This is a bit different from my other book reviews, in that it’s over an instructional book rather than a more traditional one. Regardless, I was fascinated enough by it to write a review, so here we are.
Bass Fretboard Basics is published by Hal Leonard in their Musicians Institute Essential Concepts series. It was first published in 1998, which comes through loud and loud in the graphic design of the front cover, and in fact I nearly passed it over for this reason. That would have been a mistake, and I’m happy to say I picked it up and gave it a chance.
I don’t want this to get too extensive, so I’m going to break this review into three sections and will try to keep each one as brief as possible. First, why I chose this book; second, an overview of its contents and approach; lastly, my recommendation about this book.
Part I: Why I Bought This
For the unaware: I am a bass instructor and have been playing since… 2001 if I remember correctly? This is not to suggest that I’m on the level of a professional bassist or anything, just some context. Anyway, I recently went on a shopping spree buying bass books the other day to find some new resources for myself and my students, and the first two came yesterday, including this one. Last night I sat in bed and read through this one because that’s the kind of wild lifestyle I’m about, and I found that the book is really solid. Which brings us to…
Part II: What’s Inside?
I’m not going to go into extreme detail here, but the first couple of chapters cover the essential basics of tuning, where to find notes on the bass, and building a major scale. After that, the first half of the book is filled with really solid examples and exercises around intervals, modal patterns, different scale types, and how to build chord structures out of those scales. All really good stuff. The next 25% or so of the book moves into more complex but still foundational concepts like harmonizing with seventh chords, melodic/harmonic minor scales, and analyzing the key of a song. The remaining several chapters get really dense, really fast, ostensibly centered around building bass parts but using concepts like position playing, non-diatonic chords, chord substitution, and voice leading. All good stuff, but I did feel that they tried to cram a bit too much into not enough space. Which brings us to…
Part III: What Did I Think?
As mentioned, I thought this was a solid book overall, but I wouldn’t call it perfect either. What I really liked about the book is it took all the things I know and do instinctively and explicated them accessibly (especially in the first half). Furthermore, it tended to take a different approach than I naturally would in many cases, often to the same end result— so it not only gives me a new way of looking at familiar techniques, but it also gives me a new way to teach my students those concepts as we explore music through bass playing. To the parts I didn’t care for: I did find the later chapters to be a bit under-explained and dense, but it’s not a worse book for having them. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book as your first or only bass instruction book, but it does a good job of summarizing essential concepts (I guess it does what it says on the cover) and providing exercises for learning and practicing those concepts. I will likely be using this book with one of my students after we work through some of the more general music theory book we recently started.
Unadvertised Part IV: The Conclusion!
I would be remiss not to mention that we do have just a couple of time slots open (as of this writing) through C&P music education, so if you’ve ever wanted to learn Electric Bass, Violin, Piano, or study Musicology, head over to our Contact Form and send us a message to get an enrollment lesson scheduled! At C&P music education, we make music make sense. Ok, advertising over, but for real we’d love to hear from you!