Ask Dave #2 (Dec ’10)

“Do you have a regular practice routine that you do, or in what ways to you organise your practice schedule?”  – Luke Sellick

I divide my time between technical practice and creative practice. Of course, the two areas overlap and support each other.

Like most musicians I use scales and arpeggios for a lot of my practice material. There are endless variations. I also have a series of exercises that works particular aspects of bass technique. Basically left hand technique, pizzicato and bowing.

The creative practice involves just playing through ideas, sometimes within a given framework and sometimes just in a free association kind of way. I might be working on ideas that relate to music that Ill be playing on gigs. I try to have a focus to my practice and I often have several things that I will be working on at any given time..

“What are the attributes you look for in musicians to play with? Is there any common factor among the musicians you play with?” – Scott Price

I think the fundamental thing is how it feels to play music together. Music is a universal language that has many dialects but In the end playing with other musicians comes down the quality of communication. I like musicians that play with their heart and their head.

“I’m often boggled by the deftness of your ensemble, where players are doing inspired soloing in all kinds of time signatures, even implying contrary meters or tempos, without the slightest discernible encumbrance. I’ve always wanted to ask, are you guys mentally counting the music? Or do you just feel it? Or both? (Or neither?!)”  – Tom McCarthy

At it’s best we all just feel it, but when we’re working on new music we sometimes have to keep track of the meter. The more you play a piece, the more you just feel it. I find that sometimes it helps to feel a kind of clave that can work as a guide. I and many musicians I know have done a lot work to expand their rhythmic language including studying the rhythmic language of other cultures. I still feel that I have a lot to learn!

“What are some sources of inspiration other than music that influence you?  I know many musicians are inspired by reading books on various topics, and novels.  Are there any particular books that you have been inspired by, or that you highly recommend?”  – Alex Silverbrook

I find other art forms can stimulate my imagination and give me new perspectives. I enjoy reading all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction. I like books that make me question my assumptions.

Music expresses our ideas, emotions and life experiences. so places, people, events all contribute to the feelings that a musician can draw on for inspiration.

“What qualities do you look for in an upright bass?” What would you recommend for someone making the transition from electric to an acoustic instrument?” – Shawn Only [paraphrased]

Finding the right bass is a very personal matter. On a fundamental level it’s important that the size of the instrument physically suites you, that it’s not too big or too small for your body size. I look for a bass that has an even tone throughout the range and that has a decent sustain. These qualities can be improved by having the bass setup properly by a luthier that understands the qualities that your looking for.

Some concepts that you develop on the bass guitar can be transferred to acoustic bass but there are many things that are unique to each instrument. A good teacher is always a good place to start.

Many years ago I attended a concert in London that featured Ron Carter in the Miles Davis quintet and Jimmy Garrison in the Archie Shepp group. Ron and Jimmy each had their unique sound but I found out later that they’d both played the same instrument as Jimmy’s bass had been delayed by the airline. That was when I really understood that sound is mostly about the player and not the instrument.

My question is how do you renew your spirit with touring, practicing, and various daily demands? I would like to share your advice with my daughter who is studying cello at the Cleveland Institue of Music. She struggles with incorporating practice time, study time with her daily responsibilites. She has many demands so as she considers her future, it would be wonderful to hear advice from musicians who have been able to find a freshness within each challenge.  – Kazuko Ono

There are only so many hours in the day so I try and prioritize things. My practice time varies according to what else I’m trying to get done. If I’m very busy I try to create a schedule for the day that will allow time for the things that need to do.

As for renewing my spirit, I like being around nature and natural beauty. When I’m on tour I often walk around the places that I visit, sometimes going to a park, a museum or whatever else seems interesting. I like to take a break from the music and my various responsibilities so that I can give myself time to daydream for a minute.


  1. Anthony Bloch says:

    My bass player thinks the A section for Vicissitudes is in 7/8 time signature but I don’t think it is. I am not really sure what time signature it IS in, but I am pretty sure it is not in 7/8.

    I can’t find the answer to this question ANYwhere. Please help me! We have been playing this song for awhile and I need to find out what the actual chart says!

    1. Dave Holland says:

      The A section of Vicissitudes is in 7 written divided in 4+3. There is often an anticipation in the bass that falls on the 7th beat. The B section is in 6.

      Best wishes, Dave.

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