What Does It Take?
One of the most common questions I get from my private students and StudyBassers is: “What does it take to be really good?”
I've seen hundreds of private students progress, and I've seen others not progress. What I've found is the answer is quite easy, but the hard part is doing it.
Here's what it takes:
It takes you consistently practicing the right things and playing with others.
There's a lot hiding in this answer, so let me break it down.
Far and away the most important part of developing and growing is putting in the time and work consistently.
Even if you're doing everything else correctly, if you're not working toward your goals daily—however small the day's effort—you will be disappointed with your progress.
Developmental psychologists have done research and found that, even when accounting for other things like perceived talent, resources, and teachers, the main factor in a student's progress is how much time and effort is put into learning.
I've seen the same thing with hundreds of my private students. It mostly comes down to consistent practice.
The Right Things
While consistent work and effort is key, practicing the wrong things can cost you a lot of progress.
How do you know what the right things to practice are? That's where you need an experienced teacher. There's not necessarily one perfect set of “right things” to practice. As your teacher on StudyBass I've found my own set of right things which I know creates good players, but there are many good ways to learn music and the bass.
The trouble is, there are also many “wrong things” to practice out there. Sometimes they are not wrong, but presented at the wrong time in your development. These detours can be long and make you miss the chance to work on the things which really make a difference.
Focusing on the right things is key to your success. Since your practice time is limited, you need to be very choosy about what you practice. A good teacher will help guide you.
Playing With Others
The advice I give which always meets with the most resistance from students is to go play music with others—immediately!
Did you just get your bass today and you don't even know which way the strings should face? You're ready! (Strings should face outward, by the way.)
The thought might paralyze you with fear, but every musician—even the most famous—has gone through the same experience. Other musicians will give you a break knowing you just started, and by jumping in you will learn so much about music and the bass that you can't learn elsewhere.
Yes, you will fall on your face. Mistakes are a part of learning. No matter how much you “prepare” you will make them. The sooner you start making them, the better off you'll be.
If you look at all of the most successful musicians, almost all of them went right out and started playing with others.
My private students who follow this advice always learn at least twice as fast. Please do it.
Why Does Playing with Others Help You Learn Faster?
The Important Stuff
For one, musicians will rarely ask you to work on something that isn't critical to your playing. If you just sit at home randomly picking songs or exercises to learn, it's guaranteed you will skip something very important.
It will highlight your weaknesses. When you make a mistake, you will feel pressure to go home and work on your problem area. When you sit at home and play along to recordings, your mistakes (you may not even notice them) will not cause the recorded band to lose its place or stop. A huge part of playing bass is learning to keep the band together. Bass is a huge responsibility, and you only learn that by playing with others.
You'll learn the language of music. People will say something regarding music or gear. If you don't know what they're talking about, you can ask them to explain. It's like having several free music teachers with you all of the time.
You will prioritize your learning. There's a lot to learn out there, and you need to know what's more important. Again, it's easy to pick the wrong things to practice when you're on your own. You'll realize no one ever asks you to play that fancy bass solo piece you spent months learning. Instead, they tell you: “Samba feel, pedal the five chord on the intro. One, two, three, four...” If you don't understand or you do it wrong, they'll tell you. These little music lessons continue for years and help form you into a solid musician.
You'll make contacts and develop relationships in your local music scene. This is really important for your future progress. As you grow, you'll meet and play with better and better musicians (more free music mentors). As a result you'll keep getting better, too.
Yes, This Applies to You
I stress the play with others advice throughout StudyBass. I still get emails from StudyBassers asking if this applies in their situation. Yes. There are no exceptions. Go find some musicians and play!
Where Can I Find Musicians to Play With?
You can find people at work, school, church, online classifieds, music stores, local jams, through music teachers, community college classes, or songwriter groups.
Tell everyone that you're learning bass. They may not be a musician, but they may have a friend who is. No one will knock on your door in the beginning. You have to get out there.
The Common Denominator: You
The last important part of the answer to “what it takes” is you.
You are the common denominator in all of this.
You are in charge of your progress. You will decide what to practice, how much to practice, or who to play with.
No one will do any of this for you. You have to do it.
Remember, if learning to play music were easy, everyone you know would be an awesome musician.
What Does It Take?
Let's review. What does it take to become a good musician? It takes:
the right things
playing with others.
Good luck! Never give up!
Now that you know what it takes, let's talk about how to practice...