Photo by Jeff Pyle
Q: I am a beginning bassist. I want to know your opinion about studying bass with a teacher vs. self-teaching. Which do you think is more useful and advantageous? I’ve studied with a teacher since last year, but I don’t find I’m progressing anymore, and I’m in doubt if I should continue with the same teacher. I feel like I lose time and money. Please help. Thank you!
A: I always suggest that people work with a teacher or a variety of teachers.
The most obvious thing to point out is this: you don’t yet know what you don’t know (especially as a beginner).
A good teacher should be able to spot any holes in your foundation and help to patch them up. In addition, they should be able to help lay out a clear path towards development. He should be giving you exercises and assignments which challenge (but don’t confuse) as well as giving you an idea of how this step will lead to the next, and so on.
If you feel that you might not be with the right teacher, continue to seek out new instructors. As a beginning student, you will definitely want to have a teacher that can lead you on the path to good technique and bass line creation but, as you progress, you might even seek out other instrumentalists to instruct you on more general concepts about musicality, improvisation, styles, etc… A good teacher is worth their weight in gold and bad teacher is just a waste of time and money, like you said. Find someone who inspires you. You should leave each lesson feeling like you better understand something and excited to take the next step.
That said, plenty of people are self-taught. There is no “one” way to do it but you have to make sure to keep challenging yourself if you do it yourself. Focus on transcription, learning tunes by ear, feel, tone and time. Work hard an maintain a daily practice routine.
The hardest part about teaching yourself is two-fold, in my mind:
- Discipline. It’s hard to force yourself to push harder and harder when you don’t have specific exercises or pieces of music that you have to have ready by next week. Make sure to set goals for yourself and stick to them. Don’t hang for too long in your comfort zone.
- Unknown deficiencies. There are plenty of things that we haven’t thought of and only discover by virtue of having other perspectives to guide us. A good teacher is a direct path to those discoveries.
Learning and teaching is a two way street. Don’t just expect everything to be handed to you. Write any questions down and tell your teacher what you want from the instrument. Do you want to slap? Do you want to be a session player? Do you want to go to school (which usually means studying jazz or classical music). Help to guide them in their instruction. Get them talking about their experiences playing music and making a living off of music (if that’s a goal). Have a dialogue. You’ll learn much more that way.
One final thought. Have patience with the work. Much of what you learn (especially in the beginning) takes a while to really sink in. I have seen many students get frustrated because they didn’t become amazing players after a few years of study. There is no time line and no finish line. Everyone learns at a different pace as well. You will learn more if you simply focus on learning something new every day or better integrating something you are working on day by day. Have fun with the process and remain excited for every step taken. When you keep your head in the game, it will seem like time flew by and you might not even realize just how much you’ve learned until it dawns on you that “I wouldn’t have been able to do this last year” or “man, I thought these people were out of my league but they don’t sound quite as badass as they used to”.
Work hard and have fun. Take knowledge from every available avenue. In the end, it’s you that does the work so we are all partially self-taught in a way, but a guiding hand can be invaluable.