As a former bass instructor, people ask me what relevance music education has in today’s world. Among the group of students I had in the music store I worked at in Florida, those who were opposed to learning theory and advanced techniques usually would begin their argument by elaborating on the state of the modern music industry. “Nobody cares about that stuff, it doesn’t matter anymore” or “If I learn theory my creativity will go away”. And while I can’t really deny that for “popular” music, the proficiency bar has gone down in general. If anyone wants to play an instrument professionally, they need to know how the language of music works. No bandleader will hire a bass player who doesn’t know his fingerboard anymore than any publisher would hire a writer who didn’t know his verbs from his nouns. Advanced knowledge in a field is a sign of professionalism wherever you go in life. It is the standard to which all pros are held, and all it takes is patience and a good work ethic. Music can be the most fun activity that one can partake in as long as they have the patience to actually work on it.
There are many different types of musicians in the professional or even recreational fields, but the ones that complain the most about formal lessons and theory are songwriters. A lot of songwriters many times are afraid of formal lessons because they fear what was simply an emotional expression will be replaced with technical frustration and a loss of a muse. But here’s the reality check that I came across a long time ago while I was teaching bass. A person either has a drive to try and be the best musician they can be, or they are just looking for a fun hobby. If a person has the music in their head, and has the motivation to make it come to life, knowing what a C Maj7 chord is will only help them, and in no way hurt them. While times are tough, and paying for bass lessons may not be a financial priority, if you are serious, try and find a teacher. If you are lucky enough to find a great bass player that is also patient and understanding to what you need to learn, it will be worth every penny. Try and explore as many music publications as you can. Don’t just go to bass magazines; be open to any publication on any instrument or genre that delves into some sort of constructive musical subject matter. As far as lessons go, I highly suggest one hour lessons over half hour lessons. In my experience, you actually have the time to absorb the information and really understand what you are being sent home to practice. Having an educated ear and knowledge of harmony greatly reduces the chance of musically “getting caught with your pants down”, a quite embarrassing scenario that can bruise ones self-confidence while performing or recording.
Nothing of worth ever happens without hard work, and in a society strongly based on instant gratification; patience becomes a very valuable virtue. Thirty years ago, if a site like YouTube existed, and people had the means to access it as they do today, many of today’s virtuosos would probably be breathing a huge sigh of relief as well as jumping for joy for all of the free exposure. Players today have far less excuses as far as being ignorant to musical information.
I am fully aware that I was fortunate to get a scholarship to Berklee, and that I’m even luckier to have had such a great opportunity to advance my knowledge. But even if you do not have these advantages, the Internet is filled with free information to let you know almost anything you desire. Being educated opens the opportunity for you to play with proper technique, read music, know your fingerboard, and develop a great ear…things no musician should be without. It’s all about those moments when you can play your instrument and it’s no longer cerebral, but spiritual and truly a joy. You will then know where all your hard work went.
Keep on playing guys 🙂