 

Both tracks are the second take I recorded and I tried to be as accurate as I could. Due to that it sounds a bit stiff and boring.

 

Clean Slate is a rather simple track, but in spite of that my playing is sloppy.

 

Do you know any dedicated exercises to improve the technical control over the instrument? Are there good ways to "benchmark" this ability apart from recording, recording, and some more recording? Unfortunately my bass teacher does not address this at all...

 

Thanks in advance,

jitter

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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I've heard a lot of people recommend starting out playing the tune REALLY slow until you have it perfect, then speeding up while still using a metronome to keep the tempo nice and steady.
Never follow children, animals or Hare Krishnas!!
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I agree completely with wurm. If absolute precision is what you're after, play it at 'no tempo' until the notes sound perfect. Then fire up the metronome extremely slowly, painfully slowly (like 30bpm) until it sounds perfect. Slowly bring up the tempo. Next day, do the same thing.

These are techniques I learned from the Principals of Correct Practice for Guitar ( www.guitarprincipals.com ).

It's not simple to be simple.

-H. Matisse

 

Ross Precision Guitars

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Great question, jitter! :thu:

 

Ok, so I hear the little mistakes, like the string noise in measure 7 for example. In a live situation I don't think anyone would even notice that above whatever noise the rest of the band is making at that point. I've heard studio cuts with obvious string noise, too. If it really bothers you, do what you can to minimize it, but I wouldn't overly stress over it (unless you're recording a CD and your studio engineer brought it up). Also, consider other hand positions to fret the notes that may make for an easier shift here.

 

I don't have time to critically listen to the timing, but I think you may want to look into your counting for the parts like the end of measure 10 and beginning of measure 11, especially the & between beats 1 and 2.

 

You can try taking the song even slower, about half speed. This should help you concentrate more on making each note sound as good as possible.

 

Once you've got that established, try taking it a little faster than written, maybe 105-110 bpm. You may find when you slow it back to 98 bpm things are a little easier.

 

Also, try to memorize the song as much as possible and then when you record try to lock in with the drum machine. This may help you lose the stiffness and I think you'll like the results better.

 

Exercises for technique are usually scales or some sort of pattern that you play up and down the neck. A simple one I like to use starts in first position (pointer [1st] finger over the 1st fret). I usually start on the E string, but play this on each string, one at a time. Play the open string, then 1st 2nd 3rd 4th fingers (F,F#,G,G#); everything even 8th notes. Now play the open string again, and while it's ringing shift up to 2nd position and play 1-2-3-4 again (this time F#,G,G#,A). Continue until you run out of frets for your fingers. Coming back down the neck, the finger pattern is 4-3-2-1. Again, play the open string while shifting. Be sure to keep your thumb in between your 2nd and 3rd fingers, behind the neck.

 

Finally, just practice, practice, practice.

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I can't tell if the notation picture you provide is from some notation you programmed in or from another source, but you might want to consider playing along with a MIDI-programmed version of the song. You can do the tempo-changing thing and it can be a bit of a crutch to help you if you feel like you're unsure of some rhythms.

 

This is akin to playing along with the CD but gives you a good degree of control over the tempo. What it will NOT give you is lessons in the feel with which Rocco Prestia (or any other human) would play the bass line. Don't do it too terribly much, or you'll end up sounding like a computer, and there's enough sterile, soulless playing out there already. :)

 

Good luck.

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

Rather than practicing the song over and over, practice technical exercises.

 

Practice right hand alternation of fingers.

 

Practice a variety of rhythms at all tempos.

And while you're doing that, be very conscious of all those things you already know you need to work on: muting (using both hands), shifting positions seamlessly, and timing. These are all things that will develop the more you play, but you have to be aware of them as you play.
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First off, you're not sloppy on it at all.

 

It's just not funky. That will come. Spend less time worrying about hitting every note and spend more time worrying about making it GROOVE.

 

Then go back and nail every note.

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I'm going to second BenLoy's opinion. The track is not so much sloppy as it is un-funky.

 

I read somewhere that Victor Wooten once asked Bootsy Collins what the most important trait of funk bass was. Bootsy replied that it was injecting a sense of humor into your playing. And if you listen you can definatly hear a sense of humor in their playing.

 

Precision is important; feel is equally important.

My whole trick is to keep the tune well out in front. If I play Tchaikovsky, I play his melodies and skip his spiritual struggle. ~Liberace
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Thanks for your replies.

 

@wurmhole78: Yes, I do that for really hard lines, but normally I'm too lazy to do that for lines I can "almost" play in original tempo on the first try (i.e. when only some fills are messed up).

 

 

@RicBassGuy: I've never been in a recording studio (and probably never will be). Due to practicing with headphones most of the time technical errors are just very noticable and therefore annoy me. That's why I wanted to address that issue. Oh, and you are right on the counting mistakes.. oops.

 

 

@ClarkW: Regarding the "feel" of this recording... I intentionally tried to be as accurate as I possibly could. I also didn't go for that Rocco staccato feel (not that I would have been able to pull that off), it was just about accuracy this time.

 

 

@jeremyc: Hmm, I didn't really practice that song a lot. I transcribed it about 6 weeks ago, played it a few times and recorded it two days ago (you can hear the second takes on each track). Due to that I messed up the rhythm, as RicBassGuy pointed out :)

 

 

@BenLoy & Bottomgottem: Yep, on a funkyness-scale from 1-10 it would be a -4 or so. About that making it groove thingy: some time ago a regular poster[1] recommended to first gain control over the instrument (especially muting and note length and placement) and *then* worry about making lines groove.

 

 

I think for today's practice session I'll play along the original recording and try to improve the feel. If the results aren't too embarrassing I might even post them ;)

 

jitter

 

[1] I unfortunately can't find that post right now...

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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what benloy said....

 

slow things down and make sure you concentrate on getting the sound you want and don't worry about the tempo....

 

to lock into the tempo better practice reading exercises while counting 16ths to your self....this will make your internal beat stronger and make you groover harder

 

;)

Is it ignorance or apathy? Hey, I don't know and I don't care.
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If you are live on stage with a bunch of 20 year olds playing thrash metal in a campus bar, no one CARES of you are technically accurate, have string noise or are off a bit on the transisitions.

 

Maybe you are just being a little to hard on yourself and need to just loosen up and play for the fun of it, play because you like it, just pick up the axe and wail on it for a bit. The sheer joy of just making a bunch of noise. The rest happens eventually.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

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When I started reading music I tried to learn everything at the song's actual tempo - my teacher said to start off at a slow tempo and work to faster speeds, but not until I had it down perfectly. I told him 'That takes too long.' He said, "You want a shortcut? Everyone wants a shortcut. Guess what... this is the shortcut."

 

LOL! He was right too. Perfecting it at slow speeds and then speeding up is the fastest way to do learn a song and most importantly learn it right.

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