The Lowdown with Dr. D.: Three Requirements of Attainment (Part 1 of 3: Method)

The Lowdown with Dr. D.

Presumably we are all searching for mastery on our instrument, and yet some people spend years playing and studying the Upright Bass and achieve very little, whereas others spend a quarter of the time and achieve a great deal. In keeping with my “getting started” theme of late, and to ensure that we fall into the latter group, it would be beneficial to consider what it takes to achieve a skill.

There are countless reasons why students fail to realize their objectives, but rather than focus on the myriad of possibilities for failure, I would like to focus on the factors that are necessary for success: The Three Requirements for Attainment. The positive manifestation of these three requirements (i.e. if each can be classified as being “good”) will lead to a person’s success and provide them with the swiftest path to mastery. This is not only true for learning the Upright Bass, but for acquiring any skill. The Three Requirements are Method, Teacher, and Student.

The Method

First I should clarify what I mean by the term “Method.” When instrumentalists refer to a “method” they are often referring to a “method book” or sometimes to a style of playing. For example, one might say “The Simandl method” and in doing so they are referring to books, etudes and other material written by Franz (František) Simandl. For our purposes here however, I am defining “Method” as: a process by which a skill is mastered. A “Method” then, is not a textbook, DVD, or other published material, but the manner of achieving mastery on the Bass.

Obviously, you need material. If you do not have material to learn, you cannot begin training towards your objective. However, material alone will not get you from point A (Ignorance) to point B (Mastery). Published material of any pedagogue gives us only a part of the picture, and does not comprise the sum total of their true method.

In fact, most “method books” tell us very little about how to execute a technique, much less how to learn and master a skill on the Bass. They often provide the objectives for study without telling us how to achieve them. In general, printed materials such as etudes and “method books” are really not “Methods” at all, but simply tools to facilitate teaching. They are Materials, and they rely heavily on the presence of a teacher, who imparts the true Method.

Francois Rabbath’s published material is more in depth than most “method books” (i.e. CD Rom, DVD, interviews, etc.) and it gives the student much more direction. Rabbath’s offerings are closer to providing us with a true Method. Don’t forget though: Method is only one of the Requirements for Attainment. Even a student using Rabbath’s material will benefit from the presence of a master teacher.

What Method should one use?

A good one of course! Finding an effective Method can take a bit of trial and error sometimes. Do your best to find a respected and knowledgeable teacher who you can trust, and go from there.

How will I know if the method I am using is any good?

If the teacher and student are good (to be covered in part 2 and 3 of this series), then you will primarily know an effective Method by evaluating your progress. There are many good Methods for mastering the Upright Bass, and most good Methods have more things in common than they have differences. Don’t search for the best Method, search for the one that is best for you.

You may find a good Method right away, or you may try several Methods before finding the right fit, as I did. Sometimes you will know almost immediately that a Method is flawed, but this is rare. I generally suggest evaluating your method, or process by which you are attempting to master a skill, by adhering to it for one year and then appraising your progress.

Great players worldwide have become masters through study of a variety of different materials, and by approaching the instrument a variety of different ways. Numerous paths can lead one to instrumental mastery, and the Method is more important than the Materials.

From the student’s point of view, Method and Teacher are often indistinguishably interwoven. As such, the teacher also plays an important role…

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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