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How To Play Bass in 50 Songs - Article #4 (Of 5)

Modelling The Classical Music System Of Learning (1)

A New Song Based Model Of Learning Bass

In this article I want to start by talking about the history of  "bass education."

Now what you have to remember is that the bass guitar was invented by Leo Fender in 1950.  And the first players were either upright bass players who used electric bass because of the easier amplification for recording and gigging purposes, or guitarists who were asked to either double on electric bass or switch to electric bass.

This latter route is how Carole Kaye came to the electric bass.  She was at a session in 1963 where the bass player was a no-show, there was a Fender bass in the studio, she was asked to switch and play the bass on the session...and from then on she carried on playing electric bass.

And kudos to Carole Kaye - she was the first person to author a book for bass guitar.  She wrote a book called HOW TO PLAY THE ELECTRIC BASS and it was first published in 1969.

Now I have a copy of that book because one of my earlier teachers used some of her materials to teach from.  And I looked at it just now - and in my humble (but accurate) opinion if you were to give this book to a beginner they would be lost by page 3 or 4.  (And the first two pages are introductions about Kaye.)

That's because the book isn't aimed at bass beginners, it's aimed at musicians who are switching to bass.  So for example, she covers rhythms and subdivisions - a foundational subject for bass players! - in about 1.5 inches of page space!  (But as I say...kudos to her for publishing what definitively were the first books for electric bass).

The first college to offer a Major for electric bass was Berklee School Of Music - that was sometime around 73 or 74.  That wasn't for beginners though, that was for musicians with some degree of proficiency.

Since then then there have been many books for bass beginners, and then in the last 10 years or so online courses.  Some of them have some good sections.  But just about all of them suffer from a lack of understanding as to what a beginner should be learning.

For example I looked at the contents of several beginner books and courses before writing this article.  Here's some of the topics that I've seen covered that don't belong in a beginners course for bass players:

#1 Ear Training

Now I'm not against ear training in any way, shape or form.  With this crucial qualification: ear training is required to advance YOUR current goals on the bass.

Beginners don't need to do specific ear training drills.

ESPECIALLY if their practice incorporates chordal and harmonic environments.  It's absolutely 100% possible to practice and focus on practicing the bass line - but use a practice track that has both rhythmic AND chordal material and get a good deal of your early 'general' ear training done subliminally.

I think I said earlier in this series of articles that I like practice exercises to do double and even triple duty where possible...this is one way of achieving that.

#2 Creating Original Bass Lines

Creating original bass lines is a form of composition - it's spontaneous composition for sure, but still it's a form of music composition.  Do you know when classical piano students start to learn composing: it's after Grade 8 and by Grade 8 they are pretty high level players.

Now classical piano and electric bass are two very different animals - but the point is that you need to acquire some facility on the bass BEFORE you should even attempt starting to create your own bass lines.

#3 Complex Music Theory

"Complex" is a subjective word....in one book on Amazon touted for beginners two of the topics were understanding the Cycle Of 5ths and Diatonic Modes.  Now as you go on your bass journey you WILL need to understand these concepts....for beginners, not so much.

The music theory topic that beginners need to understand thoroughly first is rhythm theory.  That brings me on to...

#4 Learning To Read Music

There's a popular series of books for bass beginners where the 'method' is built around learning to read music.  The way I look at learning to read music is that if you try and get a beginner to learn to read music they have two complex challenges to master at the same time - they have to learn to play at the same time as learning to read music.

Whilst I'm a big fan of reading music as opposed to tab, I don't think beginners should be taught to read music.  Going back to #3 above, I DO think that beginners should understand how rhythmic notation works and understand that fluently.

Then if they want to go further and read pitches too, they've actually already done the hardest part of learning to read music.  But more crucially, learning to understand rhythmic notation and be able to execute it will positively enhance their bass playing journey.

#5 Transcribing Music

There's absolutely no reason for bass players lower than an intermediate level to start learning to transcribe.

Now let me say that transcribing bass lines is great for bass players....but great for intermediate bass players who have specific goals that are furthered by transcribing bass lines.  Some bass players will NEVER need to transcribe - because it's not an activity that goes hand in hand with THEIR bass playing goals.

For anyone less than an intermediate bass player, getting them to invest valuable practice time on what is effectively a "panic zone" activity is just a waste.


If You Read Article 1 In This Series (linked below)...

...you'll know what practice activities I think bass beginners should be doing.

But the problem is that there's no established method of learning bass for beginners that most teachers teach.

Three years ago as part of my deliberate practice research, I started the outlining of just such a comprehensive system for bass beginners.

Now when I first looked at the task it appeared to be quite daunting.  But I was talking with someone about this and they gave me the advice of not reinventing the wheel.  And so I researched classical music learning....and in Part 2 of this article I'll reveal how I modelled not one, but TWO distinct classical music learning methodologies and merged them into one comprehensive learning system for bass beginners.

To read the second part of modelling the classical system of learning - and don't forget this system has been tried and tested for over 200 years - click the blue CONTINUE button below.

Previous Articles In the Series

If you haven't read the previous three articles in this series  yet - here are the links where you can read them:

Article 1: The Only 6 Things A Bass Beginner SHOULD Practice


Article 2: The Mathematical Case Against Practicing Scales


Article 3 - The Crucial Element Missing From EVERY Online Bass Course