A long time ago in Getting Back into the Groove there was mention of “meditating on your bass” but a recent discussion with Kalin in the comments on the Road Worn Fender Jazz Bass post got me thinking about it again, especially this comment:
“I was never a fan of quick-fixes. It takes time to make things dear to one’s being, and guitars surely have that facet…” – Kalin
It was Peter Tambroni (on Twitter: peter_tambroni) who mentioned the meditation idea. There is some science behind what both Peter and Kalin have mentioned. Over time, our brains automate things, so as we get used to a particular bass, we don’t need to concentrate as much, something called Muscle Memory takes over. This isn’t actually memory in your muscles, but rather the part of the brain that controls the muscles getting used to doing something. With practice, it gets more accurate at carrying out a particular movement. You are probably already familiar with the concept. It’s the main reason we practice, after all.
So, how does this connect with ‘meditating on your bass’? It doesn’t have to be a ‘spiritual’ thing, although it can be if you want it to. It is about paying absolute attention, and focussing down on some tiny things. Try this:
- Get your bass, and assume the position you would to play normally.
- Notice how the bass feels. Notice where the weight is. Notice where your arms are.
- You might adjust slightly, but concentrate on noticing just those things.
As a side note, letting your brain let go of the mass of things swilling around it for a bit is good for you, so say the psychologists anyway. Hopefully you are feeling a bit calmer, and also a bit more aware of your bass. Try this next:
- Play one note. Just one.
- Pay careful attention to how it sounded. How was the tone? The sustain.
- Wait a little bit. Let it ring out.
- Now, play one more note – the same one.
- Did it sound different? Did you like the sound more, or less?
- Listen to the detail of the note.
So, if you aren’t slightly unnerved by the experience, let me explain what is going off. You are letting the bit of your brain that control your fingers, interact with the bits that listen to the note, and the bits that know what you want your notes to sound like. Try one more thing:
- Play a simple scale. Very, very slowly. Notice how your hands feel and how the notes sound.
- Don’t let any other thoughts come into your head, just concentrate absolutely on that scale and the sound.
Now, pause. Notice your bass again. How is it feeling? How does it feel under your finger tips and against your body. Relax.
Hopefully that was fun. Repeating that kind of exercise will actually result in you being less aware of your bass. With lots of practice, our instrument becomes ‘invisible’ – that’s when muscle memory is working its magic. It’s taken over from our conscious brain and it is playing the bass for us. It’s a good feeling – that one you get when you are playing a piece that you know inside-out.
There’s definitely an argument for focussing down on one (or perhaps two) basses, and sticking with the same one for a long while. To the point Kalin was making, it takes a long while to get to know an instrument well, with it all its tonal quirks and intricacies.