Happy New Year from The doubleBASSbridge!
In the spirit of new year's resolutions...it's time to transform your practice routine from metro-no to metro-whoa!
I had a major "metro-whoa" moment the other day when my really smart colleague said: the metronome doesn't just teach you how to play on the beat, it teaches you how to play with other people.
Whoa, indeed. All of those hours in a practice room - all by myself - were to prepare me to play with others. Deep down I knew this, but my approach to the metronome wasn't founded upon this concept. I was practicing with the metronome because I wanted to play better...which of course was to play with other people. However, my mind was treating it as a chore as opposed to the rehearsal before the rehearsal.
In order to successfully play together, everyone must agree on the same tempo, pulse, and rhythms. We've all heard it a million times from our teachers, coaches, and conductors..."practice with the metronome" and "you guys HAVE to subdivide!"
It's important to note that subdividing the beat is much more than counting "one e and a". As musicians we must understand and feel the "inside" of the beat in order to keep a steady pulse and to execute rhythms precisely. This is where the metronome comes in.
We all know the basic metronome routine: start slowly and work the metronome up a few clicks at a time, add subdivisions as needed, use a variety of creative practice rhythms, and be able to clap/count the rhythms correctly.
Here are a few ideas to freshen up those extra fun metronome sessions:
Practice with the metronome only on off beats.
Practice with the metronome on beats 2 and 4 (yeah, I hear you jazz musicians...you are right and classical musicians should be doing it too!)
Set the metronome so it only clicks on beat 1 of each measure. Once this is mastered, set it so the metronome only clicks on beat 1 of every other measure. There are many apps in which you can silence certain beats or even multiple beats.
With the metronome on, count through your music while conducting along.
Using only one pitch, play through the rhythms in the music. Try to add in dynamics and phrasing while playing with the metronome.
Check point: be able to play with the metronome while counting out loud. "Play it and say it" is a fantastic assement to determine rhythmic understanding.
If you don't already own a metronome (which of course I'm sure you already do!) Pro Metronome is a great app. If you want to go old school, I recommend this ultimate hunk of metronome love, Dr. Beat.
Tick-tock, your metronome is waiting!
One of the greatest aspects of being a bass player is getting to know other bassists. I can't think of a more interesting and eclectic group of people. Whenever I meet another bass player I am greeted with instant friendship and of course some joking around. It must be the bond of hauling around an attention grabbing instrument...no it's not a "big guitar" and "no, I reeeeeally dont wish I played the piccolo." This is an instrument that can be easily hid behind, yet players choose to attempt ridiculous musical endeavors that other instrumentalists deem impossible. In this case, the impossible lies with keeping one's rosin from drying out. Uhhh, what?"
At this point there are a few things that I must disclose. 1. I have to have fresh rosin and it has to be Pop's. 2. I put the purchase date on the bottom of my new rosin, so I can keep track of how long it takes until it dries out. 3. I only buy rosin directly from the manufacturer at bassrosin.com.
Ok, so where is all of this rosin talk going?
One of my closest double bass friends from grad school has invented Rosin Saver. Jordan Scapinello has always been a clever guy, so it is no surprise to me that he has come up with this unique invention. As indicated on his website, rosinsaver.com, it's time for those of us with stale rosin to "get a grip". It's been about a month and I am still enjoying my rosin as though I just popped open a fresh cup.
Here's a quick look inside...
Not only does Rosin Saver work, but it looks great and is a super fun gadget. I've also used it on numerous occasions as a conversation piece with other members of the orchestra. Yup, pretty stinkin' nerdy.
Jordan also makes amazing double bass bows. I've been playing on one of his bows for over a year and I couldn't be more pleased. He has a long waiting list, but it is worth the wait!
It's confession time. I didn't write a blog for the month of May (gasp), but it was for a very good reason...we welcomed boy/girl twins into our family on May 25th! With the new additions in our house, I could not think of a better subject to blog about than BALANCE.
All you have to do is google "balance in life" and 389 MILLION results will pop up in 0.46 seconds. There are literally millions of resources out there aimed at helping you find this balance! This shows us how incredibly important this is...and also how much we are lacking balance in our lives.
The best definition that suits our purpose is: "A state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance."
* borrowed from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
What I gain from this is that fair does not mean equal. There is a very good chance that we will spend more time at work/school on a Monday than we will with our families or friends, however this unequal time does not make work/school more important. Work/school will get the "proper amount" of time and family/friends would get the "proper amount" of importance. It is not equal, but it is fair.
In looking through the many websites from my google search, (I made it through a couple of pages!) I came up with the following list of things that we balance.
In no particular order:
the list goes on and on...
The biggest thing that helps me in juggling all of these things is making a plan. Essentially, being organized. The first step in this is maintaining a good calendar. I first enter everything that I am required to do into the calendar: work/school/gigs/meetings...all of the typical stuff that you would put on a calendar.
When I added the next step to my life, I finally found "balance" and my happiness greatly increased, as did my productivity, and my quality of life just seemed to be better.
This life-changing step was scheduling my FREE TIME. Seriously. I put a big "X" through the times that I have open and I schedule them for my family, for me, and for a purpose. If I am going to do "nothing"...then I actually do nothing. But, for the most part, I schedule in fun adventures, special dinners, visits with family, etc.
When time is put aside, it gains meaning. It feels like I have so much more time than I actually do and I enjoy my time more than I ever have before.
Advice on Balance collected from over the years:
Put out the hottest fire first.
Do sweat the small stuff...there is a good chance that this will decrease the amount of "big stuff".
Be in the moment and stay in the moment.
Don't worry about the unknown.
Git 'er done! Complaining about what needs to be done is a waste of time. It could already be done, but all of that time was spent dreading it!
Make the best out of each and every moment.
Now there are 389,000,001 search results for "balance in life".
First of all, mmmmmmm, pie!
Second of all, awwww man, I "have to" practice.
Ideally practice time should be approached more like the first statement. However, for most of us it can feel like an open-ended chore that will
Like pretty much ever.
So, how does one get past this dreaded feeling and actually find a way to enjoy (or at least tolerate) their practice time?
The answer is practice pie. Make a plan before you start and write it down. Set the size of your pie (for example: 60 minutes) and then break down everything you need to work on into a slice of time. Within those slices, have specific goals in mind...intonation work, building up speed with the metronome, etc.
For a beginning student: tuning/scales = 5 minutes, exercise/etudes = 10 minutes, and
solo = 15 minutes. Boom! 30 minutes has gone by and no one has reached their breaking point. Both the practicer and the practice-pusher (the parent) are still speaking to one another. Everyone wins.
Now remember, rehearsals and lessons don't count towards practice time, but they do count towards the 10,000 hours needed to become a "master"!
Short term goals will lead to long term success. If you need a reward, set one for yourself! And don't forget, it is important to take off one day a week...if you can :)
For the more advanced student, the motivation to practice needs to come from you!
Keep a journal to track your progress.
Use a timer. I use a digital kitchen timer and set a specific time for each practice slice.
Set a specific time(s) each day to practice.
Make a "practice buddy".
Have your instrument unpacked ahead of time.
Use a metronome. It really does make the time go by faster!
Take little breaks in between slices :)
Figure out what works and stick to it!
Check out PRACTICE TOOLS, PRACTICE TIPS, PRACTICE PROPS, and GETTING ORGANIZED for more practice tips!
Why are you still reading this?! You should be digging into a delicious piece of practice pie right...about...now!
Music teachers are often asked, "how do you have the energy to keep up with all of those students?" Or, "why do you do what you do?" Of course it is because I genuinely love what I do, but there is a greater benefit to teaching music...the students are the ones who give me the energy!
In the midst of a series of outreach projects, I realized that the change in them becomes the change in me. Together we become more thoughtful, more expressive, more human, and collectively we eventually become more humane. Every adult should know what it is like to make music with young people. This is when true art happens through the creation of inspiration, beauty, and understanding. The change in me then becomes an even more profound change in them. In their youth, they are untouched by "tradition", textbook definitions, and years of demanded perfection. They guide themselves by whatever works to get from the beginning of the music to the end. As the mentor, I initially surprise myself as my focus quickly shifts from curved fingers and other proper techniques to style, beauty, and tone...their musical voice. The change is happening. The more we focus on artistry and the voice of the instrument, the more we connect, trust, and learn. Doing things "correctly" now has a purpose. With trust as our foundation, both sides become truly enriched by the mutual presence in each other's change.
I do what I do because it feels right. Creating art and showing young people their potential to achieve excellence can and will change all of us. To do better, we must expect more of each other and celebrate the rewards of hard work. In this case, the reward is discovering the beauty in their own music and the confidence to share it with others with the hope of adding yet another link in the change.
Caution: Curved Fingers Ahead!
Each and every week, double bass students from around the world are reminded to curve their fingers in lessons by their loving double bass teachers...over and over again. This collapsed fingers craze seems to transcend all ages, talent, and abilities and no one is immune to potentially developing this unwelcomed habit at some point in their technique. When reminding students, instructors often get responses such as: "Ughhh, why don't they stay curved?" or a very sad, "I know, I'm reeeeally trying."
The student's frustration is real, but why?
The reason why is simple. The mind is too busy learning something else...too busy working out new notes, tightening up rhythms, exploring phrasing, adding vibrato, etc. The student's mind has to be free and ready to solely focus on the logistics of the fingers. This focus is absolutely necessary for forming new and improved muscle memory.
To get this new muscle memory started, it's important to understand why the fingers are collapsing and how to "fix" it. Take a moment away from the instrument and press on a hard surface with the tip of your first finger. What just happened? Most likely the first joint of the finger collapsed. Now take the same finger and pull/press at the surface. Imagine that the boney tip of the finger is hooking onto the surface. With this motion, the first finger's joint should be curved. Keep in mind, if the middle knuckle collapses, this is an issue of strength...not choice or poor technique.
SLOW CURVES AHEAD:
Slow, mindful practice on a few basic double bass exercises will whip the fingers into shape in no time! The first exercise to start with is slow scales (quarter-note = 60) in front of a mirror. Use just a handful of scales and get them memorized so the eyes can focus on the mirror and making sure the fingers are curved. If this isn't working, the tempo is too fast. Try to play the scales as half-notes. See if the fingers can feel when they are not curved. Once they can feel it - they can fix it!
As the scales get better and more comfortable, it's time to add the Karr Bass Class Exercises. Dr. Diana Gannett has a new website that includes extremely helpful explanations and examples of these exercises: drgannett.com. All of these exercises should be learned with a slow, mindful approach. It's important to understand that these exercises are life-time exercises. They are used frequently by double bass soloists, professional orchestral musicians, jazz musicians, and so on in their daily warm-ups. Learning the Bass Class Exercises is a journey, not a destination.
A few tips:
- The fingers should slightly hook the right side of string.
- Imagine the pull/press motion from before. Don't pull too much or the pitch will bend.
- Think "fingertip to hip" when standing. Pull the bass into the hip.
- Pretend to hang from the fingerboard when sitting.
Now that the fingers are curved, the rewards should be presenting themselves in tone, agility, and strength. The tone should be clearer and match the sound of the open strings more since the fingertip is a harder surface than the pad of the finger. Agility and speed become easier to achieve now that there is one less step in lifting the finger because the finger no longer has to unbend before lifting off the string. Vibrato becomes more balanced and the likelihood for injury becomes reduced.
And let's all be honest...you want to look as good as you sound and curve fingers just look better!
Welcome to The Double Bass Bridge! Building this website has been quite the project and I have learned so much over these last few weeks. I am beyond excited to share this website with you!
Not only is this the first blog that I have ever written, but this is my first website as well. For many years, I have tried to build a website: annakjensen.com. Many, many years and it never felt right. What was I going to say? A whole website all about myself? I could not figure out what to say. I would look at other people's individual professional websites and think "that looks amazing - I am so going to finish my website this week." Which actually meant I am now going to stare at my computer screen and change my theme color at least a hundred times...if I could ONLY get the "right" font, this website would be up in no time! Then it occurred to me (waaaay longer than it should have) that the website didn't need to be about me and that it should be about the double bass, teaching, learning, community, and built specifically for students.
One of the most amazing aspects of teaching is getting to know all of the double bass students, their playing, and of course their personalities. Over the years, I have often wished that I could connect everyone together, however geographic challenges have always prevented this from happening. Most of us have or have had the same technical and musical challenges at one point or another and it is huge for students to share solutions, advice, and even empathy with each other. This is in the main inspiration of THE BRIDGE: to close the distance between us all and to connect in an online forum.
Please take a moment to introduce yourself in THE BRIDGE under the "Scroll Call". This website is a constant work in progress, so I invite you to make comments below for any additions that you would like to see.
Dr. Anna Jensen,