I enjoy the process of helping beginning students develop the necessary skills on the electric bass so they can play in a band. Some of my students have started learning guitar first and then transitioned to the bass. Others have started lessons as beginners with no prior musical experience.
When teaching electric bass I try to strike a balance between learning fundamentals of the instrument while also describing the role and responsibilities of the bass in the context of a band. This comes into play when I work with students on rhythm and time keeping skills. For example, we often study how a particular rhythm figure played on bass works in concert with drums and other instruments in a song or band.
Electric basses come in a variety of lengths and body shapes. It’s a good idea to visit your local music store and try several different instruments. This will ensure that you are learning on an instrument that feels comfortable to play and not too heavy.
In general, Students ages 7-11 might fare better starting out on a 3/4 sized instrument. Students 11-adult will do fine on a full sized bass. Additionally, I recommend that new students start with a 4-string bass before transitioning to a 5-string bass.
Learning the electric bass
Topics of Instruction
Understanding how the bass works
From day one I try to help beginning students establish a concrete understanding of how information is organized on the bass. I will work with students to memorize their string names, fretboard notes, and how they relate to chords and scales.
One of my goals is to equip students to be able to decode written music so they can teach themselves songs. Initially, I help students learn how to read tablature so they have the skills necessary to learn songs that they can find on the internet. After some time I move onto to teaching standard music notation.
Since the electric bass carries a stronger role with rhythm and time-keeping it’s a very good idea to start learning to read regular bass-clef music notation sooner than later. Unlike tablature, it’s a bit easier to combine reading the note names and note-values.
Applied Music Theory: Seeing the big Picture
Skilled bassists not only have great skills. They also understand their role in the context of playing in a band. They also are very aware of how they can compliment the overall arrangement of a song. In a similar fashion I take a big picture approach towards teaching bass by presenting music theory concepts relating to melody, harmony, and rhythm. I’ve found this helps students cultivate a much more expansive perspective on how they fit into the fabric of the band. They also are better able to create their own unique bass lines in whatever musical situation they find themselves in.