Sunday, October 25, 2009

First analog contact between Jason and I captured on audio...

I had the pleasure of finally speaking live on the phone with bass blogging overlord and PBDB aficionado Jason Heath this week, and he went and made a lovely Contrabass Conversations episode out of it! It was a lot of fun, and I think I did a pretty good job of fulfilling my two primary goals in this interview:

- Don't say anything so outrageously stupid that it gets me fired, arrested or beat up; and
- Speak SLOWLY ENOUGH that people could understand at least a third of what I was saying. (I'm a notorious fast talker, and I spent the whole interview concentrating on slow talkin'.)

Thanks a always to Jason for having me on and for his continued support of PBDB!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Care and Feeding of the Bass Teacher, Chapter 2: Common problems and solutions

Regardless of which teacher type you have acquired, now you have to figure out what to do with it. Teachers have lots of complicated features, and often we just throw our hands up in the air, press the start button, and hope that they work. This is unfortunate, because we can get a lot more out of them by understanding some basic principles. By far the most important of these is what I refer to as the “ownership” rule. It goes like this:

Don’t forget who works for whom.

Your teacher works for you. You bought them in order to get something out of them - better bass playing and musicianship. But in a tricky twist that muddies the whole thing up, it often seems like you are working for your teacher! They assign you things to practice, make comments and suggestions, and often give you various sorts of grades on those same things. On a lesson to lesson basis, it does certainly feel like it’s your job to please your teacher. But on a long-term basis, it’s your teacher’s job to please YOU - that’s why you went out and bought them in the first place, right? This brings us to rule number two:

Know what you want!

Your new teacher has many interesting features, but psychic powers are not currently included on any teacher model. No matter how penetrating and cruel your teachers’ eyes are, they cannot actually penetrate the depths of your soul and discern your deepest musical longings. To fully access the abilities your teacher does in fact possess, you need to find a way to let them know what you want. This isn’t always easy because we aren’t always sure what we want, but even if you give your teacher some vague hints it’s a big improvement over a blank stare. If you hear some music that you particularly like or dislike, let your teacher know. If you have a favorite bass player clip on YouTube and you can’t figure out how the heck they play all those artificial harmonic double stop thirty-second notes, show it to your teacher and see what they say. If you suddenly have a strong feeling about what you might want to do with your musical life - be a professional, be an amateur, never play the thing again, sing sing sing - tell your teacher! If you make your teacher guess what you’re feeling and thinking about music, you make their life harder and often end up paying for teaching that wasn’t really what you wanted in the first place.

The final suggestion to getting the most out of your teacher works on two levels:

Allow a break-in period before you return it.

If, after initial contacts and tryouts, you make the move to obtain a teacher, give it a little time to break in before you think about returning it. Like a new car or cast iron skillet, a new teacher needs some time to tune its systems to you and figure out how you work. Let it have some time to get to know you and figure you out.

That’s the easy part of this third instruction. The tough part of it is that you need a break in period as well. Trust and sincerely try what your new teacher is suggesting! Sometimes, when a new teacher suggests something to us that is difficult or just different from what we’re used to, we decide that it means that the teacher isn’t right for us. Remember: you got a teacher because you want them to help you grow and improve, not to just listen to you play and reaffirm what you already know. Often making changes takes time and we all need to give our teacher a “trust period” so that we can honestly evaluate if their ideas are helping us or not.

In the final part of this series, we’ll take a look at the trickiest question of all: whether it’s time to turn in your teacher for another.