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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Back To Teaching for 2011!

January 2nd, 2011 · 6 Comments

At the end of last year, we moved house, and are temporarily in Muswell Hill, North London. It’s a bigger place that we were in before, which means I’m back being able to teach bass again! I’ve REALLY missed it, as for the last 20 years, it’s been one of the main ways of understanding what I do as a musician, as well as there being a huge amount of satisfaction in seeing students improve and progress deeper into their own relationship with music.

So, if you’re interested, please do get in touch. If you want more info, most of it is on the bass teaching page here.

And with any luck, there’ll also be a Beyond Bass Camp day or two in the not too distant future – feel free to register an interest in that in the comments below…

Tags: teaching news

Announcing 'Beyond Bass Camp'.

April 28th, 2009 · Comments Off on Announcing 'Beyond Bass Camp'.

photo of Steve Lawson live at the Greenbelt FestivalIf you’re an avid watcher of my various online streams – be it Twitter, Facebook or Friendfeed – you’ll have noticed over that last few days I’ve been talking about, and link to, BeyondBassCamp.com.

It’s a series of monthly masterclasses, inspired by the ones I give in California every January – for the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve been doing a day long seminar there, for up to about 25 bassists. Some years I’ve done two – a more general bass class, and then a solo bass focussed class on the Sunday. [Read more →]

Tags: Uncategorized

2008 in review – Blog posts for musicians, Pt 1

December 31st, 2008 · 1 Comment

Photo by Christian Payne AKA DocumentallyIt’s been an amazing year for me – a proper round-up of the year will be coming soon. But I thought that first I’d pull together some of the things I’ve blogged about this year. So this is part 1 of a compilation of links to my blog posts for musicians this year –

Back in May/June, I did a series of posts about Social Media for Musicians:

…ah, clearly i didn’t finish that last one… :)

Then in July, I did a series on my thoughts on bass teaching, and music teaching in general:

These had some really great comments off the back of them…

And here, in roughly chronological order, are my favourite posts from Jan – August:

There you go, that lot would make a pretty good e-book, if I ever get round to editing out the typos, and shortening some of my more overly-verbose entries :)

Next entry will cover Sept – Dec, and then the rest of what’s happened this year! If I don’t get to it til tomorrow, have a great new year, see you in ’09!

If you particularly like any of the posts, please share the links around, either via the ‘share this’ option below, or just by forwarding the URL to people who think might like to read them.

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · site updates · tips for musicians

Blog-silence…

November 11th, 2008 · Comments Off on Blog-silence…

Apologies for the blog-silence – life has been v. busy of late, mainly with moving house (if you’re a student of mine and didn’t get the email, drop me a line and I’ll let you know the details!)

Anyway, one of the up-shots of moving is that we’ve had limited access to the internets, so blogging, video stuff, feed-reading all all kinds of other fun stuff that I usually get to do online has gone by the way-side…

But we should be back in action ASAP. And I will write Social Media First Principles Pt III. I promise :)

Tags: Random Catchup · teaching news

Social Media Help

October 17th, 2008 · 5 Comments

I have been blogging since before it was called blogging and using social media to interact with my audience since the pre-millenial days of Web 1.0. As a result, I’ve found myself, over the years, in a good place to help others connect the worlds of music and social media.

I lecture regularly in universities and music colleges – helping students understand the transformative potential for their music-life that the web offers. I’ve spoken at a few UnConvention events, and also work on social media-led projects outside of the music world with Amplified and Tuttle.

So, it seems I’m pretty good at helping people connect the world of recorded/performed music with the conversations and communities that form around music culture.

It’s been an interesting path to explore for me, drawing on over a decade of online experience running my own career and record label and using that to help others develop a greater degree of web-literacy.

If you want help, or want me to speak at your event, drop me a line.

Most of my ideas are available here for free, so if you want to read more of my thoughts on music and social media, check the blog posts here and those on MusicThinkTank.com, particularly this one about Transformative Vs Incremental Change.

But the very best way to understand what I’m talking about is to listen to the PodCast embedded downloadable below, which I recorded with Penny Jackson for the Creative Coffee Club:

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Also, here’s an interview with me from Radio 5 Live’s Pods And Blogs show, from March 10th, talking about how social media has changed everything for musicians:

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And lastly, two videos:
Firstly, this interview with Andrew Dubber of NewMusicStrategies.com about Twitter usage for bands:


Steve Lawson from Andrew Dubber on Vimeo.

And then this talk from the JAMES conference at Leeds Met:

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Taking Care of Business (new post on Creative-Choices.co.uk)

July 17th, 2008 · Comments Off on Taking Care of Business (new post on Creative-Choices.co.uk)

I posted a new article up on the Creative Choices site. It’s a few lessons learned from last week’s tour… I’ll write more extensively about the tour here once we’ve debriefed it properly as a band, but the tour just provided the impetus for a post about the need to make creative ventures financially viable if you want to do more of them.

You can read the post by clicking here – and if you sign in once you get there, you can comment. There are a few really interesting comments already.

Also generating loads of great comments is part for of my teaching thoughts series here. Thanks so much for all your comments there!

Enjoy!

Tags: Musing on Music · Random Catchup

Quick catch up… normal blogging will be resumed shortly.

July 15th, 2008 · Comments Off on Quick catch up… normal blogging will be resumed shortly.

Illness+tour+grandad’s funeral= not much blogging from Steve. Sorry ’bout that.

So the last 10 days have involved 3 days mostly in bed ill, 4 gigs, 2 days of rehearsing learning mad prog tunes with multiple time signatures (and in one case, an impossibly difficult line in 7/8 that I just had to ditch and make up as I went along!). The four gigs broke down into two gigs in churches, and two at the Eisteddfod in Llangollen, North Wales, where we were told as we arrived that we couldn’t go over 75db… nice.

Sunday was spent travelling – it took 7.5 hours to get from North Lincolnshire to London, in which time I could’ve got to New York, and yesterday (Monday) was the toughest gig of my life, as I had to speak at my Grandad’s funeral. Did I hold it together? Yeah, right, of course I did.

In the meantime, the illness that had me in bed for 3 days hasn’t really got much better – I just couldn’t stay in bed, so didn’t…

There’s going to be a whole series of posts, I suspect, about the tour, but I’ll debrief with the rest of the musicians, before posting my thoughts on it here, it’s only fair :)

So there you have it. More Teaching ideas, more Creative Choices posts, more other stuff coming v. soon.

And of course, Lo. and I have a gig coming up at Darbucka on July 29th, with the magical Roy Dodds on drums and percussion, and a return visit by the amazing Lloyd Davis on ukelele. So put that in your diaries NOW, and we’ll update you further ASAP.

Tags: Random Catchup

Teaching Thoughts Pt 4 – Pleasing parents is bad for the student.

July 9th, 2008 · Comments Off on Teaching Thoughts Pt 4 – Pleasing parents is bad for the student.

One of the things I most like about teaching electric bass is that very few kids are ever told by their parents to play it. ‘You need to learn piano/violin/clarinet because I never had the chance’ is the bane of so many teacher’s lives and one of the main driving forces behind kids giving up playing an instrument as soon as they are afford a degree of self determination by their parents.

In all my time teaching bass (15 years) I think I’ve had 3 students ask to do graded exams. In the same time over half the parents that have brought their kids to me have asked whether or not it would be a good idea. There’s an assumption in education these days that people a) need some kind of external certificated validation in order to measure where they are up to and b) that without that, students will lack motivation and will just slack off because no-one’s telling them what to do.

For me as a teacher it’s imperative to get across to my students – especially the younger ones – that them not practicing has no impact on me whatsoever. I can just pick up where we left off in the last lesson as though the time were continuous. The point of practice is never to placate me. Practice serves two purposes – it’s enjoyable (if done right) and you get better – the two are clearly deeply linked. The idea that practice has to be torturous is another crap hang-over from the music education of the early 20th century, where suffering was a signal of how serious you were about what you’re doing. That’s clearly bollocks, especially for people with families, friends, jobs, school work and other interests. Practice time should be valued time in and of itself not just for the pay-off. The pay-off makes it even better, but playing an instrument should be fun!

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require a large degree of self-discipline, commitment and focus, it’s just that we’re selling kids short by telling them that those things can’t be enjoyable!

These are all elements in my reasoning for not following a syllabus. If a students comes into a lesson, tells me about a gig they just went to, and I then teach them something the band they’ve just seen – whether it be an actual song by them, or something that can be drawn from that music – they can pulled a little closer to the magic at the heart of music. The gap between them and the music they love is lessened and the feeling that the magic is in their reach is heightened.

At the heart of what I teach is a desire to help the student write and play music that can change the world. It might not, but the desire to play the songs that have soundtracked their life – whether that’s Mozart or Metallica, Stockhausen or Stock, Aitken And Waterman – and to then create their own music is what drives individuals to learn an instrument, and pandering to the wishes of pushy parents who want lil’ Tommy to get certificates so they can brag to the other mums and dads about the distinction he scored in his grade 3 exam is the death-knell of lil’ Tommy’s musical aspiration.

Parental encouragement is often an utterly vital and energising force in the music-life of a student. I still take inspiration from my mum’s on going encouragement of what I do, and am thankfully big enough to ignore the distain with which my dad views my musical endeavours. Channeled in the right way, parents can be integral to the musical growth of a student. But if pushy parents are allowed to ride roughshod over what Tommy actually wants to do with music, he’ll end up as one of the 95% who give up before they are 18, and may resent it for decades to come.

We’re your parents an encouragement or a hindrance to your creative path? Comments pleeeeeze

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians

Teaching Ideas Pt 3 – Teaching is therapy

July 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Teaching Ideas Pt 3 – Teaching is therapy

I think it’s safe to say that for almost every person playing a musical instrument, there’s a part of it that is about exploring a part of their character and personality that they don’t get to exercise elsewhere. Whether that’s me as a solo bassist writing music that expresses all the stuff I struggle to put into words (which is why so many of my tunes are inspired by death), or the bloke who works in a garden centre learning speed metal to play in a pub on friday evenings, because he’s desperate for the garden centre to not be the sole defining entity in his life, there’s something that music gives us that would otherwise be sorely missing from our lives.

Being a ‘bassist in a metal band who happens to work in a garden centre’ is actually a pretty cool place to be in life. It has cache with your work friends, it has the security of a wage from the job, and it’s not the kind of job that’s going to drag you off away from rehearsals with your band, which means you can be fairly well committed to what’s going on.

It also often means that you can afford to have – and have time for – lessons. So when I get to meet with players in that situation, and am entrusted with the task of providing them with the tools, the process and the inspiration to learn more about their instrument, my role becomes a rather therapeutic one.

It’s not good enough in that situation to dismiss the style of band the person plays in and hand them pages of scales and arpeggios to learn, along with a load of tunes that you the teacher like.

No, a degree of personalisation – both of content and delivery – has to take place in that kind of transaction for it to be of value. I spend the first couple of lessons with a new student discovering things about them – why they play, what they play, what they do when they first pick up their instrument, and technical bad habits they’ve picked up, any erroneous ‘rules’ they’ve been told by other people about what you can and can’t do with music, any bogus (or useful!) terminology they’ve picked up in the past, and what they instinctively are capable of.

I very often get them improvising in the first lesson, just as a way of showing how lax the rules are on what ‘works’ and doesn’t ‘work’ – within some fairly broad tonal boundaries, anything can sound ‘good’ if you keep it simple enough, and build on it… the value of discovering that creativity doesn’t require induction into Dumbledore’s Inner Circle or the Knights Who Say Ni! or something (see my Creative Choices blog post for more on that).

I also get them working things by ear as early as possible, and encourage them to experiment a lot with fun things that may or may not end up sounding cool…

Why? Music is an incredible space for us to stretch the boundaries of what we define as our own creative limitations. It’s an utterly benign form, given it’s completely abstract nature (lyrics notwithstanding) and as such the worst that happens is you make an unpleasant noise. So you can go nuts and see what happens – it’s like taking a wild lashing serve when you’re break point down in tennis, only nobody loses if you get it wrong. It’s like declaring your love for a colleague on the day they leave the office because you’ll never get another chance, only no-one’s going to laugh at you.

Music is a space in which people can discover what they are capable of, and a good music teacher makes that possible, inspiring and an attractive proposition.

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians

Teaching Ideas Pt 2 – There's no syllabus for punk and reggae.

July 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Teaching Ideas Pt 2 – There's no syllabus for punk and reggae.

In the last post, I mentioned that my main aim when teaching is to instill in my students a love of learning. A huge part of me having a right to teach them anything is me respecting the music they listen to. Nothing is a bigger turn off for a student that a dismissive teacher.

At one college I used to teach at, I got hauled over the coals by the head of the place for not giving my drum students a transcription of the parts we were working on when I was teaching them some reggae. “But they’ll never have to read reggae!” was my response. Doesn’t matter, was the come-back, they expect a transcription, it’s a music school and we’re meant to be getting all academic on their asses.

I didn’t give them a transcription. Why? Because Reggae is folk music. It’s an oral tradition, with musicians learning by listening and playing. None of the great reggae bands played off written parts, especially the drummers, and the nuance in the feel and timing in reggae drums would be impossible to notate. To give drummers a score to learn reggae would be like making them listen to Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder as an example of authentic reggae. It would sell them short, ill-prepare them for playing reggae professionally, and would be lying to them about how the great musicians who play that style learn to play like that.

The only place one is ever going to need to read a reggae drum part would be a theatre pit, and even then it’s more likely to just say ‘reggae feel’ or even more patronisingly ‘island feel’…

See, academics in general don’t deal well with folk traditions, especially not contemporary forms of folk music like reggae, punk, hip-hop… the magic in any of those styles is in the subtlety, not in the stuff that can be conveyed on a score. Handing out written bass-parts to ‘Anxious MoFo’ by the Minutemen or ‘Maxwell Murders’ by Rancid isn’t going to make your punk student a better punk player, but getting them hooked on Mike Watt or Matt Freeman’s playing might… That’s not to say they wouldn’t both make a cool transcription exercise as a way of introducing your lil’ punks to the wonders of writing music, but scores are not generally the way that material is passed around in the punk world, and to suggest that it is is disingenuous.

I’m not into lying to my students – I don’t want to make things easy for myself by selling them short on what’s going on with the music they listen to or want to play. If their aim is to be a rock star, I’ll tell them

  • just how unlikely it is,
  • how unpleasant an experience the road to ‘rock stardom’ is for most people and
  • how much better off they can be playing the music they love, finding an audience for it, and letting the ‘lottery of stardom’ bit happen by itself…

What I do want is to teach them

  • how to practice actual music – not just getting good at exercises
  • how to listen and dissect the mechanics of what’s going on in the music they love,
  • how the musicians they admire get to where they are (one of the beauties of having written for a bass mag is I’ve met and interviewed many of my students favourite players – always handy when I’m asked about a particular tune or technique :) )

If I have students who play punk rock, I want to teach them the very best information I can about the world of punk rock, I want to show them how the great punk bassists get their sound, I want to introduce them to the music of the punk pioneers, the influencers of the genre, the attitude behind it… There’s nothing sacrilegious about transcribing punk basslines, but like reggae it’s largely an oral, experiential tradition – turning up to an audition for a punk band with a music stand and pile of manuscript is going to get you laughed out of the room…

As I said before, Context is everything, and there’s no reason to teach out of context, or lie about the context in order to try and shoe-horn one specific set of musical skills into a style that doesn’t require them…

Are there other artistic disciplines that have been spoilt by being “over-taught”? Does this happen with poetry and visual art, that the ‘academicization’ of it misses the mark for large sections of the discipline? Thoughts please…

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians