Lesson 1 Relaxation
Lesson 2 Practicing
Lesson 3 Playing fast
Lesson 4 Plucking
Lesson 5 Walking bass
Lesson 6 Ethics in jazz
Lesson 7 Bass solo
Lesson 8 Your story
Lesson 9 Listening
Lesson 10 Mistakes
Lesson 11 Questions
Lesson 12 Standards
Lesson 13 Rehearsing
Lesson 14 Tensions
Lesson 15 Timing
Lesson 16 Price/Quality
Lesson 17 Taking lessons
Lesson 18 AABA
Lesson 19 Your own style
Lesson 20 Basic theory
Lesson 21 Modulating
Lesson 22 Rapid changes
Lesson 23 The left hand

      Lesson 17 Taking lessons

It 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. Don’t 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 it’s sound advice not to study any method proposed by a teacher if he cannot play perfectly what he wants you to learn. It’s easy to find out if he can: just ask him to show you what he means. Don’t 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, that’s possible. Don’t 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 you’ll learn a technique that will set you back for years. First, it takes time to discover that you’re doing something wrong, especially when someone with the authority of a teacher has told you something absolutely should be done a certain way. Next, you’ll have to discover a better technique. You’ll 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. It’s not at all necessary to play dreadful melodies just for your chops. Instead, practice on things you like to play, so you won’t 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 you’ll 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. It’s 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 you’re playing in tune. I’m 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 you’ll 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 you’ll 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 too 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 you’re not soloing, it’s very nice to play in these positions when you are. Every now and then I climb to the highest notes on my bass when I’m playing a solo.

Jazz is the best teacher. Playing jazz helps you to develop great chops. You’ll develop a deep understanding of harmonies and melody as well. It’s 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 you’ll become a good musician automatically if you study this style. There is a danger though. Once you’ve really tasted jazz you’re hooked for life.