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Taking up lessons - how do you decide what to learn?


EddiePlaysBass

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So I decided that - finally - the time is right for me to find a teacher and take a few lessons. It seems like the stars are properly aligned for it, because I found a teacher at 2 minutes (by car) from where I work. All right! Only thing I am wondering all of a sudden is: what aspect of the bass do I want to be taught? Since I have never really taken too many lessons in my life, I am a bit inexperienced in that field.

 

My first teacher was a guitarist and he kind of decided what we would work on. I took about 7 lessons in total and in hindsight should have stopped after one. Second guy explained the rudiments of reading sheet music. I took two lessons and then had to bail because we never got our agenda's straight. Still, those were 2 rather valuable lessons and I am now slowly working on my reading skills.

 

So in both cases the teacher kind of decided for me ... My question to the lot of you who (occasionally) take lessons: do you let your teacher show you his particular speciality or do you ask for certain aspects yourself? On an related note: would it be improper if I asked whether I can bring along my Zoom and record the lesson?

"I'm a work in progress." Micky Barnes

 

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I would make a top ten list of your weaknesses, or, in a positive way to state it, your top ten goals. I can think of nothing better than having a discussion with the teacher to ascertain their competence in meeting your goals as well as providing them direction. However, I would keep the door open, allowing the teacher to bring up their observations, so their experience is a part of determining other skills that need polishing.

 

A good teacher should welcome student input.

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I started playing bass "by ear" in early 1960's, I did not take my first "Theory Lesson" until 1999. It really opened up the role of bass and how to build bass lines properly. I would highly recommend some basic theory as it applies to the bass.

Rocky

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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Well, switch perspective and think of a hypothetical pupil of yours.

Should he be able to read? Yes, it helps being able to read. Think of the chances one would have at work without being able to read notes, e-mail or manuals.

Should he know harmony well? Yes, otherwise how would he know he should not play a B on a C7.

Should he know the keyboard as his own name? Yes, otherwise where would all that harmony knowledge go?

Should he exercise and have the chops? Yes, of course, one should be able to blaze through all the material that is required.

And finally where do you start from? On a university course you start at the beginning and go through the whole material, but in lessons I guess your bet would be you start from the major weakness in that particular student, trying to cover all the other bases as you go.

-- Michele Costabile (http://proxybar.net)
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I've had 4 bass teachers. Three of them asked what kind of music I liked best and took it from there. They combined technique pointers with practical theory. They used books in combination with songs and scales.

 

My current teacher (the best so far) audio-records his comments after my lesson -- what I did well, what needs work, suggestions for improvement, etc. -- and sends me his recorded comments as a wav file, attached to an email that spells out what I should be working on next and in what priority. Works really well for me.

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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You want to learn construction? Should your instructor show you how to build high rises if you only want to build single-family homes? Should your instructor show you everything about masonry if you want to know how to frame walls?

 

In case the analogy didn't work, I like Bob's suggestion that your goals should define what you learn.

 

I like Jeremy's response, too. You want to go from point A (where you are today) to point B (your goals), but you don't know how. Your instructor knows the way and will lead you there. This takes into consideration what you need and what you want.

 

Does every bassist need to learn how to play orchestral double bass up to professional symphony levels as a starting point? Probably not. But if your goal is to play in a professional symphony then those are the skills you need to learn.

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I think that holds for ALL of us - what are we looking to do as a musician? Ideally we'd all learn EVERYTHING, but that's simply not reality for most of us, especially if we are working a 9 to 5.

 

I'm a guitarist, not a bassist - though I really love to hear good bassists, and love to pick up my Fender Precision once in a while and run through things. What type of bass lessons would I take? Well, it wouldn't hurt my jazz guitar playing to learn more about jazz bass lines; and I'd love to learn more about Bach's bass lines - better fingerings, etc., since I can figure out the notes. Then again, R&B bass lines are great, too - long live James Jamerson. So what kind of lessons should I take, when I love ALL of it!

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What type of bass lessons would I take? Well, it wouldn't hurt my jazz guitar playing to learn more about jazz bass lines; and I'd love to learn more about Bach's bass lines - better fingerings, etc., since I can figure out the notes. Then again, R&B bass lines are great, too - long live James Jamerson. So what kind of lessons should I take, when I love ALL of it!
Start with technique, i.e. "better fingerings". No book or video or webpage has eyes that can watch your technique and help you improve it like a face-to-face instructor can.

 

Then go for the two things you need for the rest of it: harmony and rhythm.

 

By harmony I mean music theory as it applies to bass, e.g. to form walking bass lines. You already know how theory applies to building chords or to play a melody/solo on guitar, but it's a little different to thump out a stream of seemingly random quarters over a constantly changing chord progression on bass. (Bach was almost mathematical in his writing and his works are almost like variations on a theme of what today are basic music theory concepts.)

 

By rhythm I mean those exercises that you have to count out every subdivision of the beat in order to accurately place every note of a groove, and complex enough that you have to start slow and slowly up the tempo. Most of these exercises sound like funk.

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