How to learn
Welcome to today’s discussion on learning a piece of music on the double bass. This topic has been a focal point in many of our Contrabass Conversations episodes, as many of our listeners are enthusiastic learners and experimenters in this realm.
Our post today focuses on learning a piece from an array of perspectives – because, as we all know, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Musician or not, you’ll see some common threads weave through this tapestry of learning approaches.
Starting the Conversation
The conversation on learning a piece started with an insightful query from a South African bassist, Francis Frank Levenderis, who was curious about the creative process of learning a piece from beginning to end. This set the stage for an exploration into how musicians go about mastering a piece.
Opinions and Experiences from our Double Bass Community
Our community responded enthusiastically, sharing insightful strategies on how they approach learning a piece. The result was a rich tapestry of ideas, feedback, and personal experiences that provided a wealth of learning techniques.
Don’t always start at the beginning – sometimes start at the end. Sometimes start in the middle – like a jigsaw, put the pieces together until the picture begins to emerge. Works every time with my students.David Heyes
I think you will get as many different answers as there are players TIMES number of pieces.Ron Wasserman
First I spend some time studying it without the instrument, so that I can mentally hear the music and form a concept of the piece, without the impediment of the instrument and its technical issues. Once I have a good idea of how I want the music to sound, then I take the instrument and let my musical concept guide me in putting the piece together.James Lambert
start with one note, then 2 then 3 then 4. always going back to the beginning. Once you get to the end, then start on the 2nd note and play through till the end. then start on the 3rd note then 4th… etc. you can learn a concerto in a few days. Patience and persistence.Kurt Muroki
Everybody has their own process. Some people are completely methodical, others intuitive. A colleague of mine described learning the Ligeti piano concerto. He said the third movement lasts 4 minutes, but is so difficult it requires 4 days at first to read it through once. “From there, it’s simply a matter of reducing 4 days time to 4 minutes.”Paul Cannon
When I learn a new piece, I try to first get the background on it. When was it written, for whom was it written, what are the composers thoughts/ideas/inspiration on it, etc etc. If there’s a recording of it, I try to listen to a few as well. I try to learn as much as I can about it away from my instrument first, before diving in with my bass.Chantal Incandela
Don’t start at the beginning. Find the most difficult spot and figure it out – so you don’t keep hitting a roadblock Make the most difficult spot into warmup exercises so you work on them every time you begin a practice session Work on difficult passages creating a scaffolding or checkerboard effect so you can easily fill in gaps with easier passages. If you start working on your solo at the beginning, also work backwards (last 4 measures, last 8 etc) so the entire piece is learned evenly. I often work on phrases throughout the piece working in from the ends. Practice slowly. Very slowly. Painfully slowly. So slow it becomes easy and correct every time you play it. Don’t practice mistakes. Make a game out of difficult spots by having a ‘scientist mindset’. e.g. “What experiment can I do to play this how I want?”Peter Tambroni
As we moved through the comments and experiences, we discovered some commonalities. A clear theme that emerged was the importance of immersion—a close encounter with the piece through multiple readings, listenings, and playthroughs aided in understanding the score deeply before playing it.
Playing for respected peers and receiving their feedback was another highlight. Musicians, amateurs, and professionals alike, emphasized how it improved their performance, revealing aspects they might have missed in their own practice sessions.
Every practicing bassist brought unique learning strategies to the table. Techniques varied from splitting the piece into sections, focusing on problem spots, learning to sing the melody before playing, concentrating on phrasing and rhythms, and working on the piece back-to-front to ensure an even learning.
Each musician relies on a unique blend of strategies to master a piece and produce a beautiful sound. The collection of approaches we compiled from both amateur and professional bassists is truly diverse.
This collection includes some fantastic pointers like the use of a metronome, taking notes, marking tempos and fingering before touching the instrument, and more.
With inputs from beginner to advanced-level players, our Contrabass Conversations turned into an enlightening symposium on how one can approach learning a new piece. It showcased the complexity, experimentation, and immense dedication that musicians invest in their craft to produce harmonious music.
What are your methods, and how can you experiment with these diverse learning approaches in your own practice? We hope this articulation of learning strategies inspires you to explore new ways of learning a piece on the double bass.
Remember, regardless of the methodology you select, practicing without active brain involvement is a waste of time. On the other hand, when you retain active engagement with every repetition, every practicing session becomes a meaningful musical journey. Keep practicing and keep inspiring with your music!