Imagine you want to play the piano. And there’s a guy who lives a few doors down the street who was taught the piano when he was young, got to a reasonably high standard, but settled down with a family and now teaches piano part time. If you went to this guy for lessons how do you imagine he’s going to teach you?
That’s right. He’s going to teach you how HE was taught. And if he was lucky enough to attend a semi-decent music school he’ll have been on the receiving end of the best practices in piano tuition from the last couple of hundred years or so – because the piano has been taught for hundreds of years, and has evolved its own teaching tradition.
What Is A Teaching Tradition?
A Teaching Tradition is a term that describes the generally accepted body of teaching material that grows up around an instrument. For instance if you were to study classical piano the body of teaching material that’s used is pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago. Or 100 years ago.
And some of that teaching material was first written 200 years ago. And that gives us one of the first clues about the lack of a teaching tradition on the bass.
Why Is There No Teaching Tradition On The Bass?
There’s several reasons why there’s no teaching tradition on the electric bass. The first reason is that the bass is still a new instrument – Leo Fender’s first mass produced model didn’t hit the stands until the early 1950s. So that makes the bass less than 60 years old.
The second reason is that the early electric bassists came from different instrumental backgrounds. Either they were upright bassists or they were guitarists. And when they switched – or doubled – to electric bass they naturally applied the techniques that they had already learned on their first instrument to the electric bass. Probably the first wave of guys who were electric bassists first didn’t come until the early 60s. And if any of them chose to teach then you’d get very different approaches to learning the electric bass.
The third reason there’s no teaching tradition for the bass is that electric bass courses are still to this day much rarer at college level and beyond than any other instrument. And whilst there are colleges that offer electric bass courses, the material that they teach is governed much more by the ideas of the people who run those courses than you would find if you studied piano for example. So there’s a wide diversity as to what is considered ‘foundational’ material.
Is A Teaching Tradition For The Bass Starting To Evolve?
Now that we’re in the Information Age there’s more information about learning the bass guitar available than there ever has been. And some of it is good. And the process for some of it to be considered standard practice has started.
But unfortunately it’s still a way off yet – because new stylistic ways of playing are developed every few years it seems. In the last 20 years alone there has been an explosion of different right hand techniques – double thump (Victor Wooten), three and four finger plucking (Billy Sheehan), classical style thumb and finger plucking (Dominique Di Piaza) and more.
So Why Is This Lack Of A Teaching Tradition A Problem?
If you go to a college that has a good bass program – or even better go to BIT or Berklee – then it’s not a problem. Because most colleges have got their own ‘system’ – and whilst this is not standardized in the way that classical music instruction is – you’ll be just fine.
The problem comes for the bass beginner who goes to a private teacher. Because most of the private teachers out there teach pretty much the way the piano guy we talked about in the intro does – they teach the way that they were taught.
And if they didn’t go to one of the colleges or music schools that DID have an early electric bass course, then the chances are that they were taught by a semi-pro player. Which means in the majority of cases they were taught randomly. And what these guys don’t realise is that they’ve reached the level they’re currently at DESPITE their early tuition, not because of it.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of mediocre bass teachers out there. If you’re a bass beginner and you take lessons with a mediocre teacher not only will you not make much progress, but what progress you do make will be badly organized.
So Do Good Bass Teachers Exist Outside of The College/Music School System?
They do. They’re rare, but there are some around. To find them you have to do a bit of digging, ask lots of questions, and have some patience. But when you find one, make what sacrifices you need to make to study with them. It’s the quickest way to improve your abilities on the bass guitar.