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.