Learning the Fundamentals

A common reason for a student booking a bass lesson is this.

‘I’ve been playing for years but have never really understood what I’m doing.’

When we start looking at what and how the student plays it often becomes clear that there is a lack of understanding of the basic building blocks of music.

It’s easily done. Very few people start playing an instrument just to sit at home practising scales, chords, learning to read, theory and harmony. When we pick up the bass it’s because we want to make music, play like our favourite players and create something of our own.

Many people ignore what seems like the ‘academic’ side of music in order to just ‘play.’ Some players manage to do that and develop technique and a good musical ear. They are able to learn songs from recordings and play along. They play in bands putting into practise the basslines they’ve taught themselves. It’s a tried and tested approach to making music with others.

But more often, after years of using this method alone, many players find themselves lacking something in their playing. They feel unable to go beyond what they’re copying, don’t really feel they’re able to create anything for themselves and feel frustrated as musicians. It’s at this point they say decide to take lessons.

The exciting thing about taking even a few lessons is that with just a little understanding of the basics a whole world is opened up to you as a player. Imagine this:

-You struggle on by yourself, seeming unable to undertand what your favourite player is doing in that bassline. You’ve been able to play it, eventually, but it all seems like a bit of a mystery.

-You take a lesson, and start understand the building blocks of harmony; TRIADS. You learn that a major triad contains three notes from a MAJOR SCALE (which sounds familiar when you hear it played) and that the major triad is the building block for CHORDS. You learn that triads are just one way to understand a basic chord but when you add certain other notes to the triad you get a bigger chord with a slightly different flavour. From learning a scale you understand that the chord and the scale are related. You find out that you can put certain other notes between the notes of the triad and from this you can create MELODY lines. Based on that you can ultimately create BASSLINES, SOLOS and entire COMPOSITIONS. But, it all starts with the basics.

-That’s all very exciting, but for now you’re still learning basic triads (three note ARPEGGIOS (which just means broken chord). Suddenly you realise that the line your favourite bass player is playing on that song you love sounds suspiciously like the triad you’re practising. It’s not exactly the same but it sounds similar. So, you start to analyse the notes of the bassline and compare it to the triad you’re working on. He’s using the same notes as that triad, but adding another note or two… you think they must be notes from the scale you heard about. It dawns on you that a little knowledge of chords and scales is going to give you the ability to speed up the learning process when analysing music from recordings. You also realise it’s giving you options and choices for when you want to create your own ideas, which is something you’ve always found incredibly difficult.

It’s amazing what you can achieve in just one hour. By working patiently, slowly and with concentration you’ll find you’re not only learning to play the bass. You’re learning to play MUSIC.


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