Bass guitar is extremely fun and satisfying to play, providing one of the most important functions in music. It is a critical part of almost any band, in countless genres of music. Whether your dream is to tour and record, or just to play for your own enjoyment, finding the right bass guitar lessons and instruction for beginners can make the process much more pleasant. The more you know about the bass and the more comfortable getting around it you are, the more you will work and the more fun you will have. Whether you are into rock, metal, funk, or jazz, there are fundamentals in learning how to play bass that will serve you well regardless of genre. The purpose of this article is to help you know what to look for when choosing a bass instruction method or teacher.
Naturally, the actual instructor (or perhaps author) is an important factor. There are a few things to look for in a teacher, some of which you may have to ask them about directly. Are they hired to play professionally by a number of different artists? Remember that almost all bands need a bass player, and this means there are hundreds of people out there that “play bass in a band.” Many will call themselves professionals and offer to teach, without having much experience or solid foundation themselves. Look for someone who is or has been hired to play in a variety of situations, the higher the level (professional tours, recordings, etc.) generally the better, as it means they know what it takes to sound good in a variety of situations, and get to whatever level you would like to achieve.
It is important that your teacher or method of choice shows proper physical technique for playing the bass, not only for speed and sound, but for ergonomics. With poor posture or playing habits, it can be frighteningly easily to develop everything from basic soreness to real issues like carpel tunnel syndrome. Be sure to develop good habits from the start, even though it can be tempting to just dive in and play. Though everyone is built differently and it is not always possible to “copy” someone else for good posture, a good teacher or course will cover the fundamental principles of sound technique.
Of course, you will also want your bass guitar instruction to cover the technical aspects of developing speed and sound. While your particular bass, amp, strings and other gear naturally influence the sound, an incredible range of tone control comes from your hands. A good teacher or course will cover the different types of plucking (finger style, slapping, thumb playing, playing closer to the bridge or neck, and so on,) muting, fretting, and all physical aspects of creating a variety of great sounds from the same instrument. While you will want to develop speed, quality instructors will show you how to play from slow to fast while maintaining a strong, even sound on all strings.
Make sure your teacher or course has a solid background in music theory and can provide you with a good foundation. There will be a wide range in interest among those of you reading this, from those who will find music theory fascinating to those who want nothing to do with it. I promise you that getting some of the basics under your belt will be so useful and help your playing so much that you will be glad you learned it. Rather than having to memorize your favorite bass lines and songs note for note and figuring out fingering patterns, when you are able to see the “big picture” it will accelerate your progress by light years. Literally thousands of your favorite songs fit into musical formulas that you will be able to recognize, understand, and most importantly, already know how to play when you have a basic foundation of the scales and chords on which most songs are based.
One of the most enjoyable things about playing bass is the ability for the instrument to generate a groove. There is much more to this than simply playing “in time,” though that should be covered by your teacher as well. Groove is what makes the music feel good, and the bass plays a huge part in creating it. This has a lot to do with lengths of notes, how you attack them, and the general attitude or energy in your playing. Few things are more fun than making a band groove, and few qualities are more loved by your band mates as well as the audience. Check out clips online of players like Victor Wooten or Marcus Miller playing by themselves, and pay attention to how the beat feels. Make sure your teacher can groove and explain the physical and mental aspects involved in creating one.
Speaking of groove, perhaps the best way to develop it is also the most fun, which is playing with drummers and rhythm sections that know how to groove hard. Besides feeling great, this will naturally adjust your own playing as you learn to listen and “lock in” with the time and groove being generated by the other players. Once the feeling gets deeply ingrained into your hands and body, you will be able to express it on the instrument by yourself. A good teacher or method will provide, or be able to help you find resources for this (there are many great records to play along to, as well as specifically designed “play-along” tracks where the bass can be removed.)
Last but not least, you will want a teacher or course that can provide the right balance of moving at your own pace while still being able to push you to the next level. Moving too advanced too quickly will just make you feel frustrated and that you are wasting money, whereas moving too slow or not having enough variety will make you feel bored.
Perhaps the best integration of all of these concepts in the most effective and thorough manner has been put together by a seasoned pro named Roy Vogt. His DVD course covers all the points and more: him being a world class, working player, great physical and theoretical foundation, groove, sound and technique discussions, combined visual and audio examples, and play along tracks with a pro rhythm section combined with his own performances. Being a digital course, you can move at your own pace (from basic to quite advanced) and replay the lessons as many times as you want.
There is also forum access online that allows you to ask questions and post videos of yourself playing. Most high level professionals will charge in the range of 50 to 100 dollars per lesson, so having such a thorough course to revisit limitless times makes it a great investment, or even a strong supplement to whatever studies you are currently in. As someone who plays and teaches professionally, this course is very impressive.