I suck at practicing. On my own that is. When surrounded by a group or compelled through other means of passive aggressive guilt trips I do just fine. I pay attention, accept critique, and strive to improve. But as for self-motivated, make-yourself-better practice, I really suck.
Nearly a year and a half ago, I was in the then newly-formed worship band at a local church and all the other instruments were covered. Keyboards, drums, a variety of guitars; all had been lovingly brought forth by their owners to contribute. I was vocals. Lead vocals, but still just vocals. This wasn’t odd; plenty of bands, worship or otherwise, have had front(wo)men armed only with a good set of lungs and a pretty voice. It just meant I had to figure out what to do with my awkwardly empty hands. So with no bassist stepping forward to fill the void, I picked bass guitar.
I got my hands on a loaner bass guitar and attacked Google. Yes, Google taught me how to play an instrument. As with all my projects I set upon this one with extreme fervor. A week of mild obsession followed and I had the basics figured out. For the record, beginning bass is not complicated, particularly for the musically inclined. My fingers were constantly on fire and the moment I found out anyone played any version of guitar I felt the need to show off my newly forming callouses. Two weeks later I figured it was sink or swim, so I played the bass for the worship set in church. It worked. So I kept going. My fervor for practicing had already begun to fade.
Time marched on, I continued playing weekly at practice and worship service and eventually a kind donation from an anonymous benefactor plus a bit of earnest saving bought me my very own silver Yamaha bass guitar. I play it twice a week, every week, but recently realized I’m not getting any better. I’m maintaining status quo.
I now find myself staring at the bass players anytime I watch a band perform. Their nimble, strong fingers fly across the neck, working those four cursed strings for all they are worth. There are rhythms and walks and beautiful arpeggios that weave underneath the rest of the music. A bit more Googling and I find terms I couldn’t begin to define. Slap-bass, tapping, dual plucking. And chords. Chords are possible on a bass. After watching a few videos and trying a few of the “easier” ones myself I decided that my left hand will need professional attention from those creepy Asian children in Cirque De Soleil to fold that way. Either that or I need finger extension surgery.
When did I go from that awesome chick who taught herself to play bass to that chick who thinks she can play bass? About the time I stopped practicing I suppose. So about a week after the idea popped into my head.
Sure, over time I’ve gotten better. A year and a half of anything and you are bound to show some improvement. The sounds are more fluid and my hand naturally moves from note to note. It doesn’t really require much in the way of thought anymore. That might be a good thing but I don’t think it is in this case. Music should always require thought. That’s sort of the point. Anything you give your time to, as precious as your time on this Earth is, should always require thought and care and effort. When it becomes mindless something has gone wrong. Mindless actions lead to boredom and burn-out. It’s the challenge that keeps us coming back to something. The opportunity to conquer, learn, improve drives us to keep doing stuff.
So how do I conquer this? I’ve heard practice makes perfect. Maybe I’ll give that a shot.
Update: Over a year has elapsed since the original posting of this. The gig has since ended and my bass has gone woefully unpracticed and unplayed. Thus it is looking for a new home and a new opportunity to grow the love of music in someone else’s heart.