My StudyBass

by Andrew Pouska

Music is not Mechanics

Something I stress with all of my students—especially beginners—is not to treat music mechanically. Making music isn't simply making a series of physical motions at specific times.

For beginners, making music may look that way because technique is that first barrier to making any sound come out of an instrument. But, making music isn't just mechanics or technique. You need to break away from thinking that way as soon as you can.

Expressing Music

Making music is expressing yourself with tones and rhythms, and that expression has to come from somewhere far deeper than your fingers.

Music is just like speaking. Speaking isn't just making sounds by flapping your tongue around—speaking is expressing thoughts and ideas with words and phrases.

What is Your Instrument?

When you practice mechanically, you're practicing the wrong instrument. You are the real instrument. Your practicing is not to train your fingers so much as to train your musical mind.

Your 'musical mind' is how you hear, imagine, understand and think about music in your head.

It's then your musical mind which tells your fingers what to do on the external instrument.

Again, it's just like when you speak, you have a verbal thought and it shoots out of your mouth. Music needs to come out of you in the same way: You think a musical thought and it shoots out of your fingers.

Getting to this point takes time and effort just like it did with language. For beginners, playing mechanically is an easy mistake to make because you're hearing the results you think you want. You think to yourself, "Hey, I put my fingers in the right spots and played a familiar song!" But, you're not working on speaking music.

To be clear, I'm not just saying something like "play music from the heart." That's important too, but I'm saying something a little more concrete: Hear and conjure the music in your head and play what you're imagining. Don't think "First finger plays one note here, then 3 times here with my second finger" and so on. That doesn't train your musical mind, it only trains your fingers.

Imagine music in your mind and sing it through your instrument just like you would sing music with your voice.

Applying This Approach

With many of my beginner students I can tell when they're approaching things mechanically. You can hear it in their playing and see it in their body and read it on their face, and I have to remind them to imagine the music.

If you're not already doing so, make an effort as you play and practice to imagine the music in your mind. Hear it and sing it to yourself. You might even sing or hum it out loud. Play off of the music you're imagining.

Whenever I get students to do this in lessons, they immediately play things better.

You'll find your fingers will follow and keep up. A fingering mistake won't cause you to get lost in the music or stop. Your playing will be more fluid. Your rhythm improves. It will feel easier, more relaxed and natural. Your playing will be musical.

StudyBass Study Tip:

Hear the music in your mind and express it through your instrument.

Don't play music from your fingers—play music from the inside out.