Practice Tips

Practicing isn’t really a “whatever works for you” type of skill. It is a vital skill that we all need to use more efficiently.

I’ve been revisiting the jazz standard Donna Lee (originally attributed to Charlie Parker but seems to have actually been a Miles Davis tune). To really “know” a jazz standard (and any tune for that matter), you need to understand the harmonic structure, the basic chords and the melody. I heard the Jaco Pastorius version when his first solo album came out. And like most others, I was totally blown away. I dabbled with it in college but never really got the melody down at a respectable tempo. Now, decades later,  I’m finally getting it done. I have seen transcriptions showing the tempo to as much as 218 beats per minute (quarter note). To accomplish this, I’ve had to re-do my fingering and a number of other things to approach that tempo. Here’s a list of ways  to practice difficult pieces and passages.

  1. Read through the entire piece, identifying the major sections, key centers, phrases, etc. This is basic analysis, no matter what the genre of music.
  2. Work out a basic fingering. This is very important. Be aware that it may change as the speed goes up.
  3. Once the above steps are done, start with the first section, get it down at a slow level, then do the same for the other sections, finally putting it together. Work through the piece with a metronome until you can play it at a recognizable tempo. Then start upping the tempo with a metronome, raising the tempo 4 to 8 beats per minute as the speed becomes reasonably comfortable.
  4. Now for the fun part. Set the metronome around 75% or more of the correct speed. Start the passage you’re working on, playing the first note or so in tempo and with correct rhythm and rests. Work through the entire section. This will get you through to a good speed with some extended work.
  5. Once you get close to the tempo, try setting the metronome at a higher speed – even past the needed tempo. If you’ve spent enough time on it, this will jump you much closer to the needed speed.
  6. Try the 1 +2 + 3 + method. Sometimes you may feel that it will take forever to get a tune up to speed. Once you have the notes down, you can use this: Make sure your metronome is running at or close to the speed you want to get to. Now play the first note of the section you’re working on. Let the measure finish. Now play the 1st and 2nd notes, in time. Next notes 1 2 and 3. Continue adding the notes as you play through. You will find that this will let you skip over some of the metronome increases and get close the tempo you’re looking for.
  7. Go back through and “clean up” the section and the whole tune. Work on removing string noise, fret rattles, etc.

The items above aren’t particularly original. It’s a collection of ways that I’ve used over the years to practice.

Now for the real world example:

Donna Lee Treble Clef markedThe passage circled in red above was the most difficult for me. The passage moves in minor thirds constantly both laterally and linearly. I went through 4 different fingerings until I finally found one that works. The first 4 I tried worked well up to a certain tempo and then it wouldn’t. The one I’m using now works well as I approach 200 beats per minute. I should be up to tempo in a few more days… I hope.

I’d love to hear comments from anyone who reads this. I would love to hear about some other practice methods.

















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A Test Lesson

I have several spots open for lessons either via Skype or in my home studio (Hickory, NC). It’s the time of the year to fill up those slots, so I’m offering some incentives to new and returning students.

I’ve noticed that even though I have a decent teaching page on Facebook and also the lesson site on a WordPress blog, it might be worth mentioning a few things.

I could list out a lot of bio type stuff but that doesn’t mean much when you’re trying to find a good teacher. So I decided to do this. For anyone who wants to find out just what my bass guitar and double teaching is all about, I’m offering a demo lesson for free. This is a 15-20 minute lesson via Skype (or at my home studio if you’re in my area) where we can go over a few things and see just how I can help you take your bass playing to the next level. I teach lessons to students of all ages and all levels of ability (complete beginner to very advanced). And the main thing is you get to ask all the questions you can fit into 20 minutes or so.

There are lots of ways to get in touch with me – you can use Messenger from Facebook, the pages mentioned above, my phone number – 336-314-1576, my email –, etc. There is also a sign-up box on this site.

Look forward to hearing from you!


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Slonimsky – First Look

I’ve been digging through the Slonimsky book for a couple of weeks now. It uses several terms that are a bit unusual, so  I recommend anyone trying it to keep a good music dictionary or music theory dictionary at hand. And before we get started, let’s get the true definition of “theory” as it is used in music.

There are multiple definitions of theory in the dictionary. The one that seems to be stuck in most people’s mind is: “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.” That is not how the word is used in the term music theory. The definition used is: “the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory“. Both of these definitions are taken from the website

The guiding approach of Slonimsky is far more than just a diminished scale. There are over 1,000 examples in the book of scales and melodic patterns. The guitar version doesn’t contain all of those due to range limitations.

Slonimsky’s principle is based on dividing the octave in to equal divisions. The first one shown is called the Tritone progression. This progression divides the octave into 2 equal parts. In the key of C, you have C, F# and an octave higher C. The scales and patterns add additional notes between the principal tones. And here he uses a few couple of coined terms. The first is Interpolation, which means inserting one or more notes between the principal tones. Infrapolation is the insertion of a note below the principal tone. Ultrapolation is the addition of a note above the next principal tone. These can be combined.Tritone progression

The principle is often seen in jazz, especially in the bebop era. The approach notes (as they are referred in jazz) are part of melodic patterns in the classical approach from Slonimsky. Nos. 392 and 393 in the Sesquitone Progression are the half-whole step and whole-half, respectively, 8 tone scales that we call the diminished scale. The current one that I’m working through is No. 403 which is a 3-note pattern with the principle tone notes (C, Eb, F#, A, C, which is dividing the octave into 4 equal parts) with the Ultrapolation of a b5 and a major third for each principle tone. This gives you C F# E, Eb A G, F# C Bb and A Eb D. It’s written in 16th notes in the book which can be a challenge in itself.


The book can be ordered from Amazon and a number of other online retailers. Grab a copy and work with it. It will take a while but I’m certain it’s worth it. Let me know your  experiences and thoughts this here or on the Facebook page.


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Diminished Scales and More: Nicolas Slonimsky

The diminished scale has always fascinated me. I understand the 8 notes, half-step, whole step or whole step, half step variations. Lots of musicians from many different genres have used it such as John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius and Frank Zappa. But after seeing a post by Joe Hubbard on No Treble, I began to see a little more about it’s derivation.

In 1947, Nicolas Slonimsky published a book called Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. I recently acquired a copy adapted which is arranged for guitar by Dave Celentano and contains a large part of the original book. This edition also comes with a CD containing all the material played on guitar.

Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns

Slonimsky takes the twelve tones of western music and divides the octave
(or octaves) into equal parts. This goes far beyond just the diminished scale. The first set of patterns is based on dividing the octave into 2 even parts referred to as the Tritone progression. In the key of C, that is C, F# and C one octave above. Slonimsky uses some terms from the Greek and Latin names notes above and below the notes mentioned. These are commonly referred to in jazz theory as approach notes.

The diminished scale is the division of the octave into 4 equal parts, which gives us the minor 3rd movement of notes that we commonly call the diminished scale. Slonimsky calls the diminished scale the Sesquitone progression.

I’m now working my way through this book, a bit at a time. I’ll post regularly on my progress and where it leads me.




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Transcription: A Necessary Process

I received a couple of questions on the sight reading post that bear some further comments. Most of them are answered by transcribing music.

Transcription is an important tool for all musicians in all genres. In some genre, all that is needed is listening and learning some music by ear, without writing it down. In others, it should be written down. This alone is valuable for sight reading improvement but there is more.

You should spend at least some of your transcription time learning music from instruments other than you own. For example, guitars and bass guitars share some similarity. Learning a guitar solo if you are a bass player is usually quite doable. But a saxophone may easily play some passages that are very difficult on bass. Make sure you transcribe some music from other instruments like trumpet, sax, flute, etc. It will teach you new ways to expand your fingerboard knowledge.

When I was in college, I hated transcribing. It always seemed to be akin to the old adage about walking and chewing gum at the same time. It was tough and frustrating at first but I forced myself to continue. But the true purpose of transcription is listening and learning music in an in-depth manner.

There are a number of “fake books” around and they’ve been around for decades. Most are legal now but at one time they weren’t! Fake books often contain mistakes and rarely cover the entire tune, especially when it comes to jazz standards. But let’s look at a few steps to make transcribing easier.

  1. You should become familiar with treble clef and bass clef. Tenor clef is also useful for some instruments but most everything is covered by treble and bass.
  2. Start simple. Start with common melodies like children’s songs, tv themes, etc. Identify the intervals, rhythms, etc. Use the lyric to remember them. Once you discover some of the common intervals, you’ll start to recall the words when similar intervals appear elsewhere. Use common tunes like Joy To The World, which is just a major scale down and up. Learn to sing the intervals, which was for me, hard at first.
  3. Start working through some music you’d like to learn. Pick something that sounds fairly simple and work it out. Get the first note, the first two, the next 2, etc., until you cover the whole thing. Just right it out on blank staff paper and use pencils, several of them.
  4. Once you’re comfortable with steps 1 and 2, start working on things that will improve your playing. The best way to understand another musician’s style and thinking approach is to carefully transcribe some of their works. I remember transcribing Havona in college and having a real “light bulb” moment. After spending quite a few hours on it, I began to see how Jaco approached things. Not only did I learn a lot about what could be played on bass, I also got an insight into Jaco’s thinking. I went through the whole album later and it was truly an eye opener.

So try these steps and let me know of any of these are helpful.



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Sight Reading – Some helpful tips

Sight reading requires 2 major skills and few sub-points to work:

  1. You have to know the written language of music – notation, dynamics, rhythm, etc., very well to sight read effectively.

2.  You must know where every single note possible on your instrument is located and how       to get there efficiently from anywhere else

The sub-parts underlying sight reading consist of being able to read several measures at a time. One of the better exercises I use with my students is to take about 4 bars of music (the difficulty depends on the student’s current proficiency) and break it down to 2 beats, up to the time signature length and then start adding the parts together 2 beats (assume 4/4) 4 beats, measure and half, etc. You don’t read book by reading one word at a time – you take several words at once or maybe even full sentences. With this exercise, after a while you will be able to read an entire line or more.

Secondly, most of the trouble people have with sight reading is rhythms, not notes. The exercises I do with students for this are drums parts that don’t have pitches so that the rhythm is separated from the notes. Learning where the notes are is relatively simple compared to rhythms. Get a hold of several simple drum parts and work through them. Then work up to more complex drum parts. Then set aside some time everyday you practice to just sight read. Open some music and try reading something. Whatever you find that you’re having difficulty with, work out the part and then move on to the next piece and approach it the same way. A good set of exercises for sight reading 120 Melodious Etudes for Trombone. Trombone and bass have a similar written range and a lot of these lie really well for bass guitar and double bass.

Transcription is also a great way to improve sight reading and also is the best ear training you can do. Start with very simple common melodies and work you way up to the harder things like jazz solos and classical music.

The bottom line is that sight reading isn’t any sort of superhuman skill. You have to practice just like any other aspect of music.


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Lesson Inquiry 



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Time To Get Started Again – Bass Lessons for Back to School!

It’s time to get started with bass lessons. Whether you’re returning from a summer break or just getting started, now’s the time. For in-school students, get a head start on the upcoming year with band, orchestra or jazz band. For the adults, let’s just roll!



I have a few slots open at this time. Lessons are available at my home studio in Hickory or very literally, anywhere in the world with Skype! Skype only requires a high speed internet connection and a computer (laptop, iPad, ect.) with a camera and microphone.

The special pricing through September 2015 is as follows:

In-studio lessons:

45 minutes, one lesson per week – The normal price is $100 for 4 lessons (25 per lesson).

After completing 4 lessons, you will receive 1 free                                                                             lesson for the next month! (a total of $75)

30 minutes, one lesson per week – The normal price is $88 for 4 lessons (22 per lesson)

After completing 4 lessons, you will receive 1 free                                                                             lesson for the next month! (a total of $66)


Skype Lessons

45 minutes, one lesson per week – The normal price is $80 for 4 lessons (20 per lesson).

After completing 4 lessons, you will receive 1 free                                                                             lesson for the next month! (a total of $60)

30 minutes, one lesson per week – The normal price is $70 for 4 lessons ($17.50/ lesson)

After completing 4 lessons, you will receive 1 free                                                                             lesson for the next month! (a total of $52.50)

These specials and prices apply to both Double Bass and Bass Guitar.


The slots are going fast, so get on the bandwagon as soon as possible.

Contact me via email at, by phone at 336.314.1576 or on Facebook through the Bass Guitar Instruction Studio page.



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An Experiment – The Conclusion


This is my final report on the copper-infused compression gloves. First, I will continue to wear them before and after playing/practicing. Here are my conclusions:

  1. They do seem to help. I have less pain and less muscle soreness when I wear them as above.
  2. The compression definitely helps. My impression is that it keeps you moving in a better alignment.
  3. As for the copper, I really don’t know. I’ve seen pro and con alike for the use of copper. The only true way to find out would be to use just compression gloves without copper.

As far as recommending them, I can say that they might be worth it given the low price. But it would take some real lab research to verify their actual efficacy. If you decide to try some, post some comments here and let me know your thoughts.



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Why Students Really Quit Their Instruments

Here’s a great article for parents and music teachers alike.

Why Students Really Quit Their Instruments and How Parents Can Prevent It

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