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Advice for teaching a 12 year old how to play bass

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Ukiah Bass, Feb 20, 2014.

  1. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    My grandson is interested in learning how to play the bass. I offered to help get him started - but have never taught anyone how to play. Heck, I'm a late bloomer myself and didn't begin until my early 40s. Still feel like a beginner myself in many ways!

    I have some ideas but would appreciate suggestions on the best way to structure this experience. I'll take him as far as I can before recommending a professional teacher.

    I thought I'd begin by spending several hours together listening to music he likes, showing him how the bass contributes to that music, give him a sense of what it's like to hold the bass, pluck it, etc. and get a lay of the land before diving into a curriculum. I think it's important for him to consider the bigger picture and whether he truly wants to commit to the journey.

    Anyway - enough of that. Suggestions are welcome! Thanks!

    P.S. this young man is a mathematical genius .... extremely analytical. Like other kids he plays computer games for hours, but also other types of competitive (physical) card games against multiple players at the same time - and beats all of them. So his mind is like a computer. Not sure if that info is important but wanted to mention it.
  2. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    Get him a good teacher.
    Somnambulance likes this.
  3. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I do agree that he needs to be with a teacher, however, you being the one to start him on his journey is important also. You will be building memories and IMO this is what Grandfathers are supposed to do. Get him started, but, get him with a teacher fairly quickly. Normally $75 to $100 a month.

    Why not ask this question of a local instructor telling him/her that you want to get him started yourself, but, will be turning your Grandchild over to him for formal training and see where you two working together should start.

    If that is not in the cards I would recommend you use Bass Guitar for Dummies as your lesson plan guide. Start on page 1 and proceed from there. To keep his interest up get him playing simple songs so he can see where this all can lead.
  4. DethByDoom


    Sep 23, 2012
    Card games eh? Magic the gathering? Kid sounds like he might be like I was. A bit of a shut in and a geek. Hello music and a social life. I say give him a cheap bass and amp, give him a familiarization to bass, show him tabs and cut him loose. If he stays interested after a few months look into lessons.
  5. Dug2

    Dug2 Supporting Member

    Sep 24, 2011
    mind like a computer you say, thats awesome, cuz in a yr. he'll be teaching you.
    your first idea of "listening" and "what the bass is/does" is a good idea or feeler
    to see if he wants to make the journey. from there, (imo) start out with basics
    and instructional sites like studybass etc... you'll be forever remembered as the coolest
    dude he knows for this.
  6. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Coupla thoughts. First, I very much like your idea of starting out by spending time with him listening and discussing, etc. Sounds like a great way to spend some quality grandpa-grandson time together, as well as to help him understand how the bass fits within familiar (to him) musical contexts. It might also help both of you gauge how serious his interest is -- and/or actually boost his interest even further.

    Assuming he is eager to start learning how to play after this.... If you're sure that at some point you expect to hand him over to a professional teacher, though, I would consider doing that right from the start rather than first "taking him as far as you can." The reason I say that is that teachers often have very specific ways they like to teach, and if you have already taught him a bunch of stuff "your way," his first teacher might feel compelled to "un-teach" him some of the things he learned from you. And it might be a little uncomfortable for him if at his first lesson he is told that "Grandpa was wrong." If you start him with a pro teacher from the get-go, you can spend your time with him between his lessons having him explain to you what he learned at his lessons, and you can then help him with that knowing that you are reinforcing the teacher's efforts rather than potentially conflicting with them.
  7. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    Thank you, these, and previous comments are quite good. I know my limits. I'm a good teacher in other areas but probably not on the bass. We live in a rural area where there aren't many choices instruction-wise. So there may well be a big investment required - not just $$ for gear, but in time for traveling to get him with a qualified teacher. That's why I'm trying to be strategic about kicking this off. And you know how it is with kids - ideas come and go faster than you can blink. Learning the bass is not a sprint -- it's a long journey that needs commitment.

    The thing that surprises me most is his interest in possibly learning how to play an instrument. Seems like the energy these days is software-generated music (or stealing it from pre-made sources). I wouldn't be surprised if, in 10-20 years, kids ask: "What's a musical instrument?"
  8. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I started at around that age. I wish someone had helped me make sure my bass was set up correctly...

    Helping set up a practice routine is also something I could have used. A little structure in the practice will keep him progressing faster; seeing his own progress will keep him motivated. There should be a balance of things like technique, listening, and learning songs, and there should be just enough variety to make it not seem monotonous.
    packhowitzer likes this.
  9. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I like to teach both the bass and fun music that's played on the bass.

    Bass specific- physical approach, notes, scales and arpeggios, key signatures, time signatures.

    The first song that I show kids is Come Together. Once they can handle all of the sections I make sure that they play along with the recording. It's not too long before they're playing music.

    I've seen and heard you play on YouTube. I have no doubt that you'll teach him correctly.
    Remyd likes this.
  10. This should make life easier for you. I've read, and have seen samples up front, of individuals who have a certain bent for math and abstract thinking to easily grasp the "rules" or logic behind music. They don't have to be "A Beautiful Mind" brilliant, but just one who can think through things in abstract terms and find utility in them. I guess a good starting point would be to make sure the kid appreciates music by getting exposed to different genres. After that, the kid can make out how each instrument fits with the other pieces and contributes to the big picture. Heck, you might not even have to "start the kid with a blank slate" and teach the rudiments, but just fill in the gaps as the kid discovers what works or sounds well.

    I wish my parents made me first appreciate music to lay down the fundamentals rather than go straight to piano lessons, which became very mechanical.
  11. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Given those logistical issues, I withdraw my previous suggestion and say "Go for it!" And I think you can do so with confidence and optimism, given several things you've said.

    First, it sounds like you have a promising student. 'll bet that most 12-years-olds starting out just want to learn how to play songs that they like, and that getting them to appreciate and learn music theory is probably like pulling teeth. Given your description of his "mathematical" and "analytical" mind, it sounds like this guy will readily grasp, and probably enjoy, learning that stuff -- scales, modes, keys, chord construction, etc. -- which in turn will make it easier for him to learn quickly how to navigate the fretboard, understand and create bass lines, etc. You actually might not need to do very much except get him started and then get out of the way.

    Second, if you are a good teacher in other areas, I think there's every reason to think you'll be a good teacher in this context. As a (college) teacher myself, I feel sure that the most important kinds of teaching skills are highly generalizeable. Plus, you have the added advantage of knowing your student well personally -- how he thinks, what he likes and doesn't like, etc. -- which will make it even easier for you to be an effective teacher.

    Finally, there are some potential advantages to the your situation/context, as compared to hiring a teacher. You won't be beholden to any particular schedule: For example, you won't have to drag him to a lesson on a particular day that he doesn't feel like it, or force him to stick it out for a full hour that's been paid for if he's tired or frustrated after 15 minutes. And if you have a really good session going, you won't have to quit at the end of some scheduled half-hour or hour if you don't want to. That flexibility will mean that you can work on this together when he's into it, and not when he isn't, which should be really helpful in retaining his interest and enthusiasm (and yours).

    With all this in mind, I think this sounds exciting and fun. I'm eager to hear how it goes -- please do keep us posted!
  12. bass12

    bass12 And Grace, too Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I took lessons on four different instruments before getting to the electric bass at age 12. You know why I stuck with bass in my earlier years? Because I didn't take lessons. I did get some early pointers on hand position from a pro but that was it until I was 17. If this kid really wants lessons then maybe, but in the beginning stages - with a few pointers to make sure he's not developing bad habits - I'd just let him figure things out on his own. I'm not saying that taking lessons a bit later isn't a good idea - it absolutely is - but I don't see the rush. He's a kid - he doesn't need commitment, he needs fun.
  13. 456string


    Jan 10, 2014
    I've lately had a lot of bass students like your son, hard to catch their attention because they tend to have a very short attention span. On the computer they learn everything by themselves in lightning fast speed, learning an instrument in the long term old school style bores them to tears in a minute. They want to play right away.

    I discovered an app called Anytune here on Facebook about a month ago and started using it with my students right away. I've had stunning results especially with my younger students, they are learning so fast. One of my kids just started 2 month ago, in the last 4 weeks he learned about 25 songs by ear behind my back with that app. I found out on Wednesday...he had me speechless!!!!

    Especially when they are computer bugs, it's a great transition from the screen to a real instrument. If you have any apple device in the house you might want to try it.

    The app "isolates" the bass line in a great way that every kid understands immediately, especially when you grab a bass and play the original line along, you see the light bulb flashing above their head.

    Check here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBqB-ixRtCo

    Sounds like your son is very intelligent...if he has ears and love for music on top he might have a ball with it.

    Wish i've had it when I was 12...now I'm 114, using that app myself every day to keep my repertoire in all styles of music fresh...
  14. with 3 college physics profs. I learned right away they they think in concepts, interrelationships between multiple variables, context, and framework. If you can teach him how the bass works in context of the music, I am sure he will catch on fast. He'll probably want to know why and how about everything, so things like scales and timing should be taught, as being formulas that will be applied to music performance. He doesn't have a short attention span, his mind just "moves on"once he has grasped how something works. so my showing him the basically infinite variables that happen in improvised music, he will stay interested. I will venture that he will love jazz and jazz improv, since jazz improve is quite a bit like physics - what are your variables within a framework, and what, of those variables, can be assembled to produce the best result? In music speak - how to make a great solo or bass part.
  15. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    $75 to 100 a month...thats not todays rates at all...in LA anyways...$50 to $75 is pretty normal...
  16. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    So we're finally getting to the first lesson, which will be on Saturday. Last weekend I was at my grandson's house and as we were shooting the bull I asked him what kind of music he's listening to and what he'd like to learn. He says, "I really want to learn 'Hurt' by Johnny Cash." I was momentarily speechless, and hadn't a clue he even knew who Johnny Cash was much less was tuned into a specific song. Wow! Good to have a target like this in mind!

    I just re-watched the amazing Hurt music video (which my grandson has not seen, and which I will share in the lesson), downloaded some tabs to show him what's out there on the Internet, and transcribed the song into a clean chord chart so he can visually get a sense of song structure, components, etc. I also listened to it and played through it several times. Aside from this being one of my all time favorite songs performed by JC, it's really a good teaching tool for a beginner. Simple format, playable with several open strings, only slight progression changes so it won't be too confusing, and it provides several opportunities to show gradual building in mood to climax by changing from whole notes to half notes, and then to quarter notes. A very nice way to show how powerful the bass is, and how important it is to tastefully apply "just enough" to enhance the song without overwhelming it.

    Wish me luck. I'm probably more nervous than he is!

    Here's the video in case you haven't seen it:
  17. RushFanWA


    Feb 19, 2014
    I haven't read every post in this thread, so pardon me if this has been mentioned before. I'm still a beginner myself, and what I have been using is this video game. Its called Rocksmith. The first version came out 2 or 3 years ago. The latest version "Rocksmith 2014" came out in October of last year. Its for xbox 360, PS3 (I have this version), PC, and possibly for the newest consoles Xbox 1, and PS4.

    Just plug in any guitar or bass and you are good to go. It comes with roughly 55-60 songs, and more can be purchased to download at $2.99 each or 3 packs for $7.99, and sometimes 5 packs for $11.99. It looks like the game can be had for between $60-$70 from amazon, depending on platform. It has several tutorials, and the game can be perfectly customized to the desired difficulty. You can slow it down or simplify the song when learning.

    I'm sure that there are a ton of things that you get from lessons that this game might not have, however it is a great practice tool. As an added bonus, each song has a signature guitar and bass tone. You can use the system as an amp, which depending on your home theater setup can be great or not so great with tv speakers.

  18. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    First lesson went OK. I prepared way more material than we were able to cover. Indeed - the most valuable aspect for him was slowly helping him repeat basic plucking and fretting exercises with a metronome to get comfortable with the instrument. We also spent some time with Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt" to illustrate the use of whole, half and quarter notes and how they fit into song structure. He stayed with it, enough to want to order a bass and dig in. Yea!
  19. mattj1stc

    mattj1stc Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    Dallas, TX USA

    I'm probably being overly ambitious - I've just started teaching my 6 year old how to play. She takes piano at school, so she was more able than I would have guessed. Still, just getting the basic coordination to work takes a bit. The Kala was a good fit for her. She has a lot of fun playing.
  20. Awesome Grandpa! :cool::bassist: Yeah, I think back 11 months ago when I picked up the bass… it was a physical repetition to get my hands strong enough to play the extended periods necessary to progress. I'm a 43 year old carpenter. I can only imagine your boy's difficulty at 12! Take it slow. I spent the first couple of weeks just learning to fret notes correctly. Sorta subconsciously taught my hand where to go just through repetition and built strength/dexterity. I would play until it hurt, take 5 minutes and then go back at it.

    the time with your grandson is what counts,

    check this out acoustic 5 string version of Cash's cover of NIN's hurt