Turning noise into music

What’s the best path for learning bass – or any instrument?

By Jon Liebman
Week of May 31, 2021

I remember taking violin lessons in 3rd grade. I’m pretty sure my family remembers it too! I don’t know how they felt a couple years later when I switched to drums, but I can imagine.

Everybody’s a beginner at some point. When learning bass, or any other instrument, “nice” is generally not a word that comes to mind when someone describes the sound.

Recently, I had a conversation with London-based fusion artist Alex Lofoco, who has an interesting take on the subject. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, I always enjoy hearing new perspectives on learning bass.

“You start by making noise,” Alex says. “That’s how everyone starts. If you give the bass to a 50-year-old or a 3-year-old, they make the same sound, which is noise.”

I can relate to that, given my early experiences on the violin and the drums. 

But Alex goes further. He says you should get acclimated to the instrument first, before beginning any kind of formal study. 

“Once you have an idea,” he says, “even if it’s wrong, at least it’s your idea. Then when you learn from somebody else, you have a solid starting point.”

At this point, I was starting to sense a bit of paranoia regarding how much trust he says you should place in your teacher. 

“If you don’t know anything and you go straight to the lessons,” he continues, “you are basically gambling on the ability of the teacher to give you a good mindset.”

Well, yeah… But wouldn’t you vet your prospective teacher, or maybe get some references? 

Perhaps, he says, but not necessarily in that order.

According to Alex, “You know your shit because nobody told you,” he says. “You figured it out and then you compare it.”

Personally, I’d be concerned about developing bad habits, or delaying what I need to learn in order to get good on the instrument. 

Though Alex’s approach is more laid back than mine, obviously it works for him, and he has absolutely has my respect.

“Make a lot of noise and experiment,” he says. “Discover. Music is a discovery.”

I’m on board with that, though I prefer more of a “first things first” approach. 

“I don’t expect somebody to pick up a violin and a bow and make a Bach suite,” Alex says. “You start by making noise. That’s how everyone starts.”

That much is true for sure.

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Alex here.

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