Hands-on review: Teach Me Bass Guitar - DVD lessons for every player
(Dave Molter | Posted 2011-02-01)
Like so many musicians my age, I started playing because of The Beatles. Specifically, I became a bass player after seeing Paul McCartney on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964. It took me over a year to convince my mom to buy a bass for me, but one afternoon in 1965 I arrived home from school to find a new Kay bass and an amplifier waiting for me. Like any good Mom, she insisted that I take lessons to learn to play correctly. I had no problem with this: I’d been taking trombone lessons for over a year. So I signed up for my first bass lesson. That’s when things went wrong.
In 1965, electric bass most often was taught by guitarists, and there was a mindset among most professional musicians that rock music was somehow unworthy. Such was the case with my teacher, a guitarist who played jazz.
He’d had me buy the Mel Bay bass method, which is still widely used by teachers. At my first lesson, after finding out that I knew where most of the notes on the bass neck were and that I could read music, he had me run through a few of the basic exercises at the beginning of the book, then turned to a page that was blank except for chord symbols. “Take this home and write me a bass line,” he instructed. End of lesson. No examples of what he wanted. No theory of how to determine what notes could be played against a chord. I was so scared and intimidated that I never went back for lesson No. 2. I learned to play by ear, listening to recordings. That's a great way to learn some great bass lines, but I wish some alternate form of instruction had been available.
That brings us to “Teach Me Bass Guitar (TMBG),” distributed by The Learning Dock and featuring Nashville bassist Roy Vogt. Vogt may not be a household name, but he has a diverse background in all types of music and in 1980 received the first Master in Electric Bass Performance degree awarded in the United States (from the University of Miami). He currently heads the bass department of Nashville’s Belmont University. In TMBG, Vogt has provided a 10-DVD instructional set of comprehensive lessons that will be of value to every player, from beginner to schooled veteran. What’s best is that Vogt has also addressed one substantial drawback to at-home instruction — interaction with the teacher — by providing with TMBG access to ThunderRow.com, a bass-dedicated website where students can post lessons-related questions that Vogt will answer personally.
TMBG ($187.50) features 10 DVDs, 20 lessons, 100+ play-along videos, practice loops and a 162-page lesson book (included on DVD 10 in PDF format but available separately as a spiral-bound printed version). While $200 might seem a hefty sum, remember that lessons cost anywhere from $30 to $50 per hour at local music stores and can cost several hundred dollars per hour from heavy-hitting professionals. Even at $15 per hour, TMBG's 20-lesson set is a bargain.
Lesson one, as you might expect, introduces new players to the bass – what its parts do, how it’s tuned and various plucking-hand techniques. Vogt then begins with what he calls the “4x4” exercise – four notes played on the first four notes of each of the four strings by the four fingers of the fretting hand. Vogt take it slow and easy — something I wish my only teacher had done. By the time you’ve worked through the examples, you’ve learned some basic music theory played across the neck on each string and learned to pivot your fretting hand rather than have it jump all over the neck, as I’ve seen so many self-taught players doing.
Vogt also emphasizes the importance of practice and stresses that you should not move on to the next lesson until you feel comfortable with the concepts covered in the initial video. This is wise advice that Vogt maintains from first lesson to last. He also invites players to ask questions of him through ThunderRow.com.
In Lesson 2, Vogt introduces a format that will carry across most of the remaining sessions. He unveils new material, plays along with the student at various tempos, then introduces an original jam tune that uses what you’ve learned. Vogt accomplishes this quite capably by joining a group of Nashville musicians onstage to play the examples at slow and fast speeds. In each set, Vogt then steps away and allows the student to play with the three-piece band. It’s a great idea, especially for beginners who may not have access to a band or who may be too embarrassed initially to play with friends.
Vogt moves quickly, but not too quickly. By DVD 10, players will have been introduced to every note up to fret 12 on each string and will have played in a variety of styles using repeatable patterns.
In DVDs 6 through 10, Vogt proves that TMBG isn’t just for beginners. He covers all styles, with great examples, taking on walking bass lines, musical modes, sight reading, faking, muting, two-hand tapping and playing in various styles such as samba and reggae. And even old dogs can learn new tricks from Vogt. I’ve been playing bass for 46 years, but slapping and popping was a style that, although I admired it, I’d never been able to master. In Lesson 10, Vogt introduces several thumb techniques that I found quite easy to grasp. Give me a few weeks, and look out Bootsy! Vogt wraps up the lessons with pointers about fretless and multi-string basses, amps and effects. By the time you finish the course, you will have been given the tools to play almost anywhere. How you apply them is up to you.
The bottom line
From beginner to seasoned veteran, every bassist will find something to like in Roy Vogt’s “Teach Me Bass Guitar (TMBG).” One of the hardest things for a veteran player/teacher is remembering just how hard and intimidating starting a new instrument can be. Vogt’s teaching style for newbies is never condescending, and he doesn’t move too fast. Yet neither is his approach boring for veteran players. The nature of TMBG is that it can be taken in small doses and at the player's preferred speed, and more accomplished players can skip the basics and proceed into new territory. Best of all, Vogt makes himself accessible through ThunderRow.com to answer personal questions for TMBG purchasers. Even without the ability to ask questions, ThunderRow provides a valuable resource for bassists by posting lessons, equipment reviews, videos and more, all geared to “bottom-dwellers.” If you have limited time or limited money, simply want to see if bass is for you, need to woodshed or need to challenge yourself with new concepts, "Teach Me Bass Guitar" has something for you.
Teach Me Bass Guitar can be ordered from TeachMeBassGuitar.com for $187.50. The 10-DVD set contains access to the private area of ThunderRow.com and a 167-page instruction book in PDF format. Purchase includes a 90-day no-hassles guarantee. A printed copy of the book can be ordered separately for $39.95. (Book is not returnable.)
Dave Molter is Managing Editor and Bass Guitars Editor of Music GearReview.com. He has played bass professionally for 46 years.