Bass Teachers - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly?

Alright, let’s talk about it - private bass teachers. I had an interesting mixed experience when I first started playing, in that I was taking private lessons on upright bass, but ‘self-taught’ on electric.

My upright teacher (Karen Zimmerman, Santa Rosa Symphony) was wonderfully supportive, and very particular about good technique. I think absorbing her particularity there is what helped me effectively teach myself on electric, without develop a bunch of bad habits and technique. Thank you Karen! :metal:

So I’m curious to hear your experiences with 1-to-1 teaching - good, bad, and ugly! Any massive wins? Any horror stories? :ghost:

Did you get good value for the money? How did they help your progress?

And for those of you with experience in both realms, how were they better/worse than online lessons?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to share - the more I have my finger on the pulse of what y’all are experiencing, the better I can make lessons for you in the future. :blush:

12 Likes

I’m taking lessons monthly with a guy called Charley Sabatino. He plays both electric and upright across rock and jazz. He’s insanely nuts about the Rory in his own life and reads books on it for fun (yikes). The lessons are very good and tailored to what I’m looking for. From general tips to intense tempo reading/playing (I find this most helpful).

These all are great and have been helping me a lot.

Things I am doing with him:
-Smandl technique and not looking at fretboard while doing it.

  • Belleson tempo book

  • ear training across fretboard cycling through circle of fifths in a simple pattern, removing notes and replacing with voice first more and more.

  • pick a song, wipe baseline from existence, write your own.

  • arpeggios up/down the board very slowly for accuracy.

  • cycling are good - find your way up and back down fretboard using different paths.

5 Likes

I had a bass coach (my term for 1 on 1 teacher) for a couple months last year and I benefited very much from those sessions. By the time I had started with him, I had graduated B2B, finished many of the advanced courses on TalkingBass, and hundreds of hours practicing by myself. It was refreshing to have someone guiding and critiquing me during those sessions. If he wasn’t so far away from my home (36 miles), I would still be going to him. Between the cost of the sessions, and the time on the road back and forth, it was difficult to bear, in spite of the tremendous benefit.

8 Likes

I’ve only taken private lessons once, and then only for a short time. But I remember the very first lesson like it was yesterday. The instructor had long, black hair with short bangs, kinda 80s hair-metal style. He was wearing a black jacket. I sat down, we introduced ourselves, had some small talk, then he asked me this:

“So. Who are some of your favorite bass players?”

I answered, “Oh, Claypool for sure, I’m a huge Primus fan. Robert Trujillo’s stuff in Infectious Grooves. Flea, but I think the Chili Peppers are over-played.”

He slumped just slightly and sighed. Obviously that was not the “A” answer.

“Ok,” he said resignedly, “the first thing about slapping is that you want to bring your thumb down and across the string, to rest on the string below it. Let me show you…”

“Wait, hang on,” I said. “I love listening to those guys and I think they’re fantastic bassists. But I don’t want to PLAY like that. I want to play like… Nathan East on his Clapton stuff, or Mark Bedford or John Paul Jones.”

His eyes lit up. Evidently, that was the “A” answer.

10 Likes

I had some guy down the local library doing lessons but all he wanted to play was Happy Birthday. I didn’t go back.

8 Likes

At least… Was it your birthday? Or his? Or just a strange fascination with the piece?

8 Likes

I just quit my in-person lessons.

He was a very good guy, full of enjoyable stories and very good technically. He was a teacher on a somewhat renowned school around here and also gave private lessons. In my experience and at my current level though, there was much room for improvement.

To be fair, on the first lesson he told me he was used to absolute beginners and didn’t quite have an idea on what to do with me. So I told him my experience and background and what I was looking to get out of those lessons. Enough to build a curriculum.

There was nothing like a syllabus or a plan, it was more a “whatever he felt like it”. My homework assignments were never reviewed (and tbh he never remembered what we’ve been working on) and were kinda random.

Our lessons were once per week at 19:30. Supposedly 1 hour, but we consistently stayed for 2h+ hours. Which would be awesome if it wasn’t already too late to be productive, if the lessons had some good old content, and if we used most of that time playing instead of listening to some goofy story about his gigs or people he met at those gigs (quite enjoyable, but not why I was there for) or getting interrupted by phone calls.

But in any case, I loved my first month there. I even left my basses with him for professional set ups, but the results were a bit off from what I was expecting (fret buzz all over - to which he answered ‘it’s supposed to sound like that’) but ok for the price. He solved some electronic issues I had with my restoration project.

All fine and dandy until the moment I caught him lying about a bass he had there. Nothing much, but enough to get my spidey senses tingling. I caught him lying a few more times about some stories he had already told or some other details, I even fished for some of those lies to check if it was all in my head (it wasn’t). In any case, nothing much. Just a story teller adding a bit of salt here and there, but enough to lose my trust and a bit of my respect.

In any case I endured this for 2.5 months, hoping this was all some kind of “feeling the waters” from both parts. But I never sensed commitment and decided to pull the plug.

And that’s the only experience I had with a bass teacher

6 Likes

:joy: :joy: :joy:

1 Like

I’ve had mixed experiences with in person teachers, but then I have also had mixed experiences with online courses.

Things I like about in person teaching:

  • Interaction, questions and answers
  • I have a say in the agenda week to week
  • We get to jam, take a lesson and put it into use playing with another musician
  • They ask you “what kind of music do you listen to” and the lessons are somewhat taylored to that
  • Can ask questions I would feel too dumb to bring to the forum
  • Instant feedback (“no, your positioning your finger in the wrong place”)

Limitations of in person lessons

  • Fixed time and place and I have to adapt my schedule to it
  • Lessons can be missed due to teacher availibility
  • high cost

Online lessons

  • Available on my schedule
  • Can redo a lesson anytime for a refresher
  • Can go as fast or as slow as I like
  • Cost effective
  • This forum is a knowledge font of everyting about Bass

Limitations

  • You follow the path, everything is wrote
  • You play music you have no interest in, including artists you despise (Billie Jean is not my girl)
  • Very little interaction or feedback
9 Likes

So I consider myself very lucky, as I am studying with Danny “DannyMo” Morris, who teaches at Berklee and also on SBL. Danny is just a great person in general with a wonderful demeanor and years of both real world & academic experience to draw upon.

We both love classic R&B and much of our focus is in that genre with study of more practical lessons around that.

We have been focusing on Nashville Number System too, which has been a personal win for me. This just clicked for me and helped me internalize some other theoretical concepts.

6 Likes

The one thing I will add that I like is I video all of my assignments to him over the month in between, and the next lesson is spent on talking about comfort level of those things, improvement suggestions etc but the bulk of the lesson is on new assignments etc vs. me playing for him under pressure for most of the hour. I really like this. He even sends stuff mid-month based on my videos to do, little things.

4 Likes

I have had two in-person teachers (whom I am not seeing at the moment), and currently have 1-2 online teachers (one is really more of a sounding board and general bass “guru” (for lack of a better word)).

All experiences have been pleasant, but my main observation is that 3 out of the 4 didn’t/don’t quite listen to what I had laid out as my main interests and what I would like to study, but seemed to have a fairly fixed “curriculum” in mind that they wanted me to go through under their guidance.

Now, as a teacher myself (not for bass, obviously), I figured they knew why they had organized it like that, and I also didn’t want to start off arguing with them from the get-go. And, in all fairness, my own ideas of what I wanted to study were probably a bit too “ambitious” for my technical abilities, and the teachers were/are trying to get me to study more of the fundamentals first, or, in another case, learn bass by learning songs (and not necessarily those I had a deeper interest or connection with), which is OK, but feels a bit akin to learning an Italian poem by heart (imitating the phonetics) without understanding the words.

So, the challenge (for me or with me, if you want) is how to keep me motivated while teaching me what I didn’t know I needed to learn before I can do what I dream of doing on the bass :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

(I think you had that one cracked nicely with the B2B course, Josh - with a follow-up, it is going to be much tougher; mainly because we all progress differently and in so many different directions).

10 Likes

Just re-read your ask @JoshFossgreen

What I find about online is it gives you a good foundation of things and should give you an idea of what types of things you want to focus on learning more/deeper with a live instructor. I have said a few times on here that going to private music lessons as an adult is like going to the doctor and advocating for yourself. You have to explain to the doctor/instructor what you want to have them help you with. If you go into a Dr’s office and say ‘I’d like to get better’ - your chances of doing so are a bit slimmer than if you have a lot of good facts/symptoms. Same with private instruction. Online lessons give, at least for me, areas that I want to work on or know more about.

And while online lessons can’t be very flexible in nature, private should. I had “learn pick techniques” on my short list when I started lessons - that came off very quickly, I really didn’t want to once I got into other things. Lessons as an adult should be curated on both sides. Kids, maybe different as they might not be as self aware.

The best lessons give some easier concepts, growth concepts and stretch concepts and build on each other to a goal or set of goals. I think this is much easier with adults perhaps.

4 Likes

I have limited experience on both end, it’s been better online for me… what I have seen lacking in both in person and online is the application of the knowledge (which you spent plenty of time doing during the B2B course, thank you) usually it goes like “this is an arpeggio” or the modes of the this and scale, “memorize them and you can play anything” this comes usually with a cool example but it’s up to oneself to figure out how to actually do something with the information :man_shrugging: That’s no better than googling for free lessons
What I would expect of any course/instructor is the ability to apply the knowledge, be able to make some music, groove a bit (according to skill level of course) that with each lesson there’s some vertical growth not just horizontally (which I believe is how most curriculums are conceived, horizontally, lots of info) the B2B course is not very dense, honestly I don’t know much music but I know that it barely scratched the surface however you made a point of showing all that we can do with everything, which it’s what anyone would want: to play, not just stuff the head with knowledge we cannot use.
As others have said the advantage of in person is instant feedback, ability to tailor the course on the fly and interacting musically in real time (assuming the instructor can actually teach, not my experience)
Online only advantage is that I can do it on my on time (and no driving)

2 Likes

This has also been my experience with the Bass but then again I have been playing guitar since 1972 so I am sure that is a factor.

Isn’t that the truth. :slightly_smiling_face:
I think the 50 Song challenge helps immensely with this.
And the great thing is the music score and backing track (less the bass, more or less) are provided free.

I have found jamming with others can supply a lot of the needed feedback.

As far as an instructor being able to teach that is a whole other ball of wax.
As a guitar and ukulele instructor I find you have to be very flexible with students and listen to what their concerns are, and address those concerns and not just dismiss them. A lot of instructors are doing it only for the money more than anything else. Taking lessons from somebody like that is never a good approach.

This can also be a problem though because a lot of people need to be driven or at least have a goal to meet before their next lesson and online it’s all left up to you.

1 Like

Did private lessons with a session bassist in England via zoom for 9 mo. Overall ok, learned alot, but couldn’t keep up with practice schedule and got stuck a lot. Heavy emphasis on notereading, which was good, but I spent most of my time doing etudes, which i felt was nore focused on solo playing and not much on groove. Cool guy, reasonably priced. Zoom format was limiting. I prob would have had a better experience if i had more then .5 hrs practice a night.

Might go back after finishing this course

4 Likes

This is a very good point. I struggle with in person lessons because there is a deadline and a task list, and i feel crappy if I don’t have enough time for all of it. Doing online, you go at your own pace, and there is none of that pressure. Since in person is generally a lot more than online canned lessons cost, you start to feel like you are wasting money. I started taking spotty sax lessons so I could work on things at my own pace vs. rush them. Some concepts are easy for me, some take unreasonable amounts of time for me to get.

2 Likes

I’ve had a lot of music teachers over the years, and I teach music myself, although not bass. There’s rarely a time when I’m not engaged with a private instructor to further my own goals. It doesn’t matter how good you are, there’s always someone better. My approach is to find somebody better and learn from them.

One of my current instructors is fantastic, but she cancels or reschedules 3 out of 4 lessons. Aside from that, she’s fantastic and really taking my playing on that instrument to the next level. One of the great things about getting past the basics to advanced instructors is that often little nudges can take you a LONG way. I very rarely meet with my guitar instructor, but every lesson is incredible. I had played for 30 years when we met, and he taught me more in a short period than I’d learned in the 30 years prior. That said, he won’t teach beginners, so I needed the previous 30 years to make use of his instruction.

In regards to setting lesson plans, it’s really hard to definitively say what approach works for everyone. Shoot, I have one student who is on the spectrum, and I went to another instructor I highly respect who has done a ton of work with Autistic kids for advice. I tend to let my instructors assess and determine where I need to grow and take my lessons in that direction. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve had a bad instructor, but these days, I tend to look for top tier folks that won’t waste either of our time.

You are doing an excellent job painting with a broad brush in your video courses, and I really don’t know what you could possibly do better in that medium. One thing I noticed is that you tend to have a great understanding of where the majority of folks might struggle in any given lesson, so it often feels like you’re in the room critiquing. I think that’s a huge accomplishment in itself.

6 Likes

The only ugly instructors I have had simply don’t listen and adjust to the student’s needs. Their focus is, well, their focus. I was working with a bari sax guy who was a pit player for broadway mostly. He was most concerned with me having completely perfect, spot on timing, and little else. Why? Because pit guys have to be spot on, completely technically accurate. At the time I was very very new and that was not what the focus should have been. We had a few 'Whiplash" moments … “nope, start again…nope, start…nope, nope nope”. That was my last lesson with him.

4 Likes