I wrote in a previous article that when we’re practicing it’s important to focus on the practice and not get distracted by ‘noodling’ on our basses. And in that article I concluded that only focused, disciplined practice would make us better players.
Remember the adage: “Perfect practice makes perfect?” Not perfect noodling. Perfect practice.
Well, I didn’t tell you the whole story.
I wanted to focus attention on the fact that practice can be hard. And needs to be deliberate.
You need to know what you’re going to practice before you even unsnap the catches on your bass case.
And then you need to go through the exercises that you’ve decided to practice, time them and tick them off.
And noodling gets in the way of that, right? It’s a distraction, and doesn’t have any beneficial effect on your instrumental skills.
That’s all true, there’s no arguments from me. Noodling on your instrument will not make you a better player. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not ever. Period.
Every day that I practice on the instrument we all love, I noodle. And not only that, noodling is a pre ordained part of my practice schedule.
If noodling has no benefit, then why do you do it?
It’s true there’s no benefit to a spot of noodling. But you can deliberately use in as part of your regular practice routine, and not only that but you can use it to make your practice routine work more efficiently.
Now you’re confused right? First I said: ‘Don’t noodle, it’s not productive.’ Now I’m saying: ‘But actually, you can use noodles efficiently.’ So which is it?
First you have to understand what noodling really is. It’s when your brain has got no direction. You’re sat with your instrument, and you know you should be practicing but your brain doesn’t know what to practice, and so it instructs your fingers to play something.
In short, it instructs your fingers to noodle.
So that your hands are doing something whilst your brain is thinking about what comes next.
So here’s my real definition of noodling: it’s something your fingers do whilst awaiting more concrete instructions from your brain.
And knowing what noodling is, now we can slot it into our practice schedule.
Practicing can be mentally tiring. Intense, focused concentration on a timed series of exercises can be hard work on the brain.
And that’s where noodling comes in.
So the first part of my practice routine goes something like this:
Exercise 1: Sing and play ascending minor 7ths from random root notes – 10 minutes.
Exercise 2: Sing and play ascending major 7ths from random root notes – 10 minutes
Exercise 3: Sing and play descending minor 7ths from random root notes – 10 minutes
And it goes like that for another 60 minutes. There’s a lot of concentration and focus involved. And at the end of an exercise I cross it through so I know it’s done, reset my digital timer and then – right before I start the next exercise – I’ll noodle.
For 10 seconds.
And then I’m ready to carry on. So I set the timer going, and carry on with the next exercise.
So noodling is a way for my brain to relax for a short period of time in preparation for another period of intense concentration.
And that’s how noodling can make your practice more efficient – it breaks up dense periods of focused activity and gives the brain a chance to draw breath and then buckle down to the next exercise.
Since I started deliberately doing this I’ve found sitting down to practice far less daunting.
So whilst I wholeheartedly recommend that when you’re practicing you focus 100 per cent on practicing, there’s a short space between exercises where I now make it mandatory to throw in a noodle or too!