Before I became a music teacher I had never even touched a bass guitar. In week 1 of my first job I realised that I was going to need to step away from my woodwind comfort zone and understand how guitars actually work.
In week 3 I played the very simple bass line (I'm talking 3 note sequence in semibreves simple) at a band rehearsal. And it was great. That exhilarating feeling of learning a new instrument came back to me all over again and it was a whole new way of visualising note relationships. I even began to understand TAB.
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I encourage all of my students to have a go at a bass guitar at least once and the majority love it. And here's why I think it's a great thing to try.
At a very beginner level it is relatively simple. Show the students where the C, G, F and A are and they can learn to play a 4 chord song quickly. I find many of my students would like to play guitar but find this much harder due to the more complex chord finger positions. But you can start a student on bass with open strings or one finger. Once you've hooked them in see where it goes! This is a great opener for introducing a brand new instrument to a student.
We spend so much time on class keyboards that students begin to 'see' the notes as 'black' or 'white'. When I ask a student what colour an F# is on a flute they can become confused! So a bass guitar is a great way for them to visualise note relationships in a different way. Explain how the fret board moves chromatically and introduce the science of shorter strings making higher sounds. Ask them to work out where the notes are, or where the same note is on different strings.
TAB took me a long time (I mean looooong) to work out, and I am happy to admit, confuses me still at times! I like to use the analogy of painting by numbers with my students to introduce it, then teach it like a grid reference. Get the right string, cross it with the correct fret and Hey Presto! you have a bass line. As long as the student understands which TAB line relates to which string they can work out a whole bass line by themselves and suddenly they can read another form of notation.
The bass line, as we all know, is vital to the harmonic progression in music. By learning how the bass line works with the chords above students learn about how to arrange. They can learn about inversions and writing a smooth and logical bass line, rather than one that leaps around all over the place because everything is in root position. If they pursue bass playing they will come to understand arranging and composing at a deeper level.
Bass players also often get to dictate the rhythmic direction of the music. If a student playing the chords is finding it hard to play a syncopated pattern with 3 or 4 fingers, your bass player can probably manage it with one note, therefore influencing the whole sound and feel of the performance.
So what's not to like? You can influence the rhythm, the harmony and the feel of a performance whilst learning a new instrument and a new notation system. The bass guitar offers students a lot, so if you haven't tried yet, why not have a go at introducing it into your lessons?