If you’re anything like me then you’ve got a library of bass guitar material at home – books, DVDs, old VHS tapes, bass magazines. And there’s bass guitar information available in digital format too – YouTube lessons, bass podcasts, PDFs, eBooks, not to mention the tens of thousands of bass tabs that are available on the Internet.
And if you’re anything like me you’ve barely scratched the surface of this information. Some of my DVDs are still in their cellophane shrink wrapping, some of the books I’ve maybe glanced at once or twice and that’s it.
But it wasn’t always like this.
How It Used To Be
Back in the day when I started playing (circa 1978) there were only a handful of instructional books available. And VHS hadn’t been invented – and the digital stuff like DVDs and Podcasts and the Internet were just science fiction.
So what you did was that you got a book, and you worked through it from start to finish. There were no drum machines to program grooves to help you practice, so you kept time with the aid of a clockwork metronome.
But read the first sentence of the last paragraph again. “So what you did was you got a book, and you worked through it from start to finish.” Sounds pretty revolutionary doesn’t it, getting an instructional book and working through to the end?
But it shouldn’t be revolutionary. That should be the norm, not the exception. And there’s two main reasons why most of today’s bass students don’t take a book and work it from front to back.
The First Reason: Most Bass Students Don’t Have Goals
Bass Students that don’t have goals are looking for a quick fix. They want to learn a bunch of cool licks, or a showy technique that impresses people. And so they skim, looking for information that will help give them their fix.
If you ever want to see a skimmer in action all you’ve got to do is head over to your local music store on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll find a horde of them slapping and tapping maniacally on basses they’ve got no interest in buying. They just want to show off the licks and tricks that they’ve skimmed from the latest Victor Wooten DVD. Or Billy Sheehan DVD. Or Bass Player Magazine. Or wherever.
But the problem is not just with students that don’t have goals, there’s also an inherent problem with a lot of the instructional material out there.
The Second Reason: The Instructional Material Available Is Often Poorly Presented
There’s some really good information out there, that can help bass students become better players. But there’s a strange paradox because a lot of the guys authoring this material are actually not that great at teaching it.
A great deal of the really important “how you apply the material” is taken for granted – when beginner bass players, and maybe intermediates too, need a lot more hand holding and detailed guidance on how to actually implement the material being taught.
This is not just a modern day occurrence, it was a problem back in the day too, I just didn’t have the experience to perceive it. And the guys (and gals) who taught me either didn’t know either, or weren’t too bothered – which ends up amounting to the same thing.
But even though a great deal of the instructional material is poorly presented there are ways of using it effectively to become a better bass player.
So How Can You Make The Most of The Instructional Material That’s Out There?
You need two things to take advantage of the mountain of instructional material that’s available. Firstly you need to have clear and specific goals on what you want to achieve as a bass player. Only once these goals have been articulated can you go about finding instructional material that will help you achieve them.
The second thing you need is to have a system in place to take advantage of the instructional material that you’ve identified as being in alignment with your goals. This system should divide the instructional material into manageable chunks and then take you step by step from the easiest material to the hardest material, with time allowed to practice the chunks of information on your bass so that you actually assimilate it.
The best system I know of to do this is called Deliberate Practice. Just for the record it’s not something I invented, it’s been documented before, but never with reference to the bass guitar.
OK. How Do I Make Sure I’m Using This System On The Best Information Available?
The amount of information must be bewildering to beginners, or people thinking about starting the bass. There are some ways however of filtering out information that is simply not relevant.
The first filter is setting goals for yourself. By working out what you actually want to achieve you can probably exclude a good 75% of the information that’s out there.
The next filter you can use is to check reviews at Amazon.com. Or make a post on TalkBass.com about a particular style of book. Whenever I’ve followed similar posts at TalkBass there’s always a book, or a couple of books, that float to the surface as being the best.
Finally if you have a teacher you can simply ask your teacher. A good teacher should be aware of the majority of the literature that’s out there and be able to recommend the best book(s) or DVD(s) on the particular topic(s) that you’re interested in.
What About YouTube? There’s A Ton Of Information On There!
Let me first set the record straight and tell you that I’ve got a bunch of videos posted on YouTube. And now let me give you a warning: Anyone Can Post On YouTube. So you’ve got some great lessons up there, and some not so great. Unfortunately the not so great outnumbers the great by a large ratio.
So I’d suggest you use YouTube for the moment as an inspirational tool rather than an educational one. Find clips of your favourite bassists doing what they do best – and skip over the instructional clips.
To get the most out of the mountain of tuitional material that’s out there you need to have clear and specific goals of what you’re trying to achieve, and then an effective system of learning educational material that’s in alignment with your goals.
So you no longer have to buy every book or DVD that comes out. But you only have to buy the books or DVDs that you’ll actually benefit you. So not only will you end up getting better – but you’ll save yourself a ton of money too.
There’s a book and a DVD that I believe every bass player should have in his library – irrespective of what kind of music they like or want to play.
The book is Standing In The Shadows Of Motown by Dr Licks. And the DVD is Groove Workshop by Victor Wooten.