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Column: Why Do YOU Want to Learn Bass?

A while back, I came across this fantastic video on Digg. The video stars Kevin Gisi, a programmer and developer with more than 20 years of computer programming experience and technical knowledge under his belt.

The video tackles the question: how do I get started coding? It’s a question that people looking to get more involved with coding, computers, app development, web development and more ask very frequently in the industry.

Kevin explains that it’s not an easy question to answer. Most people looking to jump into the industry are fed a stock answer from a senior or famous developer and the programmer-to-be takes it and runs. After a short time, the young programmer becomes disillusioned and quits under the belief that there is only one way to learn and they can’t do it.

Kevin also examines the question further by positing that you, the listener, don’t actually want to learn to code. You want to learn how to solve a problem. Maybe you liked this app and you want to make a better version, or you have an idea and want to make it a reality. Though this lens, code is a tool to reach the ends; not the ends itself.

After watching the video, I thought to myself that the topic of learning code and learning bass guitar have many parallels. The biggest of which is how to learn bass guitar. I’ll explain below, but in the meantime, check out Kevin’s video:

Learning to Code and Learning Bass: The Parallels

“I want to learn bass guitar, where do I start?”

There are lots of variations on that question that populate Quora, TalkBass, reddit’s bass guitar forums and many other digital outlets but that is the question of people getting into bass guitar.

That question has it’s own set of stock replies that get perpetuated around the Internet and from some experts. Rather than there being a set of answers like how Kevin outlined, from my observation, bassists are typically faced with learning Bach or some classical arrangement for bass, practicing an exorbitant amount of hours, buying X, Y and Z books, and learning theory out the gate.

Are these answers intended to be malicious, lazy or misinformed? Absolutely not. The answers come from the responder’s experience with learning bass guitar. They might be things that they themselves used to learn bass guitar and therefore are likely more familiar with that approach to learning.

The reality is that that might not be your preferred way of learning.

There Are Lots of Ways to Learn Bass Guitar, Believe It Or Not

There are many different ways of learning out there. No one way is fix all.

When you’re starting out, your very first goal ought to be to make the bass guitar make a good sound. Your first goal should be making your first notes come out and feel confident doing it.

It’s not correct to say be wary of people who tell you to learn like this or learn like that or learn from these books or play these songs first or don’t play those songs. But the reality is that the suggestion being made to you is coming from personal preference and a world view of learning that might not jive with what you’re trying to achieve on bass guitar.

Learning Bach chorales is certainly a fantastic way to learn the ins-and-outs of composition, counterpoint and get your fingers moving. But for someone starting out and looking to play bass because they wanted to take up a musical instrument or really like Beatles songs and wanted to learn them for themself, telling that person to learn Bach chorales isn’t really conducive to their learning path and their overall goals of the instrument.

So is asking for advice on where and how to start playing bass the best question to ask starting out? If not, then what is? How do you get started?

The first thing to remember what you want to do with bass. That’s it. The rest will come with time and you’ll begin to understand and map out a practice plan, where you want to begin, what you want to focus on over other things (initially) and so on. Other people’s practice plans and learning resources are nice, but it’s important to take them with a grain of salt. If your friend who is telling you to practice 8 hours a day and play Bach is the way to success, a hint of wary should be exercised because, frankly, do you have that kind of time? Realistically – do you?

You could spend all day learning scales, learning the modes, learning how to read music but realistically, learning those things will make you a better musician, but not exactly a better bassist and there is a difference to take note of. All too often, bassists will sweat learning scales and the modes while forgetting that all that stuff is worthless unless you can actually play with a drummer and a group.

Learning any new skill is equal parts learning your own limitations, and learning what you want to do. Input from others can certainly guide you to those discoveries, but only you can make those discoveries for yourself.