I wanna' say some things about playing music and a little bit about my approach to learning. So here goes…
What I teach and what I have to say are strictly my ideas and my concepts. A lot of those concepts come from different places. Some from trial and error - just from trying things a million different ways and realizing that some of it works and some of it doesn't. Some of it is based on efficiency & logic, and economy of motion. Some of it is musical tradition – things being passed down – experienced and inexperienced people making suggestions and showing me how to do different things. They might just work for me so I'm not saying that anything that I'm teaching or showing is the best or the only way to do it, but it is what works the best or most comfortable for me.
Some of my students come in wanting to learn how to play a particular song and have already tried to learn it, but have learned in such a way that inhibited some things. They might have made it more difficult, because all the fingers of all their hands would already be tied up to do this one part and they needed one more appendage, but it wasn't available because they played it the hardest way it could possibly be played. Even though they might be playing the right notes, know what I mean?
One approach I take is to divide things in half. I learn the notes separately, I learn the rhythm separately then I put them together. If you just play the bass lines, just the notes without the right hand, without rhythm, then a lot of times the natural rhythm will be apparent with the right hand. If you just play the left hand without the right hand, then wherever there is a space try putting rhythm in, it will start getting easier to figure out that kind of stuff.
Check this out, though. Once I realized that I could figure out a lot of other artists' stuff, know what I did? I stopped doing it. I stopped figuring out the songs to know the songs. I might learn the songs to learn a concept and then hopefully the concept will show up in my songs.
Some people feel that a particular style or concept or even theory may not be necessary for them to learn and so they skip it and just stick to one style of playing. I would say this to that - If I had that same mentality where I wasn't going to learn anything I wasn't going to use, then half the stuff I know I wouldn't have learned. When I play with His Boy Elroy I only use such a small part of what I can do technique-wise. But, as a teacher I would tell you never learn anybody's songs just for the sake of knowing their licks or their songs. I see what that can do negatively to anyone's playing. A lot of times you can hear people in music stores playing Marcus Miller or Victor Wooten licks and then you realize that's ALL they can do. That's the biggest danger of just learning somebody else's stuff as opposed to learning their concepts. It's also not showing originality and effort because someone already laid down that foundation. It's often easier to learn what somebody else has done than it is to make your own path. And I believe in making my own path.
The flip side of that is that some people make a conscious effort not to learn someone else's stuff just because it's already been done. Here's an example - harmonics. If people didn't want to learn harmonics because they thought that was Jaco's thing then a lot of people wouldn't be using harmonics. But what you should learn is the concept of harmonics. Then you can apply it the way you want to apply it. I use harmonics a lot but I don't use them like Jaco did. But that was something that was credited to Jaco. Just like this whole rhythm thing has been credited to Victor. If you are only going to use it like he uses it, then you shouldn't learn it. But like I said you could learn the concept of it and apply it in different ways.
Check this out. Some of my favorite licks that I came up with have been other artists' licks that I TOTALLY butchered. One of my favorite licks is a lick that was a butchered Victor Wooten lick. I got some of my greatest joy when I was in a music store with Victor one time and I started playing this lick and he stopped and said “whoa! Do that again. That was a “bad” lick!” In my mind I was grinning because it was a butchered lick that I was trying to learn of his and wasn't getting it right. I was just trying to learn this lick of his verbatim and I couldn't do it and I was frustrated and I slowed it down. Then I heard something and I kept doing it slow and what I kept hearing led me in a different direction. So from butchering that lick, I came up with a lick that he admired, you know what I'm saying? So that's completing a circle. That was real cool. I know that Victor Wooten lick I was trying to learn now, but if I had walked into that music store that day and played that lick while he was with me, he might not have thought that was as cool as me playing the lick that I got from that concept. Know what I mean?
What you play and the statement you have to make on bass is just as valid as the statement any other bass player has. You might not realize it, but even if what you play may not be as eloquent in certain ways, it does not diminish the content of what you are playing - it's just as valid and it's just as cool. That's just like thinking what you have to say is not just as valid because you don't put nouns and verbs together as well as somebody else does. That's just bull**#@, know what I'm saying? I think that's one of the most important lessons that you could ever learn. That's one of the few things I definitely DO know as a player.
I'm just talking mumbo jumbo. Don't pay me any attention! Don't like, walk up to Marcus Miller and say what I gotta' play is just as good as what you got to play. (laughing)
But seriously, I would say have everything under your belt. If nothing else, if you learn the concept or the technique and never ever use it in your life, it didn't hurt you to learn it. As a matter of fact, you gain so much just from the discipline. And it takes discipline just to learn something. If you learn something and never use it you gain something just from the discipline it took to learn it. So you should always be in what I like to call student/teacher mode. Always be ready to teach somebody something and always be ready to learn something. If you're always in that mode, you will grow as a player.
That's been one of the greatest benefits of teaching for me. I think I can credit my bass playing getting better to teaching more than anything since I began teaching in 1996. Showing someone else reinforces that lesson in me. You can't point out something in somebody's technique without you being aware of your own technique. You can't say “Yo man, you gotta' watch your hand position” without you realizing and being conscious of your own hand position.
So use some of these lessons as a starting point and I hope that they stir up your curiosity enough to take you in new musical directions to explore. Cool?
Now, go practice!
peace and blessings,