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When to stop studying with someone

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by zackattack, Dec 10, 2017.

  1. zackattack

    zackattack Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2006
    San Francisco
    I’m currently studying with a reasonably high profile player. I’m enjoying the lessons, and taking something from them, but I have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I could be getting more from someone else.

    The teacher I’m with clearly has a set method that he runs everyone through and doesn’t seem to be tailoring anything to me, just validating that I’m ready to move on to the next stage. The lessons themselves aren’t hugely informative, we’re basically just reading through the handout he gives me and checking my understanding.

    That said, I am making progress in an area that I haven’t before so clearly the structure is working for me.

    I have a few questions, any anecdotal experience anyone could share would be amazing.

    How do you figure out if a teacher is really working for you or if you’ve taken everything you can from them?
    If you decide to stop lessons, how do you go about doing it?
    Does anyone have an experience with taking lessons from multiple teachers at the same time? How did it work out?
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    What are you working on with them? Sure, everybody learns in a different way, but WHAT you have to learn doesn't change. So it may seem that he is "not tailoring" the material to you, but if you are not encountering any obstacles and comprehending all the work in front of you, there's nothing that's going to trigger a change in approach, if you get me. If there's not a change in approach when you say "I'm just not getting this", that's one red flag.

    I don't know what kind of music you want to play, but a teacher shouldn't be teaching you a style of music, they should be teaching you solid musical fundamentals. That way, you can play whatever kind of music YOU want to play. My feeling is that there are 3 "legs" to this tripod of good musical fundamentals:
    1. TECHNIQUE - and by that I mean physical approach to the instrument. The idea is to have a relaxed, tension-free right and left hand and arm, throughout your body. The ability to handle all scale work, arpeggio work, position shifts, string crossing, etc. no matter what finger you start with (both left and right hand); ALL of this so that the instrument itself is not an impediment to getting music you are hearing in your head out into the air
    2. UNDERSTANDING - which is generally thought of as music theory. How chords work, how functional harmony works, how it all fits together
    3. EAR TRAINING - which is really the ability to hear with clarity, understanding what it is you are hearing (both internally and externally) so that ultimatley you hear where YOUR voice is in the music.

    And it's ALL of these that are important; HEARING with clarity doesn't do you any good, if you can't PHYSICALLY get those notes out on your instrument nor UNDERSTAND how the fit into the overall AURAL picture. PHYSICALLY being able to play your instrument without being able to HEAR what is needed nor UNDERSTAND what is needed doesn't do you any good. And having an intellectual UNDERSTANDING of the music, but not being able to really HEAR it or PLAY it on your instrument doesn't do you any good.

    So, with those points in mind, how does your current course of study stack up? Do you hit all three areas or only one or two? Or none?

    As regards your questions, you stop studying when you get to a point where the teacher cannot take you beyond your current level OR you decide that you don't want to put the work in to move beyond your current level. You just say, I'm not getting anything out of this (because of either Point A or B form above) so I'm going to stop. I'm not a big fan of multiple teachers, if they're any good they'll be going over the same material, if they're not any good it's not like quality will be increased by quantity.
  3. zackattack

    zackattack Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2006
    San Francisco
    Thanks for the great reply Ed! Super clear and tons of useful information in there.

    I think that at least some of your questions were rhetorical but I’ll answer a few of them just in case, and for posterity.

    We’re working on walking baselines, which is not something I was super in to prior to starting lessons but something I wanted to be able to do for it’s own sake and because I thought it would’ve a good way of solidifying my harmony fundamentals and fretboard knowledge.

    My teacher has had me playing over a 12 bar blues in 4 different keys for about 6 months now, exhaustively working through common arrangements of chord tones in each inversion, then 2 and 4 bar phrases over common changes. We started by playing the same phrase over each bar, then alternating between two different phrases, then mixing up everything I’d learnt with some longer phrases thrown in at certain points. I’m encouraged to sing along to these to help my internalize then, which is certainly helping my ear.

    The focus is on a relative understanding of harmony, i.e “I’m playing a 5th over a V chord” rather than an absolute understanding “I’m playing a G over C7”. I’m careful to make sure I practice in absolute terms too because I think there’s value there too.

    There have been some technical exercises and pointers too, which often relate back to the harmonic concepts we’re working on.

    A lot of this stuff isn’t super challenging for me, but I’m seeing the value in working on something simple for a long time and really owning it.

    All in all, it actually sounds like my studying stacks up pretty well against your post - which is great to hear. I’d love to know if you think differently.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    The best way is for both you and your teacher to understand your goals. You are paying them to get what YOU want, not to get where they want you to get.

    To give you an idea, I taught myself to play golf, and became a decent player. Finally, I realized I needed formal lessons to improve further. The first instructor wanted to make my swing perfect. After a few lessons, I told him my goal was not to get on the PGA tour, but just to become a better golfer who played once a week for fun. He sent me to another teacher there, who was able to help me more.

    You may be in the same position.
    Badwater, pcake and applerocks like this.
  5. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Hmmm. I'm not sure about what you mean with a lot of this.
    "Common arrangements of chord tones", if you're talking about inversions, it sounds like you're talking about arpeggios. OK, but again, HOW are you working on these?
    "Walking baselines (sic)... to work on solidifying harmony and fretboard knowledge" well, I'm not sure that's the best approach to work on any of those three distinct areas.
    "Technical exercises and pointers..." in order to make any kind of real assessment, I'd need to know what those are with more specificity.

    It's all a little vague, in terms of your description, so I can't really say with any definite yea or nay. But first approximation is that it seems to spend a lot of time on game play and not a lot on practice drills, if you get my analogy. A lot of point guard pick with a 3 point jump, but not a lot of the necessary exercises to build endurance, flexibility, agility, accuracy, etc. that are necessary to make the running of plays in drill, and then ultimately, playing the game more about being in the moment on the court and not having to concentrate on the fundamentals. Sure you drill plays, but you have to do the other stuff as well.

    In particular, it sounds like the only ear training you are doing is singing along with lines you're playing, is that accurate? If so, that's a definite miss. When I was studying with Joe, that was about a quarter of the lesson. I've outlined his methodology for ear training here, it's in a thread titled HEARING INVERSIONS I think. I'd recommend checking that out.

    By way of comparison, my lessons with Joe were broken down like this:
    1. playing and assessing technical exercises - which started with two octave scales for major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor starting with quarter notes from qnote = 60bpm to eventually playing 8th notes with varying accents (which I can go into with more detail if you're interested) at qnote=120 bpm in order to be able to control the attack anywhere in a phrase no matter the pizz finger I was using (a lot of times, it's easy to rely on the first finger to do all the emphasis) again, I can go into more detail if you want. That eventually moves to triad arpeggios in all inversions and in open and closed positions, then 4 part chords in all inversions and in open and closed positions. The scale work and arpeggio work are the things that really nail down fingerboard familiarity, at least for me.
    2. improvisation exercises - which I've outlined in a sticky on the DB side (in MUSIC THEORY) called REALLY Learning a Tune. In addition to getting deeper into the tunes you're working on (for this exercise) it really gets you to a place where you can start hearing your way through other tunes.
    3. ear training - as in the thread HEARING INVERSIONS, I think it's post #8.
    4. singing along with solos - at half speed, then at full speed, then on my instrument
    5. Just playing - we'd generally close out the lesson by playing a couple of tunes, Joe on piano.

    So I give your question back to you, does that sound like your lessons?
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2017
  6. zackattack

    zackattack Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2006
    San Francisco
    Thanks again for the reply Ed.

    I'll be a little more specific with I'm working on. And just in case this wasn't clear, it's electric bass I'm playing.

    The technical exercises are playing one-octave major/minor/mixolydian scales through the cycle of fifths. We start with the roots on the A string and play an ascending scale in each key, then descending scales (from the octave on the G string), then ascending arpeggios and finally descending arpeggios. Then we do it all again, but with the roots on the E string. The teacher suggests that this is a type of ear training because I'm internalizing the major/minor/mixolydian sounds.

    We started with playing 1/8th notes at qnote = 120bpm, and I've recently bumped up to 140. The goal is to get to 160. I've been encouraged to move to a floating thumb technique and adjust my left hand such that I'm pressing down the string that I'm playing with all available fingers. I also used to lift my finger from the string prematurely when crossing strings which meant that some notes would accidentally be cut short. This has all been corrected.

    To expand on the common arrangements of chord tones - the teacher has a collection of patterns, e.g. '1 3 5', '1 5 3 5' or '1 3 5 a' (where a = a note chromatically above the next chord's root). There are 8 of these in total. For each pattern, I'll play it over each bar of a jazz blues. Once I have that down, I'll take two patterns and alternate them on each bar of a jazz blues. After that, I'll go through the same blues but I'll freely mix the patterns. For each pattern, there are "inversions" that one should practice too - e.g. playing the 5th or the 3rd both above and below the root.

    After that, the teacher introduced some longer patterns and some that we're not strictly based on chord tones and chromatic passing notes, allowing me to freely mix that into the blues. We're playing the blues in 2 major keys and 2 minor keys at the moment, although we will eventually move on to playing it in all keys. Playing through the blues along with band in a box with me mixing up the patterns is the closest I come to "just playing". This feels like a reasonable precursor to moving on to the method you describe in REALLY Learning a tune.

    We're not doing anything like your post in HEARING INVERSIONS, or working with any solos. Although, working on soloing does seem like running before I can..... walk.

    The lessons you've described are somewhat close to mine, although much more thorough. I wonder if that's a function of where we both are in our journey, though.
  7. Just a quick post. Your instructor is giving you good material and it sounds like you are on the right track. I would not get upset over not getting into inversions, or solo bass, that is way down the road. Plus the solo instruments do a much better job on the solos than our bottom end bass can.

    You are in good hands, its not time to change. Perhaps a talk about where you are now and where you want to be is in order. From what I've see in this string your instructor can get you where you want to go.

    Once again, Ed's information is spot on.
    alfoders likes this.
  8. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    have you talked to your instructor about your particular goals to see what he would change / offer you to achieve them?

    seems like spending months playing over 12 bar blues is something one could do on youtube with a book. is blues and playing patterns over blues a priority for you?

    btw, when i've quit instructors, i told them i wanted to try other instructors and methods or - in several cases - told them i wasn't going in the direction i wanted to go in, and that after discussing that with him a couple times, i was still not going in that way.
  9. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Not sure how much value you can get from these, but fwiw:

    When I was 15 or 16 years old I had a guitar teacher who was wonderful...he really opened up not just the instrument (technique-wise), but music in general, in terms of theory and how harmony works and all the things that make music interesting/engaging outside of your own little world. And then at some point he suddenly said "That's it; I can't offer you any more. You know as much as I do, and to become a better player you need to just get a ton more practical experience, and/or get a better teacher than me."

    At the time I appreciated his honesty, but I'm not sure I really groked how fabulously valuable -- and rare -- that honesty was. I moved on to a better teacher, who was indeed the right step for me to progress, but I've never forgotten the lessons I learned from the previous guy, and to this day (we're talking 40-something years ago) I rely on stuff he taught me.

    That's the Good Story.

    The Bad Story has to do with being a bass major as a college undergrad and trying to find a private instructor amongst the revered faculty that I could work with. I went through three different professors in my first two and a half years at Berklee ...because, while they all shared a more-or-less identical curriculum, they all had their own approach to presenting the material, and frankly some of them were better than others at explaining why such&such was important and why doing this was better than doing that. Ironically, the teacher I found best suited to my needs (in terms of understanding the objectives) was the guy I would vote Least Likely To Be Fun To Spend Time Locked In A Room Together With...but he was able to communicate the value of the curriculum in ways the other professors, frankly, sucked at.

    So sometimes it is all about who they are, and who you are, and how (or whether) the twain shall meet...rather than anything musical per se.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2017
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