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Interview with Jon Liebman

You may know Jon Liebman as a world-renowned bass player, who throughout the course of his career has played and/or toured with a wide range of musical acts, as well as performed in the pit orchestras of many Broadway shows.

Jon-Liebman-1You may know Jon as an author of six books for Hal Leonard Corporation, which have sold nearly 100,000 copies throughout the world (The latest being Bass Aerobics), or recognize this multi-talented entrepreneur from his website, ForBassPlayersOnly.com. Now, we sit down with Jon to find out about his latest venture, JonLiebman.com, an online video instructional series for bass players.

Please share with our readers a bit about how the Jon Liebman Video Instructional Series came to be.

As I watched sales of my six bass instruction books get close to 100,000 units, I felt pretty confident there was a market for my teaching method.  What’s more, for years people have been asking me about doing a video instructional series for bass.  The time was right and I just really got into the project.

Jon-Liebman-7

What are the most important aspects of online learning that differentiate it from one-on-one instruction? How does online learning change the whole educational process?

The most obvious answer is that it’s available to anyone in the world with Internet access.  The advent of the Internet has made it possible for the world to connect in ways that were never before possible.  There’s just not enough time for me to work with 100,000 students.  With my new online bass series, problem solved! 

How does this video series differentiate itself from other online instruction?

I’ve seen a lot of other video bass instruction series, including several from people I truly respect.  In my experience, though, they seem to cover the same rudimentary patterns in the same manner, over and over.  I didn’t want to put something out that’s already been done.

Jon-Liebman-2My approach to teaching bass has really hit the spot with my students.  Every example is a groove.  It feels good.  It’s fun to play.  The difference in my lessons lies in the way I’ve “slipped in” patterns to strengthen students’ proficiencies and bass technique, like scale and arpeggio patterns, chromatic runs, string crossings and lots more.  Think of it as “exercises that groove” or “grooves that are good for you!”

The other thing that differentiates my series from the others is in the way the music is structured.  Throughout the Groove Library, when students are playing along with the guitar and drums, they have the option of either laying down the groove or playing the solo.  This format has several advantages.  For one, if a student finds the solo too challenging, he or she can work on nailing the groove until they’re ready to tackle the solo.  This framework also offers more variety to the practice regime, not to mention that it’s more interesting and more fun!

Is it appropriate for all levels?

Overall, yes.  Some of the examples are pretty simple, typical of what a working bassist will be called upon to play in the real world.  Others are a bit more intricate and a few are rather advanced.  All the videos include a slow version of the music with close-up camera angles of my hands.  That way, students can play along and take their playing ability to the next level.

Jon-Liebman-3How long does a typical lesson last?

Most are in the 5-8 minute range.  Each lesson is organized into three sections: First I demonstrate at full tempo, with guitar and drums.  Then I play it slowly, with just the drums.  About half of each video is made up of the guitar and drums, without bass, letting the student play along, over and over.

Is all instruction streaming video, or are there downloadable items as well?

The lessons themselves are streamed right to the student’s computer.  In addition, a downloadable PDF of every lesson is included.  The student can either read it on the computer or print a copy.

Does the series cover all types of musical styles?

To start, I’ve got categories called Jazz & Blues, Rock & Metal and Funk/R&B, which cover a pretty wide swath of styles.  I’ve even got a couple examples with upright bass in the Jazz & Blues category.  The “Bassics” category touches on all of the above, as well as some Latin-tinged patterns and other genres.

Is there a specific format for each lesson, or does this vary by subject/level?

The format is the same for all the videos.  First I demonstrate with the band at full tempo, then I slow it down with just bass and drums.  In every video, I sit out at the end and let the student jam along with the guitar and drums.  The only difference is that in the “Bassics” category, there are no “groove” and “solo” portions.  In the Groove Library, though, the student has the option of playing the groove or the solo.  Or both.

Can this video instruction series help with sight-reading?

Definitely!  The music notation moves along the bottom of the screen while the music is being played.  Students can follow along with the video or print a PDF of the music.  While all the music notation includes tablature, I encourage everyone to learn to read the notes – and rhythms – without the aid of the TAB.

Jon-Liebman-4What are some suggestions for good online study habits? How can students keep themselves accountable with online instruction?

By playing along with me, they’ll know right away if they’ve made a mistake.  When playing along with the rest of the band, without me, they’ll be forced to play in time, so they’ll feel it immediately if they start to drag or rush.  In either scenario, if they’re playing in the pocket, they’ll know it.  It’ll feel good!

Tell us a bit about the actual video production process.

Each selection begins with a wide shot of me playing, with the music scrolling along underneath.  The slow section of each video has a split screen with a close-up shot covering most of the screen and a wide shot off to the side.  The music is visible here too.  In the third section, the music is displayed on the screen, with the guitar and drums playing.  I’ve looped this last section a few times so the students can play it repeatedly.  Everything is shot in high definition video, so it looks great too!

Does the student need any special equipment to begin?

Nope!  Just a computer with Internet access and the standard stuff, like Adobe Acrobat for downloading the PDFs.  Obviously, if they want to print the PDFs, they’ll need a printer too.  External speakers are a nice enhancement, but not required.

Are the lessons available on computer, as well as hand-held devices?

Yes.  I made sure the videos play on iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices.  It’s not quite as practical to play along with the videos on your smartphone, but it you’re in a place where that’s the only option, it’ll be there for you!

Jon-Liebman-6Is the video series available internationally, or is this geared more towards students who speak English?

With the Internet, it’s available all over the world.  I suppose people who only speak English will be at somewhat of an advantage, but I really don’t do a whole lot of talking in theses lessons.  In most cases, the videos can speak for themselves.

It’s the same thing with my books – Even though some of them have been translated into German, French and Japanese, I still sell a lot of books in Italy, Latin American countries, the Middle East and other parts of the world.  Music is the international language!

We know that the video instructional series has just launched, but what can we look forward to this year?

I’m working on a slapping category right now.  Beyond that, I’ve got some ideas for Latin grooves, odd meters, more upright stuff and several other styles and techniques.  Future plans could include lessons for five-string, fretless, arco and more.  I’m even playing around with a “No–Holds-Barred/Let’s-Go-Crazy” chops-infused category!

Switching Gears…

As a professional bass player yourself, what are some words of wisdom you can impart to students looking towards a professional career?

  • Learn everything you can, but don’t always play everything you know.
  • Serve the song and give it just what it needs.
  • Don’t misrepresent yourself; if you say you’re a great reader, you’d better be a great reader!
  • The basics are important, too: show up on time, get along well with others, make sure your equipment is in proper working order, dress appropriately and look like you’re enjoying yourself, even if you aren’t.

What, in your opinion, are some of the qualities of successful bass players that keep them in-demand and working year-after-year?

You need to stay on top of your game and not ride on your past successes.  In addition, it’s vitally important to treat people kindly and be someone who’s pleasant to be around.  Most successful people I know have been incredibly helpful to me, even when there’s absolutely nothing in it for them.  Guys like Billy Sheehan, Jeff Berlin, Leland Sklar, Abe Laboriel, Steve Bailey…  They’re so much nicer than they have to be!

And just because our readers are gear hounds, what is in your bass arsenal as of late?

I’ve been using pretty much the same setup for about 25 years.  My main bass started as a Fender Jazz, but I’ve replaced every single part.  The neck is a Modulus Graphite, the pickups are EMGs, the bridge is a Schaller and the body is Chandler (my son and I have been working on restoring my Jazz back to its original form).  I also have a couple Tobias 5-strings, one fretted and one fretless, which I like very much.  I have an old Gibson “Ripper” fretless that’s lots of fun and a Fender Precision fretless, with EMG pickups and a Schaller bridge.

I have a couple uprights, one from Germany and one from Chicago! I use a German bow.  I’ve used an Underwood pickup for many years.  Recently Gary Birkhamshaw of Upton Bass sent me one of his Revolution Solo double bass pickups, which has gotten a lot of critical acclaim.

Jon-Liebman-5My amp is a Walter Woods – bought it from Walter himself!  I play it through an SWR cabinet with two 10s and an adjustable “bullet” speaker.  I also have a cabinet I designed with a JBL 15” speaker and a G-791 horn and driver combo.  I’ve fooled around with chorus, delay and some other effects, but I don’t really use them too much.

Do you have a Facebook Fan-page or Twitter handle readers can follow?

I sure do!  My Facebook fan page is facebook.com/JonLiebmanBass and my Twitter is @jonliebman.  Everyone is also invited to “like” my ForBassPlayersOnly page: facebook.com/ForBassPlayersOnly and to follow us on Twitter: @FBPO.

For more information, visit online at JonLiebman.com

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