Photo by Squeezyboy
Q: I play electric bass. I’ve started taking some lessons here in Italy with a jazz player in order to study jazz and improvisation, and he has suggested I could study classical double bass at the Conservatory in order to have “serious” training. This idea fascinated me for a while, but now I’m starting to think: why should I study an other instrument in order to improve on bass guitar? Here classical studies seem to be the only way to get technique, but there’s plenty of bass players around the world with great skills that didn’t study classical double bass or classical guitar. If I were younger I would probably consider the idea, but I’m 28 now and I think I should focus on style and technique on my instrument. Furthermore, although the two instruments have the same role, there are a lot of techniques that cannot be applied on both. I appreciate classical music, but I think this way of facing the question is outdated and that there must be other ways of training a bass player. What do you think about this issue?
A: That’s interesting. I would suggest that you spend the time on the instrument you’re most passionate about. If you don’t have any inclination to play the double bass, it certainly doesn’t seem like it would be the best use of your time (especially considering how much time it would really take to start a new instrument and gain even a modicum of proficiency on it). The double bass is a very different instrument. You will understand the layout of the notes on the neck and what goes into playing a good bass line, but you will be starting over in most every other regard.
I would’ve have likely made that suggestion if you had expressed an interest in exploring the double bass and even then, I might not have implored you to enter into a Conservatory program unless that was truly what you wanted to do.
That said, the classical repertoire is very worth your time on any instrument. There is no reason why you can’t study the same materials and apply them to the electric bass. It really is great for your technique, articulation and your reading abilities. While much of the technique written about won’t directly apply, much of that is easily tackled with help from a teacher or an analytical mind.
Focus on clarity, articulation, maintaining a good one-finger-per-fret type hand position while making good use of your thumb as an anchor on the back of the neck. Classical guitarists are a great starting point, but there is no need to study classical guitar. Watch videos (instructional or performance), talk to guitarists or even take a lesson from a classical guitarist on your bass. Where’s the harm? Just apply what seems relevant to you and disregard what doesn’t apply to your instrument. I’m a big fan of taking lessons with non-bass players, and I’ve never thought to play anything other than bass while doing it.
It warrants saying that exploring other instruments is a great way to better explore music as a whole and will help you to become a better musician. But, save the four year Conservatory program and the money towards lessons and materials relating to the instrument that you actually plan on playing!