You can spend a lot of money – as well as time – learning the bass. A good teacher can save you both, a bad one can cause you to give up altogether: one of my students’ previous bass teachers did just that. While you’re searching for a teacher, a good bass method is the next best thing and essential for your development. However, there are good and not so good bass methods, just as there are brilliant electric bass books (the Hal Leonard Bass Method by Ed Friedland is particularly brilliant) and not so good (those exclusively tab-based tomes that give you a few riffs and leave you ignorant, bewildered and confused… there are a few of them around).
Let’s look at a few double bass methods to get you started. Possibly the best known is the Complete Method Vol 1 by Franz Simandl. I use this with my students. It’s very good, but has some drawbacks, the main one being that explanations of the exercises are entirely absent, and the description of how to stand and finger techniques are unintentionally hilarious in their awful translation from the original German. That aside, the method is logical and progressive. Be aware, however, that the early exercises are not designed as great music. At times they’re positively boring, but designed to get your note recognition, playing technique and sound production off to a good start. As stated last time, many exercises will involve large leaps up and down the string to help train your muscle memory, and there’s an inordinate emphasis on using the G string for high note work. This is because of the high action/ low tension gut string technology of the time, and obviously things have changed completely since the method was originally developed back in the late 19th century.
Another excellent method, if not so well known, is by French bass virtuoso Edouard Nanny. John Walton, bass professor at the Royal Academy of Music, was a great advocate of this method, which is excellent, although the exercise for each new position is the same piece transposed up a semitone each time. In other words, after a while you can busk your way through it.
Ray Brown’s Bass Method is aimed squarely at the jazz player, and presupposes a knowledge of positions; I wouldn’t recommend it for an outright beginner. There’s a tremendous amount of ‘woodshedding’ between the pages, designed to build up your ability, strength and speed, and some of the exercises give you ‘starter’ licks as jumping-off points to develop your own bass-lines.
The Suzuki method is a relatively new development for all strings. Designed to be accessible and user friendly, the bass material takes you through the positions and shifts, but does so in such a peripheral manner that you end up not understanding anything. I’ve had to rescue students from this in the past.
Next time we’ll look at one man who broke all the rules and wrote his own bass method: Francois Rabbath