Friday, 1 May 2009

The Great Technique Myth

Hi and welcome to the Bassbook blog. Here I'll be discussing musical ideas, concepts and exercises which will help you a better player, a better musician, or maybe just get you thinking.

For this debut blog, I thought we'd have a look at the myth and mystic of "technique" and whether developing your skills is really such a bad thing.....

Go on any internet musicians forum and you'll find the discussion of technique being discussed
for many pages. It's often seen as a dirty word,as if having a lot of technique turns you into a robot that just plays millions of mechanical notes with no emotion or sense of melody. In fact, there is an almost romantic notion that the non-technical will produce better, more honest music.

Technique is defined as "a procedure used to accomplish a specific activity" and when applied to our instrument it is exactly that - the procedure that allows us to play the music we want to play.

At the moment I'm sitting here with my laptop typing this. Using what? Yes, my typing technique. A technique which is, if I'm honest, not that great. As a result I make mistakes and have to correct things, and can't express the ideas in my head as fluidly as I'd like. If my typing technique was more precise I would be able to express my ideas more quickly and more accurately. Whether I decide to write a love poem or a technical manual full of long words, my typing will be up to the job.

And that is exactly how I see bass technique development – a way of allowing us to express the
ideas in our heads easily and effortlessly. If we then decide to play a slow ballad or a non stop flurry of notes at 400 beats per minute is down to our own sense of musicality, it has NOTHING to do with the ability in your hands. Our technical prowess is simply a way of realising the sounds in our heads.

Just remember that, no matter how much technique we have, we are trying to create music,not win the Bass Olympics.

Comments welcomed :-)


  1. I agree, less can often be more, if you know what I mean - enjoyed your first post very much, look forward to reading more.

  2. Sweet article. I agree that technique is tool to express musical ideas. The only danger is that it is a natural tendency (particularly for less experienced players) when one learns a new technique (or musical idea) to overuse it and for the technique to ply the player, as it were, rather than the reverse.

    Music is a mix of art and craft and we need both the artistic inspiration and the means of producing it. The balance has to be right.

    Technique has been very important to me. To play fast (not as important as hearing fast of course) allows one to play not necessarily more notes but notes and rests in more interesting places.

    It is about the music though and I'd sooner listen to a good idea badly executed than great execution and no content like in some of the shredding-music as athletics performances I've seen.

    Ornette on trumpet is interesting as he obviously doesn't have great trumpet technique but has great ideas and finds it stimulating to play a different instrument. If he didn't have his ability on saxophone to express himself it might be a different matter however.

    It all comes down to how someone uses technique. There is a danger in that many audiences devour the thrill of what sounds difficult but this is a hollow kind of acclaim.

    It took me decades to realise it actually took more skill to play a simple root five beautifully than to shred! The technique also came in the rhythmic expression, the length of notes and the interaction with the other instruments.

  3. Very true - i just want enough technique to be able to make the sounds in my head. I'm more interested in arrangement techniques really. I'd rather listen to a messy player who has ideas any day. Examples include East Bay Ray and Mahavishnu era Mclaughlin

  4. Great post, Alun. And a wonderful blog. I look forward to more =)