Staying in the groove

One of the problems I have been having all this time, is playing to backing tracks. I can do all kinds of cool stuff on the bass, and have learned lots of songs, but whenever I play with the backing track I lose it.

I mentioned this to my bass coach and the one thing he told me that makes the most sense is “Whatever you do… even if you miss a note or play the wrong note, don’t lose the groove. Whoever you’re playing with is depending on you to stay in the groove”.

I have been working on this the most in my practice, and I think it’s finally coming together.

If you listen to this piece carefully, you will detect a couple of times that I messed up. In previous attempts, I would get flustered and totally lose it, but what I have done is learned to just keep on keeping on and just stay with the groove until I get my composure back.

BTW this is totally improvisation… just going with the flow of the 1625 progression.


Nice job @PamPurrs :+1:

I’m finding if I know the song I can do that but if I’m learning something new I just go to pieces


YES! So much this.

Gio has the “if you screw up, just keep going” advice in another thread and I can also verify it’s the best musical advice I was ever given, years ago as a kid by a music teacher before a concert.


This is what separates the humans from the animal kingdom.
Great job working on this, it is most defiantly feels very unnatural at first, and it is absolutely something you learn thru practice, and repetition.
It is wonderful that you were able to identify it as a problem that needed to be addressed. And it is a great thread you started, some will keep stopping and playing on, thinking that the only right way is to learn the song perfectly in order to play it, when in fact, playing them perfectly each and every time is almost impossible, but to play them correctly, staying with it, and being their for your bandmates to rely upon is the correct way to go about it.
Of course, practicing a song to the point you memorize the notes, and strive to play it perfectly each and every time is good practice, but reality dictates the need to learn to play thru any imperfections

I have an example of how this works within a band. It was not a bass player mistake, or a guitarist, or a drummer, most of the time, the crowd would never no the mistakes that are made, and would never know that the band did a good job to just play thru as if nothing happened.
But one time, long long long ago, (I am gonna date myself here) I went to a show at the LA Coliseum, the year was 1998 I believe. The venue was sold out 7 nights in a row. This was stadium rock at it’s best, when tour dates stopped for multiple nights at each city, sometimes for a week or more, playing every night.
the Headliner was The Stones, and the opening act was GnR.
Midway thru the set, Axel was running along the front of the stage singing.
There was no fans there, they were about 20 feet back, with fences up, like it was a Zoo Attraction. The stage was a good 10-12ft off the ground.
Axel, Way into the song, stepped off the edge of the stage in the middle of a line in the song Paradise City. He fell way down, was helped up beind the fences, ran to a stage opening, and came back to the mic from the back of stage right. By the time he got back to the mic, (this was pre wireless head sets) they were already singing lines in the next verse.
But, without missing 3 words in one line of the song, Izzy stepped up to the mic and started singing the song, thru the chorus and all, and kept going until Axel was ready to pick it back up, which they changed over seamlessly.

I know this is way more then flubbing a few notes, but it shows how a bad situation can be FINE if you just keep going with it.
This was an extreme situation, but because there were 5 professional musicians on stage, that practiced over and over and over, and did not stop every time there was a mess up by one or more in the band, they LEARNED how to jut keep on keeping on! :+1:


Naturally, that is part of learning the song, I think anyone will. :+1:


Great job, you were rocking. AWESOME!!!


Yeah, another thing he pointed out was this… “none of the drunk and high people on the dance floor will notice if the bass player hits a wrong note, but god forbid she gets out of rhythm”. I’m pretty sure his point is to just keep playing in rhythm… play anything… just stay in the groove until you catch up with where you’re supposed to be.


Yep, the drunk / loaded people won’t miss the note not played, but if you get out of rhythm, they all fall down. :astonished:


I can’t wait to see @Gio and @JoshFossgreen comment on this topic…


+1 :+1:



Yes. This!

It’s a 2 part puzzle.
Piece 1: The Physical Piece.
Knowing the music/instrument/part so well that you’re not thinking about what to play next / what you just played. The goal is to use as little active energy to make this happen as possible; you want as close to zero attention on you as possible so that (as near as you can get to) 100% attention is on the groove/ensemble/music/song.
This can only happen when the physical demands of what you’re doing are as easy for you to do as the easiest thing.
(I stole that from Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner, by the way.)

If you can hang with the physical part… you get piece 2:

Piece 2: The Mental Piece
Ohhhhhh dang. This is my eternal struggle/goal/nemesis/teacher/friend/obstacle.
If you can physically play the shit, now you have to be able to focus on the groove enough to make it lock. Pitfalls include:

  • Messing up and getting down on yourself for it
  • Killing it and congratulating yourself for it
  • Worrying about making a mistake
  • Getting excited for the part up ahead where you get to rip your bass fill
  • Wondering if you’re locking in
  • Congratulating yourself for locking in
  • Doubt: Is this good? not good? Too fast? Too slow?
  • Over-confidence: I’m killing it. I’m fucking great. Did they hear that? I rule.

During the course of a gig or a session, I will hit all of these. If this was a checklist, I’d have it DONE in the first song.

When you’re in the groove, like, deeeeeep in the groove… there’s a security and comfort as simple and sure as when you’re playing a C vs a C#. You just know it. You’ve got it. The things that rock the boat are all the things above.

If you’re still not sure if you can physically execute the line you need to, there is a very real and reasonable reason to be worried. That will rock the boat.
This Zen koan of a tightrope can only be walked if you’ve rehearsed to the point where you are easily capable of playing the part.
To play the part and stay in the groove requires 100% focus and attention on the groove WITHOUT the self-aware/self-congratulatory/self-criticizing voice showing up.

That’s why playing through mistakes is so important but - on a deeper level - it’s not just playing through mistakes. It’s completely forgetting the mistake. It’s letting it slide by like it never happened. If you’re still bummed on the mistake, it will be a chain-reaction potential train-wreck scenario.
It’s another reason why band members are so important. They can help pull you back to the groove and focus with some good sympathetic, positive energy… or can send you on a tailspin with the evil eye, or - even worse - on the band stand scolding. Ooooh… that’s hard to bounce back from.

How can you focus on the groove more?
Practice forever so that you feel prepared for the musical challenges the song/band/situation demand from you.
Play the simplest part you have to in order to get your focus on the groove, and away from you and your playing/success/failure.
Don’t embellish until your ear is hearing the embellishment. If your brain starts to go “this is too repetitive - do something” or “is this a cool line? Should I change it? Is this OK?” ignore it. Do not give in to that evil voice!! Only change when the music wants to change.

In practice, play to human drummers, if possible. If not - find well crafted and human-like drum loops or your favorite recordings. Listen to the grooves, and try and mimic how the players you hear are locking in.
Try and avoid noodle practice and practice without a metronome/time-keeper. These hours invested can be very detrimental to your knowledge of beat/meter and keeping your place in an actual piece of music.

Whew. There’s more.
This question is EVERYTHING about bass playing, and only gets more exciting the more you play, the more players you play with, the heavier the drummers you get to make music with, etc. etc.

If you ever want another burst of quasi-spiritual-groove-related earnestness… just throw up that bat signal!! Thanks for the heads up, @PamPurrs and thanks for this thread.


How do you avoid this, I do this in certain pieces, and its not even because it is the coolest fill, or a stand to bass part, it s just because it feels so good to play, so what tips and tricks could you offer to be able to avoid doing this?

I want to make sure I am reading this correctly.
Actually there are two ways to read it, so which is correct.
I have a hunch which is correct, but I don’t want to read anything into something so critical.

You are saying A
Avoid Noodle practice. Practice without a metronome?
Do not noodle and don’t play without a metronome?

I believe it is the latter, and if that is the case, I must ask.
Are you saying that if I am sitting around watching TV, or talking to a few people, or doing what ever the F, that I should not pick up my bass and just run thru some licks, or improv, to play to a groove in my head,
I SHOULD only pick up my bass and play if I am planning to use a metronome and / or drum tracks, etc…

I do lots of exercises, and practice to a metronome, or drum beat, or an actual song. I also do a lot of rhythm training WITH a metronome, With or With out my Bass (clapping, counting, etc…)
I also just love to pick up my bass and play.
I often practice triads, scales and arpeggios, and stuff, but often not to a metronome, I am more focused on learning the shape, and 3 different finger patterns, for these, but I don’t do much of that with a metronome, as I am focused more on NOTE and PATTERN MEMORIZATION. Are you telling me, or suggesting to me (and everybody) that this part of my practice should always be done with a metronome?

I am not trying to be combative in any way at all, I am really eager to learn from this lesson, I just want to be clear on everything so I don’t run off with any misconceptions.
Thanks @Gio, your lessons are greatly appreciated.


100% many times over


Very nice piece @PamPurrs
Pam, I really liked your tone👍
You say you had a few mistakes in the piece, I didn’t hear them.?
We are always more critical of our own performances, because we know where we made the mistakes, but people listening including me don’t hear them, it just sounds perfect and you hit the root notes and had really nice timing.
Cheers Brian


Very well done @PamPurrs, especially fro a full 5 minutes! BTW, where did you get the backing track?


Thank you!

It’s one of the tracks included in my Chord Tones course on TalkingBass


Very smooth Pam.
I had to listen a couple of times to pick the mistakes.
Very minor and you recovered well.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.


Yes and no. As one of those drunks, I do sometimes notice your flubbed notes, but I can dance through those as long as they were on rhythm :laughing:. When the rhythm gets thrown the dancing gets interrupted. If you have one goal as a bass player it should be to keep everyone’s ass shaking all night.


Thank you for your sage advice @Gio , it is ALWAYS appreciated.


Show must go on!