When I interviewed Paul Wolfe for FBPO, we talked about what inspired him to develop a course on practicing. He recounted his experience as a young student of bass and how, despite his heroic attempts at diligent practice, he just wasn’t improving to the extent that he’d expected. Fast-forwarding twenty years, Paul discovered that his problem hadn’t been lack of practice; it was lack of proper practice. Though the “aha” moment came later than he would have liked, Paul seems confident that it’s never too late to do apply proper practice techniques. (Still, as a former wannabe science fiction writer, Paul wishes someone would invent a time travel machine so he could go back to his teens and get it right the first time!)
From the beginning of the 233-page course, it’s apparent that Paul is serious, if not totally obsessed, about the study of cultivating talent in the most efficient manner. Each lesson exudes his passion for the subject. He has done comprehensive research on ways to approach practice and credits Dr. Anders Ericsson, an emeritus professor at the University of Florida, as his primary inspiration for studying the topic. In the 1990s, Ericsson conducted a now-famous study of a group of violinists, concluding that each player’s level of success was directly attributable to the type of practice conducted, rather than solely the number of hours practiced. Deliberate Practice stresses a goal-oriented approach toward becoming a master of the bass, outlining a very “deliberate” practice regimen.
The course is divided into three main sections. Section 1 provides an overview and philosophy of Deliberate Practice, how it came into being and how students will benefit from it. Wolfe strongly disdains blind adherence to the practice of scales and arpeggios “just because.” The question we must answer, he says, is, “What are you trying to accomplish?”
Paul applies the concept of moving past one’s “Comfort Zone” into the “Learning Zone” (where it all happens, he says) and avoiding the “Panic Zone.” He cites Malcolm Gladwell, acclaimed author of the best-selling book Outliers, and the 10,000-hour rule, which proclaims that total mastery of any discipline requires a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. Picking up where Gladwell and Ericsson leave off, Wolfe contends that it’s not just putting in the 10,000 hours that makes you a great bass player; it’s what you do during those 10,000 hours. Even if you can only practice one hour a day, he declares, you will still make constant and continuous progress if you apply the principles of Deliberate Practice. Sounding pretty darn sure of himself with such a bold statement, he does back it up with several examples and stories from his personal experiences on what works – and what doesn’t.
Section 2 covers how to apply Deliberate Practice to bass playing. It’s all about setting goals, says Paul. Once a player decides what he or she would like to be able to do in, say, five years, the next step is to break the ultimate objective down into a series of short-range, medium-range and long-range milestones. Wolfe puts a lot of emphasis on measuring progress and staying on track. He illustrates effective application of Deliberate Practice by way of examples of various bass-specific techniques, including double-thumbing, funk, R&B and tapping. A fair bit of time about how to incorporate repetition in practice routines is included in the course, as is the importance of measurement and feedback. Feedback, he says, can come from a mentor/teacher (which he strongly recommends) or videotaping oneself in the practice room. “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.” is a mantra he intersperses throughout the program.
Section 3 is called “Deliberate Practice in Action.” In this portion, Paul provides practical tips, exercises and approaches, including Jerry Jemmott’s step-by-step “Say it, Sing it, Play it” method, techniques from the classical maestros for varying rhythms, insights from the great jazz players on memorizing chord progressions, the stages of mastering a piece of music and what he calls the “DNA” of songs. Also included is an analysis of several handpicked bass method books (including “funk and fusion basslines by Jon Liebman” – and I didn’t even know him when he wrote the course!), as well as a thorough parsing of Ed Friedland’s Building Walking Basslines book.
Paul encourages (you might even say admonishes) the student to read Deliberate Practice more than just once. Three times, five times, ten times – whatever it takes. Incidentally, I love the occasional “British-isms” from the England-reared Wolfe, like when he writes, “Listen to the audios whilst driving the car … or walking to the shops.”
The list of resources and reference materials is very handy, as it contains dozens of carefully selected bass instructional and method books. Also included are several worksheets for applying Deliberate Practice, as well as an “invitation” to subscribe to Paul’s bass e-zine newsletter (free of charge).
While much of what the author says is common sense or things we should already know (like play it slowly and keep repeating it till you get it right), Paul provides an easy-to-follow roadmap with real-world tips on how to make incremental improvements (I especially like his Mozart “pea” example). Deliberate Practice is applicable to bass players of all ages, regardless of skill level. I instantly discovered a host of new ideas for practicing and making genuine, measurable progress.
Paul Wolfe is also the author of the popular Bass Hanon instructional book and the equally popular How to Practice in Your Dead Time. He makes several references in Deliberate Practice about ideas he has for other educational resources, hinting that he might write some more. I, for one, hope he will.
Review by Jon Liebman
Read FBPO's exclusive interview with Paul Wolfe here.
Purchase the following items directly from Paul Wolfe by clicking the links below:
How to Practice in Your Dead Time
Bass Hanon, Vol. 1