Sudden HUGE progress on Billie Jean. Here's how

Yesterday, I was still struggling with Billie Jean. My right hand index finger was getting much more string time than it ought to get… and my middle finger was just idling, watching the index finger do all the work. Meanwhile, from a distance up north, my left hand saw my right hand making a right mess of things and decided to call it a day as well, and I was ready to take the bass off the strap and smash it to smithereens on the hardwood floor, convinced again that I must be a talentless hack.

So, today, I sat down, and did something for which Jeff Berlin would have a go at me with his verbal flamethrower – I used a metronome to get a tempo to stick to.
I fired up the Google metronome, set it to 50 BPM (yes, THAT slow), and started playing that wretched bassline – dry, without being distracted by Josh and his playalong.
It’s helpful at this stage to know that the slow workout runs at something like 65 BPM, and I knew I wasn’t capable of playing it like it should be played at 65 BPM.

That… actually went quite well. From the get-go, I was capable of alternating more or less properly. I found out that I still have a tendency to, when my right hand middle finger comes off F#, it tends to want to take on C# because it’s there anyway… but I decided to let that slide and alternate my way through it.
Another thing that bothered me a lot less was that, each time I transition up to play B-F#-A-B-A-F#-E-F# (too Close To The Edge?), I had a lot less trouble doing that.

So, I practiced that at 50 BPM for I think around 15 minutes until I felt I had it down.
Time to put myself to the test… crank up the slow workout again… and indeed, the slow workout now runs fine, reproducibly right every time. My right hand alternates, almost as if it’s never been different.

So, I advanced to the medium workout (which runs at 87 BPM) – and lo and behold, I got that one as well! Almost as easily as the slow workout!
It is as if a switch has flicked in my brain – something I couldn’t do at all yesterday now runs just fine. It’s not clockwork yet, but it’s good enough for now.

Ambitious as I am, just for kicks, I tried the full-speed workout (117 BPM) as well. Now that was asking a wee bit too much – but at this time, I’m sure I’ll get that down as well.

I have to admit I feel a lot better than I did yesterday.

I suppose it’s cranking down to a tempo that allowed me to get things right before proceeding to the next step that flicked that switch for me. Getting the right hand to work properly then prevented my brain to short itself, allowing the left hand to work properly too – and that helped me to build the confidence, and the muscle memory maybe, to make it feel more natural, and speed things up.
Maybe, just maybe, the slow workout at 65 BPM is a wee little bit too quick? Whaddaya think, @JoshFossgreen?

Anyway, I still have two bass guitars, and an intact hardwood floor in my study. :slight_smile:

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Sounds like great progress! I used slightly different fingerings to nail it. We’re all slightly different creatures, so each person needs to find out what works best for them. Using a metronome (or drum loop) is highly recommended though. Also, as nice as Josh is, you don’t want to hear him over and over. I recommend you use the jam tracks if you are hitting a lick more than a few times. You can find these on the main lessons page under Course Extras or something like that.

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Great to hear, @peterhuppertz! . . . :slight_smile:

I’m still struggling myself, so thanks for the encouragement . . . :+1:

Cheers, Joe

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@JT: Yup, I find myself doing that too. When I come off F# to play C#, I use my left hand ring finger.

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What is it precisely you’re struggling with?

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You name it . . . I’m still struggling! :laughing:

Seriously though, I’m probably overusing the “finger roll” technique, and should be working more diligently on independent ring-finger-and-pinky play. I’ve made some progress in this area, but need a lot more.

Cheers, Joe

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+1. I always practice with drums now and it made a huge difference for me. As did starting slow and working up the bpm slowly, as Peter discovered.

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I find that the rollover technique with le pinky doesn’t work when I roll over from F# to C# (from the D-string to the A-string) – I get string buzz when I do that (I have short fingers), so at that point I call upon my ring finger, Worked like a charm.

And then in the medium workout, @JoshFossgreen tells us that this is actually OK (which caused a “right… NOW he tells me!” moment). :grin:

I also find out that, for me, if I notice one thing going wrong, everything starts to fall apart. Hence the tendency to find a mode in which I can work on getting all the important things right at a pace I feel comfortable with.

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I remember watching an interview with Dominic Miller (one of those six string guys, but still…) where the question was about advice for guitarists and he was talking about practicing slow and ‘how could anybody expect to play something fast if they couldn’t play it slow’.

Found a quote from him:
“For me, practicing and playing are two different things. I practice super slow with Bach music. I deconstruct the playing down to zero,”

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I think the whole thing is a bit too quick! I’ve learned a lot from the student feedback on B2B over the years, and lesson #1 is that I could have picked a better song for the end of Module 4…

Thanks for sharing your success!

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Thats one reason I love Rocksmith. The program plugs your bass into your PC and plays the actual song allowing you to play the bass part. It provides you with a scrolling “tabulature” like window at the bottom of your screen. It also allows you to slow songs way down, pick specific parts of a song …etc

I find when Im learning a difficult song I turn the speed way down and gradually go up in speed until I feel myself starting to tense up, then slow it again a few times, then speed it up. Eventually Im playing at full speed (unless I did something crazy like try and play Iron Maiden Powerslave…lol).

There are also online resources with thousands of songs in every genre. As well as professionally made songs by the software publisher (Ubisoft).

I would suggest to anyone that is interested that you get a good A/B/Y pedal/box so you can play thru your Amp for sound, and still jack into your PC as the software does a decent job of letting you know if you are missing notes, out of time…etc

If anyone is interested (and searches and finds this thread) and needs help, PM me and I would be happy to help.

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No way Josh…giving a challenge like that was a good humbling experience. And when you finally nail the at least the slow workout you felt like you learned something.

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I could buy that it should be a little later in the course. But yeah definitely don’t eliminate it, it’s a cool accomplishment once you can do it :slight_smile:

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Not sure. I guess this will differ per student, but I’m pretty sure that running into that wall and getting knocked down was a Good Thing™. Prior to that I was in a mode in which I felt I was cooking on gas; Billie Jean taught me to take this with more caution, and it helped me to develop a practice regimen which did help me to get it down.

It is here where we hit upon the disadvantage of a B2B-type course versus real-time tutoring – normally, when a student is struggling, the tutor will immediately notice it. In a setup like B2B, it’s up to the student to figure out what’s holding him or her back.

That’s why I think videoing your progress (and possibly sharing it here in the forum when you get stuck) might be very helpful. I’m still working on a decent setup to get mine done – I’m currently fine with recording bass audio, but I still need something like a half-decent microphone to get speech recorded properly. The in-camera mike is clearly not cutting it.

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I think most of us here pretty much agree with that viewpoint, @peterhuppertz :slight_smile: Josh obviously puts lots of thought into designing the course.

What I got out of Billie Jean was that it’s ok to fail miserably (at first), and that certain aspects of learning to play bass are simply going to take time.

Well spoken! :+1:

Cheers, Joe

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Also, remember, in the original, the first note of each phrase is an octave.

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Haha, yeah… that usually puts the lid on that coffin :crazy_face:

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I have tried to do this a bunch and can’t come close at a reasonable speed.

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Something I learned years ago:

Not “practice makes perfect”

“Perfect practice makes perfect”

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And here am I, thinking it was just me who remembered that wrongly.

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