What Worked and What didn’t Work in School And How to Apply it to BASS


I received an email this morning from a course participant (let’s call him CP). He received the Monthly Ask Ari reminder and felt pressured as if failing at school, not good enough, not with the program…

Ari, I am so behind on the course. Can I even participate in Ask Ari Live??

For those of you who don’t know, Ask Ari Live featuring Wolf (when we can get him) is a 60 minute live  Q&A for participants of our 20 Unit Music Theory for the Bass Player Coaching Course. Wolf is my own bass teacher from way back when, composer, bassist and co-creator of the course. We convene every first Sunday of the month at noon Pacific and are there for your questions.

The course is designed to help you gain consistency by opening up a new unit each week. You get weekly reminder emails telling you – hey a new unit opened up, but you can ignore those emails and access any unit that is opened for you via the course menu. If this weekly assignment business reminds you of school and if it gives you the heebie-jeebies because of that, let me do a bit of reframing for you. We designed the Course to take the good things that worked in school, but let’s leave behind the baggage… whether you are in the course or not, let’s see how we can optimize our practice and learning routines.


Way back in school, we learned a bunch of things quite effectively. But there likely were also things that made learning very hard. We were so used to learning under pressure that it may sometimes be very hard to turn off that pressure switch, to believe we can even learn effectively without a teacher wagging a finger at us or a big test looming on the horizon. But we can. And we can take the aspects of school that work and leave behind the ones that don’t!

Showing up = Process. It works.

Back in school, we had homework and tests and maybe weekly lessons with a music teacher. But every morning 7.30 AM, we squeezed behind that desk.

Regularity works for learning. YES! Consistency is where it’s at. 45 minutes 5 times a week (my standard recommendation) will get you big improvements if done right.

Do a bit every day, follow along with the Finger Kung Fu videos (technique exercises), read the assigned book pages and go through the Theory practice videos, do some Bass Line Lab to apply that theory, circle back around for more later, keep moving. If you drop the ball because life happens, that’s okay. Just pick back up again, course participants have lifetime access. Videos and text throughout the course remind you of this and exactly how to do this: be consistent and keep moving.

Grades! Pressure! (Works in a limited way)

But in school there were tests. And dog-ate-my-homework events, and pressure and disappointing looks from parents. More often than not the joy of learning got drilled out of us that way because test outcomes were sometimes tied to approval from others.

“There will be a test on Monday” may work for the short term. Sure, it will get our rear in gear. But we now know that relaxation and effortlessness aide learning in a powerful way.

For example:

  • Ever tried to learn some text by heart? Were you sweating it?
  • How about the lyrics of your favorite song? (Man, I can still sing along to my favorite 80’s tunes, even if I haven’t heard them in decades!)

Interesting how that works, isn’t it? Without trying and because we love it, we can recall lyrics. The Gettysburg Address? Maybe not so much.

What works: Relaxing while learning. Enjoying it.

Goals are great but focus on consistency rather than immediate outcomes. And: positive self-talk! Enjoy the learning

Tests, checkpoints, milestones, and goals are motivators, no doubt about it. It is just that when it is paired with thinking we are not good enough, that we might not pass, “don’t have enough talent” or similar that we set ourselves up for frustration and failure. Support yourself with positive talk, let go of the goals (musical progress can be hard to “grade”) and focus on consistency and the doing. Check if what you are doing is working every three months or so. If it isn’t working, change it!

What also worked in school:


It is easier to do it together with your buddies. Nothing beats personal interaction, looking over your buddy’s shoulder, watching a teacher, asking a specific question. Remember show and tell? That!  That’s why we added Ask Ari Live to the course!

Live interaction works. It is motivating, a great regular touch point, a way to connect with others. The way we do it you can ask questions via chat or even join us live on stage. Here, for example, are three participants from the UK, Israel and California chatting with me and Wolf about bass while about 80 others are watching:

Learning is circular, not linear

This worked in school because school forced us to move on even if we didn’t get it perfectly the first time. Maybe 2+2 was easy, but 2-3 was hard. So you didn’t get it the first time, but it kept coming round. And in different ways: 4-3, then 3-4, then 4+2-7…

This is why in the course we go over key concepts over and over again. In different keys, different areas of the bass.

A few more examples:

  • The first time you said note names up a string you thought you were going out of your mind. A few weeks in, on a different string now, it is sure coming along.
  • The first note-finder was super hard, The tenth isn’t, even if we are using a different note each time. Move on to F#, even if you didn’t master G quite yet.
  • The first time you went through the cycle just playing roots you needed the cheat sheet. Now that we are doing it with major seventh chords, it is a breeze.

By using the material in different contexts over and over, we get a better and better grip on it till it shows up on the bandstand.

Take the good that worked from school: Consistency. Community. Circling back around.

So, CP, do join us for Ask Ari Live, no matter where you are in the course. All questions are welcome, any unit, or anything not from the course, ask away. There is no grade you have to make! Everyone goes at their own pace, just keep moving. Report how it’s going, lurk a bit or drop a line in the chat or come on stage. It’s up to you, but you are welcome!

Leave behind the pressures, relax while you learn, use goals as motivators and enjoy the process. By showing up with your bass you have already made the one honor roll that really counts: YOURS!

Ask Ari Live meets Every First Sunday of the Month for Course Participants.

More info on our course:

Music THeory for the Bass Player The Course

How to Test a Bass (or: what not to do on a first date!)


Hope you had a lovely Valentine’s day. Did it make you remember your first date? How about your first date with your bass?

Test Test…

So, you are looking for a new instrument. Time to test it. Maybe you are at NAMM Show or Guitar Center. Or you are lucky enough to have a place like the Atlanta Bass Gallery within reach. Maybe you are hunting for a custom on Dan Lenards or checking for something solid and simple on eBay: You want to find your new special friend and it feels like going on a dating site!

So, you are sitting at the store or the bass that looked so cool in the eBay listing has finally arrived. Now what?

Here are a few tips to test a bass. Let me start with

what not to do:

The first impulse is to plug in, crank up really loud and play fast and furious licks. Maybe that impulse happens more often at NAMM show or in Guitar Centers, but, wherever you are, I say, resist! Because: by playing a massive amount of notes it is easy to get wrapped up in what notes you are playing rather than what instrument. Rather than space out into a jam, here is an opportunity to make the first connection with this unknown instrument in your hand. Think of it like a first date – you want to get to know each other, not just be loud and impressive.

So, instead, do this…

  • Take a look at it. Do you like the shape, color, wood? Any special features jumping out at you? First impressions do count…
  • Pick it up and feel its weight. Feel the neck and put the strap on (always test with a strap). Stand with it. Sit with it. What do you notice? If you let go of the neck, does it do a deep dive? Does it hang balanced on your body?

Things to Keep in Mind and be Knowledgeable About

  • Is the fretboard maple or rosewood? A big difference in sound and response, dark or light also makes a big difference in fretboard orientation. Observe how you like it. If it is not what you are used to, can you get comfortable with it?
  • Does it have inlays? Do you like front inlays? However the fretboard layout is created, will you be able to connect with it?
  • Feel the neck – too wide, too narrow, too thick? Necks very much influence the playing feel. Test it by just feeling it.

General Considerations

  • Is the bass neck-through (longer sustain)? Bolt on (faster response)?  Test it by playing without plugging in (see below).
  • Fourstring, Fivestring, Sixstring, Fretless? Shortie? What are you going for and why? Think about it. Don’t fall in love with an idea or concept or because XYZ is playing a two-string or 8- and-a-half string bass. Why are you looking to play a certain number of strings? What music are you playing primarily? Which bands do you want to play with? What situations do you want to get calls for?
  • How many frets? How many frets are you used to? Do you prefer 20 or 24? (Be aware that we orient ourselves by the horn of the bass and by where the bass neck connects with the body. 20 fretters often have their horn line up with the 12th fret, whereas 24 fretters can have their horn line up a few frets higher (so if you have been playing a new bass and are consistently 2 frets off, maybe that’s why. No worries, you can get used to anything, just be aware of it – it may feel unusual as you test it!).

Allow your intuition to connect with the instrument and get to know its spirit and craftsmanship. Whether it is a Fodera or an Ibanez made in China – the instrument was put together with care and thought. My first bass was a red Ibanez made in China and I loved it! We still have Wolf’s old Ibanez Soundgear from way back when and love it like on the first day. It is a wonderful bass that still is the one to hit the mark in certain situations. It’s not necessarily the price tag, folks! It’s chemistry, too!

Now, take a Listen…

Now for the delicious part – without plugging in, put your ear next to the horn and pluck an open string. What does its natural wood tone sound like? How is the sustain? You are listening to the bass’ heartbeat now. An amp can color the tone, electronics and preamps do their thing, but the natural wood sound (as well as your technique!) are at the core of the bass’ tone.

Also, place your ear on the body and listen. Compare various basses like this and you will get a feel for the amazing difference between instruments. Good basses have a strong, round natural tone.

Now plug it in! Set the amp flat (bring your own amp, if you can) and set the controls on the bass flat. Play long notes and listen.

Then slowly go up and down the fretboard in long sustained notes. Any dead spots? Any areas that fall flat? Every bass has their sweet spots and not so sweet spots, that is normal. But the sweeter overall, the better, of course.

Is the bass in tune? Of course, the intonation can be adjusted, and in high registers, it is normal that the bass is a bit out of tune (unless you have Buzz Feiten tuning, fanned frets or similar), but it should be within reason.

Now, play some tunes that you know well

Play a few grooves that come easy. Some arpeggios, a scale, things that you are familiar with. How does it feel? How does it sound?

I have a few licks that I know are challenging. How do they roll off my fingers on this bass? Easily? Or more of a struggle than I am used to? Why? Is it the feel of the neck, the spacing or the way the bass responds?

If you do that sort of thing: Tap a bit, slap a few. What is the response like? Turn off the sound and tap and slap. What does it feel like?

Some things you can easily customize to your needs, others not so easily

So maybe you like some things about the bass, but not others as you test it. To know what can be changed easily and what is harder to customize can help you decide.

String spacing is a major factor in playing comfort. While you can easily adjust to different spacings with exercises like these, for example, a new bridge with spacing to your liking or one with adjustable string riders can really help make the bass fit your hands and style.

Strings are obviously a big factor in your sound. If you are testing a bass and have the opportunity to do so – put your favorite set of strings on there and give it a whirl. I don’t really judge any bass without putting my Dean Markley SR 2000’s on first. Also, flat wound strings can mask and alter the sound of a bass quite a bit. Even if flats is what you are after – test the bass with round wounds as well, just to get a feel of the bass’ variety.

Pickups can easily be changed. Make sure the bass can be equipped with space for a battery (or two) if needed. Some body shapes don’t accommodate for that very easily, so best to ask a builder.

A D-Tuner can add a couple of notes, but it cannot turn a four-string into a five-string.

I gotta play what X plays!

Many preconceived notions float about the forum-sphere – don’t let yourself be confused. Playing more (or fewer) strings does not impress anyone nor does a certain brand. Fanned frets, six-string, fretless…. go there if the music you play calls for it, or because it excites you more than anything (that is a totally valid reason!) or because you need it for the types of playing situations you find yourself in or aim for. Other than that, tune out the noise and carefully tune into your sound ideas.

To Sum it all up…

Just like on that first date, remember to listen more, rather than try to impress, look behind what’s flashy and take your time. Take all aspects into consideration. What’s right for another, may not be right for you. You don’t have to defend that to anyone but yourself. (Granted, some gigs come with certain requirements, but you likely know that at that point.)

To learn music theory on the bass, learn groove creation, note finding and technique, check out our course…

Music THeory for the Bass Player The Course

What Makes me go WOW: Not Slappety, But You Doing You

Slappety NAMM main stage

slappety NAMMSlappety-Slap Mania

Last week the exuberant spectacle known as the NAMM show occurred in Anaheim, California. (I wrote about what the NAMM Show is here). I had a fabulous time, got to meet up and catch up with bass besties from all over the US and the world and enjoyed playing several concerts and performances with the amazing Muriel Anderson and the German Flamenco Duo Tierra Negra with Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs. Raul Ramirez holding down the percussion. We played the main NAMM stage and Muriel had put together several great events outside of the show as well. Awesome musical times playing beautiful songs!

Now, most of the time on the NAMM show floor you spend steeped in an amazing wall of sound. In the “bass department” it’s mostly a waterfall of E minor thumping. Fast and furious licks. bombasticness you’d typically not hear in a song. Just loud, fast, and often void of musical context, so it’s not really grooving or making the heart sing either.

Here is a sample of the sound carpet at NAMM – we measured 100 dB – which is majorly asking for trouble:

I stopped for a moment to realize that a lot of it was tiring, exhausting to listen to.

Not just because it was so loud. It felt pretty meaningless.

But then…

once in a while, someone’s playing would draw me in. Because it had an individuality to it or had an arc to it. It could have been a fast thing but it had a goal or a direction, was set in the context of a story, so it had meaning and touched me in some way.

Granted, it is NAMM and in order to even hear yourself at all, you are going to need an amp that goes at least to 11. But that does not mean no music can be made.

The funny thing is,

you will hear everyone moaning and bitching about how loud the slappety-slap carpet at bass events often is. We all agree, yet, at the same time, slappety-slap seems to be the imaginary ticket to belong to “The Club” or something. A rite of passage one must go through.

I remember a Bass Player Live event a few years ago – I and a good friend (who is a phenomenal bassist!) were standing in the corner lamenting the lack of musicality and thumping offense we were exposed to. A few minutes later my buddy grabs a bass to test it out and proceeded to – you guessed it – thump a funk in E with the same fast and furiousness we had just lamented against.

There is something about this environment that makes not attempting to perform musical pyrotechnics a hard proposition. Yet, it does raise this interesting question: What is it that truly draws us in musically? What draws us in not because of some technical flashiness, but because it truly touches us. And that is not to say that fast can’t touch us. I think it very much can. Fast is not bad. It just needs to be embedded right.

I am constantly searching for this special thing

that makes my heart skip a beat. And I have noticed that even players with limited facility can do that for me.

  • when they sound authentic,
  • seem to be effortlessly connected to the music,
  • when there is no fight against the instrument that would distract from the music,
  • and it almost feels like the instrument is not there,
  • and they show themselves.

I think that’s where it’s at. Theory, technique, knowing the fretboard are all tools to that end. Tools that give you the facility to bring the music into this world. I do believe that this telling of our story and cultivating our own selves (musically and beyond) can be practiced just like permutations are practiced: from the food you eat to your very personal habits of thought, to the music you listen to, the books you read, the friends you hang with. It is all there. Victor Wooten says to be a good person before you even try to be a good bassist. I relate to that and am developing teaching materials to that end which will be integrated with our Pattern System method.

Stay tuned. I think everything can be learned and practiced!

And here are a few NAMM photos for your enjoyment.

Phil Mann and me – cheers for Scott’s Bas Lessons!!
That’s the incredible Rudy Sarzo, yall, testing out a Marleaux Bass!
My book going to Guatemala!
Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs from Germany. Check out Tierra Negra’s lush flamenco sound!
Main Stage with Muriel Anderson, Tierra Negra, and Raul Ramirez!
Corey and Kevin of notreble.com! And Sam Montooth on the right! (from Facebook)
Where oh where is Steve Lawson? Sam and me wondering (we missed you, Steve!)
Peace THrough Music – International Guitar Festival LaVerne
Nalani Clisset, Lynne Davis and Keiko Gutierrez – bass sisters!
Nalani and Keiko
Divinity Roxx at a panel on Women in Music and Business
My good friend Victoria Theodore – check out her enormous keyboard skills. Super musical!
With the super groovy Robin Bramlett!
Much enjoyed this!

Learn Music Theory for the Bass Player, theory, grooves and much more…

Music THeory for the Bass Player The Course