Anyone else mostly self taught? How much do you suck? ;)

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Ed S, Nov 3, 2021.

  1. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    There is yet another thread going on where some posters have gone on about the importance of getting instruction and practicing daily. I don't dispute that that would definitely be the best way to get better quickly. But I think such comments do some disservice to what a reasonably interested person could do on their own, with minimal/infrequent teaching, and less regular less lengthy practice. Wondering if anyone cared to discuss.

    For me, the biggest impediment is my overall laziness. Going to regular lessons, and practicing regularly, would make my playing more like work than what I do for fun. I know I would progress further and faster with lessons, but I am still progressing with what am doing.

    Also, I'm not sure how high my expectations are. Right now, it would have to be a pretty high-level bluegrass/oldtime jam for me not to contribute very meaningfully. (Yes, I have played with pros at speed, and yes I have been told I fell short.)

    I'm progressing with the bow enough that I'm having a lot of fun with a low level adult string quartet. I KNOW I'm getting better, because almost every week I realize I am doing something I flat out couldn't do a short while ago.

    So I get it - if you want to be in a high level classical or jazz setting, you ARE going to need instruction and some dedication to practice. But when folk go down that track, I think they somewhat fail to acknowledge what can be accomplished on one's own, perhaps with only occasional tuneups with a teacher, or on-line, or at a camp...

    Or am I deluding myself? Wouldn't be the first time!
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  2. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    You know better than we would.

    For me, moving into DB also meant playing jazz and I tried and failed to develop the skill I needed and avoid injury without help. When I got help, I couldn't remember why I thought it would be good to avoid it. I haven't maintained lessons throughout my journey, so a lot of the work is still on my own, without guidance and some technique to build on, I would have been working against myself.

    Today when I get stuck and someone will help me, I ask for their help and show them graditude.
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  3. Standalone


    Jan 17, 2005
    New Haven
    I’ve had like three lessons on DB. Just had a paid recording studio session gig. I’m not all that. And I know my limitations. For a rock album, I brought great tone and vibe and didn’t mess anything up.

    DB is something you can really make people happy with even at a basic level. Just have a groove.

    Like, look at this LH technique. Lol.
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  4. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    I think a lot of this depends on where a person wants to go with their playing, and a lot of that depends on a person's age.

    If your 10 years old, starting out brand new, and all you can think about is playing double bass as a pro all your life, that's one thing. If on the other hand you're 63 years old, have a lot of musical experience including lots of musical improvisation, and want to play double bass when not playing the banjo, mandolin or Dobro for bluegrass gigs and jams and for casual old-jazz combo work, that's a very different thing.

    For the 10 year old and those in similar situations, formal musical training is the best boost available for getting into the competitive music world early in life. For the 63 year old and those in similar situations to that, casual training that is extremely focused on selected genre, selected techniques and selected types of venues, and also casual training that is more mindful of a potentially limited remaining musical lifetime, is probably much more appropriate.

    That's my experience anyway, YMMV.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I'm 99% self taught on the bass. I've had one-off lessons with some great folks passing through town, but that's pretty much it. The caveat is that by the time the bass entered my sphere at 35, I had multiple degrees in music and had studied guitar and piano seriously at the collegiate level with some pretty great teachers. So it was a matter of porting their lessons about how to physically approach different instruments in a relaxed and healthy way over to the big bass. There was a lot of trial and error involved. As my best teacher ever taught me, error is your friend if you will only pay attention and work to solve the puzzle of why it is an error. As she said often (I'm paraphrasing), "The difference between a master and a beginner is that the master has failed more times than the beginner has tried". Is it any wonder I think of her as Yoda? :D

    But seriously, lessons with a great teacher are great. If you can afford them and can find a great teacher, I'd say definitely give that a try. In my case, I was determined to learn in my own way, by figuring it out. I think it worked out fine, but as with everything else in life, there is no way to know how much better or worse off I'd be if I'd taken the other path. The only advice I don't like to hear is "get a teacher, no matter what, or don't even try"; For many people, that may not be feasible for one reason or another.

    Whichever way you go, adopt role models and "borrow" as much as you can from them. If they are an in person teacher, great! If they are not, less great, but don't let that stop you if you really want to play. Go to live performances and try to take at least one thing you can use from every player you see/hear. Wash, rinse, repeat. If you learn to really enjoy the process rather than just the final result, the journey is always worthwhile IMO.
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  6. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Yes, this is the crux of the matter! It also depends on how much musical talent you have to begin with.
    I have a little issue with the term "self-taught," though, preferring the term "without lessons." I don't feel right discounting the precious nuggets we pick up from countless people and situations along the way.

    I started playing the double bass in 1975 because the band I was in did some Bluegrass. At the time, I was totally "without lessons" and had been playing guitar and bass guitar in bands for several years, and singing all my life. Despite the blisters, I became "good enough" in a matter of months, and for a while played DB exclusively, even for swing, jazz, and rhythm and blues. I was nowhere close to virtuosity, but I knew how to make music in those genres.

    When I retired from my day job 4 years ago, I made a commitment to learn the double bass properly: The bow, the reading, the fingering, the precise intonation ... I've been taking weekly lessons and practicing daily since. It's opened up musical worlds that as a young whippersnapper I could never have imagined walking through; it's allowed me to play music without having to spend nights in a tavern, expanded my composing/arranging skills, and extended my circle of musical acquaintances.

    Do I suck? Compared to my teacher, who is a sub for the St. Louis Symphony and principal bassist for the big Summer-stock musical outdoor theatre here, yes, I suck. But I suck less today than I did last week. My little orchestra is happy to have me, and one of these days I'll be ready to audition for professional orchestras.
  7. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    I've had a few lessons in the past, and am currently working on my arco playing with a symphony bassist, but I am 99% self-taught. I got my first double bass, an Englehardt, as a college sophomore. I wanted to play jazz, and had a great ear, so I eschewed reading and formal instruction. At 62, I have learned a lifetime of bad habits that I am unlikely ever to unlearn, and my technique will never be what it might have been. Still, I am a passable jazz player -- a better accompanist than a soloist, but passable. Lacking the chops for blazing speed, I try to focus on playing melodic solos.

    It's unlikely to be a common experience, but I suffered my worst playing-related injury when I started studying arco with the French bow some years back. I'm now working on developing some basic arco skills (for use in jazz accompaniment) with the German bow. So far, so good. I practice every other day.

    YMMV (and likely will).
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2021
  8. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I'm mostly self taught, after a little over a decade of gigging on BG. I went through two periods of regular lessons, about a year each time. The rest was learning on the bandstand. Where I could still use lessons is playing with the bow.
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  9. Levin S

    Levin S Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2007
    Charlotte N.C.
    Pretty much all self taught here. I can unequivocally tell you that the majority of my gigs come from me being fun to be around and not my musical ability lol
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  10. Bar Star

    Bar Star

    Nov 4, 2018
    Hey Ed,

    I have read many of your posts on TB because I feel that we are in similar places musically and on parallel journeys of discovery with the bow (although I am envious of your chamber group!). I am always interested in your insights and experiences.

    I would not say I’m self taught, more like @AGCurry ’s “without lessons” but I might choose the term, “independent learner.”

    I have used books, summer music camps instructional DVD’s and online resources—including Discover Double Bass and Talkbass!—to learn to play guitar, tenor banjo, upright and electric bass at unremarkably mediocre levels. In addition to countless busking and bar gigs, I’ve lucked into playing on festival stages and a few weddings as the weakest link in a few folk, bluegrass and cover bands over the last 20 years.

    I would not recommend doing it they way I have but…it is anecdotal proof that, depending on your goals, it can work.

    That said, I started playing upright bass about 8 years ago and, while I don’t suck, I’m nothing special and have a LONG way to go to be considered “good” in even the local circles I play in. Since COVID shut down the cover band I was playing in I have belatedly been following some of the most common advice on TB: practice with the bow, play through Simandl and I have even taken a couple of lessons with local jazz and roots players but I haven’t followed them up.

    I definitely learned some stuff from both and have tried to integrate it with my Beginners and German bow courses (both excellent!) from DDB. I am currently at the point where I am sounding better with my drone scales, playing a few simple fiddle tunes with the bow at 70 to 85 bpm and the Simandl work is improving my reading.

    Would I be better with some classical bowing lessons from a teacher I connected with? Absolutely. I’m just not prepared to give up other aspects of my life or the music projects that I have also taken up post lockdown. I’ve cut some things and people out of my life to make time for an 1-1.5 hours of daily practice, jamming with two different groups (bluegrass and Americana) and playing some farmers market busking slots. I am not ready to give anything else up to make time to fit into a teacher’s schedule right now.

    One of my summer workshop instructors heard me playing last night and was very complimentary about my improvement over the lockdown. The common recommendations made here about how to learn the instrument appear to be working so I am inclined to believe the teacher advice too. I’m just not ready to make time for that yet.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2021
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  11. CryingBass

    CryingBass Just a Fool Whose Intentions are Good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    Yes. And a lot.
  12. Bar Star

    Bar Star

    Nov 4, 2018
    @AGCurry : I admire your commitment to expanding your skill set! Your video of the chamber camp performance provided motivation for me to allocate a bit more of my practice time to learning melodies with the bow instead of just scales and Simandl work.

    This has been a very important part of my development after first taking up guitar as an adult 20 years ago. I had some great band mates who were music majors and minors in undergrad who were very helpful and extremely patient.

    My increased commitment to (almost) daily bowing technique, scales and intonation practice since the first covid wave has given me similar experiences and joy.

    With my current life demands/balance adding scheduled lessons would make it feel, as @Ed S has said, more like work so I am not there yet. I would expect that I could accelerate my progress if/when I made the time and found the right teacher.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2021
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  13. mattj1stc

    mattj1stc Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    Dallas, TX USA
    I started on bass guitar when I was 12 or 13, without lessons. I had friends who were starting a band and they asked me play bass despite my having no musical experience. I learned by doing, and it suited me at that time - this was back before the internet, so there was a lot of listening to recordings to learn songs - I never learned to read music or any theory back then.

    I stopped playing after college and restarted when I was about 40, again without lessons. The difference was that the second time, I did buy some books and use online resources to teach myself to read music and learn some theory, which made learning to play again so much easier. I also had the money to buy a nicer bass, which made playing easier. Because I had better gear, I think that I developed relatively good technique on bass guitar. Most people think that I have more training than I do because my combination of initially learning by ear, my knowledge of theory and having gear that I don't have to fight (ergonomics tend to work out with good gear and practice). Technically, I play finger style 99%+ of the time. I can play with a pick and slap at a basic level, but I'm most comfortable playing with my fingers and that works 99%+ of the time for what I'm asked to do.

    I got interested in upright about 5 years ago. I started on electric upright, again without lessons. Some of the adjustments were straightforward - 1-2-4 fingering vs. 1-2-3-4, side of the finger plucking vs. finger tips, longer scale - I could play well enough pretty quickly. Eventually, I wanted a real upright, which to me is satisfying to play on a different level than bass guitar or electric upright. When making this switch, I did take a lesson, which was very helpful. Holding and supporting an upright is different and learning how to do this properly was a key for me (an EUB on a stand is a different experience). Similarly, I did have one bad habit from bass guitar, which was pressing the back of the neck with my thumb, so having a lesson helped me identify this issue (and it helped me stop doing this on bass guitar as well). I did try bowing, but similar to slapping and using a pick on bass guitar, it's not a big part of what I do. Does this mean that I'm a less than complete bassist? Yes. Does this bother me or inhibit me from doing what I want to do musically? No, not at this time.

    I'm also fine with practicing on my own. I don't need someone to keep me accountable or on track around playing bass any more than I need a trainer to tell me to exercise regularly. I'm self-motivated and always interested in learning new music. I think that the key is to get to a point where you can play comfortably and confidently (within whatever boundaries work for you) - let the technique become second nature, so that you can think about what you want to do musically. Yes, sometimes you will encounter something that requires you to rethink what you're doing, to get better technically, to learn something new, and that's good - embrace it, learn it and incorporate it into what you do.

    Still, I do think that it is possible to become reasonably proficient at bass, even upright, largely without lessons. It helps to get some basics around positioning, etc. to avoid having to fight the instrument (and possibly get injured), but there's a lot that you can do on your own. If you think back to some of the original American roots music, I don't think a lot of those earlier players had a lot of lessons or amazing technical skills, but they could play well for what they were trying to do.
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  14. sean_on_bass

    sean_on_bass Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2005
    I have never had a lesson on the bass and am completely self taught. Although with that said, i have read many articles, watched many instructional videos, and more than anything LISTENED to alot of good bass playing. I've played the electric bass for 20 years and double bass for 8 years. I primarily play jazz, with some soul/funk/R&B on the side.

    I'm not going to try to tell you what my skill level is, but i can at least say i have played 100+ jazz gigs at this point and many people have me on a list to call for pickup gigs. I am in no way a top level double bass player for my locale. There are many players here i respect and look up to as role models so to speak. I am an eternal student.

    I still see value in instruction because i went through a whole lot of trial and error to get to where i am. Especially when it comes to ergonomic technique. But there are enough resources and material out there for someone to also teach themselves the instrument and whatever style of music they are interested in playing. You just have to be self driven, good at research, and put in the time. You also have to be very honest with yourself as to what you need to improve on and how you sound. Be willing to make all the mistakes, you have to if you want to learn.
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  15. In cases like this, I would say if you ask the question the answer is yes. I do agree with regular and less lengthy practice - setting practice goals you won't skip and continuing to love music are more valuable aspects than many people think.
    In your case, I'd recommend monthly Skype lessons.
    I started giving Skype lessons in 2016 when I moved to Boston from Houston - I still have two of those students! One of the advantages of online lessons is people tend to skip them less often. You can also pick nearly anyone you want to study with.
    Checking with someone to make sure you are on the best track for your goals and that you are not developing bad habits is helpful with the instrument. You may learn from your errors, but time spent practicing inefficiently or incorrectly is time you won't get back.

    It could also be a question of the right teacher. The right teacher could make it exciting to load up the bass and go over there very week.
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  16. lurk

    lurk Supporting Member

    Dec 2, 2009
    Everyone is mostly self taught. A teacher can help by pointing stuff out, making suggestions, and raising your awareness, but the real learning happens in your practice space, alone.
  17. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    Good points.

    I'm pretty low tech. I tried Skype lessons last year and really disliked the experience. But I recently bought a new computer which might make the process more appealing, and monthly might be a better fit. I chose this teacher because she is very close to me and came highly recommended, but I suspect she may not be a good fit - as well as her not being great w/ the tech either.

    Maybe I'll give it another go.
  18. I think you will like being able to play the bass well and progressing in a more efficient way! A big part part of teaching is giving a clear next step. Every experience in music isn't enjoyable, and part of getting to the real fun is doing the work that isn't all that fun.
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  19. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    I think I did not express myself clearly.
    The greatest unpleasantness was dealing w/ the tech.
    Could I see/hear her well enough and could she hear/see me?

    In nearly all instances, if meatspace interactions are not possible, I will generally eschew virtual.
  20. Yes, I did understand. It just an hour or so that is not the best experience, if she sets you on the right path the information will be invaluable. Especially if having to load up the bass and drive somewhere is creating ZERO lessons.
    A good bass lesson gives you information you use forever.

    I had a similar experience recently - traveling around the East Coast on public transit with a flight case & heavy back pack, and carrying it up stairs, etc. Extremely unpleasant!
    Still, when I played the first note in an important situation with the bass I knew and liked, I forgot about all of it.
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