On Teaching Pt 2. Information, Knowledge, Wisdom, unqualified teachers, and free throws.

Information by itself is not knowledge. It is by the teachers method that the information becomes knowledge. But having knowledge by itself isn’t always enough. Being in possession of knowledge gets a lot of people in trouble. Its only if you can exemplify the knowledge you can put the knowledge to use, that it produces wisdom. As a teacher we are trying to take information and find a method so it becomes knowledge then use experience for it to become wisdom. That is how we get through all three Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. 

In my opinion, most people who teach aren’t qualified to teach. If you have a teacher and all they do is show you their favorite lick, that teacher isn’t even at the point where he is bad at teaching the information. They are just another misinformed person passing along their misunderstanding of music. Now when you have someone who has been trained informally or formally who now have the information, they get to the point where their method becomes important. Very few teachers are even at that point,. Most teachers are just people who can play, who are showing somebody their licks. Most teachers aren’t qualified to teach because most musicians on the planet are not professional musicians including gigging musicians and teaching musicians. That’s why to this very day, people don’t know how many keys there are, people who teach at the University level don’t know how many keys there are, or don’t know how many diatonic chords there are. That’s because they are passing on the misinformation that they received from other people.

I believe all musicians need the same information regardless of goals (gigging musician, recreation, teacher, professional musician)..its all the same. If I’m your flight instructor, it doesn’t matter to me if you want to fly Cessnas on the weekend or drive and airbus for an airline,… I’m NOT gonna “dumb down” the information because you just want to fly Cessnas on the weekend. I will teach you with the same urgency as someone who is going to fly for the airlines. So when I see a student, I believe I know the information a student needs to know to play music. It doesn’t make a difference to me if they are coming in off the street or if they have been gigging for 30 years, it’s the same information.

Bassology to me is knowing music in four ways equally. If your fingers move well or if you have a good ear and you aren’t interested in knowing music Intellectually, Physically, Sonically, and Visually, Bassology may not be for you. All four must be equal. It doesn’t matter who you are,.. If you want to learn pentatonics, or modes, or arpeggios’ for example, you need to understand those concepts in those four ways, to truly understand them.

The way I teach has to be different for evey student and the RATE I teach has to be different for each student. Everybody deserves to be treated equally, that is true, but not everyone is created equally. Our rate of retention, our IQ level, our athletic ability are all variables like skin color and eye color, so I have to be selective and mindful of the rate in which I teach a student. After I find where I think that rate should be, I push it a little bit. I always want to make the student a little uncomfortable, because I want to add the pressure of being a working musician to the practice environment. To use a basketball analogy, you can shoot free throws all day in the gym, you can shoot 500-1000 free throws a day, and you can make ALL of them, but there’s nothing in that gym that’s gonna simulate when you’re in a game, with the game on the line and the score tied and you at the line.

For that reason if a student can kind of do something at 100 bpm, I try to set it at 105 beats per minute. People can generally do exercises faster and better than they think they can do it. They are better than the mental wall they put up usually. As a coach you need to find a way to bridge that chasm between a great gym player and a great game performer. In athletics that’s why they have scrimmages, and to a degree that’s why we have band practices. Most music teachers don’t test students like this, a matter of fact, most private music teachers don’t test students on anything. Some experienced players are shocked when I test them with a stopwatch, or with a metronome or quiz them or use the mode scramble because they have never been tested before.

Sadly, one reason of this is because most teachers couldn’t pass the test themselves. Most teachers couldn’t play the notes of the thirty keys in a scrambled order, if they don’t even know there are thirty keys.

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On Teaching, Part 1 (A Book Doesn’t Tell You When A Student Doesn’t ‘Get It’)

As a teacher, you need to have 10 ways to explain the same concept. You might find that there’s a way that works best for you or the way that you see it, and that someone else from a different environment or different set of circumstances may not grasp it that way. You may even have to explain it a way that YOU don’t really grasp, or in a way that doesn’t work for you, just to get the point across. So its not really about having a different curriculum for each student, but having a variety of different ways to teach the same information to a variety of students.

One example of this is when I teach how to read music and when I teach rhythmic note value, sometimes I use the analogy of money (a different subject for a different blog) Now I didn’t need to use that analogy for me to understand the same concept when I was learning, but someone else may benefit greatly from me explaining it to them in that way. I may have 4 or 5 different ways to explain this one concept, even though I personally didn’t need any of them to learn it myself.

So even though my curriculum is based on how I see things, it also is based on how others may have to see things when they are trying to learn something. You always have to be flexible. I never give books at Bassology, I reference books, and when a student first comes to see me one of the first questions I get is “what book should I buy?” I say to them “you don’t need a book, I’m going to give you the best explanation I have found in a one-on-one teaching environment.,” I LOVE books, and I understand them, but the problem with books and the very reason I have waited to do a book for so long (Ed. Note: Ants first book is due for release in fall 2011) is because a book doesn’t tell you when a student doesn’t get it. Usually there’s no second , third, fourth, or fifth explanation.

A book is written from the authors perspective and how it makes sense to you, but when someone reads it, it may make sense to them or it may cloud their judgment and the book doesn’t know that. We label that book a bad book, but it may or may not be, but the book didn’t know that you didn’t get it. And if you wrote a book that had a second, third, fourth, or fifth explanation, it would be so big that the size of it may turn some people off. If you handed it to an editor, you will be cut to one explanation, and the people who read it or either gonna get it, or not gonna get it.

So as a teacher who teaches privately, when I teach a concept like modes or rhythms, I can be flexible to the point that the student needs me to be flexible. If I try to teach a concept and the student doesn’t get it, and then I explain it in a way that the student then understands, I can THEN refer the student to a book that has a similar explanation. Depending on the student we may work from a SECTION of a lot of different books. That is opposed to referring a student to one book that may not be flexible. Lastly rather than give him a book I actually prefer, that works for me, its almost always better for student to not have a book but rather have a compilation of notes that reflect his understanding of the curriculum.

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Metronomes, musical references, …..and flight simulators.

The question was posed to me, “Some say practicing to a metronome is not helpful to a musician.  Is there really a benefit to practicing with a metronome? What is the purpose” Here is my response.

I remember when I started practicing with a metronome, and I remember how things tightened up. I don’t really like to use the word metronome, I use the word reference. I think “metronome” is too narrow. I think you need to practice with a reference. If you’re in a practice setting you don’t have a band playing there backing you up while you practice modes, arpeggios, and walking bass lines. The reference (or accompaniment) could be a jam station or drum machine, or that reference could be a metronome.

When I was a younger musician I wasn’t as disciplined, I didn’t practice with the metronome, not because I didn’t want to or didn’t feel that I needed to, but I didn’t know that kind of thinking existed. I didn’t take music seriously enough to know that music is a discipline. I got kind of good kind of fast and it wasn’t because I was trying, maybe because I had a predisposition to it, I don’t know, I don’t even want to try to define that. As I got serious and started thinking that this something I could do as a profession, then I realized that I needed to have a discipline, I needed to have a curriculum, I needed to have an approach. I came to believe that practicing with a reference, which we call a metronome, was important.

The use of a reference always prepares you a little better. Its not like you CANT get good without using the reference but I believe that reference CAN make you better. I’ll only speak for myself and my students. I have seen students time get better from working with a metronome. A matter of fact there are couple of useful concepts I use such as modes of rhythm (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asYfvMzjk7M&feature=related) and yardstick of Time (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sw_trDFJw8) , that are made a lot harder to understand without a metronome. It is harder to acknowledge a subdivision of time without a reference.

I’m not saying you cant get good without practicing to a metronome, Metronomes have not been around as long as music, so it goes without saying that it can be done. But saying everyone doesn’t need one because so many musicians have gotten good without it is like saying that because people got good at flying planes before there were flight simulators means you shouldn’t use one. A flight simulator and a metronome offer you the same opportunity, a no risk reference and simulation of the real thing. There were a lot of casualties in airplane flying and training before the flight simulator became popular, and the flight simulator provided a reference for the training pilot without the risk. It is a fact that casualties in airplanes dropped significantly as a result of the use of flight simulators and that people were initially dubious of the benefits. (check out the book “The Talent Code” for more on flight simulators and musicianship)

I mainly use the ‘reference’ of a metronome for 2 reasons. The first is that humans don’t have perfect time. we can get ‘closer’ to making our internal clock more accurate by playing with a perfect reference. And as our internal clock becomes stronger you take away more of the perfect external time source. For instance, you can practice 400EPM(events per minute) with the metronome at 400, 200 100 50 and 25 and it still be metric. But the slower the speed requires that you rely more on your internal clock.

The second reason to practice with a metronome is to chart your progress. At first you may be able to do an exercise at 70BPM. As you get more and more comfortable you increase the tempo.

As I said before, practicing with a metronome is analogous to learning how to fly in a simulator. You remove the risk and hazards of learning how to fly when you use a flight simulator. You can practice (to a degree) bad weather situations in a very safe environment. You can practice other risky situations in a safe environment so even if you encounter that situation you are prepared. Likewise, you don’t want to find out that you can’t walk a bass line to Giant Steps at 250BPM when you’re on the bandstand. You’ll crash and burn. It’s better to crash and burn in the safe environment of your practice space while practicing with a metronome. And after you practice walking Giant Steps a lot with a metronome while slowly increasing the tempo you’ll get it up to 300BPM. And then 250BPM will be easy for you. It’s the same way that we use flight simulators. You don’t want to crash and burn on an actual flight or an actual gig.

Like flight simulators, new metronomes use more technology than older ones! We have ones that talk and do complex time signatures and subdivisions. We have metronomes with graphic displays and accompaniment too.

By the way,…I wouldn’t fly on an airline that didn’t use flight simulators to train their pilots. I’m not saying that they can’t become good pilots if they didn’t learn to fly on a simulator. I just believe that the pilot who learned on a simulator is going to’ be better prepared. I feel the same way about practicing music with a reference too, whether it be a metronome or an accompaniment machine.

I feel so strongly about practicing to a reference that I don’t even like to discuss it or debate it, its so obvious. To deny the benefits of something that you know is beneficial, just because you didn’t need it I think is shortchanging other people. Just because you may have been good enough to not need it, doesn’t mean that somebody else wont benefit from it.

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The Mechanism of Working

The Mechanism of Working

     The mechanism of working was a concept I started thinking about when I was a local musician that many people didn’t know about, and I was getting all this great work. I was getting all these students and becoming a “first-call “ bassist at a couple of studios, and getting all these gigs. I was wondering why guys who were as good as I am, and guys who were better than me, were not getting the same opportunities. It would be easy to say that I got the Victor Wooten gig because I’m his friend, but Victor has ALOT of good-bass-playing friends. When I started getting calls, not just to play bass, but to play keys, guitar, or do charts, I started thinking that there is a mechanism to this; a process, that I unconsciously understand that maybe other people don’t understand. To sum it up, the word is professionalism. I don’t like to use that word because that word can be intimidating, or it can be broad, or it can be elitist. That is why I call it the mechanism of working.

The Mechanism of Working is made of a lot of simple things, things like having reliable transportation. As simple as that is and as non music related as it is , people over look it. There are many students that say, “I’m going to be 10 minutes late.” or so many musicians on sessions or gigs that say, “I’m going to be late.” “My car overheats a little bit“…and end up not getting a second call back for that. That falls under the title The Mechanism of Working. Just maintaining your car. Maintaining and having reliable gear falls under that category. So many times a student comes in and plugs in their bass and it doesn’t make a sound because the battery is dead. That is something that can get you fired from a gig or removed from a session. It seems like trivial stuff but it does make the difference. There are many other examples that you can probably think of.

The reason this effects you is because people make assessments all the time of you as a musician and as a person. It’s not always fair but you cant do anything about “always fair.” An assessment has been made about you, and you wont get the call because of what is perceived as a lack of discipline or laziness. One of the things I always do when I do a session is make charts of each song and make copies for each band member. Most won’t need the charts, but it looks professional. I come in with a briefcase, a stool, and a music stand for each session. I sit down, open my briefcase, give a chart to each band member and then I present a chart to the artist. There are not too many things that will make an artist feel better than to see the music that they have created notated. You will get calls back just for that. So many singers or singer/songwriters don’t know how to read or write music or read or write chord changes. They know how to strum a guitar and sing. I’m not making an assessment about the song based on that because writing a song exists independently of knowing that stuff. But if they don’t know that stuff they are going to hire somebody to do it and that’s why I always take the initiative to do it.

When you hand a singer who is just good at singing, a chart of their song, something changes in them. That makes them feel that they have taken a step up and become a professional. If you do that and then play well on the session, that person will always call you back whenever they need a bass player. To me, I understand that. To me, that makes sense. I didn’t start doing it for that reason, I started doing it for myself. I realized the results that I got from that, and the benefits of those results. I think there is a mechanism in all aspects of the music business and that the more you understand those aspects the more work you’ll get.


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Do You Know Your Bass?

Hey Everybody!  This is my foray into the world of blogging, and im going to post thought up here on at least a weekly “bassis”

Knowing Your Bass (might be a discipline issue)

Hey Everyone!

My First Blog is one that might sound familiar to those of you who are my students, have been to Bass/Nature camp, Bass Boot camp, or a clinic of mine.  It is on a subject that I believe we all need to be aware of from time to time, it is the working title of my forthcoming instructional book.  Please feel free to leave comments and share with others.


Knowing your Bass

             Bass players are generally the most undisciplined members in a band. We’re usually the least knowledgeable one or the most knowledgeable one with usually no gray areas in between. That’s why you have a whole bunch of keyboard and guitar players just giving you the ROOT of chords. “Play a C”, “Play an A”., they tell us. If somebody does that to you, that’s an insult. You should be insulted by that. That is them saying that they don’t expect you to know what the rest of the chord means. They are implying, “We don’t expect you to know what to do with it, so we are just going to give you the root.”. But you can’t outline a C7b9, if you don’t know what that chord is. They’re not giving you the whole chord, because they don’t expect you to know what it is. We have to accept some responsibility for that. So my observation is that bass players are either the least knowledgeable in the band or the music directors like Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor, or Ricky Minor. We have to do our part to make sure that we aren’t the least knowledgeable person in the band.

The notes on your bass….how many bass players know the notes on their bass? It’s not a trick question, either you do or you don’t. You will never, ever, ever meet a piano player who doesn’t know the notes on a piano.….ever. You will never ever meet a sax player who doesn’t know the notes on a sax. You will meet good bass players, and I mean really good bass players, that don’t know the notes on their instrument. THAT’S why they give us the roots. Because we’re the dummies in the band, and we bring it on ourselves. So I ask you again how many of you know the names of the notes on your bass?

Most bass players know the names of their notes in first position on the lower strings. That’s where we know the notes best.

I purposefully go in the opposite direction. (Here’s an example starting at 1:50 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptAoexAf3uI  )

I start on the highest note on the highest position. In the case of my four string 24 fret bass, that’s a G. I play the highest G on that string and then I play the lowest version of that note on the same string. I play all the G’s on the G string from highest to lowest, then all the G’s on the D string from Highest to lowest, all the G’s on the A string from highest to lowest, and finally all the G’s on the E string from highest to lowest. If you can’t do that for all 12 notes in our music system, you don’t know the notes on your bass. There’s no gray area, either you do or you don’t. It’s a simple thing. KINDA knowing them, or knowing some of them, is not one of the answers to the question. You either know the notes or you don’t. Make sense? Piano players, can do that, its easy on piano. Sax players can do that. Bass players can’t do that. We have to take the time to get caught up.

We can use the excuse that this is a new instrument for only so long. This instrument is only 60 or so years old so we are still building tradition and curriculum on the instrument. But 59 years ago the 20th fret on the A string was an F, 59 years from now the 20th fret on the A string will be an F. If I ask you where all the Bb’s on your bass are and you need a bass in your hand to answer the question, you don’t really know the answer. If I know the notes on Tammy without her in my hands, its going to be EASY when she is in my hands.

How many of you love your bass? I absolutely love my bass, its provided a great living for me. Because of that I have an open and honest relationship with it. She’s provided a great living and a great lifestyle for me. The only way your instrument is going to do that, is if you know everything about this thing that you say you love. How many of you love your car? You can describe your car to a “T”, If you need me to get something out of the glove box, you say “Anthony ok, you can reach in glove box, my Ipod is in there behind that you can grab that thing”. How many of you are married or have significant others? If I asked you to describe him or her right now without him/her standing right there, could you do it? Because you love her/him. So if you say you love something you should be able to describe it even if that thing is not around. If you say you love this instrument, Is that fair to say? Every musician on the planet can do that except bass players. We’re the dumbest ones in the band. Make sense?

It’s a fair assessment, guitar players are the same way too, they just have more ego attached. Here’s why: This instrument is tuned symmetrically so it lends itself to being played in patterns. If I want to play something like “Brickhouse” (which is in A) in the original key and the singer can’t sing the original key but he can sing it in C, I can still play it with the same exact fingering. We can transpose without regard to what notes are played. If a sax player wants to move up a minor third (three frets), he can’t rely on a shape or pattern, he has to know the notes on his instrument. A major scale or minor scale in all keys will have a different shape on a sax or a keyboard. They can’t take a familiar shape and move it up. We as bass players have it easy in one sense because we have a pattern based instrument so we can take a shape we’re familiar with and simply move it up. But at the same time, we never have to know the notes we’re playing. So it’s a plus or a minus. It’s kind of built into our instrument, the dumbness is kind of built into it. So we have to overcome that intellectually.

This is a discipline issue when you don‘t know the notes on your instrument, make no mistake about it, it’s a discipline issue. We all know that the first fret on the E string is an F. You just have to have the discipline to do that for the rest of the notes. If you don’t have that learned, and you’ve been playing longer than a year, IT’S A DISCIPLINE ISSUE. Own up to it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing and getting gigs, and not taking the time to do it. But how we get invited to the NEXT Level of doing this is based on what you know.

If Chick Corea holds an audition for a bass player, and 20 bass players show up, all 20 of them are going to know how to play. That’s not going to be the deciding factor. The deciding factor is going to be based on KNOWLEDGE. Because what you don’t know could cost an artist money. If an artist says “hey lets take it up a tritone, you either know what that means, or you don’t. And if you don’t know what that means, you are now officially costing them money. It’s easy to replace you, because there’s somebody who knows what it means, and can play it.

There’s not too many feelings that are worse than auditioning for something and getting rejected. The only thing that is probably worse than that is having your heart broken, but losing an audition is a close second. If I go audition for a band and if I don’t pass that audition because I’m black, because I’m short, or because I’m extremely good looking, I can’t do anything about that. But If I don’t get that audition because I don’t know the notes on my bass, That’s shame on me. That’s something I have got to take care of. I can’t do anything about the dark skin, I cant do anything about being short, or change the fact that I’m extremely good looking. But I can take the time to learn the notes on bass, and if I don’t that’s a discipline issue. Is that fair to say? The last thing I want to have happen to anyone is for them to audition for a scholarship to college, or to get into college, or to get into a band and don’t get it because of something they could have taken care of like knowing the notes on their bass.. It’s a discipline issue, and if we all address it, we may no longer be the dummies in the band.

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