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Awesome subdivision exercise (L#76)

The bass guitar is as much a rhythmical instrument as it is a harmonic instrument. This is why we must view the study of rhythm itself as being of equal importance as the study of harmony (scales, chord tones etc).

Unfortunately this is often forgotten, and students spend 99% of their time working on harmonic exercises such as scales, arpeggios and such.

I'm sure you can relate to this feeling… 'If I can learn just one more scale!'… 'If I could only play that bit faster!'… this is what I call 'chasing your tail'. You'll always want to play faster, you'll always want one more scale!

It is important to understand that rhythm and harmony are the pillars of all music. Therefore, when you study them separately, and then bring them together, your bass playing will sound infinitely more mature and… BAD ASS! ;)

Now grab your bass and get in the shed!

Full tab/notation & workbook available to Academy members »

Awesome subdivision exercise (L#76) - Video Transcript

Hey guys, how are you doing? It’s Scott Devine again, from Scott’s Bass
Lessons. I hope you’re well. Make sure you check out
If you haven’t already there’s a link below this video. And there you can
check out, I think there’s nearly 100 videos on there now. They’re all for
free, ranging from beginner stuff, to advanced turn your brain to jelly
kind of lessons.

In this lesson I’m going to be talking about a metronome exercise that I’ve
been using for a long time, and it really, really got my subdivisions
together. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but timing, well, for any
musician but particularly for bass players, timing is everything. It’s more
important than notes. Your groove is so important. Without any groove
you’ve lost the gig. There’s a zillion bass players out there that can play
a million notes an hour, but there’s some guy there playing, grooving on
two notes and he’s playing some of the biggest gigs in the world. The proof
is in the pudding. Okay? Groove is everything. To be able to play great
solos you’ve got to have great timing. To play great grooves you’ve got to
have great timing. So, always be aware that the foundation of your playing
is your groove playing. It’s your time. It’s your internal time.

I want to take you through this exercise today. It’s an exercise that I’ve
done for years and years. It really got my subdivisions together, and I
think it’s going to do you wonders as well.

So, the exercise, we’re just going to use a C major scale. C major scale.
Just a simple major scale, you can play it right down to the G string if
you want. It doesn’t matter. The subdivision is what’s important. Now, what
I’m going to do is, there’s a backing track that’s available for download.
If you hit the link below it’ll take you to a page. You’ll see this video.
Right below it there’ll be a download link for this backing track. All this
backing track is, is a C major chord held on a keyboard and some hi-hats

Let’s have a listen to it. So, listen to those hi-hats. Two, three, four.
All I want you to do is play C major scale with each note landing on one of
those hi-hats, and I want you to really, really concentrate on it landing
bang on that hi-hat. Two, three, four. Once again. Really concentrate.

Now I want you to play two notes per click. So, two notes per hi-hat. One,
two, three, four. Now I’m going to go between the two, so… Next one, two.
You can kind of play all over the scale like this as long as you’re keeping
it to the subdivision.

This next subdivision is three notes per click, so let’s hear it on its own
first. One two three, two two three, three two three, four two three.

Now we’re going to start with the first exercise, then the second exercise,
then the third exercise. One, two, three, four. Second exercise. Third
exercise coming up. Three notes per click. Back to two. Back to one.

Now you can guess that four’s going to be the next one. So, right from the
beginning. No, actually I’ll show you what four sounds like first. One two
three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one
two three four, one two three four.

Now let’s go through the cycle. So, first of all, we’ll start with one
note, then two notes per click, then three notes per click, then four notes
per click. Here we go. One, two, three, four. Two notes per click. Three
notes per click. Four notes per click.

What do you think’s coming next? Five notes per click. Let’s hear that on
its own. Let’s hear it in the cycle. Starting with one. One note per click.
Two. Three. Four. Five. I’m going out of the to C major scale there.

Now let’s try and shorten it down. So, we’re only going to do a few of one,
a few of two, a few of three, a few of four, and a few of five. One, two,
three, four. Back down. One two three four. One two three four. One, two,
three. One, two, three. One two three. One two. One two, One two, one two.

And you can even go up to six as well. So, we’ve gone from one right up to
six. Let’s see if I can do that. Put my head on the line here. One, two,
three, four. Always in the C major scale. One note. Two notes. Three notes.
Four notes. Five notes. Six notes. Five notes. Four notes. Three notes. Two
notes. One.

So by doing this, you are… Hang on, I’ll just switch this off. By doing
this you’re freeing yourself of all of the barriers that are kind of
constricting you at the minute. You’ll be really used to playing in certain
subdivisions. And what happened when I started using this exercise, is I
noticed – I played with a lot of drummers, and when I first started using
this exercise, suddenly, with over a few weeks, I’d got a few stares, like,
‘Whoa what’s this guy doing?’ I’d hear them doing subdivisions, and I’d
instantly be able to drop by it with them because I’d been practicing these
subdivisions in my own time. It’s something you should really, really get
into your practice routine.

Always think about this: groove is the foundation of your playing. The
harmony is just laid on top of it. The actual foundation of it is your
groove. You know, something can groove without melody. Think of when was
the last time you heard some of that African drummers or something like
that. Did it groove? Yes. Did it have any melody? No. It was just
percussion. So, if you think about it like that it’s the percussive side of
your playing. The groove is the foundation. The percussive side of your
playing is the foundation. Then you lay the harmony on top.

So, it’s really worth stripping it back and working on this thing every
day. Maybe not just this exercise. Maybe other metronome – well, definitely
other metronome and rhythmical exercises. It’s worth putting this practice
into your routine every day and making sure that your foundation, your
groove, is the strong detail holding your playing together as it should do.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this lesson. I will see you soon. I’ve got
something really exciting coming up. I’m not going to tell you about it,
but all I want to say is keep an eye out for it. It’s coming soon. So, take
it easy, and get in the shed.

  • Harry

    Great lesson. I’ve done it always on one note only, putting a scale (or arpeggios maybe?) on it seems a great idea. I always struggle at the moment I switch from triplets to 16th, but it is a fantastic exercise anyway.

    • scott

      Cheers Harry! Great to hear you enjoyed it! ;) Scott.

  • Uros

    great exercise Scott, very helpfull..keep on groovin! can’t wait for the suprise, cheers from Serbia!

  • Travis Moore

    Thanks for all the great lessons. They are really helping me improve my playing. I am going to work on this one right now :)

  • Jean Parfait

    Thanks Scott. Really enjoyed this simple but necessary lesson.

  • John

    Great stuff! Love your videos. Educational with great explanations.

  • Awesome as always Scott. I have been trying to record my practicing so I can go back and see if I’m hearing what I think I’m playing. That leads to a request, I’d like to hear more about technology for bassist, like software we should try or apps. The other thing I’m struggling with when I record my practice is string noise. Even when I stay on the same four frets, I’m a noisy player.

    • John

      I agree George… great suggestion…another awesome lesson, btw Scott. Richly enjoy your stuff, bro. Thanks a million.

  • waldo

    this is the kind of instruction that really makes a difference in my bass playing. I can’t wait for the big “surprise”!

  • John Rivera

    Hey Scott. Your a God send. Your the best teacher out there. Thanks again. John

  • John Freeland

    I recently switched from a Yamaha electric with old strings to a new acoustic elactric (new strings). Lots of string noise. I think Jaco used chicken grease to slide with less noise. Scott is the first I’ve seen to wear gloves. I tried a cotton jersey glove and that seems to help reduce some of the string noise from my left (fretboard) hand.

  • Allen Portman

    George, I agree! Bass players (all artists) need to go back and listen to themselves after recordings or live gigs and critically critique themselves regarding their playing for timing (rhythmically), groove, dynamics, and context in the band and sonic spectrum. This has been one of the greatest wakeup calls for me, is when I go back and listen to myself! I preach often to musicians and artists I play with that unless stepping-up for a brief solo part “simple is more” and “less is better”!

    This video session is so simple, but yet focuses on probably the most overlooked fundamental criteria that separates the okay from the excellent class bass players of today! Majority of bass players simply play everything and never (or rarely) considered the context and their role in the music spectrum!

    Great video session!

  • Really great! Thank you, Scott!

    In your execution even simple C-dur sounds like MUSIC!
    This exercise is really helpful.

    I can add little thought, that counting in 5 of 8-th can be
    1-2-3 + 1-2 (=5)
    1-2 + 1-2-3 (=5).

    Scott Devine is Divine bass player and teacher!

  • Nacho

    Thank you very much !!!
    Greetings from Uruguay!!!

  • Martin d

    Amazing like always scott God bless,,

  • Al

    It’s always the simple-sounding tuff that seems to make the biggest difference for me. This lesson has really woken my fingers up – cheers Scott!

  • waleed

    Thanks Scott,God bless,,

  • Hugo

    John F above here says the gloves are to reduce noise. Is that right Scott? It sort of bothers me because it’s hard to see your fingering.

  • FidLew

    Hey Scott loved the lesson and all your work. While practicing the lesson i noticed, if I hit a “wrong note” it would effect my timing or the grove, so I start inserting “wrong notes”, to force myself to keep the “Grove” no matter what the notes.



  • Phil

    Hi Scott. Fantastic website, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, it really is appreciated.

    I’m new to the bass and I love it. I want to improve but I am limited to about 1 to 2 hours of practice per day. I would like to put together a practice schedule so that I am getting the most out of the time available but I’m not too sure what to focus on.

    From what you are saying in the groove practice lesson above I guess that is essential to practice and perhaps the ones on scales and arpeggios. My left had is only just starting to feel happy spanning 4 frets so you can see I really am a novice. Any advice?

    Cheers Scott.

  • Barry Brien

    Good man yourself. Excited to see what this new thing is.

  • Again thanks…and ” here says the gloves are to reduce noise!”
    thats a quastion of me too:)

    Greetings from Vienna, Austria!

  • Multi- instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter. Played bass years ago (not well). But always loved it. This was not only a great bass exercise, but applicable to everything else. I’m not quite up to 4,5,and 6 per measure, but the goal has been set.

  • Another great lesson, timing is such a tricky element, as you not only have to get it right, but it has to feel right as well. This seems like a great way to work on both aspects at the same time. Thanks!

  • Alfred Ahlin

    Great lessons! Scotts Bass Lessons is the best way to keep up my bass guitar playing when i don’t have a teacher or other musicians to play with. Love from Sweden!

  • Amazing lesson, as usual Scott. I love these type lessons. Foundational, enabling the bass player to build on a firm foundation is cornerstone to becoming a great, all-around bass player.

    By the way, how do you leave a post with a picture rather than the generic icon? just curious.

  • This looks super fun! I’m goign to work on it tonight! Love the jazz track btw!! I forwarded it to my jazz guitarist boyfriend he thought it was pretty sweet!

  • Dane

    Great lesson. The 5 and 6 beats are tuff. I usually don’t play that way but it will be a blast if I can get it mastered to some level of proficiency.

  • Jack Keck

    If one wants to use a metronome for this exercise, how many beats per second should it be set at?

  • Georgeogh

    Scotte thanks for dis great lesson/
    Please can u do a lesson on slap technique exercises.
    Thanks ./////////////

  • Tino

    ;-) Gracias

  • wilson

    thanks master scott

    • 456sixstringbass

      i used to play tromebone for awhile when i was younger,and i thought my scale practicing was boring ,but i can hear it in you’re traing aids…………’s just the simple things that make the bass sound good,but when you rip it up on the bass,it’s still awesome…….thank you scott

  • Cheryl Muradas

    I can’t wait to do this lesson. I love your style and the way that you instruct. Thank you so much. .Cheryl

  • Rob

    Thanks for the great lesson Scott

  • Kenny

    You are taking my playing to new heights! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  • Thanks Scott! you are a excellent teacher as well as a excellent player

  • Jordan B. Lombardo

    This is a sweet lesson.. I think the Cmaj chord in the background is gonna give me nightmares though… The more you listen to it, the scarier it becomes..
    I remember you had a lesson with similar content where you switched between 16th and triplets… It was crazy how it sounded together.. Nice videos. (:

  • Ged

    Given that my daughter’s name is Groove, I have to agree with you.
    Groove is everything!

  • GraemePyper

    Great bass lessons’ I’ve switched from drums to bass easier to carry Thanks again from Australia. Graeme

  • Nate

    It’s worse playing the “right”note at the wrong time than playing the “wrong ” note at the right time.My right hand is rhythm and my left hand is harmony. My right hand is more important.

  • I know how to count sub-divisions for whole, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, & 1/16 but not for 5 or 6 notes/beat. Is there a “proper” way to count them and, if so, what are they? Also, it would be great to learn to properly count & play quarter note triplets. Thanks.

    • scott

      Hey Howard I’m not sure there is a ‘standardized’ way of counting odd subdivisions like this. I use syllables such as university = 5 and chillidog = 4 etc etc. Hope that helps. Scott ;)

      • Luc

        split them up in eights first : The capital AND is right in the middle, it’s a plain eight note /1 and 2 AND 3 and/ / /1 and 2 and 3 AND 4 and 5 and / /1 and 2 and 3 and 4 AND 5 and 6 and 7 and/ /1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 AND 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 and/ set the click to the 1 and the AND. set the click to 5 or 7 or 9 beats and then you play the 1 and the AND this creates awareness and learns you to hear it and recognize the pattern! then set the click to the 1 and the AND and play the . I came across this when I was writing some rhythmic stuff once and I made it an excersise. Have Fun! :-)

      • Luc

        split them up in eights first : The capital AND is right in the middle, it’s a plain eight note if you look at it first this way.

        /1 and 2 AND 3 and/
        /1 and 2 and 3 AND 4 and 5 and /
        /1 and 2 and 3 and 4 AND 5 and 6 and 7 and/
        /1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 AND 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 and/

        First set the click to 5 or 7 or 9 beats and then you play the 1 and the AND this creates awareness and learns you to hear it and recognize the pattern! then set the click to the 1 and the AND and play the rythms . I came across this when I was writing some rhythmic stuff once and I made it an excersise.

        Have Fun! :-

  • ScotV

    Wow! I slowed the track to 1/2 speed, and that REALLY makes it difficult. Especially the triplets and quintlets (is that a word?) But once you get that groove at 1/2 speed, it’s really sweet. Especially when I play in Lydian.

  • Bob Skavna

    Hi Scott and Hlinton

    that’s exactly how I learned to play odd time stuff! When I had been playing about 2 years (and didn’t read music or know a semiquaver from a hole in the wall) I started playing in a band with a great drummer who would write all these crazy fusion-y rhythms and the only way I could get my head around it was to sing the phrases to myself like the way Scott said: find words with the same amount of syllables as the beat groupings. It worked surprisingly well! It seems like an simple version of that Carnatic counting thing that a lot of fusion players use, which looks pretty good for counting odd (as well as even) subdivisions. Recently found this video where Jonas Hellborg talks about it a bit

  • brandonvmoore

    I’m pretty sure this was part of the very first jazz guitar lesson I ever took. Every musician should do this no matter what instrument.

  • Luc

    Hi Scott, I go form 1 note per beat to 3 notes per 2 beats and then up to 2 notes a beat and so on. The 3/2 rhythm is challenging and very beneficial!