Getting Lost Musically

Hello! I have been playing for a few months and I’m halfway through the course, but I have an issue I recently discovered: I play all the songs by ear and not by actually listening to the drums. When I slow down the songs by a few bpm, I just get completely lost.
Could you guys help me?


Hi @lory and glad you are here btw.

Changing bpm can and will mess you up quite a bit if you are not used to it. Generally when I learn songs, I start slow and build speed. I have been doing it for a while so I am used to the effect, however, even with that there are some bpms that just feel unnatural for certain songs.

I would however, recommend you always play with drums, a drum loop or a metronome. Bass must be spot on wtih timing and groove and be right in the pocket. Oft times what happens is we think we have really good timing (it is easy to think this in the beginning btw) but turns out we really don’t.

Josh’s Ultimate Groove Workout (in the lessons) is a great place to test just how well your timing actually is. You will encounter this in Module 14, but could skip ahead and give it a try if you want.


Practice with a metronome at various tempos. The end goal is to internalise the beat (1 2 3 4) and the subdivisions (8th notes and 16th notes), and feel the pulse with or without a drummer. Take a look at Rich Brown’s metronome exercises on YouTube, it’s really great stuff.


Hi, welcome! Check if your amp has an “aux in”, if so, plug your phone into it with a drum-looping app (on Android I personally use Loopz which - I think - was one of those mentioned by Josh, but I could be wrong… surely there are several so you have a lot of choices). Suddenly you will have one “drummer” with you, which never tires if you miss a beat, or a bar…

I find it much easier to play when I am standing. Because I can start “rocking” to keep track of the rhythm. The drum loops can be confusing at first, or at least they were for me, because they are not like the metronome, unforgiveable on the beats or on the eights… But they are much, much more fun.

If you listen to them a couple of time you will start nodding/rocking your body. Then it’s just a matter of trying some exercise while not lagging behind or rushing forward…
Don’t be afraid of slowing them down (but if I find that I slow down to a too-slow tempo, it becomes difficult to follow the rhythm). It is not a competition !


I am now totally digging Mr. Brown “Stone”.
Hadn’t seen him until the ghost note post yesterday.
He is GREAT.

I am doing a lot of tempo stuff with my instructor in the Bellson book.
He doesn’t allow foot tapping but requires that you count as you play.
Every single note is an E on the D string. It is really a great book to work through.


What’s the rationale behind that?

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He wants it internalized in your head, not your foot.
Every instructor I ever had for trumpet, sax or bass does not want you to tap your foot.

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Are you allowed to bob your head?


That teacher would be apoplectic at Joe Dart’s head movements

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No, you must move it front and back like a chicken strutting, while making a bass face.


+1 - really recommend practicing with drums. Much more fun than a metronome, so you’ll likely stick with it too.


I hope what I’m about to address is speaking to your issue:

This is a HUGE hurdle to folks coming to the bass.

First, my analysis of the problem, then my suggestions for working on it:

When we listen to music, we listen to it as a whole.
When we pay attention to music, we hear the vocals and when there isn’t a singer, we hear the highest pitched melody instrument.
Most music lovers aren’t listening to the bass and drums, though they are feeling and enjoying them.

When you start playing bass you have to be able to hear elements of music that you’ve never focused on before, and it can be terribly difficult. I am working privately with a student right now who is having a hard time hearing a drum beat and following it.
He can play along fine with music when everything is going, but the isolated drum beat is disorienting.
It’s because he’s used to hearing songs, and not at all used to hearing individual elements of that music on their own.

My recommendation with this is to listen to music and try and find the drum beats and the bass parts and sing them.
Be able to hear them and follow just those lines.

I compare it to being handed a ball of threads all tangled up, and you have to tease out just one small thread from the big bunch.
It’s also like identifying ingredients in a delicious dish you’re tasting. As a bassist - you need to be able to identify much more subtle and less-obvious musical elements then you’d normally do if just listening casually.

Listen and sing and listen and sing!

And then - as others have suggested - try playing with drum beats as @John_E and @howard and @f.guerrieri already mentioned.

But if you can’t sing your way through the drums and if you can’t count them so that you know what beat is what, it may still be disorienting.

Active listening and identifying of the parts is most crucial, and hopefully from there you can start working with a drum loop with success.


What’s funny is I always thought I would do more head bobbing with bass, but after years of sax and trumpet where head bobbing doesn’t really work out well with a reed in your mouth or metal mouthpiece up against your lips my head stays rock hard still (the fact my head is as hard a rock probably doesn’t help either).

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As someone who used to play drums (for a short while), my situation is the exact opposite. Even if I try to stop the foot tapping, my calves still flex and relax to the beat.

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Agree with you, one must practice to learn to discern and follow the bass/drums. It’s not automatic! I recall that many years ago I read a book about jazz (or about Coltrane) and he said something like “to learn/understand a piece, listen to it many times, focus each time on a different section, start from the bassline”. Maybe it was the liner notes to some album…Ron Carter? I will try to dig it out, but it’s not guaranteed I succeed.


For years we have used a canned drummer, so I try to ignore him.
Mostly, because of rolls in the middle of the lyrical verses, etc.

In the other hand, I can distinctly hear all the instruments in the song I’m playing, when I’m playing all alone in a pitch black room. I ask other players, dont you hear the rest of the band too?
Nobody ever does.
May be because I’m an only child, and had imaginary friends as a kid, who knows?

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I was going to say “only if you want to look like a chicken” :joy:

What I like to do is program a drum/backing track with several bars of silence and see if I can manage to come in on time with only my internal “metronome”.


Good point about picking out the lower end parts…i find quite often i cant pick out the kick drum…even in B2b where its made reasonably obvious.

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What helped me alot while learning drums, was to learn new songs that I was not familiar with. I would start them slow and learn the sticking. Then speed them up as I learned.
By not knowing the song to begin with, I wasnt trying to speed it up by knowing where I know it should be.