Here’s one of the reasons I added the blog section to the HTPB website – so I could get more discussion going.
Here’s the story, on New Years Day I got the following email from ‘Jazz Bassist:’
In case you can’t read it, it says:
“I’m glad you can capitalize on the BASS PLAYERS THAT WANT TO PLAY SONGS market.? Serious musicians may cringe at your PLAY FIRST ARPEGGIOS LATER method but the importnat thing is that you’re bringing the bass to the lowest common denominator.
Why would a bassist need to learn jazz theory, just to play with friends?
Why would a bassist want to learn to read music?”
Fortunately your series of books has introduced mediocrity to a new generation of British kids; they will never aspire to be United States caliber musicians.? Remember to ignore theory and concentrate on songs.”
Now I’ve had my share of flaming on YouTube (my favourite was when I was told that a warm, sweaty sock would have more groove than I did! LOL) – and these days I actually try and use opportunities like this to learn and grow.
Here’s the email that I sent back:
“Thanks for your email. ?It raises some interesting questions and points. ?And I?m always happy to debate with people in the interests of learning more…so I?ve got some thoughts for you.
Firstly I think you?ve skimmed my site and don?t get the full gist of what I?m doing. ?My ?method? isn?t ?Play First Arpeggios Later? – if you?d read any of my stuff at depth (which you probably won?t have done) you?ll know that ?my method? is ?learn songs, not SCALES.? ?That?s ?a massive difference ? and the reason is that about 20 years ago I studied with a guy who was considered the best private tutor in the UK. ?He was from America, and had been to Berklee with guys like Mike Stern and Bob Berg ? and for a year all he taught were scales and arpeggios. ?Modes and arpeggios from the major scales. ?Modes and arpeggios from both the harmonic and melodic minor scales….and yet more scales.
Only thing was he never taught how that material was applied.
And it was something that I had to work out for myself ? and I started with one of the books I consider to be the best ?bass? book out there: Building Walking Bass Lines by Ed Friedland.
Learning scales BY ROTE in my opinion is something that poor teachers teach. ?Because you just about NEVER will be called upon in a real world (i.e. Bandstand) scenario to play a selection of scales. ?For sure you need to know the theory of scales to know what notes you can use in bass lines….but you DON?T need to learn scales by rote. ?Ever. ?That?s not just my opinion by the way, Jeff Berlin also says this. ?A lot of folk don?t like Jeff Berlin ? but he talks a lot of sense about music and the bass in my opinion. ?(That doesn?t mean I like his stuff though…I never listened to a Jeff Berlin record that I particularly liked….but I respect his level of musicianship and what he has to say about the bass).
So given that learning scales by rote is something that I don?t believe in, I chose to structure my teaching around a spine of sequentially more difficult songs. ?That is done so that beginners get a sense of achievement by actually learning something that has ?real world? relevance ? and as the song difficulty level rises then new elements of theory are introduced. ?That might be rhythm, or note choices, or chord progressions….but whenever I teach elements of theory I do so from a ?real world? perspective. ?(This style of teaching by the way was lifted straight from classical piano pedagogy ? that?s EXACTLY how they teach piano to beginners…I just adapted it to bass, and specifically to a rock bass style of playing).
Onto Reading Music
Again if you?d read any of my stuff at detail you?d know how much I utterly loathe tab. ?I was taught to read music at an early age and have always suggested that students learn to read music. ?In fact to help facilitate this I am in the process of creating what I believe will be the most comprehensive sight reading course for bass beginners out there.
The sad commercial reality is that the majority of electric bass players can?t read music (something I?d like to help change). ?I read a statistic somewhere that sales of bass books are 40% lower if no tab is included. ?So whilst I realize that most of my students need tab and include it ? I am actively trying to help those who want to learn how to read music to get better at it.
Why would a bassist need to learn jazz theory, just to play with friends?
This is an interesting one.
My reply is another question: why would a bassist need to learn jazz theory if they want to play rock? ?Or reggae? ?Or country? ?Or blues? ?One of the things I talk about is aligning practice materials with goals ? if you plan to jam in a southern rock boogie kind of band that uses simple diatonic chord progressions, what is the benefit of learning jazz theory? ?Surely the player would benefit more from focusing on material that applies specifically to what he has to play? ?IF at a later date he then wants to broaden his horizons…then for sure he can learn some more theory.
Again I?d say you?ve not delved into my material at enough depth to understand my perspective. ?I talk extensively about theory in some of my courses ? the neccessity for playing material in all 12 keys, in different chord qualities and in different chord progressions. ?I?ve not seen ANYONE else talk common chord progressions for rock and pop bass players, categorize those progressions, or provide vocabulary for those progressions based on arpeggios and guide tone lines? ?But I?m guessing you?ve not seen that material of mine, so don?t know that I talk about it, teach it and provide it.
Fortunately your series of books has introduced mediocrity to a new generation of British kids; that they will never aspire to be United States caliber musicians. ?Remember to ignore theory and concentrate on songs.
There?s lots of things I could say here….but I?ll just answer that this is 2012 and the age of the Internet. ?I don?t think I teach a SINGBLE BRITISH KID. ?In fact, I don?t teach ?kids? at all ? ALL of my students are 25 or over, and are busy professionals with families. ?And my internet based teaching is a good fit for their busy lives. ?Oh, and 90% of them live in America or Canada.
Regarding mediocrity….I don?t ?teach? or promote mediocrity. ?In fact one of my books is called DELIBERATE PRACTICE, and is based on the 10,000 Hours Principles of Practice as discovered by Anders Ericsson. ??And I did hundreds of hours of research for that book ? and made the system of Deliberate Practice accessible to just about anyone who wants to improve as a bass player.
As you name yourself ?Jazz Bass Player? and talk about Jazz Theory, I?m assuming you?ve heard of John Goldsby? ?Here?s what John had to say about Deliberate Practice:
?I think you are really onto something big, and I encourage you to pursue your line of thinking. You could help countless musicians become much better players!?
Does that sound like I?m promoting mediocrity to you?
Yes I teach songs to guys and girls who start playing the bass because they want to learn songs. ?And the songs are a hook to get them interested in the bass and from there I can feed them information that helps them become better bass players IF THEY WANT TO. ?(Not everyone wants to become capable of playing Jazz Bass solos for example ? some just want to master enough technique to jam and have some fun with their friends).
I hope that gives you some food for thought. ?As I say, I?m up for debate and idea exchanges and feedback ? THIS IS THE ONLY WAY ANY OF US CAN GET BETTER. ?If you want to carry on by email….fair enough. ?If you want to take this to a public place ? maybe Facebook? ?- then I?m happy to do that. ?If you think I?m full of crap, then that?s fair enough too.
So you know I?m not ?defending my position? as I?m totally comfortable with my position. ?But I believe you have a misleading view of my website based on a cursory look.
Wishing you a great 2012.”
My Question To you
So here’s my question to you – what do YOU think about this?? And so you know, I’m only interested in constructive comments. If you agree with my approach, tell me why (don’t stroke my ego).? If you disagree with my approach, tell me why (don’t flame me – there’s enough negativity in the world as it is).? I genuinely want to have an open discussion about this.
Especially as ‘jazz bassist’ declined to reply to my email.
Paul Hopkins says
I don’t think it’s a question of which approach is right and which is wrong, there are no absolutes. I think it all boils down to what you as a bass player want to achieve., i.e. what’s your goal? For example, if you want to cover other people’s stuff, you probably need no understanding of harmonic theory whatsoever and tabs will probably suit you fine; if you want to work as a session musician, you’re probably going to need to be able to sight-read; if you want to write original compositions in a band, you’re probably going to need understanding of basic harmonic theory or at least what works well with what kinds of chords, e.g. what works over/under A minor and what should you rather avoid. And so on.
My current practice schedule includes stuff from ALL of these areas: I do exercises to improve technique, I learn songs, using the principles of deliberate practice to crack the challenging bits, I improvise over chord progressions, I practice sight-reading, yes, I admit I even practice scales (not least because the different forms of playing a scale and combining these seriously improves my fingerboard dexterity). But as I say, that’s MY practice schedule. It’s probably pretty unique…as it should be…because they’re MY goals. And these have evolved…my practice schedule a year ago looked very different.
It’s very easy to get religious about the “right” way to do things, another example is “tab is bad, you must learn to read music”. We should avoid such discussions.
I’m not sure I would have even taken the time to reply to Jazz Bassist’s flame mail, to be honest 😉
Paul Wolfe says
Thanks for stopping by.
I think you hit the nail on the head with this one: what’s your goal? The answer to that question determines what material you should practice…what Paul Hopkins practices should look different to what Paul Wolfe practices and so on.
I don’t know ‘jazz bassist’ and I don’t know anything about him (other than his name and what university he teaches at!), but maybe he has a ‘way that he considers is the ‘right’ way to teach people the bass – in an ideal world he’d actually come here and reply so that we could all LEARN from the ensuing discussion. My gut feeling – especially as he did not reply or acknowledge my email in anyway – is that he won’t. I find that sad…maybe he’d learn something. Maybe I’d learn something. Or maybe the act of debate/discussion would consolidate what sound like entrenched views.
Be interested to see what others think.
Hank Rutkowski says
Just kidding about the above website!
I am a mediocre harmonica player that wanted to be in a cover band. Unfortuneatly, I could not get more playing time for obvious reasons. So I took up the bass. Struggled trying to figure out songs. Purchased some walking bassline books, theory books and scale/appreggio/pattern books (Just like the sample I had sent you before-Nashville Patterns). After learning most scales I could not figure out songs. So I downloaded every tab for the songs I wanted to learn. It got me close to play with the band but still suffered making mistakes. I don’t have the time for a teacher or the funds or even the discipline required to keep up with a teacher. I want to study at my own pace. So I ventured off to your website.
I have learned most songs that I always wanted to play and I just used the tabbed portion of the songs to learn them. I was cool with just that until HTPB came out with HTPB for beginners. I applied the “Note Finder Excercise” and now I can find most of the notes on the fretboard instantaneously. Rest stroking has dampened the buzzing of the lower strings. The 1234 Left hand excercises has giving me more dexterity.
I am really anxious about SRFTGUP to help me thru with reading music. The progression of learning Rythm Patterns, Pitch Class and than the Combination Class are perfect for the way to learn, for me.
I got alot more so by for now!
Paul Hopkins says
just to add to Hank’s comment about SRFTGU: I’m benefitting from this tremendously and am very much looking forward to lesson 4. Great stuff!
Paul Wolfe says
Lesson 4 should be coming tomorrow….been delayed with Christmas shenanigans but we should be back on track tomorrow!
Paul Wolfe says
I’m glad you;’re getting good value. And even more I LOVE to see people implementing information and making progress (and that’s equally whether it’s ‘my’ information, or whether they got it somewhere else).
There are too many people who sit around in front of the TV moaning about why they are not making progress and blaming it on factors outside their control.
At teh end of the day the teachers job is to motivate the student and point him in the right direction – and make course corrections if he veers off path. Everything else is DIRECTLY down to the student. The more people realize that, the more progress they’ll see and the happier they should be!
Paul, you are absolutely correct.
It’s much more fun and (at least for me) easier to learn when I’m playing songs rather than scales. I’ve had two bass teachers that taught me music theory (including scales, modes, inversions, etc.) by concentrating on songs that included the topic we were discussing. Using real world examples of how songs are written and how theory relates to those songs makes it much easier (again, for me) to grasp the concept.
As for TAB, I’m with you on that too. I rely too much on TABs because I can’t read music. It’s the one thing I regret not learning when I started playing a long time ago. I wish I could find the time to learn to read music, but with a job, family and other obligations, it’s hard to find the time to study.
TAB as found in most playalong books is useful to me in learning songs, but the TABs found on the Internet are next to useless, not the least because they are wrong 99.99% of the time.
I don’t believe just learning scales are very useful, unless you apply theory to them. Teach how how the chords from one scale may suit a bassline better than from others. But just having someone memorize the notes in a particular scale doesn’t really do any good.
Paul Wolfe says
Thanks for stopping by.
My personal belief is that rote learning of ANYTHING is just about pointless. I’ve said it many times…and I’ll say it many more I suppose.
A few folks have commented here about the importance of aligning practice material with goals of what they want to achieve….that for me is the biggest takeaway from the discussion.
Joe Farrell says
I use scales for warming up and thats about it.I had a great teacher who is a graduate of The Atlanta School of Music,he taught me a lot in a short space of time,I starting playing bass in April of 2009 and played a New Years Eve gig that same year with my bass teachers band,Now I am his full time bass player but with family and work commitments and with weekend gigging and rehearsals I no longer have time for lessons,Thats why your site is invaluable to me,I can read music but nevertheless there is room for tabs whether musicians agree with that or not,my bandmate can play any style of bass or guitar you can name but he freely says”Whatever gets you through the tune”and I believe that,I have bypassed your notes and tabs many times and went straight to the video,why not get the finger postioning down as well?You run a great site with great song selections and if its good enough for AIM graduates it should be good enough for anonymous Jazz musicians.
Also on another note,its quite the arrogant remark to compare everyone to the so called calibre of the american musician,there are great musicians from everywhere in this wonderful world that we live in and that remark was mind-boggling in its stupidity.In short I agree with the previous poster,I would not have bothered to reply to this pretentious poser.
Keep it up Paul!!!!
Paul Wolfe says
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
Personally I don’t care much for tab….but I understand why it’s so prevalent. One of the things I’m trying to do with SIGHT READING FROM THE GROUND UP is provide a framework that will allow bass players to read music without making it complex.
(But I understand that there are many players who use it, so I do include it).
Neal | Sax Station says
It seems to me that you make music accessible without getting into all the details upfront. Of course you do. It would be completely overwhelming to get into every piece from the get go. And playing songs, playing music is why we play. Obviously it’s going to motivate people more than learning scales. I have heard of many people who learned scales as children and gave up music because they did not enjoy it.
On sax, you start with one note. And you don’t usually start in the key of C#. You can play a lot of music only knowing a few keys. BB King didn’t record his songs in all different keys at the beginning of his career.
Ideally, yes, you want to be able to play in all keys if you play jazz. I would strongly recommend learning all the major scales for all saxophone players if they have been playing for a little while and aspire to improvise with serious musicians.
But I commend what you’re doing with making learning the bass more interesting from the beginning.
There are some people who will attack you, the anonymous ones tend to be the ones I tend to pay less attention.
Paul Wolfe says
Thanks for weighing in and rubbing shoulders with us down and dirty bass players!
The irritating thing about the whole episode is that this a chance to have a genuine debate and exchange of ideas…but ‘Jazz Bassist’ doesn’t seem interested. My email was perfectly cordial and set out my position – and we could both learn from the ensuing exchange.
But it seems like he wanted to have a pop at me for whatever reason…and then doesn’t want to engage further. That I find sad on several levels.
Frank Tegtmeyer says
What Neal says is also one of the most important things about your material or method. It makes the world of music accessible for me.
I started with the bass at the age of 40 and had NEVER anything to do with music before – our music teacher at school made me hate music.
When I started playing I wasted several years with a guitar teacher teaching bass – without ANY plan how to develop any skills. I tried some books, tried to practice songs with tabs and didn’t get much further. Even the “bass teacher of the nation” from Germany didn’t help me with his monthly teaching column. He simply failed at the point of teaching the simple things.
Then I found Pauls website and slowly things started to change. Technically there may be not much difference to other teachers but Paul delivers constant motivation, repetition (even of the simplest things) and explanations for things that other teachers expect everybody “to know”.
It’s his approach to learning that attracts me most, not the bass stuff itself – the combination of both makes Pauls material a GREAT resource for every beginner or medium level bass player.
Paul Wolfe says
As always, many thanks for your thoughts and comments and support. Glad my material is helping you achieve what you set out to do!
Pam Hirst says
I think Jazz Bassist has failed to consider why people want to learn bass. Not everyone wants to be a professional musician. For example, I picked up a bass at the age of 50 to fulfill a life long ambition to play one. I took lessons and learnt scales, arpeggios etc, even took and passed Level 1 and 2 music exams in bass but what I wanted to be able to do was play along with CDs. I will never play in a band situation (unless you know anyone looking for a middle aged mum for their Indie band!) so I’m playing purely for my own pleasure. Since subscribing to HTPB the repertoire of songs I can play has grown, I can learn new songs on my own using the video lessons so I don’t need to wait for my teacher to help me work out a bass line from a song and when I have my lessons my teacher will incorporate music theory while teaching me how to play a particular song from your notation.
As for tabs, I can read music to an extent but I can’t sight read so I use the tabs for the notes and the notation for the rhythm. Tabs alone are useless to me so I really appreciate you providing both.
Personally I think HTPB is a brilliant resource, worth every penny I spend on my subscription, so please keep it coming.
As for Jazz Bassist, if he hasn’t the guts to provide his name he isn’t worth bothering about.
Paul Wolfe says
Thanks for your thoughts.
the weird thing is that he provided his email address – which I blanked out – and if I wanted to publish his name and where he works I could.
I’m glad you’re getting value from my material – and your support from the beginning is really appreciated.
And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when talking about aligning what you want to achieve with your practice activities – every one of us wants to achieve something slightly different. Whilst I encourage the reading of music, and the acquisition of theory knowledge to apply to your fretboards, I also understand that not everyone needs that.
Paul Hopkins says
>the weird thing is that he provided his email address ? which I blanked out ? and if I wanted to publish his name and where he works I could
I wouldn’t do that, there’s no need to stoop to the same level. Just carrying on doing your “thang”, which – as this discussion shows – many people get a lot out of, yes even American bassists over 25 ;-): great quality material…and one of the things I personally enjoy most is your style of delivery (both on video and “on paper”).
Keep up the great work. And don’t give JazzBassist a platform that he (she? – probably he…chips that big usually sit on male shoulders) does not deserve.
I?m 46 years old, self-employed with two older teens that I?m desperately seeking ways to connect with. My son and daughter are accomplished musicians and play both the piano and the guitar. So I thought that picking up the bass guitar as a hobby will give me something to connect with them and be a fun family activity. Needless to say I have very little free time but I managed to squeeze in some private lessons. After a few months I felt I was going nowhere, and worst of all, my kids were losing interest (and patience with me)
That?s when I found you. Your lessons are not only convenient but easy to understand and the degree of difficulty increases at a reasonable rate. I love your approach of learning with songs. Now I can practice a bit, bring the song to my ?kids? and we can play it together! Absolutely love this.
On the TABs I have to say that it is exactly what I need. I don?t read music and don?t plan to study it. But since you include both together, side by side, I?m beginning to find that I can now recognize some notes (imagine that)
I just have one suggestion: Sometimes I find it hard to follow your left hand, not sure which finger is pressing what string. Maybe you can include in a corner of your video, a close up (in-picture) insert of your left hand. I know it adds a level of difficulty to your video production but I?m sure it will enhance your lessons.
Keep up the great work!
I have been playing since the late 60’s and even went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I did the scales approach to building creative bass lines. but there was always something lacking in my playing. I finally figured out what most of the problem was. The rhythm was lacking. Of course I found this out when I signed up for Cracking the Detroit Code lessons. It was a very creative approach to playing bass especially the rhythmic templates you assembled and there were many. This is something that is not taught when you study music in the traditional sense (you either get or you don’t). And of course this leads up to teaching songs not scales, because in the end if you want to continue playing bass, you will eventually take the time to learn the scales……besides, it’s a lot more fun learning songs