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Ditching the Sheet Music

January 17, 2012

If there is one thing that can kill the motivation of a bass guitar learner, it is endless sheet music, notation, tabs and other learning resources. Sometimes it feels like there is more reading involved than actual playing, and if motivation is low in the first place, this can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Surely learning to play an instrument should involve more playing than anything else?

I agree with this somewhat broad assertion, however, there needs to be a strong theoretical grounding in music generally, and specifically as it applies to the bass guitar, beforehand. Otherwise, in my experience, bassists “hit the wall” far too soon, and end up losing interest or (possibly even worse) knocking out variations of the same generic bass chops for the rest of their careers.

To be able to really enjoy bass playing, and jam along to records or with other musicians, it is necessary to learn to play the bass guitar by ear. This grants the bassist freedom to just play, without peering down at endless sheets of paper – enjoy the sound of the music, and the fluid, creative possibilities of improvisation, instead of staring at rigid, unchanging quavers on paper. It is only when a musician learns to break away from the shackles of paperwork that he or she can think about playing with others, and perhaps doing so professionally.

Unfortunately, those early months of study are necessary. For some players, it may take less time before they are able to start recognising keys and playing along with records. Other players may need years to get to this stage. As with many things in life, it is a balancing act between hard work and pleasure.

There is an interesting article on learning to play bass guitar by ear here.

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