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Why Failure Can Help You Practice Bass Guitar More Effectively

practice bass guitarEver notice that when you tell yourself to try harder, you seem more prone to failure? Ever think you might be focusing too hard on something and that focus is affecting how to learn and practice bass guitar?

There isn’t a single person who hasn’t been frustrated when they’ve practiced or felt like they needed to “try harder” when practicing or performing in a high-tensity show.

Our go to instinct is that we need to compensate ourselves for what we believe we are losing as a result of being more nervous. The result: a hyper awareness of our playing, a “teeth gritting, furrowed brow” mindset. You feel defeated and you linger on that feeling of defeat and in turn feel less inclined to pick up your bass the next day and play again.

How a Golf Comparison Can You Practice Bass Guitar More Effectively

There’s a good chance you are trying too hard and focusing too hard on trying to get what you’re working on down. Especially if you’re learning something new, give yourself time to learn and give yourself time to be wrong. Consider this example the next time you practice bass guitar:

Consider for a moment a game of golf. In golf there is a term called a mulligan. A Mulligan is essentially a free pass on a shot, which means that if you mess up your shot, it won’t count and you get to take another. Since you know you’re going to have a second chance at the golf swing and your first shot won’t be as potentially dangerous to your score, you automatically release your tensions, anxieties and fears you held about the shot.  And as a result, you feel more relaxed about your shot.

Golfers who play with Mulligan rules are shown to simply “let go” more and drive the ball much better than if they were going to without a Mulligan. They know they this first shot won’t matter – the world isn’t riding on it, so to speak, so they shoot based on their ability to shoot the shot.

What does golf have to do with practicing your bass guitar? Consider this…

We do the same thing as musicians. 


The difference between a Mulligan golf game is our practice or high anxiety gig is that there is an established option in the game to make a shot not count. There is no such rule in music! But there CAN be – and it’s up to you to make it happen! You can give yourself a Mulligan and get the same result.

Try this the next time you feel frustrated during your practice session. Choose a skill you’re have trouble with right now. A scale, pattern, part of a song – whatever. Play it with the mindset that you are allowing yourself to fail – that to mess this up is not the end of the world. This mindset is the unofficial way of giving yourself a Mulligan. Continue to play the pattern until you do fail.

Now observe and ask yourself: how many times did you play it before you failed? Did allowing yourself to fail improve your mindset? Your performance? When you messed up, did you find yourself working extra hard to correct those mistakes? Was it harder to fail deliberately than to play correctly.

Most people of any skill find this: when they allow themselves to fail, they don’t fail. When they try to succeed, they fail.

Let that sink in for a minute and reflect on your playing for a period of time of your choosing. Did you ever experience this for yourself?


So the next time you’re practicing and there is a particular passage you can’t get down in a few tries or few sessions, remember not to “try so hard” in the sense that you tense yourself up and open yourself up to a greater chance of failure. Adopt the mindset that you can fail and allow yourself to and you’ll notice your stress fade and you hands loosen up and your brain clear.

Here’s legendary bassist, Ron Carter, sharing a few of his thoughts on discipline and practicing: