I was recently invited by the JUNO award winning bassist and head of the bass department at Humber College, Mike Downes to answer a few questions about playing and teaching the bass. Here is the first question he posed and more of my response.
What are some important musical and other lessons you’ve learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
Two questions that I encourage all musicians to ask themselves are:
1. What are your intentions as a musician? Why do you want to play music?
2. How do you want to feel in your body while you are playing music?
When you answer these questions and set your purpose and desired intentions, the tasks to help you reach your goals start to become very clear. Your musical work will start to feel lighter and more joyful.
Setting your intentions – the path to tasks and goals.
Perhaps your intention might be:
“I want to feel peaceful and open when I am playing, no matter what the circumstances.”
This may lead to the following question:
“What asks and/or goals will help me achieve peace in my body?”
1. Dialogue with yourself. Be your own best friend and cheerleader. Remember that this is a life-long process and that the path involves one step at a time; if you look too far up the mountain you may become discouraged. Focus on your small, daily victories. Never let your success go to your head or failure go to your heart.
2. Find a teacher/mentor who really sees you and encourages a feeling of peace while you are playing for them. Honour the intimacy and vulnerability of lesson time.
3. While practicing, always focus on your breathing.
4. Stretch your body often.
5. Focus on your body’s alignment so that it is working for you and not against you. Check in with your body often asking, “How am I feeling this moment?”
6. Make clean intonation and physical relaxation your pathway to peace. There is nothing more satisfying to you play beautifully in tune while letting gravity do the work for you. Hold the instrument in a relaxed way, feeling alignment and comfort in the body.
Some goals for beginner bassists might be:
- Relax your pizzicato hand and arm, utilizing gravity to trigger sound production.
- Develop a flexible and strong left hand so that the open hand position becomes strong yet relaxed.
- Develop a relaxed shoulder position – back and down. Often in the modern screen driven culture, the shoulders are tensed in a forward position. Do daily stretches to open up the shoulders and chest.