Intentions Form Habits. Nurturing Skill Unlocks Creativity.
Posted by: Tony Grey / September 2, 2017
In my last blog post I discussed the importance of Vertical Fingering Patterns and the secret behind how they’re best taught and applied in order to cultivate creative fluidity. If you haven’t had a chance to read that blog post, it’s important that you do since this blog is a continuation of what we’ve already covered.
In this continuation, I’d like to talk about Practice Routines and how to apply yourself in the most effective way while learning these Vertical Fingering Patterns. There is a science behind how you practice that can and WILL lead you to creative freedom and fluidity. Let me explain...
In general, when it comes to practicing, you need to be specific about how you want to improve, which will really help you to map out a way of practicing a specific concept. All Practice Routines should be developed within the parameters of a simple structure, something to help create a daily habit without overwhelming you.
When I practice, I don’t like to practice each topic of study for more than 30 minutes. I want to avoid burn out and frustration. Often it’s the time spent away from our instrument that helps us to naturally absorb things. You can’t force music and growth. You have to simply “let music happen”.
Once you determine which areas you’d like to improve upon and then determine which material will best serve your goals, it’s crucial to make a note of your daily progress. Write down what you’re practicing, where you started and where you left off. This way you can set things down and pick them back up right where you left off, building towards your ultimate goal rather than trying to get there all in one go. Each day that you work on this, the quicker you will be able to move through the material and apply things in a more practical, creative way.
Let’s define our goals in relation to studying Vertical Fingering Patterns?
- To gain and retain knowledge of the fingerboard
- To develop good muscle memory habits with fingering patterns
- To improve our ears
- To be able to use these vertical patterns in a musical way
- To improve our technical skills
- To improve our dynamics and tone
- To develop our own voice and way of making music
Below is an Exercise broken down into 5 steps. The following steps are an example of how to practice your Vertical Fingering Patterns with focus and the intention of developing creative fluidity. These steps can and should be applied to each and every Vertical Fingering Pattern you study. In following these exact steps for each Vertical Fingering Pattern you will begin to see that this is actually a road map leading from Point A to Point B, the latter of which is complete creative fluidity.
I want to give you one quick example before getting into these 5 steps. Imagine you’re watching a YouTube lesson or sitting with a teacher, studying music. The focus of the lesson is learning a particular scale. That’s what I consider to be an academic understanding of what a scale actually is. Now that you understand the concept behind what a scale is, are you able to use it creatively? Did that understanding help you to develop your musicality? No, not at all -- but that first step was important. Next comes creative application.
When we learn a scale, for example, there’s always an opportunity to work on several things at the same time, which helps us to develop our musicality. We can focus on things like fingerboard awareness, technique, tone, dynamics, melodic application, etc. The list is endless, which is why it’s SO IMPORTANT to practice things in a way that allows us to explore each of these areas rather than simply practicing the academic concept behind learning a scale. Bottom line, all academic concepts need a creative outlet in order to serve us on our journey to developing creative fluidity and freedom.
Let’s take a look at these 5 steps as they relate to practicing a particular Vertical Pattern on our instrument. Remember, these 5 steps can be used with every Vertical Fingering Pattern there is.
Step 1 For this exercise, I’m using the G Minor Pentatonic on the 4 string bass. Make sure you focus on one scale at a time.
- First, learn the shapes of a particular scale or mode across the fingerboard.
- Figure out the chord or group of chords that are related to the pattern.
Are you working on grooving or soloing? Let’s say in this example we are working on building grooves and adding fills to our lines.
As you are working on each of the vertical shapes along the fingerboard, always do the following:
- Make sure you are aware of how you are playing the shape technically.
- Make sure you can play it with authority and comfort.
- Have a related chord playing in the background (G-7). This will help you relate the notes you are playing and how they sound against the chord. This will train your ears and put you immediately into a musical frame of mind.
Step 2 Once you have completed playing the scale in question along every position on the fingerboard, go back and try to think musically.
As the focus for me is to groove, I want to compose or improvise grooves — by building off of the scale while staying within each position. Even when the pattern starts on a note other than the root, you can always find creative ways of building a groove, starting on different notes and finding ways of approaching the root.
If you are learning the G Minor Pentatonic shape from the 3rd fret you want to be aware of how it relates musically to what chord you are playing over.
For example, the Root of the G Chord is the first note in the vertical pattern. I don’t want you to just see the shape and simply assume that’s all you need to play over a G Minor Chord. This may work with groove building, but for soloing you will soon find yourself frustrated and creatively limited.
When we play music we are generally playing over chords. Learning the chord tones and learning the value of them and how to connect our notes together in a musical way is very important; however, for this first step simply being aware of how to move and play in these positions is a great way to learn how to feel the instrument and to be able to hear what you are playing.
G Minor Pentatonic: Play the G-7 in the background. If you can, set up a drum groove or have a metronome clicking on beats 2 and 4. Having the metronome only playing beats 2 and 4 will really help you hear a back-beat rather than a click for every beat, which can sound and feel very square. Hearing the click as 2 and 4 really helps you to feel the groove and will help improve your time and feel.
Step 3 Repeat this process for every position. Just force yourself to create a groove wherever you are. Restrict yourself to staying in that one shape. Try to come up with 4 bar grooves and hooks.
Step 4 Once you can do this comfortably, go back to the first position and find a way of grooving in the 1st position for 3 bars and then move to the next available position to create a fill for bar 4.
Also, try moving in-between 2 positions for the groove and not just filling in the 2nd position.
Now combine 2 positions for a G-7 using the G minor pentatonic Vertical Fingering Patterns.
Step 5 Once you can do this in-between the neighboring positions, try really exaggerating the gap between positions. For example, groove from the 3rd fret and fill in the position starting from the 10th fret.
These are the 5 steps I follow when practicing ANY concept. Begin with the academic understanding, then use that in a clear and goal driven way by practicing each concept creatively, as demonstrated in the 5 steps I’ve just walked you through. In time you’ll become very comfortable in each of these positions and by using your ears to discover what you like and what works for you, you’ll begin to create your own voice and gain momentum with creative fluidity.
I did a short 4 part video series on simple groove concepts, which will provide you with plenty of ideas on how to approach practicing in this way. Click here for the video series
Thanks for tuning in! I hope you enjoyed learning about vertical patterns, how the shift in fingering impacts our creative fluidity and the importance of a creative practice schedule. All of these elements combined have provided me with the foundation I needed to tap into my own creativity and become fluid, comfortable and confident. Forever.
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