Bass Instruction: A Guide to the Best Books

Bass Instruction Books

Q: What instructional books do you like to teach from? I’m also curious about which books you liked to learn from when coming up?

A: A lot of the students that come to me specifically come to work on my method, so I’ll often use my own books, but I also recommend quite a few others, depending on what we are working on.

Here are the books that I often use with students, all of which I recommend because I found them so helpful in my own development!

My Own Books:

Right Hand Drive very much focuses on my use of the thumb in my three-finger plucking technique, although it can be applied to any combination of plucking fingers, really.

The Improvisor’s Path is all about understanding chord construction, how to play through changes freely, understanding harmony and how to explore your voice on the instrument. It is taught from the ground up, explaining things as I came to understand them and in a developmentally logical way (for me at least).

Chuck Sher:

The Improvisor’s Bass Method

This was one of the first books that I really got into when I started studying the bass in earnest. Chocked full of examples of how scales lay on the fretboard, how to apply that knowledge to come up with bass lines and solos, transcriptions of bass lines and solos… It’s got a little bit of everything and is written very clearly and concisely.

Rufus Reid:

The Evolving Bassist
This book did for bass players what Jamey Aebersold’s books did for other instrumentalists. It not only tackles the fundamentals of improvisation and understanding how to navigate your instrument but it digs deep on building bass lines and has a ton of examples throughout. This is one of those books that should be in every bassist’s library.

Chuck Sher & Marc Johnson:

Concepts for Bass Soloing
This was the book that really started to open up my mind to some of the more advanced concepts behind soloing on the bass. I’ve been a fan of Marc’s playing since I was a little kid, watching him play with “Uncle Pete” in NY clubs. He’s a prince of a guy and one of the best living upright jazz bassists IMHO. Maybe a bit on the advanced side but something that you can back to for a lifetime.

Oscar Stagnaro:

The Latin Bass Book

Oscar was one of my teachers back in Boston and a true giant of Latin bass (dude is bad!). He’s also written to be what I consider one of the best books for reading, playing and feeling Latin bass lines. It comes with audio examples of every track and covers pretty much all of South America and Cuba stylistically. It’s a GREAT resource for various Latin bass styles and feels as well as great reading practice (no tab… just actual notation). This book will get your rhythm reading in shape!

Because of that, I not only recommend this book to my students interested in Latin bass playing but also assign it to my students who need to or want to get their sight-reading in shape!

Steve Bailey & Victor Wooten:

Bass Extremes

Man, did I geek out on this book when I first got my hot little hands on it! What fun music to learn on the bass and a great challenge in every way. At one point, I had just about every tune down (this was also the point when I decided to figure out how to do Victor’s crazier thumb stuff in a finger-style because…. well, it just was NOT happening for me. lol). Totally fun… I lost entire days at a time to this book. I had to include this because I had so much fun with it. I don’t necessarily push students towards it unless they are wanting to explore specific techniques that those guys use throughout.

Mark Levin:

The Jazz Theory Book

The absolute bible for jazz theory, in my estimation. I learn SO much from this book. The wonderful thing about this book is that you can choose to read it from front to back, exploring the musical examples (although most are written in treble clef, as they are horn lines primarily) OR you can just use the table of contents and target certain topics. Things are explained incredibly well and in straight forward language and there is more explanation than written examples so you can really just sit back on the couch and read through explanations of different topics. (you can just flip to the “diminished chord” chapter and read all about different ways to approach playing over a diminished chord, for example).

This book VERY much helped me get from a place of ‘kinda-getting it but more confused than anything’ to ‘OH!!! ok, I see now’.
Another book that should be on the shelf of every jazz musician as well as anyone who is serious about learning.

So those are my primary resources. I have a TON of music/bass books and many of them I’ve found to be very good but these are my truly indispensable books. If you’re thinking, “yeah, but what about…” chances are that I have it but never really connected with it beyond curiosity and minimal exploration.

I can also mention an array of cello suites and classical pieces that I’ve collected but I never really had that one book that I worked through. I tended to buy every piece of classical music I could find for an instrument in bass clef and worked through many of them on and off throughout my life. They are typically a great way to explore something new and interesting that usually boils down to a hyper-creative scalar study of some kind.

Make sure that you read the text in those books. It can be tempting to just play a written example and think, “yep. nailed it” and move on. It’s often more important to really have a handle on the concept that the music is trying to convey. Make sure that you understand the why in addition the what and the how.

Happy shedding!!

Which books did/do you all dig more deeply into? Give us your own recommendations in the comments!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Steve

    Hey Damian, great suggestions! I love both The Marc Johnson and Rufus Reid books. If you are a beginner or looking to learn reading and scale fundamentals, I would also suggest Chuck Rainey’s “The Complete Electric Bass Player” Book 1.

  2. Barry Assadi

    Damian’s books are great!

  3. Hal Crook: How to improvise! this is an effective and very well thought method how to develop your own musical language. recommended for all instruments (also great for drummers and singers, who are interested in improvisation)

  4. Dan

    Check out a book called “Serious Electric Bass” by Joel Di Bartolommeo. And “Chord Studies for Electric Bass” by Rich Appleman and Joseph Viola (author of the original Chord Studies for Trombone book)

  5. While I still like Levine’s book, and used it as my go-to source for years, for the last couple of years I have grown to like David Berkman’s “Jazz Harmony Book” even more, for the purpose of learning about applied harmony, especially if you have any composition aspirations.

  6. Henry

    I was wondering is there a bass book that one can open and just play? Not instructions or extremely difficult. Just easy lines and just read with no tab bass clef walking and rhythm lines. I would love to find a book like this. Thanks and keep walking!

    • Mark Neuenschwander

      Try Mike Richmond’s Modern Walking Bass Technique or John Patitucci’s 60 Melodic Etudes

  7. Tim Fletcher

    I found that the ‘Modern Reading Text’ books by Louis Bellson really helped my rhythm reading – really a snare drum book, but very useful nonetheless.