Ask Jeff: Practicing different musical styles

Hi Jeff, I know that eventually I’d like to play rock’n’roll, rockabilly and blues, so is it best to just specialise in those genres, or study all genres? I suspect it’s all good experience and the answer is the latter, but why practice heavy thrash metal or something when you know it’s not something you’d want to play in a band. Time is limited, so wouldn’t it be better to spend more time on the genres you want to play rather than wasting time with ones you don’t? Paul, via email 

Yes, you are right. If you are content with only playing the styles of music that you have mentioned, then get involved learning and playing those styles. Listen to CDs and imitate what you hear on your bass. Also, find musicians that play in the styles of music that you enjoy and play with these people. By the way, studying different genres won’t help you to become a better player in the musical genres that you like, but learning academic music will help you to play everything better. Academic studies are the only form of learning that will cover every aspect of how you improve as a player. Nothing else that you pay to learn even comes close.

With this in mind, there are only two broad methods of improving as a player: As a self-taught player, and as a self-taught player who also learns academically.

Jeff BerlinThese two principles cover the entire academic electric bass experience. Number one embraces every single bass player that you or anyone else can think of. No matter who it is, no matter what style they play, they are all self-taught to some degree. But consider this: all educated players are also self-taught. This explains number two. Before bassists studied how to play, they taught themselves via the same experimental laboratory of musical possibilities, pursuing any and every musical thought that came to their minds.

Most self-taught players only know about bass, but not about music. Consequently, they are not only limited in their musical vi- sion, they are usually stuck in it. They are stuck in their self-taught principles, yet all the while they want to know how to play better. Amazingly, learning music is to an academic standard is rejected, which surprises me as they are rejecting exactly what will help them improve their entire musical approach to bass. By studying real musical content for three months to a year, 100 per cent of people reading this will triple their present abilities to play.

Here are terms for popular teaching lessons to consider. Ask your- selves if music has played any part in these lessons. If not, then you will probably not improve as a player worthy of the tuition fee that you paid. But readers should decide if academic benefit is possible with any lesson on this list.

  1. Lessons in slap
  2. Lessons in rock
  3. Lessons in groove
  4. Lessons in two-handed tapping
  5. Lessons using tablature
  6. Lessons using metronomes
  7. Lessons with the word ‘secret’ attached to them
  8. Lessons teaching you feel
  9. Lessons that separate right hand from left
  10. Lessons that emphasise Bach or Jaco Pastorius
  11. Lessons discussing flexibility or dynamics
  12. Lessons teaching technique
  13. Lessons teaching performance in rock, blues, or on stage presence
  14. Lessons in how to record in a studio
  15. Lessons on the internet that do not put music harmony first.

Read the list again, but this time remove the word ‘Lessons’ and entitle the expressions, ‘Self-Taught Methods of Learning…’

By doing this, you are the only one responsible for the musical outcome of your investigations. This is what being self-taught is all about. Self-taught means that everything is available to check out, but it also means that whatever you study is totally free. There is nothing on the above list that is worth paying to learn, as far as I can see. Because you aren’t paying for these points of regard, you now have the freedom as a musician to explore each concept as you wish to explore it, in your own unique way.

Thanks, Paul, for your question. It has allowed me to write this column that I hope will guide people toward learning music better.

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