The ToneWay® Project: helping people play music

Only one chopper

In a previous post (, Luke told us about the bluegrass “rule” that only one instrument “chops” at one time. I didn't know that, but I should have! Here's a video of a performance at a camp last year, with me playing bass, together with some phenomenal musicians I had no business sharing a stage with (but I'd do it again in a heartbeat!) Note: no multi-chopping between the fiddles.

Also, I should learn to turn the bass toward the audience!! And also play with some authority - Bass is Boss, after all.

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OK, I think I'm getting it now. In other words, show me, don't tell me. If you show me, I can learn by emulation (“stumble as a child” + “play with others”), but if you tell me, that becomes one more potential point of failure, one more thing to remember, and ultimately one more reason I might not be good enough to play.

Only, “good enough” doesn't apply, since we're not professionals. I'm reminded what an adjudicator once told us at a music festival (competition, really) after our performance. He trying to get us to make sure all our bows were moving in unison by telling us that professional orchestral players would get a reprimand if they started their bow movement at a spot even slightly different from the concertmaster's bow, and would probably be dismissed for up-bowing when everyone went down! That made me think “I never want to play in an orchestra”, which I'm sure was not the adjudicator's intent at all.

And actually, that kind of thinking probably doesn't apply to pros, either. My bass teacher (who is a performing professional) recommended the book “Effortless Mastery” by Kenny Werner - have you read it? Essentially, it applies bits of Zen Buddhist thought to playing instruments. One of the points Kenny Werner makes in the book is that once you start “trying” (i.e. playing like you “should” ) you have already sabotaged yourself, because you are thinking of how you should be playing, instead of simply playing. That doesn't mean that you don't need to practice your picking patterns or chord shapes, or whatever. You want to get the physical stuff to the point that it is effortless, I think. Look at Braden and Randy in the video - they're probably not thinking “Oh, I should chop now because the other fellow is playing fills”, they're just playing.

Edited 2 times; last edited Jan 23, 2014 by Ralph Lange

Yes, yes, yes… exactly so. I look as the “should” stuff as an offshoot of our social hierarchical competitive nature. I 'should' add… a natural off shoot. You'll notice here, there are two meanings that the word should conveys, one is neutral, one essentially stems from insecurity–a guilt tripping projection we push out into the world. Trouble is, they both sound the same. ;-)


So, in the spirit of “play with others” + “stumble like a child”, here are my daughter and me, completely “should” free!


I love hearing you and your daughter together Ralph! It warms my heart. She's got a great voice too and you're accompanying her very well. Thanks so much for sharing these videos and your thoughts with us! Keep it up!



Leslie said it all. I have been blessed twice today. Your first video and your daughter & you! I am a minister & you sharing did well for my soul. Thank You!

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