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LEARNING BASS: 'The Vomit Exercise'
Intonation is the
ever-present demon that every bass
player fights, no matter what their
skill level, and I can say that it is
the number one thing that I work on
every day. That being said, I assure
you that my intonation is not close to
what I wish that it was, and probably
never will be! There are a few warm-up
exercises that I do each time I pick
up my bass, and I'd like to share my
absolute favorite with you. (I showed
this one to Mark the other day -- I'm
sure his wife and baby love
I'm not sure where I first learned
this exercise; I believe it may have
been at some master class in college.
I'm sure some of you are familiar with
it: the infamous -- and disgustingly
named -- "Vomit Exercise." To do it
right, a few things: this needs to be
played Arco (using a bow) and you'll
also need a metronome and a tone
generator (many metronomes have this
built in). This exercise focuses on
accurate position shifts, and, if done
correctly, may sound rather
unpleasantly like a cat barfing up a
metronome (your best friend) on a slow
tempo -- 60bpm or less -- and get that
tone generator blasting an A. Now that
the room should be so loud that you
can't think, it's time to give this a
try. Starting with your first finger
on the A on your G string, begin
bowing half notes. I like to sit on
this for a minute or so the first time
through, so that my right arm can get
into the groove of the tempo. Once you
feel comfortable, we're going to play
an A major scale up the G string,
always alternating back to the A
between each note of the scale. In
time with the metronome, play the
exercise using quarter notes (Click
the diagram at the right for
notation). Hold on! Here's the catch:
the entire exercise will be played
with your first finger ONLY
first few shifts will be something
like this: A-B-A-C#-A-D-A and so on.
Once you reach the octave, it's time
to do the same in reverse.
Take the exercise slowly, listening to
(and tuning) the intervals against the
droning A... this exercise is all
about intonation and position shifts.
Remember to keep your bow "in the
string" and in constant motion with
half notes; try to make the shifts as
cleanly and quickly as possible,
allowing no space in-between notes.
For your first time, I would suggest
playing the exercise only up to the D
or E and continuing on after you have
become comfortable with those first
few intervals. Once you've "mastered"
this (I'm at about 3 years and
counting, so good luck with that!) try
it on every string, and even with each
Now what are you waiting for? Go
The Fine Print:The information contained herein is based on what's in my brain — and/or my observations and opinions from my personal experiences (and those of Bob, before me) — as of this moment today, and is subject to change. I'm sure that a great deal more information and detail could be added — but the intent of these writings is to present easily understood, quick FAQs, to address common questions and improve the reader's general knowledge.
What's written here is by no means any kind of authoritative absolute answer, for I am not the world's greatest authority on bass (not even close), or on much of anything else, for that matter. So, by all means, get a second opinion, and know that all the information provided here is for general informational purposes only. I am not providing professional advice; be aware that, where applicable, any information acted upon is at your own risk.
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