How important are learning methodologies in relation to your evolution as a bass guitar player?  Many people understand what they have to do in order to improve and develop, but how they get there and the time that they spend doing that can be a problem if their methodologies are ineffective and/or outdated.

The real importance of an effective learning methodology is the amount of the results achieved versus the total input of work or practice put in.  The 80/20 Rule – also known The Pareto Principle – states that 80% of the results should come from 20% of the input, not the other way around.  Understanding this principle will accelerate the learning process because it will maximise the time you spend practicing in order to yield the most effective results.  In other words, you will become a better and stronger bass player much faster!

Most people who set out to learn how to play the bass guitar are often led to believe that the individual exercises that they need to practice in order to strengthen their musical fundamentals are the most important points to focus on.  This is incorrect- the most important thing to focus on is the methodology used.  With that said, utilising the correct learning methodology enables the student to practice a collection of exercises (practice) in a way that strengthens their musical fundamentals (melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint and form).  Once that outcome is achieved they can throw out the exercise and concentrate on expressing themselves musically (performance); the cycle then repeats itself with different subject matter (improvisation, ear training, repertoire, etc.). 

The problem is that many bass teachers do not fully understand this principle and sadly many students end up playing as though they are regurgitating a thesaurus of exercises instead of creatively expressing their musicality when it comes time for them to perform.  Many of these very same students then become teachers themselves and unknowingly pass off an erroneous learning method that eventually spreads like a cancer.  A simple quick fix for this is to understand that every exercise we have to learn and practice is then compressed back down in order to strengthen the fundamentals of music and help to develop each individual bass player’s own unique attributes or qualities.

Scientific Theory

To understand these concepts further let’s take a look at this metaphor.  Using a tree to illustrate our musical development, firstly let’s define what the strongest part of the tree actually is.  When asked, many students state that the trunk of the tree is the strongest part of the tree.  They usually say this because the trunk is visible.  The strongest part of the tree is actually invisible- it is the roots that go deep into the ground.  The roots therefore represent your fundamental musical skills and your individual attributes.  Without roots that go deep, everything else you build on top of that will be weak.  The trunk represents the music system that you are learning and Western music mainly consists of major and minor tonalities or a mixture of major and minor.  This is further exemplified by the components of music that are represented by melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint and form.  Many people’s trunk is not based on music at all, but often based on a style such as blues or a stylised technique like slapping.  Going further up the tree we get to the branches which symbolise the different learning methodologies.  As I stated before, a good learning methodology is one that saves you time- period!  This brings us to the last part of the tree which is the leaves.  The leaves stand for the individual exercises that you would practice in order to strengthen your individual musical skills.  The exercises are important, but as soon as you have learned the subject matter that the exercises are meant to teach you, you do not need to carry these things around with you forever.  As the metaphor goes, as soon as a big gust of wind blows, all of the leaves fall off the tree.  When this happens many people just rake them up, put them into plastic bags and then carry them around for years; hanging onto them for dear life.  I’m sure everybody has seen bass players who basically regurgitate these sorts of exercises when they perform.  You do not need to do this because these exercises are designed for developing your musicality if prescribed with the correct learning methodology.

All scientific theory is based on compressing complicated equations down to the essential fundamentals.  Einstein stated, “Keep it simple, but not too simple.”  This speaks volumes when understanding how to employ an effective learning methodology.  This is exactly what we want to do when learning any subject to do with the bass guitar- all complicated exercises serve to strengthen our fundamental musical skills in order for us to express our own unique musical ideas.  All good food for thought.

All the Bass


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