Why learning bass without a teacher is a bad idea

The never-ending YouTube “searching & sifting” just isn’t worth it

By Jon Liebman
Week of May 25, 2020

Sometimes I just have to stop and marvel at all the resources available to us today, regardless of what we’re trying to find out. Unlike the old days, it seems no matter what we want to learn, there’s some source online that’s got what we need.


I don’t think I need to tell you how much “searching & sifting” you’d have to do on YouTube in the quest for some source that’s at least somewhat credible. Sure, there’s plenty of stuff you can figure out by watching videos – if you can find the right ones. But that can really take a long time. And even then, the end result is far from certain.

I got to thinking about the subject after talking to Dustin Davidson of August Burns Red, whose interview we posted this week on For Bass Players Only. It wasn’t until he was already well into his career that Dustin started learning bass from a teacher. “I’m, for the most part, self-taught,” he says. “I was probably around 25 when I first started taking lessons, and that really helped me.”

Since making the commitment to up his game and learn bass formally, he’s never looked back.

Seeing the strides he was making on the instrument, Dustin immediately wished he hadn’t waited so long to start learning bass from an experienced teacher. “I never studied theory growing up,” he recalls, “so that really helped. It opened this window to new ideas and new directions.” The influence of a good bass teacher not only helped Dustin’s bass playing, but his overall musicality, all of which he’s been putting to good use. 

I’ve seen it myself first-hand myself for years. With the feedback I provide to students here at For Bass Players Only, I’ve helped nip more bad habits in the bud than I can count. You need to have your hands in the right place. You need to mute those unwanted notes. You need to make the music feel good. And you need to see it demonstrated correctly.

“If anybody is questioning if they should stay self-taught or seek lessons and professional advice in the first place,” says Dustin, “my advice is, if you want to grow, and you know of somebody who is a good teacher, then take it. I would go for it because it really did help me.” 

Good advice, Dustin. 

Anyone who’s serious about learning bass needs to get proper guidance from the right source. At For Bass Players Only, I’ve taken the frustration out of learning bass, so you can build confidence and thoroughly enjoy making music. Personally, I’d like to thank the hundreds of thousands of people who trusted me to help them learn bass. I’m so proud of all of you!

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 Dustin here.

Comments on Why learning bass without a teacher is a bad idea

  1. Eric Peterson aka “Petey” says:

    I wish I had a teacher growing up. I’m pretty much self taught. But I was fortunate to have guys showing me the “proper” way to play in a band context; listening to the drummer, being on time, knowing HOW TO GROOVE, etc. But if I had a teacher, i would’ve learn how to read music, charts, learn all genres of music, classical, Jazz, R&B, pop, everything. Would I suggest getting a good teacher to do it right? ABSOLUTELY!!!🤨🎸👍🏾

  2. zapdady says:

    My experience with teachers is the following:

    So far, I have studied with three teachers.

    The first one was more of an entertainer than a teacher.

    The second one was a highly reputable teacher with high profile students that were very successful. He had a method of teaching that was very difficult for me to lock on to of which I had little or no success.

    The third teacher is by far the one I had been looking for all the time. He was able to analyze what was missing in my development, the patience to find the perfect solution to devise ways to strengthen my weaknesses, and the perfect balance of technique and music development.

    Do I think having the right teacher is important? Yes, I do, with the following insight. Make sure you have chosen the right teacher for yourself and only you can make that determination based on your results.

  3. Scott Heinemann says:

    Personally, I believe that learning any instrument without formal instruction is a mistake! The pitfalls are many and the longer one goes without it the more “unlearning” one will have to undergo. It doesn’t matter if you are a novice or a pro; the benefit to learning proper technique, in conjunction with music theory, as early as you can, will only serve to make you a more rounded musician. By the way, despite popular opinion, learning music theory does not ruin creativity, it enhances it! Find a good teacher. Until then stick with Jon, he’s the best I’ve experienced…

  4. Edwin Hurwitz says:

    I agree with zapdady. I had no teachers when I started, although had been playing piano, clarinet, and oboe for years before I picked up the bass at age 13. I played in bands in high school and my first couple years of college. Then I transferred to Berklee, where I knew enough to get placed right away into ensembles, bypassing workshops that would have been very helpful (I guess they really needed more bass players for the ensembles). I took lessons with three very noted instructors there, but when I graduated, I still felt like I didn’t have a grasp on what I was doing. About a year later, I started private bass lessons with a guitar player who had studied with Charlie Banacos and Mick Goodrick and had synthesized their teaching programs. In 8 weeks, I learned more than I did in 8 semesters at Berklee. In 3 years, I learned a huge amount. If I had studied with Ross Adams before going to Berklee, it would have been a very meaningful experience rather than a somewhat confusing one (despite the almost straight A’s, which meant very little to me because I didn’t really learn as much as I could have). The other key to working with Ross was being in a band with some very excellent musicians, so I could put everything into practice as well as keep my chops up much more effectively. I never lost sight of my own direction of music. Those who say that lessons kill creativity probably never took an effective lesson. My students have had the same response “I have taken lessons with all kinds of people but none of this stuff ever made sense before!” I’ve taken people with barely any skills, no understanding of chord construction, inability to follow a form, etc., to functional players who can play solos through changes and effectively support a band. It’s not rocket surgery, but it does require a teacher who really knows what they are doing.

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