I was recently called to do a bass clinic in San Francisco for Bassquake, and thinking about that day for a moment, I realized that the focus I now pursue as of late in a clinic setting is a direct result of my experience with the development of this magazine as well as the many new relationships I’ve acquired with our staff members. I felt a need to talk about this most recent development in my musical journey, and if you will, I’ll put aside my editor chair, and would like to share this elucidative moment with you from a player’s perspective.
With the countless interviews I’ve done with some of the finest musicians on the planet, as well as my own personal observations as a teacher of almost 30 years, I feel I’ve become abundantly clear regarding the answer to one of the most diversely discussed subjects here in the magazine that affects absolutely every player out there…. simply put, what should the focus of my musical studies be.
If I had to reduce this answer per se into a one liner, it would be this…. the course of study to follow is completely dependent upon the individual involved… said another way, it’s become blatantly obvious to me there is no one recommended course to pursue. The interviews have most assuredly made me aware of commonalities that exist from player to player as far as this subject is concerned, and yet I have to add on to that revelation that even the commonalities are not an absolute for “every” individual. I’ll do my best to substantiate this premise I’ve presented with a few examples.
For the record, I didn’t see or read this, but I heard there was a blog out there that involved Victor Wooten and Jeff Berlin discussing the diversity of their teaching methods. From my experience of both these players, I can easily see they’ve taken very different paths as far as their concept and approach to teaching is concerned. But for me, here is the most simple of truths concerning this debate… Irrelevant of the diversity of their outlook on this subject, they are both “stellar” players.
Another example: I recently got a call from an ex-student of mine that I haven’t talked to in years. This young man was by far the most promising student I’ve encountered to date. As a senior in high school, his concept of groove was far beyond his age, and he could take a pretty impressive solo on Giant Steps as well… on fretless. He left me having a scholarship to Berklee School of Music. I thought for sure he’d be out there definitely sooner than later tearing it up at a very high level in the industry. So of course I asked, what are you doing musically after all these years, and his response was, I quit playing. Long story short, after being at Berklee, he said playing had become all work, and the joy of playing had disappeared for him. Now, to be clear on this… Berklee in my opinion is one of the top musical institutions out there… it just wasn’t right for “him”.
Without the need to mention names, let me cite some polar opposite points from my interviews that are worth considering in this matter as well. One of the artists explained how his personal study of scales and modes had definitely helped in the process of finding his voice, and the next one stated scales and modes were kind of a waste of time. Another stated the importance of lifting and analyzing bass lines from the past greats, and the next artist stated how they were not at all interested in lifting the lines, they were much more interested in “where that artist was at” when they created those lines. The much greater point here, to me, is that once again each of these individuals I’m referring to with these statements are nothing less than exceptional musicians… polar opposite viewpoints, but exceptional musicians.
So I’m right back to my earlier statement as far as what to study. This is a very personal decision for each individual that needs to be thought out well, and in my opinion will take the same amount of creativity to find the answer as it will to take a solo down the road. My recommendations… Investigate “everything”. Find out what touches you, and motivates you. This will absolutely keep your interest flourishing and I guarantee that will be different in some small way for every player out there. This can also lead to a question I’ve found to be most interesting when given to some of my perspective students, that being, why do you want to play music? I can’t begin to tell you how diverse (and also enlightening for the student) those answers are. Also, take a close look at your teacher if you’re taking lessons. Is he or she leaving space for “you” to discover “your” musical self, or are they just teaching you “their” agenda? There should be no boundary lines to learning music for there are certainly no boundary lines as far as “art” is concerned.
I’m going to end this article, and forgive me, with an act of shameless self-promotion. As far as “investigating everything”, as I mentioned earlier, I’m very proud to say that this magazine and its prestigious staff roster, along with the advent of our new social community that will undoubtedly critically expand instructional opportunities, is a damn good place to begin that journey.
Jake Kot, Editor