Make no mistake about it; playing bass guitar is a very physical endeavor. Add to that the inherent stress of performing live in front of an audience and you can have some real challenges. I learned this the hard way, playing in my first professional band. I had a fairly complicated, fast run that was a counter melody in the set opening song. I had practiced it for several hours by myself and with the band. Opening night I felt really good about the tune. Everything was going really well and my line came. Suddenly my left hand became more of a claw than hand. I made it through with minimal embarrassment but I learned a hard lesson-I didn’t have the endurance to handle it.
There is usually only one way to build endurance – play a lot of live shows. That works great if you are in a band that plays a lot. But what if that isn’t a current option for you? Is there another way?
First, a little background- I was very fortunate to have an upright bass teacher in college who was very familiar with the physiology of playing bass. Being a woman at a time when there were very few female bassists, she learned it from necessity. So when I found myself without a regular gig, I started applying what Lynn Peters used in her approach to upright bass endurance.
There is such a thing as muscle memory as any athlete knows. For years I had used a minimal warm-up: some scales, etc. But what does a warm-up really need to accomplish? It should get you in shape to perform.
I’ve developed a warm-up routine that handles that. It is lengthy but covers most the things you need to do before you perform. The first and most important is the ears. This is done with very, very slow scales. I usually have students play a major scale in whole notes at 60bpm to start. It also gives the time to develop the tone of each note. Then it moves to half notes, then quarters, then quarter note triplets, then eighths, eighth note triplets, sixteenths, and more. The next section is chromatic scales up and down the fingerboard. This is similar to what lots of people do to warm up. It should be done with a metronome as a lot of your basic time sense is also being warmed up. There is a small section on Stretch Fingering scales which you should skip if you have not done these before. Arpeggios come next. This one aspect that is often overlooked. But they need to be part of a warm up. I’ve included rapidly shifting triads, up and down in 7ths, and 9ths. It takes time to work to playing the whole thing, but it is well worth it. I normally take a 10 or 15 minute break between the scales and arpeggios.
Here is the link to a PDF version of the Endurance WarmUp.