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A little history - I started playing the bass in high school, but when I moved out of my parent's house for my studies I couldn't keep up practice. During the first bout of quarantine, I was itching to start playing again, so as soon as I could I got my bass back and now I'm back to practicing fairly often (not daily, but 3+ times/week).

I got into older metal (Maiden & Sabbath, mostly), and I really like Harris' gallop technique, so I wanted to try that out. I started learning The Trooper seeing as it's the most iconic. I've got the gallop mostly covered, but I still struggle with the intro, especially playing at full speed.

So my question is this: Is "The Trooper" particularly hard to play for an intermediate bass player, or is it more in line with most of Harris' repertoire? Should I power through with learning "The Trooper", should I look into playing some of his other songs that may be less challenging, or should I go back to practicing general technique before taking on the gallop?

Additionally, if you know of any lessons, exercises, tutorials etc that can help me learn Harris' style better, they would be appreciated!

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  • Seems o.k. for an intermediate player. The picking is the trickier part, rather than the fretting. He plays it with a pick, I'd prefer to use fingers, although a bit of attack would be lost. Keep practising at a slower, steady speed (metronome calling!),
    – Tim
    Apr 9 '21 at 12:11
  • 2
    @Tim The Trooper is (famously?) played with fingers, not a pick.
    – Edward
    Apr 9 '21 at 12:53
  • @Edward - not heard or seen it before, but it looked to me like it's picked. Later on the video there's a better shot, and you're right - fingers!
    – Tim
    Apr 9 '21 at 14:25
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You're asking the wrong question.

You'd like to be able to play The Trooper? You are able to play at least parts of it? Ok great! So keep practicing. You'll be able to do it better and better. Regardless of that, definitely practice also other tunes.

Learning a musical instrument is not some sort of quest through different songs / techniques that are to be vanquished. Rather, it's an ongoing process where you get ever better at everything. At some point you may have “mastered” individual songs, but that shouldn't really be what you have in mind while practicing.

In particular with a song like The Trooper, you'll probably never be able to play it quite like Steve Harris – but that's fine, hardly anybody can do that. You may however already be able to play it in a way that's good enough for giving the band a satisfying sonic fundament to achieve a fine overall interpretation. Start from there, keep improving.

When actually playing in a band, the really important thing is to not focus on trying to make any individual aspect perfect, but instead keeping the whole thing balanced and round. In particular for this song, it's crucial that you keep the pace and power throughout the performance (in fact, I think Maiden speed it up quite a bit), but not that you actually execute every single note as in the original. That's where it comes in handy to have practiced not only a single technique: there's a lot of ways you can “cheat” in this song, and still get a good result, whereas cramping on to a tab will probably result in everything getting quite poor and feeble towards the end. Even Harris himself doesn't actually gallop all the time – he occasionally leaves out some of the in-between sixteenths. But the notes he does play, he absolutely hammers home.

You can get a lot more creative than just omitting notes. One very effective energy-saver on bass is raking technique: instead of using two individual finger strokes, use the same finger twice on different strings. In a key like E, this can readily be implemented by using octaves.

Related, specifically in a riff like the intro, make use of pull-offs. I'm actually not sure if Harris plucks all the notes, but I would not. Pull-offs essentially distribute the plucking work over both hands. But even if you simplify it to a simple fourths-motif

X:1
L:1/8
M:C
K:em
%%score B
V:B            clef=bass
% 1
[V:B]  E,E, E,B,, D,D, D,A,, | C,C, C,G,, D,D,

that'll work if the guitar doubles with the full thing.

The only thing that you really can't afford, as a heavy bass player, is to drop out or drag.

— That's of course not to say it should be your ambition to cheat yourself through everything. Your ambition should be to play the song as best as possible, but the way to get there is neither to make it your big goal to play that one song note-for-note, nor to shy away from the challenge completely. The way to get there is to not fixate on one “way”, but instead work in a broad manner to improve yourself. I'd suggest approaching it from three directions simultaneously:

  • Slow and meticulous: don't hurry with this, but do try to play each part of the song in a note-perfect manner – at super-slow-motion tempo! This is where you can really take apart the technique, observe what your fingers are doing (avoid double-use of a finger), and of course you can scale up the tempo more and more and approach the real deal in this sense.
  • Fast and bold: as I said, note-perfection isn't really what matters for the song. It's no good if you can manage to play the song perfectly, but only 80% tempo and it falls apart completely at anything faster. That's where “cheating” comes in: it allows you to not only push your limit (which can become very tedious and demotivating) but also leap over your limit. It'll fail a couple of times, don't worry about this.
  • Playing entirely different songs. Remember, it's no use to entrench yourself in kind of a battle against a single song. Mixing it up with other material will not only broaden your capabilities, it will also help get to that song easier! Even if your only goal as a bassist were to play the song The Trooper in an Iron Maided cover band, practicing only that song would not be the way to perfect it.
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  • Thank you for the advice and the encouragement! I actually already use the raking technique "naturally", I never knew it had a name :D
    – Whitehot
    Apr 10 '21 at 10:43
  • Starts around 155bpm, finishes up at around 160. Pretty good timekeeping for a whole song! Those half-beat pushes make it sound like it's speeding up, and are almost guaranteed to throw timing off.
    – Tim
    Apr 10 '21 at 12:26

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