My goal here is to present a cross-section of the various types of students I work with in order to demonstrate what their strengths and weaknesses were when they came on board compared to where they are now. Names have been changed to protect the innocent!
Profile #1: "Emerson"
When one instrument isn't enough
Emerson is in his early 40's and is an accomplished steel drum player. He performs regularly with his band and has a basic understanding of chords, major/minor tonalities and scales. As one would expect of a percussionist, his rhythmic knowledge is pretty advanced. He wants to make bass his 2nd instrument. He made it very clear up front that he wanted to take his time and learn bass the right way.
The first time he held a bass guitar in his hands was at his 1st lesson. He was starting completely from scratch. The fact that he has existing musical skill helped a lot, but he still had a lot of work ahead of him. Within a month, he decided he wanted to move to a 5 string. I advised him to wait a little while longer before making the leap but he went ahead and got one anyway. As most players experience when moving away from a 4 string, there were some mechanical obstacles to overcome. Progress was a little slower than it would have been had he stayed with the 4 string a little while longer, but Emerson was in no rush to get to the "finish line".
Fast forward another month and we find Emerson immersed in his new scales and ear training studies. He's coming up on the half-way mark for the first batch of arpeggios and he no longer has to think about coordinating his right and left hands. They now move in harmony as they're supposed to. Fretboard knowledge is getting stronger by the week and he's learning to improvise within some basic funk patterns.
As we jump to the six-month mark, Emerson is comfortable with all his 18 primary arpeggios, he has a convincing command of funk bass lines, he's comfortable with diatonic harmony, his ear hears his mistakes before I get a chance to correct him, he's reading simple bass lines and he can intelligently discuss his note choices when I give him a written chord progression. We then move onto his real love - calypso music and he falls right into the grooves and patterns, fortified by his new knowledge of how his bass lines outline and support the underlying chords.
Profile #2 - "Joel"
A 15-year old with a vision
Joel has some seriously diverse musical tastes. A fan of modern rock, fusion, funk, pop, metal, R&B and underground indie rock, Joel is not content taking the traditional "support" role of the bassist. He made it clear upfront that he wanted to become strong on theory and technique so that he could fulfil the role he envisioned for himself as a bassist who took a dominant role in songwriting. He came to me already capable of making up his own riffs and grooves, but needed some work on execution.
Over the first few months, Joel progressed very quickly through a good portion of the fundamentals and we were able to quickly jump into diatonic harmony and how to apply all of his newfound knowledge into creating cool bass lines. From the start I was impressed with Joel's commitment to a regular practice regimen. Like most 15-year olds, he occasionally has a "slacker" week, but he usually makes up for it. As we approach Joel's 1st anniversary, we've covered a lot of ground that would not have been possible without his dedication to his craft. Joel already has his first band together and so far, he has realized his goal of being a primary songwriter. If he keeps up at this pace, he's going to be SCARY by the time he graduates!
Profile #3 - "Vincent"
Who says accountants aren't cool?
Vincent is a busy CPA with his own consultant business. He comes from a musical family, but feels that he's behind his siblings in terms of proficiency. Like me, he started on piano but later found his voice with the bass guitar. Vincent is more than happy playing along to CDs at home and figuring out challenging bass lines. Since he's in no hurry to set the bass world on fire, our lesson plan evolves on a weekly basis as the inspiration strikes him. To be honest, Vincent is probably more in control of the lesson plan than I am. We'll be on a path for a few weeks then we'll put it on hold when he comes in with an obscure CD which he wants to dive into. Then we'll go back to modes for a month. Keeping it loose like this not only keeps it fresh for Vincent, but it allows us to take sharp left turns in our lesson plan without any loss of continuity. By taking things at a comfortable pace and applying new concepts to songs that Vincent likes, we're ensuring that he'll retain what he learns as his music toolbox fills up with new tools.
Profile #4 - "Steven"
A lesson in priorities
Steven is in his early 30's with a wife and a stressful job working in the technology industry. He travels to New England two weeks a month on business and for him, music helps keep things balanced. A lifelong gospel fan, he was attracted to the bass via all the great gospel players he listened to while growing up. He also loves classic 70's soul like Earth, Wind and Fire. Steven will be the first to tell you that he doesn't get to practice as often as he'd like and he knows that his progress will suffer as a result. He's clearly got enough going on in his life and on the surface, it may look like the last thing this guy needs is bass lessons. Actually, fortifying his music education by studying bass is how he rewards himself at the end of a busy week.
When Steven first came to me, his technique was impeding his ability to play clean bass lines. With that obstacle now out of his way, his main challenge these days is hearing the often busy motion in his favorite gospel tunes. Between the lush arrangements and the clever chord changes, keeping up with those pumping gospel lines can really be tricky. We end up spending a lot of time talking about voice-leading through the chords and how different scale degrees can be used to add color to bass lines. We also spend time breaking down some of the most common runs gospel players use so that his ear will recognize these patterns.
Steven's priorities are right where they should be: family comes first and bass fills in the gaps. Rather than get discouraged by his inability to devote more time to the instrument, he knows he's doing the best with the time he has. He's on his way to becoming the player he wants to be.
Profile #5 - "Rich"
A doctor's prescription for musical success
Rich is a doctor is his early 50's who, like Steven, manages to balance his day gig and family with his musical desires. As if that wasn't impressive enough, consider that prior to becoming a doctor, Rich was a full-time, gigging musician who played 300 dates a year. When he hung up his bass 20 years ago, he thought he was cured of the music bug. Far from it - this virus was laying dormant, waiting for the right time to infect Rich with the need to lay down some more low end. After 20 years though, he realized needed some "vitamins" and a new regimen to get his musical mind back in shape.
Rich had a basic knowledge of scales and he was able to recall his stock runs and fills he could always count on to get him through a song, but he knew there was much more to playing bass than just rehashing the same old patterns. He also had new musical horizons he wanted to explore. We put together a lesson plan that would allow him to expand upon the knowledge he already had while also allowing for the introduction of some wild new approaches which he admits he never would have come up with on his own.
Rich is now feeling confident enough to jump back into gigging again. Now feeling complete, he has his music in harmony with his family and career.