So, you want to be a musician? That’s great news, but how are you going do that? Well, one way to get started is learning something about Western music, which is comprised of tonal and atonal music. Ninety-nine percent of all the music you’ll end up playing will probably lean on the side of tonal music, so that’s a good starting point. The building blocks of Western music that you will need to know from the get-go consist of melody, rhythm and harmony.
Once that’s established, you must answer this question: what tools are you going to use to make this music? The answer is simple- you need to choose an instrument to translate the musical ideas (comprised of melody, rhythm and harmony) that you hear in your head out into the big wide world. If you are reading this article, then you have probably already chosen the bass guitar as your instrument of choice.
When beginning to play any instrument, you will hear a litany of suggestions that make up what is supposedly the most important elements that you should start with. In my opinion, you must start by building a solid technical ability with your bass guitar, for without the proper technique on the instrument itself, you will be extremely limited in what you can play, hear and feel over the course of time.
Technique is defined as a way of carrying out a particular task or a person’s level of skill when playing the bass guitar. In order to develop a command and mastery of the instrument, you must first understand how to bond with your instrument significantly. Subjects such as note recognition, spatial awareness, correct left and right hand placement, angles of the elbows and wrists, coordination of all body parts and levers, adjustments to range, where and how the instrument is held, note lengths and keeping the fingers close to the fingerboard are all valid talking points and should be learned unequivocally. But, for the sake of this article, I am far more interested in the long-term effects of developing a solid technical ability on the instrument and the resulting musical outcomes that occur.
Without developing a solid level of technical awareness on your instrument, it is almost impossible to develop the attributes of time, tone and taste. Think about it, if your technique is highly limited, how can your sense of time become consistent or flexible when you are playing? We’ve heard from many masters over the years from both the classical and jazz vernaculars about how their sound is in their fingers. What do you think this means? This is directly related to how they have bonded with their instruments through a high level of technical development. The tone that you produce is created through understanding how the fingers manipulate the instrument to get a particular sound. Lastly, taste- coming from the objective understanding of all the masters who have come before you, can only be understood if you have the proper technical command on your bass guitar and can replicate it in real-time.
When looked through this particular vignette of command and mastery, technique in and unto itself becomes the great equalizer, because once this area starts to develop significantly, everything else becomes equal!
If you’d like to work with me personally on getting your technique together, then please check out my one-to-one Skype lessons. Click here for more information, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started now!
All the Bass!
P.S. Any questions? Fire away and leave your comments below!
It seems you have two options for lesson material, one suited for 4 strings and one 5 strings. Do you not like 6 strings or is it just a matter of printed materials only being available for most common string configurations? Not a big deal, just curious. Thanks!
There just aren’t that many students who play 6-strings as their main instrument these days. There might be many reasons for this, but aside from a ‘specialist playing situation’ most people who own 6-string basses very rarely ever use the C-string. It really doesn’t fall into the functional role of the bass. However, the bulk of the bass population focuses on either the 4 or the 5-string and that is why I teach instrument specific courses using those configurations.
Hi Joe – thank you for another superb inspiring write up. Must admit you bring clearer more solid concepts to the table for all instruments. As you say Without developing good technique . . . ‘it is almost impossible to develop the attributes of time, tone and taste.’ – Amen