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I am a working individual with tons of responsibility at work giving me little to no time to practice in the conventional way. I can't consistently keep practicing scales and stuff. I just picked up the bass as something to de-stress and play for like 30 minutes every 2 days. I was wondering if it is a good strategy for me to learn bass solely by learning songs.

The way I see it:

Pros:

  • I'll stay motivated. I love playing basslines.
  • I won't dread the 30 minutes.

Cons:

  • I won't have "formal" training.
  • ??

I have read How can I move beyond learning songs? but I can develop Ear Training and whatever else along the way. I know that if I sit and start learning scales and chords, I am never going to pick up the bass.

Any comments?

(I don't intend to make this skill marketable or make money off it. I merely want it to have something to calm myself at the end of a rough day. Musical Meditation if you may.)

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There is a famous drum quote which is attributed to many famous drummers that goes If you can practice 1 hour each day, a full year, with full dedication and efficiency, you would be a great player in the end. It sounds much easier then it actually is but even if you can keep up your current pace consistently, just listening to songs won't be able to satisfy your hunger soon and you'll switch to the dark side of technical issues :) You don't have to be proficient in the technical lingo but still it doesn't hurt to know the overall concepts, harmony basics etc. –  user1306 Feb 2 '13 at 14:48
    
There's a lot of pearl clutching going on in this thread, but the short answer to "Can I?" is "YES absolutely." Most of the answers focus on why you might not want to and why it might take longer, but in light of your stated goals there is no reason why you need lessons. –  horatio Feb 6 '13 at 20:37

5 Answers 5

These methods should be fine if you intend to just be a 'loungeroom' musician, doing it for fun and yourself. Scales/chords though are a necessary evil, when learning violin as a kid/teen I dreaded all that, but years later am so glad I persisted.

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I think motivation is absolutely essential. If you're not enjoying what you're doing, then why are you doing it?!

But you can probably handle one scale, right? Once or twice through, as a warm-up? And then after a few days or weeks, switch to a different one.

You can also make your own exercises. Any difficult part from a song you want to play, isolate it and repeat until it's under your fingers. If you can see immediate results (or maybe after a few days), you may come to better appreciate what scales and exercises can do for you.


One big difficulty you may encounter with an entirely empirical approach (ie. no theory) is that you won't be able to talk about what you're doing with other musicians.

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Yes, but only to a certain extent. Really though, do what you want to do. As long as it's fun, keep doing. Realistically, however, it doesn't matter what you practice if you're only doing it for 30 minutes every two days. There's only so much you can actually do in that little time frame.

Anyone who is in -- or has been in -- a serious practice regimen will likely tell you that they spend 30 minutes or more just warming up, let alone actually practicing anything. With a string instrument, most of your playing will be straight muscle memory. Repetition will make you better and faster. It takes a lot of time and patience, not to mention playing a lot of the same exercises over and over again, to build up the kind of muscle memory required for anyone to ever consider you to be a more technical musician.

Since you're practicing bass I'm going to go ahead and assume it's an electric bass. Slap technique is almost all muscle memory. It's such a repetitive motion that it's basically impossible to learn without putting a lot of time into repetitive exercises. Practicing an easy slap song might help you get the idea down but when you're ready to move on to more complicated techniques you'll find that you just can't do them.

The above mentioned doesn't even get into theory. It's one thing to recognize a pattern on your bass and go: "that's A major." It's another thing to recognize that pattern all the way up and down your fret board. And further more, just knowing where and how to play A major is great, but when and why you're playing it is another field of consideration. Going through a chord chart is nice, but again, it's one thing to go: "this chord means this, which means I can play this;" it's another thing to do this at 140+ bpm.

Finally, the best way to learn still is -- and probably always will be -- to get a teacher. They help focus you. They can look at your technique and find faults that you might not notice. They can help you overcome learning plateaus. If you're having trouble with a certain song or idea they can help smooth over the details in a much shorter amount of time. Etc. etc.

All this aside, you can learn an instrument by just playing songs. But the level of skill that you will obtain will be much less than you might hope for. You will eventually find that song that you just have to play; but unless you really practice, the sad truth of it is you might not ever actually be able to. But as I said originally, if you're having fun just keep having fun and don't worry too much about it.

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"unpleasant" but helpful, in fact. –  ymfoi Feb 6 '13 at 10:54

at least learn enough theory so that you can correctly identify and be mindful of the key and rhythmic signature you're playing in

maybe look up the suzuki method?

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I personally don't believe in scales and other "purely technical exercises". [This is from a classical pianist point of view; other instruments and styles may be different.] There are lots of good exercises in the pieces themselves, namely the difficult places. They are both well-motivated and well-targeted, i.e. you know why you practice them and where you are going to need them. The most difficult thing is probably going to be that you need to stop and really practice them instead of just playing through the whole piece every time.

You'll find some of the difficult places when you practice. To find the others, play through the piece and record it. During recording you'll find new difficult places (because you'll be a little bit more stressed). Then listen to the recording and be surprised: some of the places you thought went quite well don't actually sound that good. :-) So, now you have some exercises.

Another difficulty is that you need to know when you're doing things properly. For this you probably need either a teacher or some good books, videos and lots of reflection. One important thing which can be difficult to learn just on your own is to identify and release unnecessary tension, while still having the necessary tension to be able to play. Now, playing "properly" might not be a priority for you but it will be much more enjoyable (and relaxing!) that way. Note that those purely technical exercises won't help here because you can do those wrong, too!

You can also learn theory this way. You have to identify what you don't know (this can be quite difficult, too!) and then go figure it out. If you do this by getting answers to the whys in addition to the hows, and going as deep as you can, you should be able to get a good grasp of the theory you need.

So does this actually work? I did exactly this for the first 3-4 years. I did have a teacher and that certainly helped in the beginning. Later my teachers rarely taught any technique; I got that from books, experimenting etc. At some point I also started to study theory "formally" but it came quite easily since I already had lots of working knowledge.

The only instrument exercises I have ever done were the scales which I had to learn to pass an exam. I haven't touched or needed them since (in the form scales are learned; of course scales appear in music but there's usually something different, like different fingering, skipping some notes, ...). I never studied the standard piano exercises like Hanon or Czerny. Using this method I got through university and nobody ever complained that my technique is faulty, quite the opposite in fact. I like to think that this is because I never wasted time and energy on useless exercises ;-) Had my teachers forced me to do exercises I would probably have quit quite early.

So, my final answer is this: I do believe it's possible, and even a good way if you have good self-discipline, but having a teacher for some time will be very useful.

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+1 for not playing the whole piece every time. –  Hannele Feb 6 '13 at 19:37

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