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Jeff Berlin asks - What Is Taught Without Only Teaching the Facts!

Discussion in 'Ask Jeff Berlin [Closed]' started by JeffBerlin, Jan 2, 2018.

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  1. Isn't (for example) the note G notated in Eb (treble cleff) on the same line as it would be in Bass Cleff of C though?
  2. I doubt we can distill universal truisms about learning to play bass without addressing the wide range of desired outcomes of such learning.
    • What do we want/expect to do with the bass?
    • What is music for?
    • Why do we wish to make it?
    • What role is making music to play in our lives?
    As a friendly amendment to Jeff's opening list, I'll offer: 11. Parenting
    Although most of us desire to be the best parent, (or relationship partner, or friend) we can be, few of us pursue any academic lessons.
    And - very importantly - those who do may not be the 'best' practitioners.

    For some people who seek certain outcomes, surely Jeff's assertion can stand on it's own: "...being taught the bass is best done as a narrow and specific academic experience".
    Equally self-evident, I think, is that for others, it simply does not hold.

    Michael Schreiber likes this.
  3. Roxbororob

    Roxbororob Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2015
    Excellent point.
  4. AlexBassMP


    Feb 5, 2014
    It's an interesting point because I've been playing bass for more than 20 years and now I'm getting aware that my lack of deep understanding of music. Don't get me wrong.. I know about modes, scales, chords, arpeggios , technique..I can't read a single note but almost all that I know is self taught (Included my english) ...but I feel that there's more out there which I can't reach to learn by myself... And that's the reason I started to listen more and more jazz...and the reason I'll take some piano lessons...

    I don't identify myself with the instrument I play... I want to be a musician, not a bass player..
    Quinn Roberts likes this.
  5. JLW


    Dec 5, 2006
    San Francisco, CA
    If Jeff's goal is to inspire people to "aim higher" in learning/playing/music education (he said that was his only goal earlier in the thread), it clearly isn't working. He should revise his technique. I understand that he's a great player, but that doesn't mean he's great at inspiring people through his words to learn the instrument.

    He'd probably be better off just showing off his playing and explaining how he learned all this stuff. Then people would make the connection themselves to copy his methods. Or not.

    I think many peoples point is that music education can be any sort of education related to the playing/performing of music. Just because YOU didn't need to be taught a specific thing like grooving with a drummer or stage presence does not mean that others don't need to be taught it.

    Additionally, there are many ways to learn, and being taught by a teacher is just one of many. Just because you were not taught by a teacher does not mean it isn't music education. I can guarantee you that something like stage presence or locking in with a drummer was something that you learned and was developed over time, whether it was taught to you by a teacher or you taught it to yourself. Want proof of this? Compare your first live performance to your most recent.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  6. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    I think the bulk of your message in the OP can be summed up by this point you made. With that point in mind, I think where a lot of us struggle is in the area between those two (learning and playing). That is, how to apply one to the other.
    Quinn Roberts and 4dog like this.
  7. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I suppose the question is whether what you pick up on the bandstand is really teaching or are you just hearing the music differently and now understanding it better because of things you had previously learned?

    I might ask a bandmate to show me a particular lick from a song and if can't hear it, then I might ask them to call out the notes. Since I know what key the piece is in and what the chords are I can relate that lick to the song, make sense of why it works and apply it elsewhere when appropriate. So has the bandmate actually taught me anything?

    If another bassist comes up to me at a jam session and asks me to show him the line I played, I can just move my fingers on the bass and call out the notes or I could explain why I played the line because of the harmony without using the bass. Are both of these teaching? Did I teach something that could not be found in a book?

    If I stand and watch another bassist as he plays and try to memorize as much of his fingerings as I can, has he taught me anything? What if I close my eyes and just listen to his playing, is that different? What if I record his playing, go home and transcribe it from the recording?

    To me all the above fall into "self-taught".

    There is also the idea of formal teaching leading to more self teaching. If someone teaches me basic math, I can go to a library, find more advanced math books and start teaching myself more about math. A music teacher can help me learn enough so I can go off for weeks, months or years reading more music books, transcribing, etc.

    There are definitely mechanical aspects of playing any instrument that require instruction. The student may need help with posture, embouchure (for winds), bowing (for violin family), holding sticks and mallets (for percussion) and so forth to develop a good tone. The student needs to understand how to play all the notes that are possible on his instrument but even that is not teaching music. If I show you how to fret notes, how to hold a pick, how to use your fingers and thumb on the strings, even give you a fingerboard chart showing what the notes are on the neck, I still have not taught you anything about music. I have simply taught you mechanics.

    Here's an anecdote I heard from an interview with a jazz pianist who studied with a famous teacher. The assignment was to learn a particular Charlie Parker solo note for note. First, the pianist was told to learn to sing the solo. He learned it bar by bar and would sing it to the teacher who would correct his mistakes. This took him a few months to be able to sing it all the way through at the recorded tempo (very fast). Then he was told to write out a full transcription (including properly notated rhythms), this took him another few months with the teacher correcting his mistakes. It was only after all of this that the teacher sat down at the piano with him and they started working on actually playing it. He said the entire process of learning that one tune was close to a year.

    As far as teaching stage presence, that has nothing to do with the music or the instrument. If I really wanted to learn that from a teacher, I would probably go study theater and dance...
  8. Drgonzonm


    Sep 4, 2017
    American SW
    Imo, it doesn't matter if the key is C Bb or Eb, a bass player ain't afraid of sharps or flats. We have those notes found on the black keys on our boards.
    In C white keys matter, with sharps and flats, ebony and ivory rule
    I apologize to elephants for the ivory reference. Play on
  9. Plutonium244

    Plutonium244 Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2015
    I am hoping for a continual positive outlook in this and future Jeff Berlin threads, and by this I mostly mean the people responding to Jeff. He has his specific point of view, as a teacher should. If you feel you can benefit from it, then Jeff's a great guy to learn from. If you are not really interested in being a proficient player to a pro or near-pro level, then certainly, plunking around is a fine way to spend some time and maybe be ready to play some classic rock at your local bar. Nothing wrong with that; it's an enjoyable hobby and pastime. IMO Jeff is addressing his approach to those who want to be more. It is my experience that, because bass is one of the easier instruments to learn to play SOMETHING on-- you don't have to go to Berklee to learn to hammer the root with eighth notes-- a lot of pedestrian folks think they don't need to learn anything more.

    Some things you'll learn by experience -- feel, time, stage presence-- and maybe with a little discussion off the stage on these elements. Really learning music-- the way a proficient pianist might, for example-- takes time and work. I can't claim to be the world's greatest bass player, but I do aspire to be, and am to an extent, a musician, who plays bass. I remember as a youngster playing some hoops in the university rec center with a guy, who said he was a musician. I asked him what instrument he played. He said "music, all of it". Turns out it was Ron McCurdy who has head of the jazz program at the U of Kansas. He at long last mentioned that saxophone was his performance instrument. But he wasn't "just" a sax player. That conversation stuck with me. Be a musician. To do that you need to learn music. Not just bass.

    Guys like Jeff, or Patitucci, etc-- they can do what the anti-music-learning crowd can do -- groove, lock with a drummer, etc-- but they can do stuff the "I just lock with the drummer" guys/gals can't. It's true, I have played with educated musicians who weren't that great playing with feel, groove, funk, etc. So being musically literate doesn't automatically make you awesome. To be awesome, you need to be able to do it all. I know lots of really educated players who ALSO have the feel, groove, all that, too.

    If I understand Jeff, he's not saying DON'T worry about groove, feel, locking, playing to the song, stage presence-- he's saying DO learn music, in all its complexity, to the best of your ability, also. It'll take more time and effort to learn to master theory than to figure out how to sneer appropriately when playing Black Sabbath, so make sure the big ticket items of education are front and center. IMO you're holding yourself back if you're afraid to try the hard work, or just don't want to put out the effort. If it's just a thing to pass the time, that's fine-- it's fun! And coming to LOVE playing music and playing bass is an important part to keeping with it. But, if you personally don't want to push yourself to be the best you could be, i'd suggest that you not say "it isn't that important" or "Jeff should not focus on the theory and hard stuff" or worse, tell Jeff he's wrong about believing the hard stuff is really important-- just becasue you don't want to.

    IMO, there is no ONE thing you should do. I try (not always successfully) to do them all-- I use a metronome sometimes, to work on timing and precision-- it's helped me set an accurate internal clock. I ALSO spend time not playing, but studying, going through theory, trying chord voicings, not playing in time, but sometimes very, very slowly... I spend time with books, and have my bass in hand to try and connect the reading with my hands, not to "play" the music. I also get my time in playing gigs, where I can work on the other stuff-- artistic expression, improv, etc. Improv doesn't really go anywhere unless you know your fundamental tools-- from study.

    For those who feel the need to suggest Jeff is wrong, I'd suggest going about your own plan, and not "correcting" Jeff. Those that WANT to hear Jeff's POV don't benefit from you saying "that's overrated, I don't need it". And if you don't feel you benefit from Jeff's approach, then don't pursue it. Denigrating a POV you don't personally agree with is pointless.

    Just my 2 cents, from a guy that should have spent more time earlier deeply engrossed in the deep theory of music. Maybe, if I am being honest, I was afraid I couldn't hack it, at first... I found out eventually that I could, and wished I'd been more intrepid sooner.
    DrewinHouston, hintz, Whippet and 8 others like this.
  10. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    You misunderstand how music is notated for most woodwinds and brass.

    The clarinet is what is called a transposing instrument. When I was taught clarinet as a child I learned how to play a C, a D, etc. But if I played in unison along with a piano, when I played a C the pianist would play Bb. If you pick up an alto sax (Eb instrument) and a tenor sax (Bb instrument) the fingering for a "C" is the same for both. But the note that is heard is not the same. If you look at charts written out for a band, you will see that when you the bassist are reading a key signature of C, the alto player will be reading a key signature of A and the tenor player a key signature of D. You will often hear horn players talking about "concert key" by which they mean the real key they are playing in, not what is written on the page.

    Sure I can read out of a book for Eb or Bb transposing instruments and ignore the transpositions but I will be learning and playing it in the wrong key. No reason to deliberately do that that I can think of.
    bass12, Fergie Fulton and SteveCS like this.
  11. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I agree some, but disagree with some of this as well. I play in churches (at this point, pretty much every weekend - I have to block out a weekend here and there to keep things sane), and although I have learned a lot of music theory over a lot of years (played violin in grade school, which was a very long time ago), On the particulars of bass guitar, I am entirely self taught.

    I understand that the stucture of learning is very different when someone else is teaching you, but some of us learn things better on our own. It's a motivation thing. If I'm learning from a teacher, and I don't do my exercises, and next week, my teacher scowls at me, honestly, that's not a big deal to me. If I don't do my "homework" (the way I learn), I will (over the course of a few services in a weekend) play in front of a couple thousand people that will see me struggle with a part. That....motivates me much better. Yes, most of the the things I work on are more ad hoc, but the urgency to learn is there, and it does move my perfromance, albeit in varying areas, ahead quicker than I would do if taught by others.

    So, there is structure, albeit a pseudo random type of thing - in a typical week, I work on speed, or fingering, or..whatever I'm challenged by in the music I have to play that weekend. I also adopt goals above and beyond what's necessary for the week - I'm working on using a pick better, with the goal of being able to play proficiently enough that I have that in my arsenal (currently I wouldn't do that in a gig situation - I'm just not there).

    As far as teaching someone else, I wholeheartedly agree - I wouldn't try to give lessons to anyone; it just wouldn't make sense for me to do that. I might encourage someone who's motivated like me, and coach them a bit on approach, but I wouldn't do formal lessons with anyone.
    TwentyHz and Fergie Fulton like this.
  12. PaulReside


    Mar 14, 2016
    Scottsdale Az
    I can't like this quote enough. To everything Jeff says seems obvious but I was just too lazy in my youth to follow his advice. I'm trying to follow it now that I'm more "mature" and realize I want more out of my music than I have been willing to put in the work for, up to now.
  13. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    I’ll take a stab at this. Full disclosure - I’m a self taught bassist and guitarist but have studied other instruments. I don’t profess to be anything more than average on any of them! I have managed to learn to do other things in life with a reasonable degree of proficiency,though.

    What’s being posited here are two different things: a. a process and b. content - and, as such don’t provide a sufficient definition of “learning” in this context. I’m sure any one of the professional educators on TB could supply a sufficient definition.

    Anyways, I’d think that there’d be two components of learning at a minimum: the study of theory and the application of theory through which knowledge and experience are gained. The former could be as @JeffBerlin proposes- the narrowly defined academic approach while the latter would be way more broad with opportunity to stumble, fail, learn and eventually succeed.

    I have no opinion on metronomes - but when I played drums, my band mates called me the Human Metronome.

    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  14. Root 5

    Root 5

    Nov 25, 2001
    Canada, eh!
    A great many musicians have no idea who Art Tatum is either. He was probably the greatest jazz pianist who ever lived; all other pianists relinquished the stool when he walked into the club because he was the man and they knew it.

    And I often think of Oscar Peterson's bassist, Dave Young. He NEVER plays a bad note, his intonation is perfect and most musicians have no idea who he is.

    Jeff Berlin is in good company.
  15. dbsfgyd1


    Jun 11, 2012
    Richmond , Va
    RE: # 1

    Are you saying there is nothing to be learned from playing? If so, I thoroughly disagree. There is a lot to learn from the experience of playing, although you could lump it in with being “self taught”, of which I find no problem if some one chooses to go that route.

    Further, When you are at play with other players, what better environment than to learn musical, content based in harmony, melody and rhythm? Academics can only take you so far. Eventually, it going to be the artistic application of good taste is going to determine your level of success.
    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  16. Plutonium244

    Plutonium244 Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2015
    Academics can only take you so far... not having the academics takes less far. If you lack that, then it'll be pretty hard to truly get "artistic application of good taste".

    I doubt JB is saying that there is nothing to be learned from playing, but rather that there IS something to be learned, something important to the performance of music, from some rigorous work-- work that a lot of people poo poo because, in reality, they just don't want to make all that effort, or are afraid to see if they can really do it or not.

    Maybe they feel they are being criticized by Jeff Berlin, because he says that they are missing something important, that what they re doing is by itself inadequate to really gain proficiency on the bass, and who the hell is he to make them feel bad about being a slacker in school? One may not like it when their algebra teacher expects them to learn and apply equations, and sure, you can still add, subtract, multiply and divide without it, and that's still math... but it isn't algebra. Jussayin'... I'd laugh out loud if I ever heard a pianist say "I didn't feel I needed to learn theory." Why do so many bassists hold themselves to such a low standard?
    Kubicki Fan and Quinn Roberts like this.
  17. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I agree that "factual musical content" is a necessary bedrock for improving as a bass player.
    But I can't quite agree with the basic thesis that "factual musical content" is the only teaching worth paying for.

    and this is precisely why:

    It's a point I have made many times on this forum.
    I think that "groove", "feel", "pocket", and other fuzzy musical terms are complex,
    but they are not magical, insubstantial, beyond analysis or impossible to usefully discuss in terms of "factual musical content"

    "If is sounds good it is good" is 100% true, and 100% useless advice.

    to tell your student who asks you to help "improve my groove" that the can only learn by osmosis or experience or playing or listening a bunch is similarly true,
    But it is missing an opportunity to present the "magical" concepts in more concrete and productive terms.

    for that reason I think that categorically rejecting such concepts as non factual is a mistake.
  18. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    I have a question.
    Let's say, a TB member, prior to "becoming/"on the way to becoming" a bass player, has been academically educated as (a) a piano player, a tuba player, a violin player, a sax player, etc... with all those Music theory, harmony, composition, etc... classes/courses.
    Now, that academically-educated TB member decides to learn the bass guitar (it's easy, plus more gig possibilities).
    That TB member does not want to go to some college to study the bass guitar, but wants to learn the bass guitar playing skills by asking questions, watching youtube, reading some tutorials.

    Is that TB member a self-taught musician?
    Is that TB member a self-taught bass player?
  19. Downsman


    Jan 30, 2016
    Jeff's new threads have already inspired me to go back to learning music theory. I've spent the last couple of days playing the chord tones through the circle of fifths, alternating starting at the root, third, fifth and seventh. And doing this while saying the notes as I play them to try and finally nail down my knowledge of the fretboard. My goal is to be able to improvise bass lines to songs I don't already know when someone in my band can at least tell me the chords.

    I think what you meant to say was that it clearly isn't working for everyone. He's said several times that he'd feel it's been worthwhile if even a few people are inspired, so imagine he's probably okay with that.
  20. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    I think by just arguing with Jeff Berlin, we will not learn too much.
    So far, after numerous pages from this or other thread, we did not let Jeff answer anything that always bother us, like
    "But what about those Modes?", "How should I deal with the String (sliding) noises", "Is raking a proper way of playing some fast notes?", "Should I use only two fingers for my picking?", etc...
    and so on...
    Quinn Roberts likes this.

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