When we made the switch to video back in January we were delighted to have our first interview be with Sabrina Peña Young, someone we know well and who has deep insights, which made for a long and fascinating converation.
We’re excited now to kick off this new incarnation of the show similarly, with a particularly meaty episode that is going to have a big and positive impact on your own musicality journey.
Our guest today is Scott Devine, the man behind Scott’s Bass Lessons, the #1 website for learning bass guitar – they have over 650,000 YouTube subscribers, and have trained over 25,000 bassists to date. If you play bass, then you know Scott – he’ll be all over your Facebook, your YouTube, and there’s a good chance you’re already a member of the Academy site where they provide extensive training, masterclasses and live calls with a faculty of the top bass educators in the world.
In this conversation we talk about:
- How spending six months at sea transformed Scott’s bass playing.
- The simple piece of advice that immediately put an end to Scott’s umming and ahhing over what to study next in his own bass learning.
- And, after talking to, interviewing, and studying with dozens upon dozens of the world’s top bassists and musicians, the one thing Scott has learned they all have in common – and (spoiler alert) it’s not “talent”!
Scott also gives a fantastic mini tutorial on a particular bass technique, walking basslines, which is something that’s really valuable to understand, whether you play bass or not – you’re going to hear these everywhere, and after today’s conversation you’re going to understand how exactly they’re put together.
There is a ton packed in here and you guys are in for a treat…
This is Musicality Now.
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Christopher: Welcome to the show, Scott. Thanks for joining us today.
Scott: Hey, Christopher. How’s it going?
Christopher: Really good. I am particularly delighted to have you on the show because I was lamenting recently the fact that we haven’t had that many bass players on the show and how better to remedy that than with the man himself, Scott Devine, the man behind Scott’s Bass Lessons, the leading website for bass education online. So it’s a total pleasure to have you and I just have a head full of stuff I want to talk to you about, so I’ve been trying to rein that in and figure how we can best pick your brains in a concise amount of time so we don’t have you here all day long. But I want to start out, for sure, with your own back story, because you are an excellent top level professional bass player yourself, as well as being a leading bass educator, and I want to know what your own bass education was like, because you didn’t have SBL and the academy back when you were learning bass. What did it look like, how did you get started?
Scott: Mine was bitty to say at the least. I was a guitar player to begin with, and that really was it followed the traditional routes. It was I was 13 years old in school. I had no aspirations of playing a musical instrument. I just wasn’t into music really at all. A friend of mine really wanted to get guitar lessons, and he’d been told that to get guitar lessons in the school, we had to have a minimum of three students for the year, for the school to consider it. So, he strong armed me into it and another friend of mine, and suddenly we were the … All three of us were getting guitar lessons once an evening through the school.
Then slowly, and actually, as soon as I started playing guitar, I felt, “Oh, you know, it doesn’t seem so hard.” It seemed like it made sense. And I carried on. They didn’t. Obviously when they didn’t, the guitar teacher stopped going to the school, but my dad worked at a factory at the time, and the guy that worked next to him in the factory actually played guitar. So, he said that he’d teach me. My dad used to pay him a packet of 20 cigarettes for every lesson, whatever that equates to nowadays.
Then I just got into guitar that way, so I started doing that. My dad had heard somewhere on the grapevine that learning classical guitar would be a benefit as well, so I started getting classical guitar lessons along with my regular electric guitar lessons, which I did enjoy it. I think that it ran hot and cold with me, because obviously I kinda wanted to rock out Van Halen style and I was playing classical stuff, but it was all good, and from a technique standpoint as well, I think it was really beneficial for me to study classical guitar. I think that’s come with me my entire career actually, that the foundation of the technique that I got when I was studying classical guitar.
I did that up until I got my grade 8 and stuff like that. the old grading system. Really just traditional kids music education I suppose. And then got to around 16 or 17. Didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life. Wasn’t doing very well in school. An apprentice luthiership, which is guitar making, for anybody that doesn’t know, came up in the local newspaper, and I just thought, “What the hell. I don’t really know what I’m gonna do with my life right now.” I played guitar, but I didn’t have any aspirations of being a professional musician, because there was no real professional musicians in the town I lived, ’cause it was so small and so isolated. And no internet, as well. So, no internet and no professional musicians. So, how on earth could I know that there was a thing like a professional musician. As far as I was concerned, it was either you had to be a pop star or nothing, right? And I definitely didn’t have any aspirations of being a pop star.
So, got the job as being an apprentice luthier. That was really my gateway into the discovery of basically being able to be a professional musician, because the guy I was working for, he was making basses for all the guys that were working in the West End, which is the UK’s version of Broadway, obviously. So, all of these guys were coming in to the workshop every single week, and I was talking to them, and I’m a curious dude. I’m talking to them like, “Oh, so what’s your thing?”, you know. “Oh, I’m working as a bass player in the West End, and this is how I got the job, and this is …”, you know. And suddenly, it started to unravel, and it came very clear to me that it was something that I could possibly venture into as a career. At the time, I didn’t even play bass … I was thinking as a guitar player. But I did start tinkering around on the bass and thought, “You know, I might be able to do this.”
Something that the guy I was working for, who is called Chris May (great friend), he said, “You know, there’s a lot of guitar players. There’s not that many great bass players.” And it was true, you know. It’s true. There is more guitar players than bass players. So, I think it was an unknown career choice, moving to the bass. Now, I did love bass, but in some part of my subconscious, I think that statement that Chris told me back in the day that there was more great guitar players than great bass players definitely was in there.
So, I ended up experimenting on bass, and then through some round of events, somebody called the workshop and said, “Do you know anybody?” This is to Chris May, my boss at the time. “Do you know anybody that could step in and cover a gig in a theater band with zero notice?” This was for a theater band who was playing locally, and the bass player (I think he had a collapsed lung or something like that) had been hauled into hospital. And they didn’t have a bass player. They were reaching out to everybody in the area to see if they could find a bass player, and Chris, my boss, said, “Oh, yeah. There’s young lad that works here that could do it.” Now, bear in mind that I didn’t read bass clef at all. I read treble clef, but I didn’t read bass clef at all, and I’d only ever jammed riffs on the bass. I think I even knew a full song. Like, I didn’t know anything about bass playing. I just had a four string bass. In fact, I didn’t even own a bass, really. I had to borrow it off the store.
I ended up on that gig.
Christopher: Okay, well listen. Let’s hit pause there before that pivotal moment, ’cause I want to understand a bit more about that musical background you had up to that point. Just to clarify, when you’ve been saying “bass”, we’re talking electric bass, not upright, when you were in the luthiers.
Scott: Yeah, electric bass, yeah.
Christopher: Okay. You mentioned being able to read treble clef and going through the grade system. Clearly, you were good at the technique and learning repertoire in advance. Had you explored anything more kind of dynamic and creative and improvisational? Did you have that kind of relationship with the instrument? ‘Cause you mentioned it seemed like it came fairly easy earlier on. Were you learning by ear? Did you feel like you had a instinct for it? Was it just kind of a skill, in a robotic way, that you knew you could do on guitar, or how were you thinking about music at that point?
Scott: Yeah, I was just learning by ear. All of the electric stuff, I was just learning by ear. I didn’t know any of the theory behind it at all, like nothing. I didn’t know what an A triad was or … I mean, like I knew nothing of diatonic harmony, so it was just by ear. The only improvisation I could do was around at the minor blues scale. The curse of the guitar player. So, that was as far as that was concerned.
But in terms of the classical side, yeah, I was learning by memory really, you know. Obviously, you learn these pieces, but really you’re learning it by memory, bar by bar, or measure by measure, depending on where you are in the globe.
In terms of music theory, you know … You can get to grade eight on classical guitar and know nothing about music theory. It’s like painting by numbers, really, in terms of like you don’t know anything about diatonic harmony or anything like that. So, yeah. I knew nothing.
Christopher: Okay. So, when they said, “Can you step in at the last minute?”, on an instrument you only sort of play, you were coming from a background of “I know I can play something if I carefully prepare in advance. I’m not someone who can just kind of sit in with a band and play on the fly.”
Scott: Yeah, exactly. I was, I think, given two weeks to prepare for it. I was given 280 charts, because the … Yeah, 280 charts, all notation. All notation. I don’t read bass clef at this time. So … Trying to think back how it went.
Essentially, I took two weeks off work at this point, so I didn’t … I just took the two weeks off. I can remember getting up, eating my breakfast, sitting down with the cassette tapes and those charts, and just writing all of the notes above the, seriously, above the actual notation and memorizing as much as I could. Just like full-time, 14 days. Ate my breakfast, learnt the stuff, had my lunch, ate the stuff, had my dinner … You know, learnt the stuff. And then just went to bed and then got up, and did that 14 days straight.
Even then, I was vastly under-prepared. I gave it my best shot. Then when I got there, they didn’t have any other choice. I was really the only choice that they had, and I think I scraped by. I did a good enough job that I was gonna scrape by, and they took a shot on me. I can remember thinking to myself, “Sheesh, this is just insane. This is just crazy.”
Yeah. Actually, on my first gig, there was this disaster moment as well, when all my music fell off the music stand, so it was really … Yeah, yeah. It was just trial by fire, but I got through it. I got through it. And I’ve been in various different situations like that in my life, as well. Always pays off.
Christopher: Well, yeah. It sounds like you rose to the occasion, for sure. I love that as a moment in your trajectory, because I think that is as far as a lot of people get with bass. In terms of appreciating the bass, they think of it as someone who just kinda steps in and plays the root notes on quarter beats and like that’s it, or as a bass player, often it is a guitarist how just subs in when the bassist is off sick, and doesn’t do much more than that.
Christopher: One thing I really wanted to dig into with you was for yourself and when you’re talking to students, how do you gain a real appreciation of what the bass can do as an instrument? Maybe that will come out naturally in your story as you go beyond that kind of last minute prep or what the sheet music tells you to play, but yeah, I really wanna hear your perspective on how you gain the kind of deep appreciation of the bass that you have at this point.
Scott: Well, for me, it’s a little bit of a weird one, actually. The appreciation from the bass came … It was forced for me. Thinking back … I’ve never actually been asked this question, but I’ve got an answer for you. So, it came back to that day that Chris May, my boss at the time, stated that there are less great bass players than great guitar players, and you can actually be really successful, or I could be successful within the bass niche if I really gave it some serious effort. Because, up until that point, I’d never really listened to bass on albums, so I kind of set upon that task to find music and bass players that were gonna really inspire me. So, I went and looked for it. There wasn’t a moment where it happened. I thought to myself, “Well, if I’m gonna be a bass player, I really need to find some inspiring bass players to check out”, and just went hunting for it.
For me, it was all of the soloists, actually. Because I was a guitar player, I immediately gravitated to bass players who were playing solos, so it actually wasn’t the bass playing role that was initially attractive to me as a musician at all. It was the soloistic side. I was listening to guys like Jimmy Johnson who plays with … Well, he plays with a ton of guys, but he was playing with Allan Holdsworth, at the time. And I found a guy called Skuli Sverrisson, who I actually went and studied with out in New York. Just all of the solo improvisations soloistic kind of players.
But through that, it did filter down, and then I did get this real appreciation for the bass and its role within the music. And that really first … This is kind of weird to say. Can you remember the band “Wham!”.
Scott: Wham! Right? With George Michael as the vocalist. Well, one of the tunes that that theater band played, it was a Wham! tune. I can’t remember which one tune it was. But the bass line was just crazy awesome. That was honestly the first time I was like, “Wow. This bass thing’s pretty cool.” You know, it was a good thing that that happened, ’cause I was about to go and start doing this as a job in a theater band. But yeah, that was really the first time I really found an interest in the low end of what the bass is actually sort of like all of the time really. So, got into that.
Then, as I was playing all of the tunes in the theater band, that was really my first … It was absolutely the first time I’d played bass. You know, in a band, but actually just played bass even on my own, because when I was playing bass at home, I was just playing slap riffs as you would when you were 17 years old, you know. What do you do? You just play slap riffs all the time or you just rise up and down scales and try and do cool solos. This was the first time that I was actually playing bass lines, in that band. That was my first introduction to what a bass does, and it was amazing. It was really amazing.
In that theater band, as well, we rotated nights, as well, so some nights we’d do … I think we did a ’50s and ’60s night. We did ’70s and ’80s night. At the ’70s and ’80s nights were really fantastic, because that was all of the disco stuff, you know. All of the folk stuff. Everything from Wham! right back to Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, and that kind of thing. Then we also did Motown, a Motown and Broadway night, as well, which was all of the classics from Broadway. That was a really interesting time as well, because it gave me a real appreciation for the music that had been written for stage, because up until that point, I’d just never played … Never even listened to it. I was like, “What? West End Broadway?” You know, just wasn’t even in my … I was listening to Steve Vai and Van Halen, you know.
Christopher: That’s so interesting. It reminds me a bit of a past interviewee, Judy Rodman, who was talking about her time as a jingle singer, and it was kind of a boot camp for her in terms of becoming a professional singer because they’d just go in and have to do so many different styles on the fly, perfectly in tune with no prep. It sounds like you had a similar experience where you were kind of thrown into a situation that exposed you to every kind of bass playing and every style of bass there was.
Scott: Exactly, yeah. Perfect. It was perfect, yeah. ’50s and ’60s, which was all the old school stuff from … You know, we were playing Beatles. All of the ’50s and ’60s was really fantastic. Playing some jazzy styles stuff, but it was written. You know, it wasn’t traditional walking basslines. It was two in a bar, and it was all written out in notation. But, doing that stuff, and then as I said, the ’70s and ’80s were just sort of like a school in itself in terms of bassline construction. And then into the Broadway and Motown stuff. But I’ve gotta say that I was still painting by numbers. I knew nothing about what I was doing. I didn’t think to myself, “Ah, that’s an A triad” or “I’m doing a chromatic run here.” I was just literally painting by numbers, playing what was on the page. Didn’t know what the heck I was doing.
Christopher: Okay. Well, I wanna pick up on that in a moment, but before we move on, we’re just coming off the back of a big focus on active listening, here on the show. I love what you said about needing to go off and find the people who were playing solo, like the bassists who were really front and center, not just playing root notes in the background.
It reminded me, like for me, what made me go out and buy a bass in my 20s was there’s this Maddy Prior track where Rick Kemp is playing solo upright bass, and he starts off the song with this riff, and it just hit me in my heart, and I was like, “Ah, I wanna play that riff.” That was literally enough. I went out and bought a fretless bass and started learning.
I think there’s real value in doing that, bothering to do that, ’cause you said you took the proactive steps of going out and seeking those bassists. I think when we play in instrument, we tend to tune into that instrument in the mix, and we can hear what it’s doing, but for instruments you don’t play … And I know for a lot of our listeners, bass is not their primary instrument, and they may have never realized there’s a lot more to bass than just playing underneath the chords in a robotic fashion. So, I would love if you could give people some homework or some recommendations. Thinking about those more creative, improvisational, melodic leading bass players from the past or today, who would you say go out there and listen to, to get a sense of what the bass can do?
Scott: Oh, wow. Of what the bass can do. Oh, that’s a deep question. A side note, by the way, I know Rick and Maddy really well. They live just a few miles outside of Carlisle, and I used to hang around with Rick.
Christopher: No way.
Scott: I actually taught their daughter, Rosie, guitar at one point, yeah. We had saw it … Anyway. So, in terms of bass players that you should check out … Well, first of all, winding right back to the beginning of the electric bass, the first guy really to have a voice, I suppose, that showed what … ‘Cause there was electric bass players before this guy I’m gonna mention, but he was a real virtuosic player, and also in terms of the way that he represented the harmony that he was playing. He did it in a really, really great way. The guy is James Jamerson.
James Jamerson was on upright player to begin with, and he also played piano as well, which not many people know. I’ve learned a lot of his lines, and the way that he outlines the chords … And I think that this is a really key thing for your listeners to understand as well, is that bass players do exactly what the rest of the band do, especially the rhythm section. So, for instance, a guitar player, for the most part, is playing chords. He’s outlining the harmony, by playing chords. Same as the keys players, right? Their outlining the chords. Yeah, that’s sort of like doing a few licks here and there and a few … You know, maybe the guitar player’s doing a solo, but for the most part of that song, they’re gonna be outlining the harmony by playing chords. The bass player’s doing exactly the same thing. They’re just outlining the chords, but instead of playing the notes all at the same time like a guitar player or a keys player would, they play the notes linearly. So, they’ll play roots, thirds, fives, sevens. They’ll play passing turns in between that whether is be scale tones or chromatic runs.
So, when I’m listening to a bass player play, that’s what I’m listening to. I’m thinking, “Okay, there’s a chord going on at this moment. How is he outlining that chord?” And yeah, that could just be a root note, you know. Sometimes a root note is just enough. You don’t need anything more, but for some styles of music and some players, they might want to throw in other elements to that.
So, James Jamerson was the first real guy that I’ve heard that really ran with that. As the chord went by, he was doing exactly what I just said. He was outlining all of the chord tones. He wasn’t throwing them all in, but he was outlining them in a really musical way. He was using chromatic approach notes as you would in bebop. There was just so much more going on than initially … When you listen to a Motown track and Jamerson’s playing on it, you’re like, “Yeah, great bassline.” But when you actually start deconstructing it, it’s like, “Wow.” This guy obviously knew his harmony really, really well to be able to do it in the way that he did.
I think that … I don’t think. I know that, for instance, I think one of the key things to point out is that Motown Records actually used to postpone recording dates so they could get Jamerson on it. That’s how important he was to that music. A lot of the time, as well, that his basslines are actually melodies in their own right. It’s like a counter melody to the melody, right? And they knew that. There was obviously something magical about the way that he approached creating a bassline, that added so much to the song that the record company was willing to actually postpone recording these songs until they could get him on the track. So, yeah, definitely check out James Jamerson. And if you want to … Go on, Chris.
Christopher: Sorry. Just before you move on, tell me … ‘Cause you described in quite theoretical terms there, which is super interesting for those among our audience who know what you’re talking about, but when you were first listening to him, or if someone’s listening without knowing what a chromatic passing note is for example, are they going to be able to appreciate what’s going on when they hear him play?
Christopher: Okay. Are they gonna be able to enjoy what’s going on?
Scott: Yes. They’ll absolutely enjoy it, but for me … Like, I listened to Jamerson for a good few years and didn’t really have the appreciation that I should’ve, until I started transcribing what was going on and learning, you know, “Oh, okay. That’s like a G major going to a D flat diminished. Oh, that’s really interesting how he got there.” He’s not just playing G and then D flat. He’s using these chromatic notes to run up to the D flat, or he’s using a suspended triad to move down to it. All of these crazy things that you just wouldn’t do naturally. He’s not playing by ear. He is playing by ear, you know, obviously, ’cause we all play by ear. Whether you know theory or not, we all play by ear, but he’s doing it in a really, really intelligent way. He’s doing it in a really intelligent way. So, I don’t think necessarily, if you don’t really know any of that stuff, that you will hear it instantly, but I do recommend that you sit down and try and listen and pick apart the basslines, figure out what he’s doing. He’s the best example in that era of … There’s somebody to do that. And he was so much more developed than anybody else. Like, so much more.
Another guy that people loved the basslines off, and rightly so ’cause he’s crazy good, was Bob Babbitt who was around at the same time in the Motown area. He was sort of like second in line to Jamerson. Can’t get Jamerson. Bob Babbitt will do it. You know?
But in terms of his approach, harmonically speaking, to creating basslines, James Jamerson was, I’m not gonna say in a different league, because that has some sort of negative connotation towards Bob Babbitt, but he was much more …
Christopher: He was playing a different game, maybe.
Scott: Yeah. He was seeing it in a different way. You know, he was seeing it in a different way. He was seeing more as a piano player would see it. I would say that.
Christopher: Okay. In terms of bass appreciation, who else should people go on to listen to?
Scott: Oh, going through the eras … I’m trying to think. So, Jamerson up until the ’70s. Carol Kaye, as well, did some great stuff. I wanna mention her. As did Bob Babbitt. You know, those guys. Carol Kaye, Babbitt. ’70s has got to be Larry Graham from Graham Central Station. Just listen to the tune called “Hair”. Obviously, I am follicly challenged. I know not much of hair, but yeah. Check out Graham Central Station. He was one of the godfathers of funk and slap bass, as was Bootsy Collins, who originally was bass player for James Brown back in the day, and then went and did his own thing. But man, he was just like killing it as a bass player.
There was in the ’70s, obviously, there was the whole punk thing going on, but I think in terms of bass appreciation, they were really doing what the guitar … They were just playing root notes, chugging along in the background, so I don’t think there’s much to really, for me anyway, to learn from those guys other than kind of like cool attitude and rocking out. But go do it.
’80s. I think by the ’80s, obviously, Anthony Jackson is a huge player to check out in the ’80s. Marcus Miller. Yeah, again, you know. These are huge session guys that … I think the session scene was in full flow still in the ’80s, which obviously it isn’t now, but … Anthony Jackson. Marcus Miller. Will Lee towards the end of the ’80s did some fantastic stuff with the Brecker Brothers and their band. I suppose you wanna know who these guys played with. Well, Marcus Miller … “You’re Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross. Check out the bassline on that. That will tell you all. You don’t need anything other than that, right? Luther Vandross with Marcus Miller. Anthony Jackson, he played on a lot of stuff, but some of the really key things that you should check out is all the stuff that he did with Chaka Khan. Great by bass … What’s that tune called? I’ve got a terrible memory when it comes to the names of songs.
“What Cha Gonna Do For Me”.
Christopher: Oh, yeah.
Scott: What cha gonna do for me. Right? So, check out the end of that track. That’s amazing.
’90s. Oh. We’re moving into a strange era in the ’90s, aren’t we? Which is a different conversation in itself. Then I think you’re got the super breed of bass players that came out. Obviously, I should just rewind a bit. Jaco Pastorius. Let’s not go any further without mentioning him. Jaco Pastorius releases self-titled solo album in 1976. Jaco Pastorius was really the first guy that came out with like a soloistic style of bass playing. He had a solo album. Herbie Hancock was on there. You know, all of those guys. Wow. He’s was just killing it. So, that’s just “Jaco Pastorius” by Jaco Pastorius. Check him out.
Jeff Berlin around the same time. Just a little later, I think, was another one of those guys that was just … It’d come across like amazing techniques. Soloistic techniques. They were playing stuff like “Donna Lee”, which is the Charlie Parker tune. Definitely worth checking out. Jaco Pastorius was also playing with Weather Report. Any of the Weather Report stuff you wanna check out.
Then this new breed of player came along, I suppose, really, I wanna say with Matt Garrison, but before that, Victor Wooten. A lot of your listeners might have heard of Victor Wooten. But there is a guy called Matthew Garrison, son of Jimmy Garrison, who originally played for John Coltrane.
So, Matt Garrison was really a new breed. The way that he approached harmony was very different from the way that the original soloists like Jaco Pastorius and Jeff Berlin approached harmony. Matt Garrison, there’s a lot more melodic minor … It depends how deep you wanna go, ’cause there’s a lot more melodic minor harmonic major stuff being used with Matt Garrison. Then really, from Matt Garrison, there came a whole slew of these crazy amazing soloistic style bass players. And I would say the last one really that really sticks out in my mind was a French bass player who now lives over in L.A., called Hadrien Feraud, who was just phenomenal. I can remember checking Hadrien out when he was like 17 on YouTube, when I first found YouTube a few years ago. Then I remember seeing him in Manchester, the Manchester Bass Day. I think he was in his early 20s at this point. And I’ve seen a lot of bass players live, and this for me was like … I’ve just never seen anything like it. Nothing like it. And still haven’t seen anything like it. He’s just an anomaly in terms of being able to do what he does on the bass, from a physical standpoint and a harmonic standpoint, is just an anomaly. There’s nobody been on the earth like him. At the minute anyway.
Also, just to rewind a little bit … Obviously, you know I’m a huge fan of Gary Willis as well, so Gary Willis is also a great bass player to check out. So, those … I think I’ve given you like 10 to 15 bass players.
Christopher: Yeah, tremendous.
Scott: Lot of stuff to check out there. Lots of different styles of music, as well. And apologies if anybody’s thinking, “Please mention this player”, you know. I do apologize if I missed anybody out. I’m a fan of a lot of bass players. All of the bass players. I love them all.
Christopher: No doubt. We’ll definitely have those names and some recommended links in the show notes for people who, like myself, now immediately want to go off and do a lot of listening. But let’s come back to your own story, and maybe factor some of that in, because you’ve hinted a couple of times that there was a transformation in your bass playing. You’ve made reference to understanding the triads you were outlining or knowing what the theory was behind what you were playing. Where did that start to come in to the picture, and why was that important compared with just playing the notes on the page?
Scott: Okay. So, I did the theater band. It kinda comes in the story. I did the theater band, and I ended up doing that gig … I ended up leaving my job, actually, at Overwater Basses, to become the full-time bass player in that theater band. So, I was playing six nights a week, and it was just the best start to any music career. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It blew my mind. But it was the culture of that band was very … We were in and out. Like, I turned up. We didn’t really speak about the music or anything like that. These guys were old-school guys. They’re just playing in the theater their whole lives. They don’t really wanna sit and talk about music. They’ve done it forever, you know. They’re probably a little bit grumpy about it, you know. They were always a little bit grumpy about something.
We turned up ten minutes before. We plugged in. The theater lights went up, and off we went. We did the gig. And then after the gig, we packed up. Well, we didn’t pack up, obviously. It’s a theater band, so all your gear’s just left in the theater. We jumped in our cars and went home. And that was it, right? So, I did that for year, and didn’t really get any tips or anything like that from the band. It was just in and out.
So, that contract ended. In fact, that whole band ended and went and did their own thing. Then, strangely, the guy that gave me the gig, that called the workshop the year before and had the collapsed lung, he called me again. At this point, I’d just moved to Leeds. The phone call goes like this. “Hey, Scott. It’s” … What’s his name? I can’t remember his name anymore. He said, “Hey, Scott. I heard that gig ended.” I was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “I was wondering if you want to go on a cruise ship, because I’ve just been offered a cruise ship gig. I can’t go, obviously, because my health is still quite bad. I was just wondering if you want to go for the audition.” I was like, “Yeah.” Seriously, I didn’t know that cruise ship gigs were a thing, at the minute. Again, no internet. I was living in the middle of nowhere. Had nobody to ask. And he was like, “Oh, yeah. It leaves in two weeks, and you’d be going to the Caribbean for six months.” “What? This is a thing? This actually exists?” He was like, “Oh, yeah. It’s a thing.” Obviously, I said yes, I wanted to do it, right?
But the key thing to understand here is that I’ve been playing the same sets of however … 280 tunes, I think we used to do in that band. Just rotated around. I’d only played them for The past year. I’d not done anything else. I wasn’t listening to any of the musicians really. I wasn’t practicing. I was just doing it. I actually worked a lot that year. I worked in a music store during the day, and I gigged every night, so I had no time to practice. So, I wasn’t being lazy or anything like that.
I went to the audition for the cruise ship, and it was going in two weeks. The musical director put a piece of music in front of me. No, it was a chord chart. Put a chord chart in front of me. I think it was “Girl From Ipanema”. I said, “Okay. So, we’re just gonna do “Girl From Ipanema” in second bossa.” He didn’t say it was a bossa. It just said “bossa” on the page, on the sheet. I didn’t know what a bossa was. So, I said, “What’s a bossa?” And he was like, “You don’t know what a bossa is?” It was “bossa nova”. I was like, “I’ve got no clue what a bossa nova is.” So, just hangs his head In shame. Now, this guy actually was notorious for being a super hard ass.
In fact, there’s a great story. His name was Eric. I’m not gonna mention his surname, ’cause he might still be around. But his name was Eric, and there’s a great story about him. He did a gig. He did the first set of a gig, and in the break, picked up the bass players bass, opened the back door of the venue they were playing at, and threw the bass into the street. This is serious. Then, obviously, he didn’t throw the bass player, but he told the bass player to go, and he said, “I’ll play the bass for the rest of the gig, with your mother.” It’s a notorious story, but he was a real hard ass.
Yeah, when I listen to, or hear, stories about … What’s the film called? “Whiplash”. People have said, “That doesn’t happen in real life.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah? I’ve got stories that will go in exact opposite”, and tell people that actually, stuff like that does go down in real life. Yeah, maybe not in music school, but actually on the road. I think there is a few harry stories out there to be told. But anyway …
So, I’m in this audition for this cruise ship gig. It just goes disastrously wrong. It’s horrendous. I don’t know what a bossa nova is. They hand me another sheet. They’re like, okay, well this is just like a walking bassline around. I’m like, “I don’t know how to play a walking basslines.” Right? Imagine the worst audition in the world. You wouldn’t even be halfway there. It just goes horrendously wrong. Essentially, right there and then, in front of the rest of the band, Eric is seriously is just like, “Pack your bass up. There’s no way you’re going on this ship.” So, I packed the bass up, got back in my car, and I’m driving back to Leeds, and I’m torn to shreds. I’m so gutted about it. I’m just like there’s … But, as everybody listening could imagine, it was like the ultra, the worst humiliation, you know. You just can’t do anything. I’m a complete failure.
I get to Leeds. I’m feeling really down that afternoon. The phone rings. It’s Eric. I’m like, “Hey. How’re you doing?” He’s like, “Scott, I’m not gonna lie. There’s no way that you are ready to go on this cruise ship gig.” He said, “In fact, I’m pretty well 100% certain that you will be sent home within the first four weeks of going on this cruise ship, but I’m gonna send you anyway, because if I don’t send you, I can’t send the rest of the band, because we’ve only got two weeks to prepare to get you on this cruise ship, and I can’t find anybody else to go. So, you’re gonna go on it anyway.”
Christopher: What? Talk about-
Scott: “But you better get your stuff together, because if you don’t, you’re gonna get sent home within the first four weeks.” So-
Christopher: Talk about proving your point from earlier about there not being that many bassists around.
Scott: Yeah, oh, yeah. Well, going away for six months stint only having two weeks notice is just really hard. It was even hard for me, you know. I didn’t have really many responsibilities. I didn’t really know how to prepare, to be honest, so I just kind of sort of like prepared my solo, I suppose for a total beating, the total beating that it was about to get.
I went on that cruise ship. We did two or three rehearsals, which were total carnage, all because of me. Yeah.
Christopher: Pre YouTube, pre internet almost … That’s tough to prepare for, if you sat at home in a small town, needing to study walking basslines with no teacher or resources to help you. Did you have anything to go on?
Scott: Nothing. Nothing. No books. Nothing. The guitar player that was doing the ship with us, in the rehearsal weeks, he told me to buy any tapes with Ray Brown on it I could find. He said, “Find tapes of Ray Brown.” He said, “Find the charts that he’s playing, so you can figure out what the chords are that he’s playing over and just figure out how you’re gonna get through this.”
So, I did. So, yeah. That’s all I did. Then through actually, quite interestingly, I found a really hacky way of playing walking basslines, which I still teach today, because it really nails what a walking bassline is, and helps people that haven’t played a walking bassline ever to be able to play a walking bassline within a few weeks. And it’s pAssible. Right? You’re not gonna get sent home. If you’re on a cruise ship anyway, you’re not gonna get sent home. Okay? It was what kept me on that cruise ship.
The cruise ship gig was actually a different experience. Yeah, it was quite different from the theater gig experience, because the players were discussing the music in between gigs. You know, how can we make it better? How can we make Scott better? How can we get him through this gig? And the piano player and the guitar player where absolute diamonds on that contract, actually.
That was really the appreciation for knowing triads, roots, fives … “Oh, I should learn jazz. Here’s why I should learn jazz. Because of diatonic harmony. Because it’s gonna give me an appreciation of how songs are written and why the 2-5-1 exists, or the 1-6-2-5, or the 1-6-3-2.” I mean like, all of that came from that contract. It had to come. It was the only way I was gonna survive.
So, I learned how to play walking basslines. Leaned how to play walking by ear. Learned that when people do this … And for anybody that’s not watching this video, have like two fingers down, or two fingers up, I understood exactly what that meant. It’s two flats, which means you better know that that’s B flat or you’re in trouble, right?
And the MD on the ship, as well, a lot of the time … This was old-school, but I think it just exists still in certain scenarios. You wouldn’t know the tune, they wouldn’t tell you the title of the song, and he would turn around and he’d say, “Three down.” One, two, one, two, three, four. And then they’d go into the tune. You don’t know what it’s called. All you know is, right, he just said “three down”. So, it’s in E flat. And you obviously know what tempo it is, because he’s just counted you in. And you are meant to go into that and be able to outline the chords, even though you don’t know what the song is. It was like, yeah. It was a real hard school, and the MD was really, really hard. He was really hard MD. Yeah, it was just brutal, but amazing at the same time. Wouldn’t change a thing.
Christopher: Tremendous. Well, I wanna pause for a minute and talk about that walking basslines, because a few years ago … Yeah, this would have been before you and I met. I was abroad, so I didn’t have my normal bass, and I picked up a U bass, like those little ukulele style basses. And I found it sounded like an upright bass, and I really loved that. I was like, “Cool, I kinda wanna play some jazz now.”
So, I joined the SBL Academy, and I found your essential jazz survival guide course, which was terrific and exactly what I needed right then. You gave this wonderful explanation of walking basslines, why they matter, what they are, how they work. I think up until that point, I would consider myself fairly well-versed in music theory, but that was one of the topics that I … You know, I knew the phrase very well. I could tell you if something I heard was a walking bassline, but I’d never really paused to be like, “What are the notes they’re playing? What is going on there?” And I loved your course, because you just constructed it from scratch and explained it in a really great way.
I wonder if we could do the same with the listener. Maybe if someone kinda knows what a walking basslines might be, but doesn’t really understand them. Can we just explain what is it? Why does it matter? How does it work?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve got my bass here, so I’ll play you some examples in a second. What a walking bassline is … If you remember a few seconds ago I was talking about what a bass player does within the band. They do exactly what the rest of the rhythm section are doing, except the drummer obviously. They’re playing the chords, and they’re playing the chords in a linear fashion. They outline the chords. So, if a listener, if a audience member … A member? A member of the audience … If someone in the audience is listening to only the bassline, they will be able to hear the chords going by, not just root notes, but the entire chord going by. And really, a walking bassline, traditional walking bassline, that’s what it’s doing.
Traditionally, it’s doing it four notes per measure. Okay? So, I’m just gonna play this. So, if you’ve got a measure of music, let’s say the chord is C minor.
Scott: So, if that’s a C minor, you know, the bassline might be going … Okay? All I’m doing though is just outlining the chord from the root to the minor third, and I’m using this passing turn here, to the 11, to the five, to the flat seven, to the root. I didn’t need to do that, but traditionally that’s what it’s gonna do. Four notes a bar.
Take 2-5-1 in the key of B flat, for instance. C minor, to F dominant seven, to B flat major seven. Amazing cool chord sequence. It’s gonna go like this. C minor, to B flat here, to F dominant seven. So, your root notes would obviously be … two, three four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four … two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one …
We wanna do more than that, so the really easy way to get into this is start in using the fifths first, the fives. So, we’ve got C and the five. We’ve got F and the five. And then we’ve got B flat and the five. When I say the five, I mean the fifth of the chord, right? So, C minor and the fifth of C minor. F dominant seven. The fifth of F dominant seven. And then B flat and the fifth of B flat. Okay?
So, you can actually create a pretty cool walking bassline just by using those. What I start to get students to do first of all is learn how to play two in a bar. So, a two in a bar walking bassline is like if we were doing a standard like this. We would literally play two in a bar, or two in a measure. Two notes per measure. One. Two. One, two, three, four … A one, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four … Two, three, four. C minor. F dominant. B flat. Right?
Then, after that, instead of just sort of by throwing … ‘Cause people think walking basslines are this. Just like this slew of chromatic notes, which they’re not, right? So, once you’ve got the root and the fives down, then you can actually play a decent end of a walking bassline actually just using roots and fives, and it would sound like this. A one, two, three, four.
Scott: Right? If you play that, you’re not gonna get sent home. You’re on the cruise ship. You’re on the gig. Right? Seriously, that’s all the band want. They just want it to sound solid and do its thing, right?
Now, once you get the root and the fives down, which that’s pretty easy to do roots, fives, and-
Christopher: Let’s make sure everyone’s keeping up. The different between what you played first, just two notes per measure, and what you just played that sounded a lot more musical … You were throwing in some little swung notes in between? You were using the octave as well as the fifths, so you had a bit more variety?
Christopher: Anything else you threw into the mix there?
Scott: One note by accident, but it was all roots and fives. It was just roots and fives. Just sort of like … That’s all roots and fives. It’s a great exercise in itself, because it’s like, okay, how inventive can you be with just roots and fives. Like, before you worry about the rest of the notes, just be inventive with those two.
Then, to push it just one step further, it’s like, okay, let’s do roots, fives, and thirds, as well. I know that sound everybody thinking, “Well, why not just do root and thirds first?” It’s because. Just because.
Christopher: Just trust me.
Scott: Just trust me, okay. It’ll take me ten minutes to explain. So, once you’ve done that, you can start adding the third in there. I’m gonna slow it down a bit for you, so … So, all of that, which is roots and fifths … There we go. There’s a little third there, so root, third, five, root, root, root, five, five, three, three, root, three, root, root, three, three, root, five, root, three, root, root, three, three, five, five, root, three, three … Yeah, all right so … And then it’d be to speed. Two, three, four … Sneaky little chromatic in there. Right?
Then, you can carry on. You can start adding the sevens in and stuff like that. And you can add chromatic notes in. So, instead of going … You could … You got these little chromatic notes in there that work in between, but that’s a whole, you know … We could talk about walking basslines for the next eight weeks. But that’s just a great way to encapsulate what a walking bassline is, and also give a little bit of a indication into how to actually get into it, how to actually, you know … If one of your listeners is like, “Oh, well, this is great. How do I actually start doing walking basslines?” Start with … And jazz standards. Take a jazz standard. Be able to play, obviously, all. Find out where the roots are. Be able to play roots and fives over the full thing, and then just start doing roots, fives, and thirds.
You obviously don’t have to play in the order. You don’t have to play root, five, third. You know? You can use them in any order you want. You just need to be able to, when you’re working on it as a musician practicing, first start with your roots, then add the fives into the mix, and then add the thirds into the mix. Okay? So, don’t wanna get anybody playing roots … “Oh, you’ve got to play roots, fives, thirds in this specific order.” Yeah.
Christopher: No. Love it. That was wonderful explanation. Thank you. And hopefully it gives people a sense of why I was able to sit there for hours at a time with my U bass, happily just playing walking basslines for several weeks.
Scott: Right. Yeah.
Christopher: Because it’s like when we talked about improvisation in music, we often use this framework of constraints and dimensions where you apply a constraint, and in this case it’s like just play the roots, thirds, and fifths. And that actually gives you a whole different mindset on what you can change, like you say, the order of the notes, the dynamics, the timing. There’s so many different combinations, and I love walking basslines as a really elegant playground that’s kind of limitless for just improvising in a safe way. As long as you’re sticking with the notes of the chord, there’s so many possibilities, but it gives you a safe zone to play in.
Scott: Absolutely. Yeah.
Christopher: Pick any jazz standard, and you can while away the hours.
Scott: Yeah. It’s also great because … Just to talk about constraint. Well, two things. First of all, it’s great because when you first start studying walking basslines and practicing them, it completely eradicates anything about rhythm. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna play four notes a bar. And it’s there’s not many practical applications that you’re gonna come across where it’s like, okay, the rhythm is just this one thing. Like yes, it can get a little bit more complex, but for the most part, you are just playing bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, you now? You’ve just gotta do that.
Then all of the emphasis is do you actually know where the notes are on your instrument? Do you know? It’s a yes of no answer. It’s like, can you play a walking bassline at this speed over these chords on your instrument? Yes or no answer. It’s really fantastic because it removes any … Even though walking basslines are beautiful and, when they’re done really fantastically, they can create counter melodies in themselves, but when you’re just learning them, when you’re getting into it, it just removes all kind of … It’s almost like a mechanical exercise in a way. It’s like you’ve got to outline the chord. You have to play four notes a bar. That’s it. Go do it. Can you do it or not?
It’s not subjective. It’s like when you look at a great piece of art and you’re like, “Hmm. Is that a great piece of artwork, or isn’t it a great” … And some people might be like, “Yeah, it’s great.” And some people might, “It’s horrible.” With a walking bassline, that doesn’t happen. You can either do it or not. Four notes a bar, outline the chords. Can you do it, or can you not?
So, because of that, it’s really fantastic, because I think sometimes it’s hard for students when they’re given this openness. “Well, was that good, or was that not good?” It’s really nice to be able to do that.
The second thing I wanted to mention, just in terms of constraints, is you can do that with walking basslines, as well. You can take, say, a jazz standard or a small chord sequence like a 2-5-1, and you can say, “Okay, I’m only gonna do it within four frets. Can I do that within four frets?” So, let me do this within four frets … It’s all within four frets, or you could think to yourself, “I’m only gonna do it on two strings.” … Or one string … You know? It’s hard when you do it. Like, yeah. When you’re doing it on one string, you’ve gotta get quite inventive, but being able to see where all the notes are and … Yeah. So, adding those constraints is really, really beneficial.
Christopher: Wonderful. I think that gives a sense of where you were headed as a bass player. You’d started out with this very kind of “play the notes on the page” mentality, but across a wide range of genres. The cruise ship opportunity brought maybe a little more improvisation or creativity or spontaneity to your playing, and put you into the world of jazz, specifically.
Where did things go from there? How did you develop as a player?
Scott: After the ship and that schooling that I got … And I should mention as well that I actually met a guy, a passenger, on the ship who was, I think he was like a teacher at Juilliard or it was one of the big music school in New York, and he was on holiday with his wife and friends. Only for a week. Every single day that we got into port on the ship, all his wife and friends would go off the ship, and he’d sit and play piano all day. All day. All he did on the holiday was play piano all day, while all his friends and his family … And he was older guy, probably in his early 60s. I hate myself that I don’t know his name, ’cause I’d be able to look him up. Anyway, he was just such a beautiful player.
And I used to just sit and talk to him, and he’d just kinda give me these off the cuff music lessons as he was … ‘Cause I was practicing a bit when I was on the ship. And we’d play together. And it was through him as well that this really … He really hammered that message home. He was like, “You’ve got to learn jazz. You have got to learn jazz, even if you don’t ever wanna play it.” He was like, “Because you really need to know how to outline the chords and how all the chords work with each other.” For that, whatever happened that week, really stuck with me. So, when I got off the ship, that message was just like rolling around my mind. “I’ve gotta learn jazz. I’ve gotta learn jazz.” And I’d been playing jazz every day on the ship, as well as sort of top four hits, but the first two sets that we played on the ship were jazz. You know, sort of like bossas and swings and stuff like that. Gotta say it was rough. I think it was like five or six, I think. No, five sets a night we played to. It was five 45 minute sets a night. It’s pretty grueling, yeah.
We had one night off in that six months, as well. Oh, actually we stayed on for seven months, in the end. We stayed on for seven months. I had one night off in seven months, and I played five hours a night. So, it was great for getting everything together, my chops and stuff like that.
But when I got off, that message was rolling around in my mind of thinking, “Gotta learn jazz. Gotta learn jazz.” So, I moved to Leeds. I’d lived in Leeds for a tiny while before, but moved to Leeds and thought, “This is where I’m staying. There’s a good music scene here.” There was a music college there, as well.
I forgot to mention, I did try and get into music college when I was 18, actually, but I was knocked back because I didn’t have any of the qualifications I needed to get in. So, I did the audition, blah, blah, blah, and then the guy came through and said, “Oh, it looks like you’ve got no qualifications.” I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got no qualifications.” You know, “Well, you can’t get in then.” I was like-
Christopher: Like academic qualifications?
Scott: Academic qualifications, yeah.
Christopher: Got ya.
Scott: I had terrible results from school and that whole thing, so it didn’t matter how the audition went, actually. It went really well. The audition went fantastically, but, yeah, I didn’t have any academic qualifications, so I couldn’t get in.
And that’s really why I ended up going on that cruise ship and all. That’s a whole other story, but yeah. But interestingly, I knew there was a music college in Leeds. So, I came to Leeds. At that time, I knew that I wanted to get in amongst the musicians, so I just thought, “Well, I’ll move into a house where there’s loads of musicians living that are going to music college”, ’cause I just thought, “I don’t want to go to music college. I’ll just move in a house full of these guys that are all in the music college. Get involved in the scene.”
So, that’s what I did. So, moved to Leeds, met all the guys on the scene, got involved in loads of different projects, studied jazz, and at the same time as well, I took upon myself to study with as many people as I could. So, instead of going to music college, which effectively puts you in a scene of other musicians … It does that, but it also gives you access to good teachers. I thought, “Well, I can just move in a house. I can take care of that part on my own.” You know, just getting into the scene. “I’ll just hang around with everybody that’s going to school here.” So, I did that, and then I took it upon myself to do the educational part myself.
So, I started studying with great players. So, for instance, I ended up doing some workshops over in New York with a trumpet player called Ralph Alessi. I can’t remember the bass teacher was on there, but like Brad Shepik, the great New York guitar player was teaching on that. Then I got lessons from, wow, Jeff Andrews, actually, who unfortunately passed away a couple of weeks ago. Got some lessons from him while I was in New York, and a few of the great players. Skuli Sverrisson, who is somebody I mentioned earlier, Icelandic bass player and fantastic player.
Then I started traveling to Barcelona at the same time, as well. I was traveling to Barcelona to study with Gary Willis, ’cause Gary Willis had just left L.A., move to Barcelona, got married, and that whole thing. So, I was traveling out to Barcelona once a month to study with Gary Willis. So, really just took my education into my own hands and then my socialization with other musicians, as well, just kinda took care of itself.
Through that, just ended up gigging. Got on the scene and getting gigs. Ended up being musical director for things, just because that’s the way it goes. As long as you can do a great job at what you’re being employed to do, as long as you’re helpful in terms of not just from music standpoint, but just from a dude, you know … Like, “Oh, Scott’s always on time. He’s professional. He’s really nice to hang out with. If anybody’s having any problems, he’ll be there to help.” You know, just be that guy, and just worked my way up the ladder from there. And really, the rest is history. [STOPPED HERE 1:03:00]
Christopher: Got ya. Well, in a minute, we’re gonna transition to talking about Scott’s Bass Lessons and the academy. A few of the topics we’ve talked about so far like practicing, like studying with the greats, like putting yourself among the right people. All the things I wanna dig into on that side of things, but first I want to understand what it was like for the kind of traditional in-person music education you were getting.
So, I’d love if we could talk specifically about studying with the greats, because I think on interviews like this, people often hear, “Oh, I went and studied with such-and-such.” And I think often we don’t understand. What does that mean? Did you sit down with them for 30 minutes and they told you some stuff? Was it a weekly lesson? Were you going to a one off master class on a random topic that you then tried to apply to your life? When you refer to some of those great teachers, what did it look like in practice to learn from them?
Scott: I only did a few musical workshops where they were like week long workshops, where I’d be studying with the guys every single day for a week or two weeks. That was what I was doing over in New York. Then while I was over in New York, I went and got private lessons from some guys, so just sitting with them. But, for me, I don’t know if it’s where I got the skill from. Somebody can say a sentence, and I will just get that one sentence, and I will hold that one sentence with me for my life. I’m very good at just hooking on to the things that certain people say, and I can still remember like every single one of my lessons that I’ve had with guys like that. There’s certain things that I always hook on to.
For instance, I just mentioned Brad Shepik. I had one lesson with Brad Shepik, but one thing that he said in that lesson has stuck with me forever. I asked him a question. I was like, “So, should I learn chord tones first and then scales, or should I learn the scales and all fingerings? And then should I learn them positionally over the neck? And what should I … “. He was like, “Yeah, all of that. All of it.” All of it. He was like, “That’s a prerequisite.” He said, “That’s unimportant. That’s just what you have to do.” He said, “So, there’s no point asking questions about it. There’s no shortcut.” And that stuck with me forever. And he was absolutely right. There’s no shortcut.
You look at all the great players, improvisors. Do they know their scales? Yes. Do they know all their chord tones? Yes. Do they know them all over the instrument? Yes. Should we all stop looking for shortcuts? Yes. He just said that. He didn’t it in that exact word. I said that, but that’s what he said. All of that stuff is just a prerequisite, so stop looking for shortcuts. There isn’t any. Just start learning it. And just be diligent every time you pick up your instrument. Make sure you’re learning your scales all over the neck for all the different fingerings and all of the different modes. That’s what ended the question I asked him, is well, in that question I was like, “Should I learn all of the modes, or should I just learn the major scale, and therefore I will have learned all the modes within the major scale?” He was just like, “Yeah, all of it. Just everything. All the different directions.” He said, “There’s not one direction.” He said, “Don’t learn one thing from one direction.” He said, “Learn the thing, but from multiple different directions.” And he said, “And then you’ll have a deeper appreciation for what that thing is, and you’ll know it much better.” So, …
Christopher: Well, that’s awesome advice.
Scott: Yeah. And that was just from one lesson. I think that we should all be really always be better at looking out for these little tidbits that get thrown your way, that you can grab onto, like life lessons, probably. Life lessons passes by every single day that we just don’t grasp onto, you know. Just get good at that. You know, get good at that.
Sometimes, I’m listening to a podcast with my wife, and somebody will say something, and I’m like, “Ah.” And I’ll stop it. I’ll pause. “Did you hear that?” My wife’s like, “What? Hear what?” I’m like, “Ah.” So, just get really good at actually listening to what people are saying. It’s not just noise. It’s really good stuff that they’re passing on.
But yeah. In terms of how I studied with them, just like that. Some guys like Gary Willis … It was a longer thing where I’d go every single month. The other guys, it was more sporadic, but I got … You know, they’re all kinda teaching the same stuff. I think that one of the things that I’ve said before is that there is no secret sauce to why those guys are great. Well, there actually is, but it’s not what you think. So, I always used to think that these guys are great. You know, Gary Willis, or whoever the guy is, right? James Jamerson. Jaco Pastorius. Oscar Peterson. Whoever you … Steve Vai. All of these guys are great and they, because they’ve got to that level, they must know something that the lesser mortals of the world don’t know, and that’s what’s giving them the ability to get where they are and play like that, because they have these extra exercises and these extra things that the other guys don’t have. And that’s what did it for them, right? And I went and studied with all of these guys that I thought had the extra sauce that we all don’t have, and they didn’t have any other information than the other guys.
So, for instance, I went to a guitar player 40 miles away from here called Mike Walker. Great guitar player, actually. Some of your listeners might have heard of him. Mike Walker, great guitar player, but not … You know, he’s not one of the uber famous guys, right? But he’s a good guitar player. The lessons I got from Mike were equally as good as anybody else. Equally, you know? So, they were all giving me great information, but it wasn’t this secret information that got them there. It was actually their personalities that got them there. I would say that the biggest secret to learning any musical instrument, or actually learning any skill, is actually your mental approach to actually the learning in itself, no the thing that you’re learning.
For instance, if you take a great musician and you took away all of what he does, his guitar or his piano, and said, “All of that is gone. Now go do something else.” He’s gonna be great, or she’s gonna be great, at whatever else they put their mind to, because of their particular mental approach to learning. I think that’s their tenacity, their consistency, their … Just the way that they learn and their focus is gonna make them great at whatever they do. I think Gary Willis is a really, really great example of this.
Gary Willis is the founder of the band Tribal Tech, who were founded in the late ’80s. He was a co-founder, actually. Scott Anderson was the guitar player. Gary Willis was the bass player. It was really one of the biggest jazz fusion bands ever, you know. He rocked my world in every single way. He was just an absolute … Like, as a soloist and a bass player, he is just sort of like unearthly. He’s like an alien. So, obviously I studied with Gary in Barcelona for over a year, and he dropped some knowledge on me, knowledge bombs, that just blew my mind.
First of all, he said he never practiced more than four hours a day, ever. He said it would drive him crazy. He was like, “I just can’t do it.” He said, “It’s how I practice which is important.” He said, “I’m really laser focused when I’m practicing.” He said, “I’m only practicing the stuff that’s right there in front of me, and I’m really, really tracking what I’m doing.” That was one of the key things he told me.
Then, also, randomly he mentioned that … Like, he doesn’t use melodic minor scales at all. I can remember stressing for months about, “Oh, my god. Everybody’s using melodic minor scales. What am I gonna do? I can’t use those. I must be a bad person.” I can remember studying with Gary Willis and saying, “How do you use melodic minor scales?” And Gary was like, “I don’t use melodic minor scales at all.” He said, “I tried them for a little while. They just didn’t work for me.” And that was it. That knowledge bomb was, “Oh, wow. I can do that, as well.” You know, I can try things, and if they don’t work for me, it’s cool. I don’t have to beat myself up about it. I can move on and do something else, and then revisit it, you know. That’s something else that I took from Gary. But yeah, he didn’t ever practice for more than four hours a day. He didn’t stress himself out about not being able to do the stuff that everybody else can do. He was just a real school in itself.
So, I fly Gary over. Obviously, I start Scott’s Bass Lessons online learning education for bass players. I reached out to Gary. I’m like, “Gary, do you want to come and do this workshop for us like a stand alone master class?” He’s like, “Yeah, wicked.” So, I fly him over to Leeds, and I’ve got the videography team there and the whole thing. We’ve got three videographers there. And Gary rocks up. He’s got his bass out, and we start. We’re doing the filming and stuff like that.
Within two to three hours, it is really evident that Gary knows as much, if not more, about videography then the videography team. Seriously. And the guys, the videographers are like, “What? This is insane. This guy’s incredible.” Yeah, we went out for a lunch that night, and I’m like, “When did the whole video thing start?” He’s like, “Oh, I just got into it a few years ago.” It was obvious. I was like, it’s so obvious. That geekery, that inner geek, that child inside him that wants to learn all of that stuff, and learned all that stuff about bass … It’s not just bass. It’s not just music. It’s just about anything he learns. He just does it in the same way, and he’d just done the same thing about video.
Then that night, he was like, “Oh, I’ve been doing some stuff” … His wife is a glass sculptor. He’s been doing these videos. He said, “I’ve been doing these videos that showcase her work.” And he showed me some of these videos, and the guys, the videographers, and the videographers were flipping out. They were just like, “What? This is insane.” He’s like, “Yeah, well, I was doing this thing”, and he’s like, “This is quite funny, because actually it took me 24 hours, a straight 24 hours to film this piece I’m showing you here.” He said, “I just got so into it, I just stayed up for the full 24 …”. He said, “I finished it like 7:30 in the morning.” And I’m like, “Well, what’s rotating it?” ‘Cause this glass sculpture’s rotating. These lights shining. He said, “I built a rotating table.” I’m just like, “Come one, you are kidding me.”
The point is these guys don’t have any secret sauce. The secret sauce they’ve got is their ability to focus on the thing that they’re learning, and just doing it in such a way that that’s the incredible thing, the way they do that. They’re all really curious. They’re all really curious about … You know, the thing about like Brad Shepik when he said, “Don’t focus on one thing in one way. Focus on one thing in a multitude of ways.” They’re all doing that. They’re all focusing on all of these different things on multiple different ways and learning things in that kind of super human way. That’s their super human strength is the way that they learn.
Christopher: Cool. That is so fascinating, and I love that you have been able to look at so many different greats and see that same characteristic trait, and that you identify that as the secret sauce, if there is any.
I do wanna ask you straight out though, because you framed all of that in terms of there’s no special information they have, or there’s no special technique or practice routines. It’s all down to the personality, the attitude. What about talent or a gift? Are these people not different and special because they just have some inherent aptitude for music?
Scott: I think some of them do, and I think some of them don’t. I think all of them will have some natural talent towards the instrument or any probably plasticity of being able to actually physically do what they’re doing, but I don’t think it is an on or off. I don’t think some people are really talented and some people aren’t. I think that, and there’s definitely some guitar players that are … All musicians are physically more adept and probably you could call that talent, I suppose.
I talked about Hadrien Feraud who is in terms of physical ability on the instrument, there’s nobody who really ever existed that’s been able to do what he does, but then there’s also bass players like James Jamerson who just … In terms of soloistic stuff, he just didn’t do it, but he was really incredible at what he did because of the knowledge and how he approached the instrument. And then modern days players … Let’s take Pino Palladino, right? Technically, he’s average. Yeah, I mean, technically he’s average. There’s probably kids in school that will be able to play all of the lines that Pino Palladino can play, but it’s his placement within the groove. It’s his taste. Can talent give you taste? I’m not sure it can. I mean, like I think you can be physically talented, but in terms of tastefully talented, I’m not that sure. So, I think that it’s more. It’s a deeper conversation there.
When I was studying guitar with those two other guys when I was 13, I physically found it a little easier to play than they did, but I don’t know whether that got me to where I am now, and I’m sure there is definitely sort of like a sliding scale. You do have guys that are crazy, that can just pick up things crazily easily and can play them ten times faster than anybody else, but I think it’s multi-angled. I think it’s multi-angled. I think you can definitely have average technique and work to and extremely high level, like extreme. You can be one of the greats with average technique.
Christopher: Love it. Well, I wanna make sure everyone puts sufficient weight behind your opinion on this, because I like that you picked up that it’s rich deep as a question. It’s not simple binary you’re talented or you’re not, ’cause as you say, there are many different aspects to being one of the greats.
Scott: Yeah. It’s not like running the 100 meter race. It’s not that. It’s interesting, ’cause people are like, “Oh, yeah, it’s like, who can run faster. Obviously, he’s more talented.” Well, obviously, maybe on the race track he is, but like music’s not that. Music’s made up of yes, technique is one part of it. And when people talk about talent, they … For me, I don’t know about you, Christopher, but when people talk about talent, they think about dexterity and the ability to move around the instrument in a certain way, not about coming up with how to move from one chord to the other in a really musical way.
Christopher: Got ya. Well, I said I want people to put weight behind it, because not only are you the man behind the leading bass education website in the world, not only did you study with those greats in person at that stage of your journey we were talking about, but at this point with Scott’s Bass Lessons, you have on your faculty, the world’s leading bass educators. You’ve interview dozens of the top bass players in the world. You’ve been among the great musicians of today, and so you’re informed not just by a handful of teachers you studied with or your own personal opinion and experience. You are kind of at the epicenter of seeing all of these greats we admire and look up to and seeing in person what that looks like.
Christopher: So, with the SBL podcast, you’ve had the chance to sit down and talk about the craft of music and learning music with some of the most amazing players in the world. You know, people like Victor Wooten, you mentioned earlier. Billy Sheehan. Michael Manring. Divinity Roxx. Steve Lawson, our own resident pro at Musical U.
Christopher: A huge variety of players all super top level. Have there been any kind of mind-blowing moments through talking to them, or any other insights or epiphanies you had along the way in those conversations?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Two that jump to mind is … One, actually, kind of dovetails into what we’ve been talking about. I suppose that first one for me, the mind … Not mind-blowing, but it was definitely something that was really interesting to see across everybody is that everybody that I’ve interviewed and everybody I’ve studied with as well (all of them, great to have met) have all had a childlike enthusiasm and appreciation for what they do. Across the board, they’re all like super geeks. It’s not worn out. It’s not sort of like the candle’s gonna burn out. We’re not candles, right? We’re not gonna burn out. They have all got this really … Can you remember when you were a kid and you were just really into this certain thing? Remember it was a computer game, or whatever it was, and you were just so geeky about it and you were talking to your friends about it. And you’re just like, “Oh, yeah, this is amazing.” They all have that. It might not be about the whole music thing that they’re doing. I think it can be a little bit more laser focused than that.
For instance, Tim Lefebvre, who I was hanging out with a couple of weeks ago, he was the bass player that did Black Star, David Bowie, and we were interviewing him for something. He’s an amazing bass player. He’s a really fantastic bass player, but I wouldn’t say right now in his career he has got this child-like enthusiasm for just playing bass. But one thing that Tim’s known for is using bass effects, so like effect pedals, in a very specific way. He’s really the godfather of that, of this current generation. If you go to a gig and you’re everywhere, or your listeners, if they go to a gig and they see a bass player there and he’s got ten stomp boxes, ten effects pedals, and they go over and you say, “Do you know Tim Lefebvre?”, they will give you an answer of 110% yes, right?
So, he’s that guy. Well, as soon as we started talking, or as soon as I started talking to Tim about effects, you just saw it. It was like he became sort of like 12 again. He’s like, “Ah. And I reached out to this guy, and I saw this pedal manufacturer on Instagram, and he sent me this pedal, and it just this … “. It was just like he’s like a 12 year old talking about a computer game that he found for the first time. Everybody has got that. All of them guys, across the board, have got that. Maybe not about the whole thing. Some have got them about it the whole thing. Some of them just absolutely love it, but even if they haven’t it about the whole thing, they’ve got it about the things within it, you know. Like, this thing, whatever it is, okay?
Another example is Ricky Minor. So, I’m over in L.A. and Ricky Minor, who is one of the most successful musical directors in the states … He does America’s Got … Not America’s Got Talent. What’s the one with Simon Cowell? I know Simon Cowell’s on it.
Christopher: American Idol.
Scott: American Idol. So, he’s the music director of American Idol. He was musical director for Whitney Houston. He did Ray Charles. The whole thing, right? So, he’s doing all right for himself. Put it that way.
So, in his studio. And for me, I’m like, “Whoa, this is Ricky Minor. This is like a big deal. I’m gonna hang out with Ricky Minor.” So, got to his studio, and we did the interview and he was really great. Straight after the interview he’s just like … He’s just getting all these basses out, and he’s so geeky about it. He’s like, “Ah, this bass is …”, and he was telling me about all these basses just like a kid. He’d just got the inter … And somebody else that I’ve never met actually, but I’ve talked on Instagram really a few times knocking certified messages back and forth is Nathan East. Now, I’ve never met Nathan East in the flesh, but I absolutely know he’s gonna be … You can just tell it a mile off, this guy just loves what he does in a way that is just that teenage … Not even a teenage. That 12 year old kid geeking out on something.
But, yeah. Everybody’s got that. That is something that I’ve really noticed across the board. So, if you haven’t got that, I think it’s worth looking into yourself and thinking, “How do I rebirth this? How do I get into it? What is it? Is there anything that I’m doing that can lean into?” And if you’ve not got it, why? I think it’s probably we get older and just crap gets on top of us. I think it’s just something worth bearing in mind, that we need that in our lives. Life is short.
The second thing that is really evident is that the best players are not the most successful. That’s got little to nothing to do with where you are gonna be in your … In terms of where you sit in hierarchy of musicianship in the world. If you sit there practicing whatever instrument you’re on, and you’re practicing and you’re practicing, practicing … “As soon as I can play this lick, it’s gonna be okay.” And then when you can play that like, “As soon as I can play this next lick …”. I suppose Ricky Minor’s another great example of this.
Ricky Minor is uber successful. He’s worked with some of the biggest talents in the world. Whitney Houston. Ray Charles. Mariah Carey. I could go on and on and on and on, right? He’s a good bass player. He’s a good bass player, but he’s not like a freak show like Hadrien Feraud or Victor Wooten, or any of those guys. Just a good bass player. But, he’s really, really great socially. He’s really professional. He can obviously take care of business. He reads music well. He’s got good knowledge of studios. He knows how to work in the … I mean, he’s got this all rounded thing. He’s an all-rounded musician.
So, here’s another example for you. Chris Chaney, who is the bass player from Jane’s Addiction. You think you might look at Chris Chaney and think, “Oh, yeah, he’s rock guy. Yeah.” Well, actually, he plays on a lot of the films coming out of Hollywood, as well. He’s prolific in terms of playing on films. Never talks about it. You go into any interviews or anything like that, you just won’t hear him talking about it. But he’s doing that day in, day out. He’s on those scores. He also was the bass player who played with Alanis Morissette when she released “Jagged Little Pill”, and she took that out on the road. He was the bass player on that. Is he the top of like craziest technical bass player in the world? No, but he plays great. He’s got a great knowledge of working in and out of the studio, on the road. Again, he’s sort of like a well-rounded musician.
On the flip side, do I know musicians who I have interviewed who are incredibly adept on their instruments in terms of technical facility? Yes. Do I know that some of them have kinda struggling for work even though they’re really held high in the public eye? Yeah, I do know they’re struggling for work. So, I think that’s something interesting that I’ve gotta … If you want to play as a professional musician … If any of your listeners like, “I want to be a professional musician”, it’s not just about being the craziest player on your instrument. I think it’s about being a great player on your instrument, but you don’t have to be crazy. But all of the other stuff you have to get down as well.
You should have a good working knowledge of studio stuff. What it’s like to … When people talk about compressors and stuff like that, you should have that knowledge down. You don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t have a clue about it. You need to be able to learn music really fast. You need to have a good knowledge of diatonic harmony, so when people are talking about, “Oh, it’s just like a 1-6-2-5”, you need to know that stuff. You need to be able to fit into a social situation and not take over, but not be the underdog. You need to understand … And that is all key skills that people don’t really put as much emphasis on as we probably should do. Probably because it’s hard to teach. You know? It’s hard to teach that stuff.
Christopher: Interesting. That is such valuable advice for people. I think we’ve kinda been picking up a lot of little glimpses of your perspective on learning music, what matters and what doesn’t, what all the different aspects to it are, what it means in terms of career.
I wanna come back for a minute to that early part of your story when you were facing the prospect of six or seven months on a cruise ship. I’m not gonna say “in the middle of nowhere”, but in a small town without the internet, struggling to learn what you needed to learn. Couldn’t be further away from the situation people find themselves in today. Deluge of information. YouTube tutorials up the wazoo. You obviously are at the forefront of defining what does music education look like online, and what will it look like in the future. So, I wanted to talk about what you have going on at SBL and the academy, and in particular what you see as the challenges and the opportunities for people learning music today, because clearly from what we’ve talked about, it’s not just about technique. It’s not just about making your fingers do the right thing at the right time. We are in this almost as challenging environment, I think, where there’s just so much information for people to take in and try and evaluate.
Maybe we could begin with you just talking a little bit about SBL and the academy, because you got a ton going on there. If people aren’t familiar, I can give them a little synopsis at the beginning, but how do you see Scott’s Bass Lessons as it exists today?
Scott: Yeah. So, Scott’s Bass Lessons is a … It’s Netflix for bass players. As you sit down and log into Netflix, or you don’t log in. You know, you open Netflix, there’s a ton of different films for you to watch. You open up Scott’s Bass Lessons, there’s tons of different courses for you to watch on different topics, all specifically to do with bass playing, learning bass. How to play walking basslines. Getting into jazz. Blues. How to improvise. The whole enchilada. Everything, right?
So, that’s what Scott’s Bass Lessons is. That’s the elevator pitch. That’s what I tell my mum it is, because I’ve gotta nail this down, because sometimes I think my mum doesn’t know what the heck I’m doing. I’m just like, “You know Netflix, Mum? I just do that for bass players.” She’s like, “Oh, right. Okay.” Or another way that I talk about it is it’s like a gym for bass players. You know? But I think the Netflix thing frames it better for what it is.
I think that what’s happening in education over, obviously, the last few years, really probably 2008 onwards, in terms of music education and the explosion of the internet, is obviously what you said. To coin what you termed, we’ve got information up the wazoo. We’ve got a lot of information, and I think that what this has done for the music students around the world or people that wanna be music students around the world, it’s given them the opportunity to drastically reduce the learning curve. I think it does come with its own issues I’ll talk about in a minute, but I think that it’s really drastically reduced the learning curve, because when I was a kid, I used to ask my dad, “Hey, Dad, can we go down to the library in town so I can check out if they’ve got any guitar tutorial videos in?” They used to come in every quarter. So, every quarter they’d get a new guitar 60 minute video in. And I’d get that, and I’d rent it out for a week, and then I’d take it back. And that was the learning back in ’80s or early ’90s, however … Yeah, later ’80s, early ’90s. Whereas now, you go online and it’s instant.
Me, if I wanted to learn another instrument, if I wanted to learn drums or anything like that, I don’t need to wait for that to drop into the library every quarter. I can go straight on the internet and I can get that information. It is amazing. It’s just like this … It’s crazy. I can’t imagine life without it now, ’cause I use it now. If I want to … Well, anything. I’m learning a lot about building an online business. You know, how to do that, because obviously, I’m building an online business, so I go on and I watch all the YouTube videos, and I sign up to all the courses. And I’m doing that because I’m reducing my own learning curve. I don’t need to wait any more. It’s instant. So, that’s really great.
But with that comes the ability to kid yourself and use views as vanity metrics. Let me peel that back a bit. So, somebody watching a tutorial video, it’s very easy for them to think that they’re actually learning by watching a video, and you’re not. You’re just listening to information. The learning happens on your instrument. So, you’ve got to listen to the information, and then you’ve gotta go learn on your instrument. You don’t learn by just listening to information on a video, right? You’ve got to apply what you are listening to and figure that stuff out on your instrument. And that’s the unfortunate thing. But you know, I think that some people … I think it depends on what you’re like as a person. Some people will have to be strict with themselves and think to themselves, “Okay, I’m learning this one thing. I’ve watched the video. Now, I’m going to go do it.” Whereas, some people might watch the video and they might be burning to go and do it. “Oh, I’ve gotta go do it. I’ve gotta go and figure it out on my instrument.”
I do think that the vast majority of people will get that dopamine hit by just watching this information overload. Not information overload, but information addiction, you know, to watching video, upon video, upon video. And we get it in Scott’s Bass Lessons. We have students that say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been through that course.”
For instance, we’ve got something called the Harmonic Layering Course, which is all about learning chord tones and then layering scales on top of that, and really helping you learn it over the entire instrument. It’s nine hours long. And students will crop up in our community and they’ll say, “Oh, I’ve been through that course. What next?” And I’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That is a lifetime’s worth of information in there. You will be practicing that stuff for life. You have not been through that course.”
Now, this is a failure on our side as an online educational resource, ’cause we’re not putting the roadblocks in the way somehow, and … Figuring out how to do that. At Scott’s Bass Lessons, that’s where we’re at, at the minute. How do we actually do that? How do we put roadblocks in front of people so they can systematically not go past that point until they’ve learned that stuff? Because, that’s really hard. I think some of the online coding sites have actually done a better job of that, but I think it’s easy for those guys, because they’re, “Hey, can you code this website?” So, yes, you can. Okay, now you can pass to this next step.
What I’m gonna have to do, in terms of building Scott’s Bass Lessons, is figure out how to do that, to help people gauge where they are within their journey as a musician so they can really get focused on what they’re doing and they don’t just watch a nine hour course and think, “Tick. That’s done.” You know? So, I think that, yeah, it comes with its drawbacks, but it really comes with its bonuses. And that’s why you also see in my 13 year, 12, 11, year old kids online, absolutely tearing it up on all the instruments under the sun. There’s not like one kid, now. It’s like multiple. There’s many, many kids that aren’t even teenagers yet that are really, really proficient on their instruments. And that’s directly down to online learning, I would say.
Christopher: Very good. I mean, I know from literal experience that you and I could talk about how best to design progress tracking and modules and that kind of thing for hours, so I won’t go too deep there, but there’s more than just a course library at the academy.
I was watching an interview you did a few years ago with Jeff from the team, where you said the vision for Scott’s Bass Lessons was that if you’re a bass player and you want to learn and you can’t go to music school, you come to Scott’s Bass Lessons. I was wondering now a few years on, as the site’s grown and things have matured in terms of online education, would you still put that caveat in there? If someone, we’ll say a teenager, considering music school versus teaching themselves, what would the pros and cons be? Or, indeed, if someone’s an adult and they’re thinking, “Maybe I should go back and study at music school”, how do you see those two comparing? Is music school’s a thing of the past? Is learning in person with a teacher a thing of the past? How does someone make that judgment call?
Scott: If you’re a kid, I think it’s great to go to music school, because I think it’s easier than what I did. I kind of went alone, and I ended up hooking up with … You know, moving in a house full of musician, and therefore went and … But I was really proactive about it, and some people aren’t as proactive as I am. So, music school, you get forced. I did a little bit. You are going to meet other musicians, because you’re in school. You’re gonna get access to great teachers, because you’re in school. It’s kind of like a one stop shop. It’s easier for kids to music school.
I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody. You know, it depends on who you are as a person, but I definitely wouldn’t shun the idea. I’ve got two kids. If they were like, “Hey, Dad, I wanna go to music school.” I’d be like, “Go for it.” Yeah. It’s part of your journey, so do it. If they feel like … If that’s gonna be helpful to them, they should go for it.
I think it depends on where they see their life going. I think that’s the more interesting question. But yeah, music school’s great. If for any reason they wanted to go traveling and … I’m just trying to think of a different path that they wanted to go down. “I wanna go traveling, and I want to travel to different cities around the world.” This is my kids talking to me, by the way. “I wanna travel in different cities around the world, and I wanna learn music as I go.” Well, that’s when online education would be great. Or, “I don’t want to go to music school”, for whatever reason. Can you substitute that with online learning? I think you can. I think that I could get more information online than I could get offline.
I think what music school really helps you do is it’s accountability. It’s the stuff that you’re learning, you’re actually trying to use it with people every day. You’re in jam sessions situations where you are having to do it, where you’ve got teachers looking at what you’re doing and saying, “Yeah, that’s great”, or, “That’s crap.” So, I think music schools great. I think the school’s great, but I don’t think … I think that my blanket overall statement would definitely be, though, that people going to music school thinking that they’re gonna pop out the other side and be a full-rounded professional musician … And I hate to be the bearer of bad news. That is not gonna happen. A hundred people got into Leeds College of Music, and all of the guys, when I was hanging out in and around the … And I know all the music teachers there now. They will be a small proportion of the students that come out of music school and actually end up being professional musicians. The majority will not, and they will go off to do other jobs. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just what it is.
So, I think that if you wanna go to music school, great, but be aware that it is how you learn, how you approach learning, how you are socially, and all of that that’s gonna basically contribute whether you’re a professional musician or not, not the actual fact that you went to music school.
But, the other side of that is online education can get you … If online education was around when I was doing what I was doing, I would’ve just got so much from that. I would’ve got so much from it. It would’ve been a real, real benefit to me, and I would say that anybody thinking as an older person, thinking about going back to music school, it’s tough man. I think that it depends on what your goal is. Like, what’s your goal? Do you wanna be a professional musician? If you wanna be a professional musician, no, don’t go through music … If you’re older, don’t go to music school, because you can do it yourself. You’ve got online. You’ve got all of the information that you ever need online. You can go and study with people in person. Now, I do think people should go and study with people in person. I don’t think that’s dead at all, because I think you need guys that are going to give you comments like Brad Shepik gave to me. Like, “Scott, stop trying to find shortcuts. Just do the work, and it’ll be fine.” You sometimes need that kick, and I think that that sometimes doesn’t translate as well over the internet that it does in person.
And I think you can have one off lesson periodically. I don’t think it needs to be a every week thing. I don’t think it needs to be an every month thing. It could be like once a quarter you go and study with somebody. They give you a bunch of exercises. They impart some wisdom, and then you go and work on that for a few months. I think it depends also where you are on your … In terms of skill level. So, when you’re not as skilled, every week or every month might be better for you, in terms of one-on-one, whereas, when you get further along in your journey as a musician, it’s gonna be every quarter or something like that, for instance, might be fine. Or every six months.
But yeah. But if you’re older … Like, Lisa for instance, my wife, was talking about going back to university. And my first question was, “Why? What’s your goal?” I always said be really, really clear on what your goal is, because it is so easy to fall into that trap that everybody’s been in for the last … It’s a different world we’re living now with that internet, okay? So, learning has changed, and Lisa is my age. She’s 40. Well, nah. She’ll kill me for saying that. She’s 39. She’s nearly 40, and she’s been brought up in an era where, hey, if you wanna learn something, you go to school to learn that. And I think that that model’s definitely broken now. I think that it … You can take it for what it is. If you a kid and you wanna go to music school, go for it, but if you’re and elder and you’re looking back thinking you want to go to music school, I would say just be really, really clear on what that goal is. If you wanna be a professional musician, it’s not gonna give you that. Something else is gonna give you that.
Christopher: And you touched there on a few interesting things like the structure, the immersion, the accountability, putting yourself among the right people. I love at SBL you emphasize community the same way we do at Musical U, like just being among the right peer group goes so far in keeping you motivated and keeping your momentum up. But one of the most interesting things I’ve seen come out of the academy or Scott’s Bass Lessons in general, in recent times, have been your accelerator programs, which maybe a step more towards that structure. Can you talk about our technique accelerator and your practice accelerator?
Scott: Yeah. How do I encapsulate what these are? So, these standalone programs that are drip fed information … So, the technique accelerator is 26 weeks, so you get one piece of information, a video actually. One video every single week for 26 weeks, and there are very set exercises within each week that we give you to do. Then the practice accelerator is over 8 weeks, and it follows the same formula, but with the practice accelerator, it’s really helping people structure their practice time and break down how to work on what they’re doing on their instrument.
So, for instance, you pick up your instrument. Let’s not say to ourselves, “Huh, I wanna get better. What do I practice today?” That’s like the worst thing, okay? Let’s break down, systematically, what areas you should be focusing on, and then within each of those areas, where you’re gonna get the biggest bang for your buck. Okay? So, if it’s leaning the fret board, if you on a fretted instrument, what really specific exercises are going to actually gonna get you to that next step? Because it’s not all, okay. All exercises aren’t equal. So, it’s that kind of thing, okay.
And from and educational point of view and an educator point of view, we’ve had our best feedback from those courses, bar none, because I think that it’s done what we’ve just been talking about. Talked about online education and saying that people … It’s just this information overload, you know. People just watching this video, after video, after video. It’s stops people doing that. It’s one video per week, and it’s for that duration of the course.
So, in terms of what we’ve put out over there, because we’ve only been doing Scott’s Bass Lessons for seven years. I think it’s seven or eight years. Seven years, I think. We’ve only been doing it for seven years. Out of all of the stuff that we’ve ever done, those two programs we’ve got the best feedback from in terms of the students going back and saying, “Holy crap. This is just like … Everything’s falling into place.” So, I think that that educational module really, really works. And actually, I was saying before. Say I’m building an online business, so I’m researching this stuff as well, how to put together educational products. And I’ve heard that drip fed live courses are really, really great. I’ve heard that the completion of those is really great. So, I would like to experiment with that, as well.
Up until now, we’ve had this all you can eat buffet, if you will. That’s sort of the Scott’s Bass Lessons membership, so everybody runs in there with their plate, fills up with much … They’re getting something like three scoops of ice cream and everything they can fill on their plate. Then we’ve gone with these drip fed, pre-recorded on our side courses. So, we pre-recorded it on our side, but they get, you know … We deliver it to the students over one video per week for a set amount of time. And I definitely would like to experiment with a live course, as well. It’s hard, I suppose, because of obviously time zones and stuff like that, but I’ve just heard or read a lot of great case studies for the live thing. Because, I think that, again, it’s a different experience for the student, being able to interact a little live and for the teacher to be able to interact back with the student, you know. You teach the information, which might take like 45 minutes depending on the length of the lesson, and then you’re like, “Any questions?” It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But come on, it makes sense. Any questions? Then everybody gives their questions and you can actually interact in realtime, and everybody’s … It’s good. Everything’s good in the world, and because it’s live.
I think people are like, “Yeah, you’ve gotta turn up and do this. It’s live. Let’s do this together.” So, I think that, yeah, it’s definitely something I want to experiment with within the future, just to help students actually get through the courses, because if you look at the completion of online courses, it’s terrible. If you go into the data, your data online, completion of online courses is like below 10%.
Christopher: Well, at the risk of ending on a gloomy note, because I know you are definitely at the forefront of the pack that are doing a lot better than 10%, and obviously you are continually innovating … I’m a huge fan, clearly, of everything you do at SBL, both from a business perspective, but also a pedagogical perspective, and as a student of yours myself, I’m in there in the academy learning my little slap riffs and walking basslines.
Christopher: So, it’s been a real pleasure and an honor to have you on the show, and you’ve given so generously with your time, too. You’re one of the busiest men I know, and I thank you so much for sharing as openly as you have and dropping these insight bombs on our audience.
Tell people, if they are a bass player, where can they go to learn more about SBL, if they somehow have not seen you all over the YouTubes and Facebook already?
Scott: Oh, yeah. If you wanna check us out, just go to YouTube. Scott’s Bass Lessons. And the website’s Scottsbasslessons.com.
And to just end it on a happier note, I think that with all of these online educational resources coming out now over the last few years, I think it’s really a hot bed of experimentation of the platforms as well. So, I think that even though completion rates of online educational courses can be low, and across the board it’s less than 10%, but obviously decent places like Scott’s Bass Lessons and Musical U, it’s gonna be a lot higher. I think it’s still in its infancy, so … And it’s cool for me to say that I’m at the forefront of bass education, but I’m still wildly experimenting. I’m kinda just going for it, and just seeing what we can do and how we can help musicians get to the next level, so yeah. I think there’s gonna be some cool stuff coming up in the future, not only from Scott’s Bass Lessons, but just online education in general. I think it’s gonna be pretty explosive. It’s a great, great time to live.