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Teaching advice

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Howard K, Sep 11, 2003.

  1. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Right, this is for Steve mostly, since he's given me a few successful lessons... but advice from anyone is more than welcome :)

    Recently I've been approached by a few people wanting lessons, most recently, last night some guy asked me if I'd give him some lessons in our interval... (well he asked me in the interval, he wanted lessons later on I expect?)

    Much as I told him I really wasnt that good and could recommend a teacher in London (yourself), he was kind of adamant (no.. not Adam Ant :D ), so I said I'd give him a couple of lessons to start with.

    I'll see how it goes, if after 2 lessons (or so) he's happy with it and I'm confortable teaching I'll ask for some cash - and of course I will tell him this from the outset!

    I plan to see where he is - find out what kind of stuff he's into, how he wants to play, teach him some basic chord theory (followed by key sigs, modes, II-V-I, common exstensions etc - just not in one lesson!) - and some "cool stuff" - I want to try to balance 'tricks' with theory so it's not too boring, but he still gets some of the basics under his belt.
    I also want to try and pick songs that he likes and understand them myself so I can teach him about the theory in the songs...

    I'm really just after any advice - ANY pointers whatsoever that will help me not mess him about or make it a bad experience for him.

    In all honesty, a little cash-in-hand would be nice, but it's not at all important and I'm very very wary of doing a bad job of teaching - I really really dont want to put someone off lessons, or worse still bass!

  2. Si-bob


    Jun 30, 2001
    Hemel Hempstead, UK
    Focusrite / Novation
    i to am very interested in any information/tips on this subject, so lets here it from u teaching types :)
  3. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    I think your honesty about the situation from the start is a good footing to kick off from - he wants lessons from you, you've said you don't think you're up for it, he doesn't care. You're in a win-win situation! :D

    the stuff you listed is all good. Making sure he's not doing himself any harm with his technique is always priority number 1 - find out if he suffers from any hand, arm or back pain when playing, and look at the little details of what he's doing there to make sure it's all OK...

    after that, songs make a good framework for introdcucing concepts. Contextualise everything. If you're showing him an exercise that has no relevance to any music you can think of, pick another one that does! :)

    Most of all, let him know from the start that if he doesn't get it, it's your fault not his, and be prepared to reexplain things in a lot of different ways in order to get a particular point across. One of the things I think I do particularly well as a teacher is finding creative ways of explaining musical concepts, and then adapting them to fit the students experience and playing level...


  4. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    That's a very good point indeed, noted.

    I read this the wrong way round initially, i.e. "if he doenst get it, it's not your fault, it's his..."!!

    I was thinking, "crikey that's harsh, I dont remember that from my 1st lesson?" :D
    Another good tip - I will make sure that's a main focus.

    The more I think about it, the more I'm actually looking forward to having a crack at it.
    I'm kind of expecting it to be a learning experience for me as much as it is for him really - which can't be a bad thing!

    I think my main concern though is getting the order of things wrong - I mean, in my 1st lesson you showed me major scale chords and it opened a BIG door for me, immediatley - but that was what i wanted and needed to learn.
    this guy might not give a monkeys about that - so i really want to put it in context.

    it's kinda difficult to comprehend, i guess i'll have to wing it and see what happens?

    i'll let you know how i get on.
  5. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    I'v taught some people (some of which still play) and am about to start up again.

    I've found teaching very rewarding because not only do you see (mostly) someone improving and enjoying doing so but you also reinforce what you know and remember how much you take for granted/forgot.

    The only area that lessons can fall down (and Steve gets around this with loopers etc) is that you are being taught in isolation. If you are teaching someone who does not have access to other musicians I suggest that you incorporate playing with others in some form.

    As previously mentioned Steve uses loops, one of my (two) lessons included building a loop of two basses for us to solo over. I now have a looper (Cycloops actually).
  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I have a loop box, which I will obviously utilise... but this...

    I have a mate who is learning drums - he's not really loose or creative yet, but he keeps time like a clock!
    If it's appropriate I could ask him if he'll sit in on a lesson every now and then.

    Hmm, nice one CS - very good idea :)
  7. CS


    Dec 11, 1999

    I tend to play guitar whilst the teached one plays bass. You could try a drum machine or drum loops first.

    Adding another player too soon might scare people off. Back to the things we forget point-I rarely get nervous playing in a known situation even if it's to a 1000 plus audience. But some players especially learners get frightened playing to others. BTW I get nervious having to play for Steve (with is another thing).

    It might be an idea to encourage your trainee to find others to jam with and sit in after a while.

    I dont think it's a big point because lessons are about one to one. However I've met players who can tear up a fretboard yet consistantly play in front of the kick drum...
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yes, good point.

    I wasnt thinking like 1st lesson or anything just as an option - playing with a drummer is so important and it'd be a good way of teaching it, I think? Idea saved for a rainy day...
    Anyhow, this guy plays already - I'm not sure to what standard, but I expect he can find people to jam with.

    Not a bad idea - I cant play guitar.. well major chords an a few minors - mind you, that would get the point accross for basic chord theory wouldnt it... hmmm

    I've only recently (in the last year) figured out the source of my nerves: I get nervous if I'm not 100% confident in what I'm doing... and that includes the other band members.. if i knwo one of them is likely to fk up i get worried about it...

    I played last night at Reading Jazz Club - two 3/4 hour sets in a very intimate situation, about 200 people, no stage so they're all on the same level as the band.
    The audience doesnt bother me, the larger the better as it's less intimate and intimidating I find... and I'd much rather play to strangers than friends!!!

    The tough part was that the acoustics in this place were dreadful (in a jazz club!!!) I could barely hear myself until I played a G anywhere on the neck, and the booom was unbelievable - no amount of EQ tweakage would rectify it.
    I played OK, not my best, I didnt make any noticable mistakes.. but it was very very tough and I was nervous before we went on because I couldnt hear sh!t in sound check. Nightmare.

    I only played to Steve once, I think he still suffers to this day... :D
    Actually I was nervous then too, not because it was Steve, but because it was the first time I'd ever played an acoustic bass 1) live, b) plugged in c) with anyone else, and also because it was a very intimate gig, I hadnt played with the singer/guitarist for several months and I coulndt really hear myself in the monitors!

    off topic waffle over, sorry! :rolleyes:
  9. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Waffle away Howard. I'm sure Steve will sort us out if we go too far.

    If I'm doing a session I rarely get nervous because all I have to worry about is me. If I haven't learned the stuff it's my fault.

    When I perform stuff I wrote I'm a complete wreck. I'd drink if I didnt get legless on half a Heineken...

  10. kimstevens


    Nov 12, 2002
    I have a bit to say about teaching... not as a teacher, but as one who has taken some lessons (on upright... haven't yet studied bass guitar with a teacher).

    Even though the 2 teachers I had were professional players, I felt they weren't picky enough with me. If I was pretty close to playing in tune, they'd say, "great intonation", while I knew it wasn't great. I ended up with the feeling that they couldn't help me get where I wanted to go. Maybe I was wrong to feel that way, because they were both better players than myself, but I felt it nevertheless. I ended up deciding to concentrate on bass guitar, although I wouldn't attribute that decision to my experience with my teachers.

    So, if you decide to teach, perhaps it would be good to not worry about giving "boring" lessons, but rather to present exactly what you think the student should be learning at each stage of development in order to eventually become the best musician he/she can be. It's a pretty heavy responsibility.
  11. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    I think it depends a lot on the student and their expectations. A lot of my students would be deeply affected if the lessons were 'boring' - mainly because playing bass isn't about attaining some lofty proffessional aspiration, but is more about personal growth, relaxation, and the therapeutic power of music. In your case, you obviously just found the wrong teachers - ones who specialise in encouraging students in order to motivate them to keep going, rather than ones who'll bust your chops to push you harder.

    Which just comes down to finding the right teacher. No one teacher is right for all students. I'm certainly not the perfect teacher for everyone - I was talking to a former student of mine on email the other day who is now taking Latin lessons from a Cuban guy living in London - I could introduce him to the basics of Latin basslines and some of the main rhythmic ideas, but it's certainly not my speciality, so he's with a specialist now. Likewise, I've had students who want to do graded exams before now, which I have a) no interest in and b) no faith in as a useful way of learning, so I'll suggest they find someone who'll teach them the stuff the way they want to be taught, or that they do it themselves, while we look at the areas covered in the exams in a more musical way...

    So you found the wrong people, others may find that their encouragement pursuades them to put more work in, rather than puts them off for not being hard enough...


  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    That is a good point though Kim, it is important to make sure they at least know about the "proper" methods and techniques - even if they dont want to be forced into learning them.

    I'm of the opinion that you cant force someone to learn proper technique, if they want to spend hours per day on technique excercises they will, if they dont care about it and they "jus' wanna rock", they wont... and that's perfectly OK.
    Therefore, all a teacher can do is make sure they are aware of how important particular techniques are if you want to attain to a certain level of playing, I guess.

    Steve showed one particular technique that I wasnt using last time I had a lesson, playing with rest strokes, I've been forcing myself to play with rest strokes ever since and it is finally coming together nicely. In fact I'm just starting to come up with some tasty new "licks" using it :)
    Thing is that I was playing fine without it, but I needed that technique to get to where I wanted to be - Steve saw that and pointed me in the right direction.. and it's working.

    So from that I realise that you just cant give a gigging musician (if I can call myself so), with a day job and "a life" (said the 30 year old man in a chat room...) a bunch of homework and expect him/her to get it done inside a week!

    I think it comes down to a conversation between teacher and student about how they want to learn - what their ultimate aim is?
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Steve and Howard have made some good points and are being very polite about it - but it sounds to me like you were very lucky to have some good teachers!

    I have been on loads of Jazz courses/workshops etc. in the last few years, with a variety of tutors and have discussed this quite a lot with fellow students.

    So - it is actually quite hard to be positive and encouraging all the time and it is very easy to be criticial and point out faults - especially if you are a very good player yourself.

    So - what would you be saying now about those teachers if they had said things like :

    "Your intonation is terrible - you're never going to make it as a pro if you play like that - stop playing, it's hurting my ears, let me show you how a real pro does it - you have no idea!! " etc. etc.

    I'm sure that many teachers have thought those things quite often - the good teachers don't say them!!

    So - when I have talked to fellow Jazz students - we have all met tutors who, while being great players were unable to stop saying things like this - I play Jazz with a pianist who is very good to my ears and who can certainly play, but she told me how a tutor told her that she might as well give up - this sort of thing is not helpful and constant negativity is only likely to put people off - either coming back to you or playing altogether.

    So at Jazz Summerschool, we students get the chance to compare the teaching styles of about 20 different tutors - all great musicians....

    But inevitably the ones who are encouraging and only say positive things, don't pick on anybody and pick holes in their playing, don't browbeat students .....these are the ones who are admired and sought-after.
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I hadnt thought of it that way actually Bruce. very true.
    A good teacher wouldn't hack into you about your poor technique, but they would point ourt where you were gong wrong and be sure to encourage you when you got it right.

    See, that is a ridiculous thing to say to anyone. Not only is it very rude, it's completely ignorant of the point in making music in the first place... and it's so bloody elitest, either you're the with best or you're nothing. Nonsense!

    I mean great player or not, she may compose some fantastic music, find have great players to perform it with and have a great time doing so.

    The keys player in my band is a very aware musician and is a great song writer, in my opinion, but to be frank he cant play for sh1t (even I can tell and he's the first keys player I've ever played with regularly) - his timing and feel is just not good... but he contributes fantastic music to the world.

    On top if that, it doesn't matter how good you are if you enjoy playing!

    We cant all be Fieldy, some us just have to settle for who we are.
  15. Okay it's a completely unrelated area, but I can relate this to my experience of getting skiing lessons.

    The worst lesson I ever had was from a young twerp who did the "bend ze knees, plant ze pole, follow me..." routine. Taught me nothing about where I was going wrong and what I had to do to get it right. Muppet. Biggest waste of time ever.

    The best lessons were from somebody whose focus was to help me enjoy my time on skis, to be able to ski the whole mountain, in whatever conditions. It didn't matter to him what level I was at currently, his focus was on helping me to move toward what *I* wanted to achieve.

    Now comparing this to bass lessons - if your pupil just wants to learn to play Blink182 songs then I'd say fine, show them the techniques that will help them achieve this. (!?). You don't have to say "But Blink182 are rubbish. You want to play these Jaco tunes." That doesn't help anybody. But surely as cheese is cheese that person will eventually say something like "I'm bored playing these tunes, what else can I have a shot at?" I started playing bass along with Pixies records (after I'd given up trying to emulate Geddy Lee). They're "easy" tunes but I had a great time pounding along to Debaser etc. It wasn't till quite some time later that I thought "Hey maybe I should explore some new avenues." And here I am.

    So, to cut a long story longer, find out what styles of music your pupil normally listens to, what styles they are interested in, what would they like to achieve and what is going to help them get most enjoyment out of playing the bass today and in the following weeks.

    I feel that Steve helps me do this, and that's why it's a pleasure going to have lessons with him.
  16. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    And here's another thing that may be completely obvious, but just in case...

    Make sure you point out where, when and how your students have made mistakes. This doesn't mean tear into them the way the people Bruce referred to did - but there is always a way to do it tactfully.

    If people are taking lessons from you, they are doing so in order to improve as a player. If they are making mistakes and you say nothing, they will never realize that they're making mistakes, and they won't improve.

    Basically, the way I think of it is that I take lessons because I want to hear that I suck, and how to stop sucking, from someone who's already found a way to kick the habit.

    I always ask my students if they feel they are satisfied with what I'm showing them, and I always ask where they want to go with the lessons and music in general. That helps me to provide a sort of "road map".

    A friend of mine had a voice teacher who was the world's biggest sycophant - I sat in on a lesson once and although there were several mistakes, the teacher was all smiles and "Good Stuff!" afterwards. What a waste of money that was...

    Your job as a teacher is not to build up the student's ego; your job is to build up their playing ability. If you do that, the ego should take care of itself.

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