Thursday, May 31, 2007

Reading :: Bass Guitar for Dummies

Bass Guitar for Dummies
by Patrick Pfeiffer

I was surprised last week by a royalty check from MIT Press -- apparently my book is still selling -- so I turned around and spent it on a post-tenure project I've been considering for a while: an electric bass guitar. This book had several good reviews, so I picked it up in preparation.

Why this book? It has some very positive reviews, and for good reason. It assumes that you don't have any experience with the instrument (I don't) or with musical notation (I do, but it dates back to junior high). At the same time, the author wants to ensure that you have the rudiments of music theory as well as technique, and that you understand the instrument. All of these are accomplished fairly well, although the music theory section ramps up too quickly for the absolute novice.

On the other hand, the book has its flaws. It uses three different notations -- standard musical notation, tablatures, and a graphic depiction of the bass neck -- to illustrate the exercises, and they all do different things, making it hard to gain a coherent picture of what is going on. Basic instruction on how to position the left hand along the frets is not what it should be, leading to some confusing moments for me. And although it includes some good exercises and scales, the book has almost no practice music, so I've had to seek out bass tabs in order to try out the techniques I've learned. My sense is that I'll outgrow the first part of the book quickly, turn to supplemental materials for the next few months, then return to the second part of the book in order to better understand music theory and genres. Fortunately, the web is full of supplemental material, from bass tabs to textual, audio, and video instructional materials.

Now here's the question: Why the bass? Does the world need another bass-playing, ashtanga-practicing English teacher? I doubt it. But I'm not planning to join a band, compose songs, or perform in public. I'm just interested in learning something new, and I've neglected music since I played a baritone in junior high. So why not return to the bass clef with an instrument that's relatively easy to play?