Bass students of today (and we all remain students of this instrument) have some really awesome and helpful tools to assist in practicing. Computers have changed every aspect of music making, from composition to recording technology, and practicing is no exception. The array of tools out there to develop your musical skills is overwhelming. I’d like to outline some of my favorite electronic practice tools.
- Metronome – This is not exactly a new technoloy (it was invented around the time of Beethoven), but it remains one of the most important tools in a musician’s toolbox. Metronomes of today have a huge number of useful features beyond what a classic metronome does. One of my favorite metronomes is the Dr. Beat (DB-66). This metronome allows you to tap a button and see what tempo you’re tapping. It subdivides down to sixteenth notes, talks (!), and also plays drone pitches.
- Drone – Practicing with a drone pitch does wonders for your intonation. I use it every single day. The Dr. Beat (DB-66) mentioned above does this, but you can find a cheaper model as well, such as the Korg (CA-30).
- Electronic Tuner – Everybody needs to be able to tune without any electronic assistance, but these devices are great when playing in a bass section. Most professionals I know use these tuners before rehearsals, even though they are perfectly capable of tuning using only their ears. If everybody gets 100% in tune to the same A before rehearsal, many intonation problems are eliminated. The Korg (CA-30) mentioned above works well and is really cheap.
- Recording Device – Whether it’s a five dollar Wal-Mart tape recorder or a state-of-the-art laptop, there is nothing like hearing yourself recorded for diagnosing problems in your playing. It’s painful, but it is an objective snapshot of your playing, and all professionals do it. Take your recording device with you wherever you go.
- MIDI Practice – Check out my links page for some great sites to get MIDI practice tracks. When you open a MIDI track in a program such as Finale, you are able to change the tempo of a piece, add or remove instruments, loop bars over and over, add or remove vibrato, and the like. This is one of the greatest tools ever, because the computer will play the exact rhythm and the exact pitch every time. All the student has to do is match the computer. I have my students use MIDI in their practice all the time. With Finale, you can even save the tracks as MP3s, and then put them on a CD or your iPod and practice with them anywhere–you don’t need to be in front of the computer!
- SmartMusic – This program is incredible. Check out their website for more details. This programs does everything these other tools do and more. It records and evaluates your performances, provides flexible accompaniment, creates jazz accompaniments, and a lot of other stuff. My students in Libertyville use it, and I think everybody should check it out.