is often said that is does not really matter how good a teacher
plays bass himself: what really matters is how good he can teach.
I do not believe this is true. When saying this, people seem to
assume that there is a certain body of knowledge comprised of principles
and exercises everybody agrees on. The only thing a teacher has
to do is teach these principles and exercises in such a way that
the student learns them well. According to this philosophy, it would
be perfectly clear how you should play jazz, so the only thing a
student would have to do is find a teacher who would inspire him.
Well, it does not work this way at all. How you should play acoustic
bass technically is still unclear, many players develop their own
technique, as I have. Dont forget that the way to play bass
in jazz is still relatively new and needs to be developed much further.
Plucking the strings is a relatively new way of playing the bass,
contrary to bowing, and a lot still needs to be discovered. We bass
players are pioneers. I think its sound advice not to study
any method proposed by a teacher if he cannot play perfectly what
he wants you to learn. Its easy to find out if he can: just
ask him to show you what he means. Dont waste your time on
learning to play fast on the acoustic bass the way your teacher
thinks it works, if he cannot play fast using his method easily
and without signs of tension. He should be able to play fast in
a totally relaxed way. Believe me, thats possible. Dont
listen to his advice about playing in the thumb positions (all notes
higher than the octave G on the G string), if he cannot play well
there himself. Otherwise there is a huge possibility that youll
learn a technique that will set you back for years. First, it takes
time to discover that youre doing something wrong, especially
when someone with the authority of a teacher has told you something
absolutely should be done a certain way. Next, youll have
to discover a better technique. Youll probably be on your
own then. So why not find a better teacher right away?
Another very important thing: you should enjoy playing the practicing
material your teacher gives you. Its not at all necessary
to play dreadful melodies just for your chops. Instead, practice
on things you like to play, so you wont kill your enthusiasm
and want to play bass all the time!
If you want to learn to play jazz, practice playing standards. A
good teacher should be able to help you learning to play standards
like Blue Monk (Thelonious Monk) or Watermelon Man (Herbie Hancock)
so you can play them right away. This is fun to do and youll
be practicing material that can really help you to become a great
bass player. When I started to play the acoustic bass, I practiced
by playing 6 standards a day. I played the tunes, played walking
bass, played a solo and finished by stating the theme again. I did
this accompanied by piano and drums played by my computer, I used
a program called Band-in-a-box. Its easy to put the harmonies
of the song and the rhythm of the song you want to practice into
the computer using this program, and I found it was more fun to
practice this way in the beginning. Also, this makes it easy to
check whether youre playing in tune. Im still happy
that I practiced this way. This was an enormous training in playing
in tune and reading, and I got to know the acoustic bass real fast.
On top of that, I got to know a lot of standards.
I believe that practicing by playing jazz is the best way to become
a great bass player. Playing walking bass was an excellent way for
me to get to know my bass through and through. Most jazz-harmonies
make you play a number of keys, which is why youll play practically
every tone at least once in most standards. Also, it begins to sound
boring very quickly to play in one position only, so youll
be playing all over the fingerboard in no time at all although
you may prefer not to play in the thumb positions in the beginning
A lot of bassplayers think that playing in the thumb positions is
to difficult and have not mastered this art. But I must say the
bass sounds very beautiful in these regions, and although you do
not need to play in these positions when youre not soloing,
its very nice to play in these positions when you are. Every
now and then I climb to the highest notes on my bass when Im
playing a solo.
Jazz is the best teacher. Playing jazz helps you to develop great
chops. Youll develop a deep understanding of harmonies and
melody as well. Its not better than other music styles like
pop, rock, house, R&N, fusion, etc., but the technical, harmonic
and melodic demands of jazz are so huge that youll become
a good musician automatically if you study this style of music.
There is a danger though. Once youve really tasted jazz youre
hooked for life.