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Introduction

When it comes to performing there are basically two types of music: choreographed
music and improvised music.
Choreographed music is essentially any music where the songs are performed
the same way every time with only slight variations. The goal with
choreographed music is machine-like precision.
Classical performers and the cover bands attempting to play the songs exactly the
same as the sheet music or the album are both performing choreographed music.
While there are people who will learn songs note for note by listening to a recorded
version of them over and over until they figure out what is being played, most of the
time there is written music involved that tells each player exactly what to play.
Either way the goal is to recreate something the same way over and over.
A good way to think of choreographed music is to think of it as someone reading a
book aloud.
Two people will not sound exactly the same, even if they are reading the same book,
but they will be reading the same words in the same order to tell the same story in
the same way as every other person that has ever read that same book aloud.
There will certainly be some variations in how each person read the words due to
things like their accent, their breathing patters, and their particular pronunciation of
the words, not to mention their actual reading ability, but they are still only reading
what is written on the page.
One would certainly not confuse listening to Morgan Freeman read a book with Fran
Dresher reading the same book, but they would still be telling the same exact story
using the same exact words. In the same way, one would not confuse Yo-Yo Ma
playing Beethovens 9th with a first year cellist, but assuming that they first year
cellist could even play the piece, there would be clear that they were playing the
same notes in the same order.
Another factor is that, just like reading a book, choreographed music has some very
objective means by which one can measure how well a song is played. Just like
leaving out, adding, or fumbling over words would get someone fired from their job
recording books for the blind, so also missing, adding, or messing up enough notes
during Mustang Sally will likely have you looking for your own ride home from the
gig.
------------Improvisational music is essentially where the music being played is created
on the spot.

The amount of improvisation can range from the where everyone plays almost the
entire song the same way every time, but where certain parts, like a solo or an
intro, are played on the fly to times when a group of musicians get together and just
start playing without any predetermined or discussed ideas about how the song will
be played or even what song will being played.
Jam bands and jazz usually come to mind when we think of improvisational music,
but in reality most music that we listen to or will play has some amount of
improvisation happening.
Many songs are performed with a predetermined chord sequence and enough of the
same melody line to make it distinct from just totally making something up on the
spot, but there is often still a lot of musical decision making happening there in the
moment. In fact, most of the recorded music you ever hear (that was actually
played by actual humans) was recorded this way. Very few modern songwriters
show up with every part of every song written out for the rest of the band to play.
Much in the same way that choreographed music is like reading a book,
improvisational music is like telling the same story as the book, but with a lot more
options as to how it may be told. You are telling the same story as the person
reading the book, but you are telling it using different words than those written in
the book.
You can choose to retell certain parts of the story with great detail, while moving
through other parts of the story with very little detail at all. You can choose to
paraphrase the characters in the story rather than quoting them. You can even
choose to add or leave out parts of the story that may or may not be in the book,
but still be telling the same story.
All of these methods tell the listener the same story as the book, but the way they
each tell the tale is very different and can even change with every time they tell it.
Certainly there is a point where you can change so much about a story that you are
no longer telling the same story as the book, but there is a lot of room for
improvising before this happens.
Even at the extremes where we choose to change all of the particulars of the
characters, the location, the time period, ect. yet still be telling the same story in
the broadest sense of the word. One doesnt have to read too many books or see
too many films to see this happening over and over. Boy meets girl, undying love,
and revenge are stories told over and over in both mediums. The particulars of the
telling change quite drastically from book to book or film to film, but the story is
essentially the same.
This could be seen as a parallel to what we see in someone composing original
music and what we hear in free jazz and similar types of music. These are the

purest forms of improvisational music. A story is being told in a deliberate way, but
there is not, as of yet, any predetermined boundaries as to how to tell it.
---------Being able to perform both choreographed music and improvisational music is
important if you want to have the most opportunities to play. While it is not really
necessary to be able to improvise at all to play choreographed music, the fact that
almost all situations that involve improvisational music have at least some aspects
that are choreographed makes learning to read music very valuable. Someone
needs to be able to read music in the band if you are going to play any song with a
distinct melody, if for no other reason than to be able to play it so the rest of the
band can learn it by ear. It is certainly easier for everyone to be able to read the
music though. Its not the piano player job to learn the bass part.
That said, there are two very important reasons why, contrary to the way music is
traditionally taught, you should start learning to play improvisationally rather than
starting with fully choreographed music.
The first reason is that a person who can play by ear will simply have more
opportunities than someone who can play choreographed music than the other way
around. There are certainly gigs you will never get, but they are far fewer than the
other way around.
The second reason, and the much more important one, is simply that, much like
learning to read books comes much easier after knowing both what words mean and
how to say them, reading music comes much easier after knowing what the notes of
your instrument mean and how to play them. Technically there are people who can
both read and write without the ability to either hear or speak, but I dont think I
need to explain why such a thing would be almost completely useless to a musician.
This course will use neither traditional music notation nor bass tablature. I suggest
that you learn the former and avoid the later like the plague, but I also suggest that
you wait until you can effortlessly find and play any note on your bass without
having to look for it before you even begin to learn to read music. I will provide
some resources for learning to do so at the end of this course, but I can assure you
that it will go much, much faster for you if you wait until you have a decent level of
mastery over your instrument.
-------------This method of learning to play the bass came from my own musical need and
desire to play improvisational music.
I started playing bass and did the same thing most people do: I learned a bunch of
scales, licks, and songs.

I got to the point where I was playing what most would consider some pretty
difficult music. One point of pride for me at the time (and a good way to date
myself) was that I was able to play most of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar
Sex Magic album. I had good timing and a decent ear, so I could sort of improvise in
a very limited sphere, but there were huge gaps in what I could do musically. This
was not due to any lack in either my fingers or my ears, but rather a lack in my
knowledge of how to use them.
A few years later I was traveling quite regularly and the fact that I could not commit
to a band led me to switch to guitar. I played guitar for quite a while and eventually
found myself at the same point musically that I had found myself when I was
playing bass. The difference now was not only was I frustrated with my ability to
improvise; I was very specifically trying to learn to play jazz which was the
equivalent of rubbing salt in a wound.
I spent way more money on books and videos than Ill ever admit to my wife in an
effort to learn to play jazz. I read countless articles and picked the brains of as many
jazz-ers as I knew. Most of what I got ranged from useless to overwhelming. One
friend even suggested that if you do not start learning jazz as a kid you should not
even bother.
I was beginning to believe him.
Now I eventually decide to come back to bass as my main instrument and my
musical interest and the music covered in the method are not specific to jazz, but
what I found while learning to play jazz guitar carries over to the way I teach
students and to why it is different that most of the teaching methods you will find
out there.
So even if you have zero interest in playing jazz the next section will still apply to all
improvisational music and my thoughts on what is wrong with the way it is often
taught now and the thinking behind why I teach it the way I do.
-----------------Jazz is often called Americas classical music. Now there are both social and
historical reasons why this is the case, but the musical reason is that it is the most
musically complex music to come out of America.
I once came across a quote that said that a certain guitarist was arrogant, but that
it was completely justified because he was a jazz guitarist.
There is certainly an element of truth to the arrogance part with many who play jazz
these days and if you have made any attempts to plow through any of the books on
jazz theory, youll likely agree with the justification for their superiority complex, but
I have come to believe that much of this stems from the way jazz is taught rather

than the actual difficulty in playing it. Dont get me wrong. There is a lot of practice
that needs to go into being a jazz musician, but just like there are many genuinely
humble jazz musicians once you get to know them; there are ways to either simplify
or altogether eliminate some of the apparent complexity of learning to play jazz
once you get to know it.
-------------One of the best pieces of advice that I received while I was trying to learn to play
jazz was to study jazz history. Now I am not exactly sure that I really understood
how my friend meant this at the time and I am almost certain that I actually
stumbled upon a useful way to do it in spite of my efforts, but doing so was the key
to unlocking jazz, and hence improvisation, to me.
What I stumbled across during this historical study was that the way that the early
jazz-ers thought about music was very different from the way it is actually taught in
most modern methods. I wont get into the particulars here because this method
itself is basically a way of approaching all music the way those cats approached
jazz, but I think it is important to point out some of the flaws most of the current
methods, so as the save you time and headaches and to maybe even give you a
decent explanation for some of the elitists that you will certainly run into once you
start playing with other musicians.
-----------The most popular modern method of teaching improvisation in general and jazz in
particular, is called Chord-Scale Theory.
Much of this method revolves around teachers and students trying to answer the
question what scale or scales does one play over this chord or these chords? The
problem is that the question they are asking is the wrong question in the first place.
It wrongly assumes you should even be looking for a scale to play in the first place.
Yes, most teachers will immediately tell you that you cannot simply play scales over
chords, but the fact that these same teachers are using scales as the foundation of
their system and are unnecessarily burdening students with scale after scale to
learn creates both a way of thinking and a habit of playing that will inevitably pull
any student towards the direction of just playing scales over chords. The student is
taught something and then essentially told to avoid doing it. This is the like me
telling you to think of the color purple by thinking of blue and then adding some red;
and then wondering why youre thinking of purple the so much of the time.
Trying to learn a bunch of scales not only takes up a bunch of headspace that could
be better used for such things as remembering your wedding anniversary, but it
also makes your playing much more heady than it needs to or should be. You wind
up doing what amounts to complex math while trying to move along at 220 beats

per minute. Either that or you resort to using the same licks over and over every
time you run across a certain chord progression. Neither one of those things is
improvising.
-----------If we can set aside the possibilities that might stem from an attempt to be
exclusionary and elitist, I think the reason that the Chord-Scale Theory approach is
still such a popular method of instruction in spite of its lackluster success rate is not
only that teachers and students are often trying to answer the wrong question, but
because the Chord-Scale Theory approach is actually being confused with being
able to do something it does poorly because of its ability to do a very similar thing
quite well.
This confusion stems from the fact that we have a system that very accurately
analyzes what someone has already played. The problem though is that we then
assume that this system can be used to reverse engineer how that music was
created so that we can do the same thing as the improviser we are analyzing.
What I found from studying jazz history was that, unfortunately for those trying to
use the Chord-Scale Theory to learn what to play, that unless we are talking about a
very small segment of very modern jazz, there was a very different thinking process
going on when the music being analyzed was created.
What this leaves us with is a way to perfectly reproduce what another musician
has already played, but it does not teach us how to create our own original music
under similar circumstances; at least not in a way that is possible for most people.
Now dont get me wrong. You can learn to improvise this way and there are some
great players that have learned this way, but it is like spitting into the wind: only
those with a really good pair of lungs are going to have much success. Most of us
are just going to need a shower after trying.
----------------Almost all of the great improvisers and composers of past eras, and many of our
contemporaries who simply have or had no access to modern music education while
they were learning to play, simply played or wrote the notes that they heard in their
heads. They may have used certain scales initially to become familiar with these
sounds and to learn where to find them on their instruments, but they were not
doing complex math and ridiculous amounts of memorization to know what scale
goes with what chord in order to find the notes they were hearing. They simply
became familiar enough with their instruments to know where each sound was
when they needed it.
----------------

True improvisation is playing the music that you hear in your head. It is songwriting
on the spot that reacts to what the other musicians are doing around you. This is an
innate ability that almost everyone has (a small minority of people are truly tone
deaf or just deaf). We improvise every time we hum or whistle a song. We are taking
the music in our memory and playing it with our mouths.
Unfortunately for us, we are not born with the ability to transfer this to another
instrument. This is where practice comes in. Even more unfortunately, most musical
instruction spends a disproportionate amount of time either focusing on things that
make something else the goal or take a rather round about way of getting there.
There are no shortcuts. You need to practice and practice a lot, but it is pointless in
visiting places that are out of the way when you have a specific destination and
limited time to get there.
------------Humming, singing, or scatting along to music is the most direct form of
improvisation there are.
There are only two steps in this process: 1) think (or hear) the note you want and 2)
play it. Everyone can already do this to some degree. We might not be able to hit
every note we imagine, but neither can we do this with any other instrument.
We add another step once we add an instrument besides our own voice. Now the
process is: 1) think (or hear) the note you want, 2) find the note on your instrument
and 3) play it. The problem we face is that we are simply not familiar enough with
our instrument and what sound the notes make and because of this we legitimately
lack the confidence to try and play what we hear.
There are other legitimate questions, but the primary question that teachers should
be asking their students is what do you hear here? and the students response
should be ask where is that sound on my instrument?
There are certainly musical norms that will teach the student what is generally
expected of them in certain musical situations, but even within these norms there is
a whole range of choices that should be made by the student playing what sounds
right to them rather than simply doing the math in an effort to find the right
notes.
----------This course begins with a few very basic tools to teach you where all of the notes
are on the bass and to get your ear acquainted with what they sound like both by
themselves and in relationship with each other so that you can then find the notes
on the bass that you hear in your head.

We then spend some time learning some very basic theory that will enable you to
follow along with harmony parts being played by a chordal instrument.
We will then move through many of the most popular musical genres to learn the
norms for each of them so that you have a solid foundation and the ability to
perform in a lot of different situations and so that you also have a source to draw
from for your own writing.
The differences between this course and most of the others out there is that you will
not simply be shown what to play, but you will be shown why you are playing it and
how to apply it in other musical keys and contexts.
The biggest difference though is that the focus will always remain on playing what
you hear, rather than just learning a bunch of licks and patterns that fit certain
situations or learning a bunch of songs that you may or may not ever actually want
to play. Aside from the genre specific norms that every bassist simply must know
(and while have huge carryover to other types of music), there are no licks and
there are no songs at all to learn. Instead what you will learn is how to create your
own licks and to be able to play along with any song even though you may not know
what the real bass line for it is.