Staying in Control

Here are some of my notes from a workshop I was fortunate enough to lead in Latvia in March 2011.

To create a successful bassline or musical idea we must always be in control of what we are trying to do. Think of music as a conversation where you are trying to communicate something to another person, through your musical ideas. Nobody enjoys listening to a person who can’t stop talking and who never allows space for another person to contribute to a conversation.

As musicians we are constantly having to make decisions regarding;

– What we play (choice of notes/rhythms etc)
– How we sound
– How little or how much to play, and when to play it
– The rhythmic feel of what we play
– Listening and responding to other musicians in the band
– Listening and responding to ourselves and our own ideas

Whether we are trying to play simply or in a more complicated manner, we should always strive to be in control of what we’re playing and how we’re playing it.


There’s little point playing complicated music weakly. It’s better to play in a simple way with strength and conviction until you can play more complicated ideas with the same amount of control.

The idea of control can apply to anything… notes, rhythms, space, tone, dynamics, harmony, dissonance… The important thing is that YOU are making deliberate decisions about your contribution to the music. A beginning player will have to think of this kind of thing slowly at first, mostly in the practise room, thinking about one aspect at a time. Experienced players can make these decisions on the fly, during a performance, reacting to whatever they hear around them. The more you can get into a mindset of thinking for yourself about what it is you are trying to achieve, the more in control you will start to be. A teacher can help you to organise the various different areas and help you combine them all into a practise concept which in time can become a concept for your own playing and performance.

Being in control is directly related to the knowledge and information you have at your disposal. Even a basic but solid understanding of the foundations of harmony (scales and chords) and rhythm will give you some tools to work with. Along with listening and copying music from recordings, this will help to remove the guesswork and give you something you can trust with which to create ideas.

Allow yourself to develop slowly by practising in a deliberate and focussed manner and the required control WILL come, but it only happens in one way… slowly over time.


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