Last Saturday night the good folks at the Sunset Church in San Francisco hosted a Norm Stockon bass clinic. If you don’t know who Norm is, do yourself a favor and check out his website NormStockton.com. Norm is well known as a worship bassist, educator and clinician. This was actually the first bass clinic I have attended, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. In what turned out to be a fairly intimate setting, Norm was accompanied by drum educator John Xepoleas. The two worked through several rhythmic concepts, offering tips and examples along the way. Norm had some great advice for bassist of all levels, touching on topics ranging from technique to theory.
Norm talked about having faith in your playing, saying that you need to “Invest in your talent” by committing to a practice schedule. He recommended going so far as to schedule your daily practice session on your calendar, carving out at least 15 minutes each day, more if possible. Practicing with a metronome is one of the best things you can do to improve your playing, according to Norm, as well as learning your modes. He conceded that these two things can been seen as a drag, but that they will absolutely improve your playing ability. Next we were reminded that our main job is to be the foundation with the drummer, creating a consistent groove. Much was said about groove and what it means, but ultimately it is everyone’s responsibility to be groove oriented. He recommends developing a “Vocabulary of Grooves”, so that you can easily come up with 10 or so lines that will work in any given piece, as well as to remember that the key to good groove is to play the part. It’s not about you and how flashy you can play, it is about the song. Try to musically convey what is happening emotionally and spiritually.
The physical approach to playing was also discussed, with an emphasis on muting. Norm suggests playing with your fretting hand a little flatter on the fretboard in order to mute the strings you aren’t playing. As for the plucking hand, he recommends alternating between your index and middle fingers as you play and to use the “floating thumb” technique to mute strings that you aren’t playing while plucking. From here he talked about dynamics and the need to control your dynamic level when playing slap style. Shuffles and different feels were discussed and demonstrated with drummer John Xepoleas. Both John and Norm recommend recording yourself when you play to get a true understand of how you sound, claiming that how you think you hear yourself may not be what you sound like. I have heard this before and think that it is something that I may finally start incorporating into my practice sessions.
This clinic was a great experience for me and I hope to attend more in the future. I decided to pick up Norm’s 4 DVD set “Groovin for Heaven” as that I found Norm’s teaching approach very easy to understand. I have often heard that it is a good idea to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can, so it seemed like a smart choice for me. Not sure when I will find the time to start on Norm’s DVD’s but you can be assured that I will be writing about it. It may have to wait until I am through with the Teach Me Bass Guitar Course, but I will get to it. After the clinic I hung out and was able to have a brief chat with Norm and I have to say that he is one of the coolest guys I’ve met. Very friendly and down to earth, in fact all of the great people I met at the Sunset Church were very friendly. Keep an eye on Norm’s “The Haps” page to see if he is playing near you and go check him out, you won’t be disappointed!