Bass Lesson 3: Playing Fast

Practise playing fast by playing fast

Playing fast myth: if you want to learn to play fast, you must practice a lot playing slowly. Of course, there’s nothing against playing slowly, it is often very useful to examine how you use your fingers and to listen to your sound. Maybe you are doing something wrond and playing slow will make chrystal clear what you are doing wrong. But if you want to learn to play fast, you must also practice by playing fast. Why? In the first place your brain has to get used to it, in the second place you must learn to relax while playing fast and in the third place you have to develop new techniques for your fast playing.

1. The faster you play, the quicker you are playing new notes, so you will have to decide very quickly which new notes to play. In fast tempo’s, combined with complex harmonies, I sometimes get the feeling I have to make many decisions at the same time. Maybe this is no problem at all for you, but my brain had to get used to new (higher) tempo’s. I use a metronome for this or I use the app Band-in-a-box. I pretend that every tick is the second and fourth beat of a 4/4 measure and practice a quick tune I feel like playing, just playing the harmonies or playing a solo. At this time, I like to put the metronome on 145. Next week, I will maybe go to 150.

2. You ask a lot of yourself when playing fast, so it is very easy to get tense. I believe that the biggest source of tension are your unconscious beliefs that you’re not able to do this, that it is much to difficult for a bass player like you, that you’ll never learn this, and other terrible thoughts of failure that we use to terrorize ourselves with. These thoughts create tension, which makes it impossible to play like you want to play (see lesson 1). If you want to learn to play fast, you’ll have to relax consciously while doing it. If you terrorize yourself a lot with this kind of thoughts, it may be a good idea to learn a technique called affirmation, a subject I may devote a lesson to in the future.

3. How do you want your fast notes to sound? Staccato, like a machine gun? Legato? With a clear attack? All of these ways? You’ll have to find solutions for all of your problems and to develop new techniques. The only way to do this is practicing fast.

I mainly use 2 techniques and the only difference lies in my use of the left hand. The first technique is a staccato way of playing. Right before playing the next note, I lift my finger and let it rest on the string. This means that for a fraction of a second, you hear nothing. If you do this quickly, it feels as if your fingers dance. This way of playing fast sounds more rhythmical and clear, and is more spectacular than the second, legato way of playing.


Playing fast according to Christian McBride