Learn Bass from the Best Teacher

Just a few centuries ago, music was considered an art and a science. The scientific part was theory, of course, and its practical application was where art came in. Beethoven studied with Haydn to learn how to compose contemporary music; theory was still the way to learn the materials and the proper way to use them, and while a good composer deviated somewhat from them, there were limits set by what was considered good taste. While recognizing his student’s undoubted genius, Haydn felt that Beethoven had strayed too far from the standards of good taste, just as Beethoven felt that Haydn had stayed too conservatively bound by societal norms to truly express the strong feelings that imbued Beethoven’s music. However, throughout a career that would change the sound of classical music and inspire composers to express their innermost selves, Beethoven stayed much closer to his early training than most composers who followed. Thus began the rift between theory and actual practice that is considered the norm by almost all musicians, composers and performers alike. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries composers tried outdo one another in breaking rules, too often disregarding the taste of their audience (if they had one). All of this was justified as “advancing theory.”

Music theory got a bad rap, so that nowadays it takes an extraordinary teacher to bridge that gap and show the relevance of theory to performance and composing (including improvising). Enter Ariane Cap, a trained teacher whose pedagogical approach to the the bass links the critical elements of theory to playing so that her students are those incredible musicians who know what to play when, and how to blow your socks off with their improvising.She teaches theory as it is used today and in this course, how it applies to brainwork like fingering and improvising with the right notes, as well as building muscle memory and physical stamina to use what you head tells you. This is how Beethoven could improvise an entire sonata at the piano, and how you can improvise a great-sounding solo on the spot. Just one priceless example: a major triad consists of a root, major third and perfect fifth, which means that you will play the low root with your second finger, unlike a minor chord. Maybe you knew one, or even both of those things, but did your teacher link those two up when you first learned about chords? Ms. Cap’s point is that theory should strengthen your playing so that brain memory and muscle memory work together, and knowing the theoretical basis so well that your mind is free to concentrate on expressing yourself, just like Beethoven.


1. Remember the name Ariane Cap.
2. Buy her Truefire course “Pentatonic Playground for Bass.”
3. Work through the course.

Truefire has so many excellent courses that it’s hard to pick just one, but you really need to buy one (per instrument maybe) and put all of your energy into mastering it before moving on. My advice to all bassists is that this is the one you need.

If you have any objection that this is “just the pentatonic scale” remember that this is the basis of many of the greatest players’ style, including John Entwhistle. Ariane Cap gives you the solid foundation to be able to step outside the scale when you need to, or just want to, and how to get back into it seamlessly.

You will have to work, but this is truly a course where the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of it. You will learn more about the Pentatonic Scale than you thought there could be to know about any scale, never mind a 5-note one. But that’s just the start, so don’t take the title too literally. If you play along with Ms. Cap you will also learn every note on the neck of the bass, as well as the step of each note in the current scale. This is a theory course in which you always have your bass in your hands and your ears open. Soon you will find yourself hearing the next note before you play it, an amazing experience if you don’t already have perfect pitch; some of you may find that you do.

One of the keys here is focus. It’s very easy for your mind to slide into auto-pilot as you play a scale by shape, but not so easy if you are calling out the notes as you play (and learn) each one, or if you are saying the scale degree. Because it’s the pentatonic scale, each one is a major and a minor version of the relative keys (e.g. G major is relative to E minor — they have the same notes but different key notes). This requires even more attention but pays off big when you realize you are learning two scales at once, and reinforcing the notes on the neck. An added bonus is that you will see and hear why so many songs slide into the relative major or minor for a while before returning to the main key. You will find it much easier to learn songs, pick them up by ear, or even fake songs you don’t know.

The course is broken into three sections: first you learn the 5 patterns that the scale creates, starting on each of the 5 notes. Each is introduced with an overview of the pattern, then its particular features and special applications, some technical exercises to develop both brain and muscle memory, and finally grooves and fills that use this particular shape. By the end of each pattern, you know it pretty well! Ariane’s fills especially show you how versatile this scale can be

The grooves and fills are the real meat and the rewards of this course. If you aren’t blown away by these it can only be because you are too busy working in a major studio! Not only are they great to play, but they will inspire you to get the patterns more completely into your mind and fingers so that you can concentrate on making music like this. They range in difficulty, but thanks to the Truefire player even a beginner can slow the tempo enough to get into these grooves, and the musicality of every one is top shelf.

Section Three is the real “playground” part that applies these scales to real music. First come demonstrations of using all 5 patterns in both major and minor so that your playing is freed from “playing out of box shapes.” Then come connections of the different patterns, horizontally and diagonally, so that you have the whole neck at your command. Special topics like fills using fourths and fifths, and fingerings for single string playing follow before you learn a master stroke: how to transpose these patterns into all major and minor keys. This is a more intense lesson and one well worth spending enough time to truly master it. Next come the blues, and then soloing with both major and minor pentatonics. You will also learn the relation of the scales to chord qualities as well as how to adapt them to play smoothly under progressions. Finally, Ariane shares the gear that she uses and explains why she chose it.

Ariane Cap has a teaching style that is good-willed but firm; she is not out to become your BFF, but to improve your bass playing. Don’t expect to be wheedled into doing the exercises. You are expected to do the work, and once you start seeing results quickly you will realize that this is the way you want to be taught. In fact, this is a good course for other instructors to study to learn how to set up a course and teach it well. It certainly deserves a teaching award of some kind.

Truefire is known for the high-quality of their courses as well as their reasonable pricing. This entire course costs less than one lesson with a teacher of this calibre, and there is enough material here to keep you learning for months or years since you can keep coming back to it to catch things you missed the first time, try some new variations of the supplied grooves, and work with the jam tracks.

Check out the course for yourself at Truefire (https://truefire.com/bass-guitar-lessons/pentatonic-playground/c857) and Ariane and her further teaching on her web page (http://www.arianecap.com/).

This course has my highest recommendation.

Help for Downloading Truefire Courses (Sierra)

I’ve been looking forward to reviewing Ariane Cap‘s course “Pentatonic Playground for Bass” for too long. Literally. It would not download for me and it took Truefire’s tech support three days to get an email to me although the solution is dated the same day I submitted the problem, which tells me that it’s probably a known one. In any case I am presenting the solution for those of you who might have the same problem, and also to explain my tardiness with the review.

We don’t know the cause, but no Truefire courses would download for me, new or even ones I’ve already downloaded. I’m using OS X 10.12.5, the current version of Sierra. Truefire tech WonderWoman suggested I try their BETA desktop version and so far it seems to be working. It’s over 1/4 of the way through the download, while the other version would not even start, so I’m hopeful.

If you are having download problems with Truefire courses, don’t hesitate to report them and maybe even request the Beta version. You will be helping yourself AND helping Truefire if you find any bugs in the new version (which is Beta, which means it has not been completely tested yet).

And don’t forget that a new update to Dorico is due before the end of the month! Interesting days approach.

Appreciation for “Music Theory for the Bass Player” by Ariane Cap

This is my second review of this great resource for every bass player. It was first published in the January 2016 issue of Just Jazz Guitar, and when I copied it to this blog I goofed: I made the review a “Page” rather than a “Post”. However, over the year and a half I have had this book, it has been my go to book for fingerings and ideas. Now that the 89 videos are complete and available here it is even more valuable. Ariane Cap is a no-nonsense “this is how you do it” teacher who leaves the work of reading and grasping the content of the book to you, so the videos are the perfect complement. “OK, I’ve told you the theory and the value of the different fingerings, this is how to play them and what they look and sound like.”

The book and videos form a powerful combination for learning, but not everyone has the discipline to take so much of the burden of following through on their own. Fear not! Ariane Cap will teach you online, taking you through the book and its content to ensure that your playing and improvising are much better by the time you finish. You can also take regular lessons tailored to your individual needs.  And you still have fallback resources if you forget anything later. Her latest addition to her wealth of teaching materials is a wall chart that summarizes all of the important information from book, course, and videos.

There’s more. You can sign up to receive weekly tips and tricks from Ariane herself. These contain solid information that will clear up concepts and get you out of some sticky situations. For example, last week she taught the difference between a #11 and a b5, both of which sound the same but require different scales and imply very different keys. Knowing the difference will save you in many situations, even if you have perfect pitch. Of course Ariane’s web site is full of these tips and more, and I encourage you to check them out and learn a lot of really useful information for free!

As some of you know, I have been very ill and Ariane’s teaching materials have kept my fingers working and my musical mind active throughout. The good news is my newfound appreciation for a first-class teacher who every bass player should know about.

I’ll be writing more on the wall chart as soon as it arrives and I put it on my wall (I have the space reserved!). I also hope to do a review of Ariane’s DVD Pentatonic Playground for Bass published by our friends at Truefire.


Here’s the original review:




by Ariane Cap

CapCat Music Publishing

Bass players rejoice! Music Theory for the Bass Player presents music theory as it matters: to improve your playing and your hearing. And all from the perspective of the bass player. Ariane Cap has put together a challenging book that will reward you with more confident and capable playing and improvising with a solid knowledge of what you are doing and why. In fact it is just as much about fingering as it is about theory, and Ms. Cap explains how fingering patterns relate to theory concepts and how these work together to strengthen your ear, so you know the sound before you play it. This is how theory should be taught: to improve your playing.

This is a book that could only be written by a top-notch bassist with a deep understanding of educational principles. Information is presented in easily digestible chunks that are illustrated in several ways including the fretboard. Each concept should be fully understood before continuing, and this is reinforced by a brilliant set of exercises at the end of each section. DO NOT SKIP THE EXERCISES! To do so would be to miss the whole point of the book: for you to get each concept into your head, your fingers, and your ears.

This is a robust book with no “filler.” For example, when speaking of Whole-Half step scales Ms. Cap notes that there are four possible roots for each of the three different scales. Most books illustrate all 12 possibilities, whereas this one shows the three unique ones; if you are going to master them you need to be able to figure out for yourself how the roots are related. While the text does actually explain the relation (and from a playing perspective) the point is made that when you see musical examples, they are important. Study them.

You could certainly learn to play the bass with this volume, but that is not its aim. This frees the author from providing those boring “quarter notes on the first string” exercises that turn off so many beginners. Instead, we get really “hip” patterns that illustrate what can be done with, say, a single interval using a more contemporary rhythmic style. It also allows accomplished players to learn the theory that they missed without feeling like they are in grade school again.

Many of the concepts are important for bass players, such as how to deal with chords that contain several different extensions or alterations, slash chords, and even how to determine the key of the piece. There are few “rules” given, which is a blessed relief, with the emphasis on why music works as it does. Somewhat ironically (and perhaps to illustrate this) the one spot where rules are given – forming major scales – they immediately require more rules for exceptions, which are explained more clearly in the section on the circle or cycle of fifths. So don’t worry if the rules sound complex at first – the explanation coming is simple.

Fingering is given such prominence in the book that it is as much about proper fingering as theory. This instills good habits in new players while keeping more experienced players on their toes, all the while establishing the sound of the theoretical idea in our ears. Do you know why you want to start with different fingers under a major or minor chord? Have you thought about alternate fingering that will save you from awkward shifts on a single finger? Many such tips demonstrate the interconnection between good technique and solid theoretical understanding. Others are handy for guitarists who try to use their one-finger-per-fret system on the lower bass positions. At the time of writing (January 2016) not all of the audio/video examples were on the web site, but it is likely they will be there by the time you read this.

Of the many extras at the end of the book, the suggestions on technique stand out. The pictures (often tongue-in-cheek exaggerations) show both good and poor positions for your body and hands that will help you to relax and play your best. The overall impression left by this book is of the relation and interdependence of theory, technique, body movement, breathing – all of life as we live it really, and how it affects the bass player. If you are a bass player, want to be one, or care for one, get this book. Ariane Cap has given an excellent gift to the world of music.

Order this great book here.

Quality FREE Guitar Videos

A lot of guitarists and other “experts” have been putting out a series of videos that review gear, or teach technique, or give other fascinating facts. Some are better than others, some are just a matter of taste. A lot of them follow a formula that I mentioned earlier when talking about Jim Lill. The idea is to give away high quality videos, and then make some money by using patreon to sell memberships or sponsorships, as well as selling books, T-shirts, or other “merch.”

One of my very favourites is Phillip McKnight. He always seems to have the most interesting gear at hand, and he shows a great understanding of it from both musical and technical points of view. You can see the wide variety of topics he covers on his YouTube channel here.


Just some examples of what he covers besides his excellent gear reviews: How to Greatly Improve Your Telecaster’s Tone for $3; Guitar Pedal Hacks; What Guitar Amp Would I Buy for $500?; and one that surprised me and inspired to me to share this channel with you: Two Pedals that Every Bedroom Guitarist Should Have, which was actually sent to me from my friends at Guitar Player. (I would have guessed the Boss one — I use it myself — but the other was a pleasant surprise!)

Since Phillip has just changed the format of his video production scheduling, you should check out his update video here. Besides learning about his various activities, you can also win tickets to the January NAMM show. Well worth a look!


New Guitar Books

Hal Leonard has recently released some new versions of classic guitar books. Originally these would have been aimed at jazz players, but these days even moderately serious players need to know basics like the entire neck, a wide variety of chords in all positions, and songs, songs, songs.


Yes, there are all sorts of fake books floating around, but few are aimed specifically at guitarists. What recommends this collection is an excellent selection of jazz standards, many in “guitar-friendly keys”, sensible chord diagrams that minimize position shifts (and show you some very nice voicings), and a binding that lets the book lie flat on the music stand. I particularly like that several songs are in different keys that guitarists really need to know (Bb, Eb, Ab), and these have great chord voicings that should help any player feel more comfortable in these important tonalities. You can check out the list of songs here and see some sample pages here. Play the chord diagrams to the bottom two to see what I mean about positions. A great book for improving your sight-reading and a terrific one to take to a jazz jam.


A lot of the jazz greats wrote books to teach aspiring players, but many of these languish out of print. Hal Leonard did a good job of bringing back a true classic, Sal Salvador’s Single String Studies for Guitar in a new format. Most obvious is their catering to modern taste by adding TAB, and this has the added benefit of creating more white space on the page, which I find easier on the eyes. All aspects of picking, scales, chords, arpeggios, and much more is covered. This is a book that will make you work, but you will improve your playing immensely if you stick with it. The only problem with this edition seems to be a clash of fonts, so that numbers like “2nd, 3rd, 5th” are garbled (see p. 130, p. 145 and elsewhere) but can be read with some effort; also, for some reason the word “not” in the last line of p. 131’s text has delete lines through it, although it certainly belongs in the text (where he is saying to “keep the pick parallel to the strings, NOT slanted in either direction”.

These annoyances aside, this is a terrific book for improving knowledge of the guitar, and it is great to see it accessible again.

Robert Conti’s “Ticket To Improv”

Jim Lill’s short tips will help a guitarist to survive an unexpected jazz tune being called, or a much-needed gig that turns out to be jazz, but what if you are suddenly hooked by jazz and want to learn it? Where do you start, given that there are hundreds of “beginner” jazz books and DVD’s.

Ideally, you would learn as all of the jazz greats did, by figuring out the solos of your favourite guitarists and playing along with them, then finding a group of like-minded players and play with them long enough to get the sound and feel of jazz into your ears and fingers.

Right. And now the real world intrudes: work, family obligations, and the rest of life that seems to take up 110% of your time. On top of that, if you are new to jazz you might not even have a favourite guitarist to start with. Then where do you happen to find these “like-minded” individuals who happen to play other instruments that you need? At this point most people either choose a teacher, or more often now, look for a good DVD or online course, something they can do at their own pace. But again, where do you start with the seemingly infinite variety available to you on, say, YouTube, where everybody is an “expert” or a “teacher” or “just knows how to play.” Usually you get what you pay for with these free lessons.

Now for the good news.

TTI vol 1

One of my first blog reviews years ago was Robert Conti’s Ticket To Improv (Volume 1). I had played with a jazz band on and off, and my comping was fine but my soloing was less than inspiring and I needed good help fast. I have great credentials in theory and composition, but jazz requires split-second decisions and follow-up on their ramifications that classical music just doesn’t. I had bought some of Mr. Conti’s early books and found them to be both sound and entertaining so I looked forward to seeing what  his DVD’s were like. Excellent!

In addition to being a stellar performer, Robert Conti was an early advocate of learning to play without learning scales and modes, decades before it became such a popular approach. Instead he teaches complete solos that you truly  can “take to the gig” and they will amaze your friends as much as they impress your audience. The Ticket To Improv (TTI) series are meant for beginning improvisers, although there is nothing about them that says ‘beginner’ except perhaps the tempo (as he demonstrates, at speed they would grace any serious jazz album). There are four volumes, three of which consist of four of the most popular jazz standards, while volume 3 is dedicated to the blues jazz-style. They are all well worth getting, and each is a terrific bargain. Mr. Conti teaches more in one DVD than most teachers cover in months, perhaps more than a year. Everything is geared toward playing music, and you get pro tips that only someone who has worked the bandstand for decades can tell you. Even with all of this experience, Robert Conti obviously remembers what it was like to start out wondering where to begin, and he spares no effort to get you playing while having fun doing it. He works with you, bar-by-bar, showing you fingering tips that make the solos easier while increasing your own playing speed.

Robert Conti’s series of “Ticket To Improv” instructional DVD’s continue to be at the top of the list for beginners’ jazz guitar instruction. Like all great teachers, Mr. Conti demonstrates that you learn to play jazz guitar by playing jazz guitar. Theory is good when it helps you to play better, but unfortunately few teachers present it that way. One reason I recommend the whole series of TTI videos is that as you learn the different solos you will find recurring patterns (such as series of chromatic passing tones or arpeggios over the extensions of chords) that work their way into your hands and ears, so that your own solos have more variety and sophistication.

Supporting the great content is Mr. Conti’s personal presence. He is down-to-earth and easy-going with constant assurance that you can and will succeed in learning the solos, and he has a site full of student testimonials showing that they have done exactly that. While most teachers boast of the success of their students, RobertConti.com has a huge library of students playing Mr. Conti’s solos, ranging from the beginner’s series Ticket To Improv through intermediate arrangements, right up to professional level solos appropriate for the most demanding gig. Mr. Conti is acclaimed as a brilliant player by other players as well as jazz lovers in general, and fortunately he is as generous in sharing his knowledge. He also encourages you to send in your videos playing these solos, so that your success can be shared with the world, hosted free on his site.

Full disclosure: I wrote two articles on his teaching philosophy and practice for Mr. Conti’s web site for remuneration, and he is the only artist that I have done so for. I fully believe in his products and use them myself, and I began as a satisfied customer before I began reviewing his teaching DVD’s (for which I was not paid, as is my policy for all of my reviews including this blog.) When Robert Conti asked that I formalize my statements on his teaching philosophy for his web site he insisted on paying me, which I must say I really appreciated. However, the reviews of his products, which are reproduced on his site with the permission of Just Jazz Guitar, were done for the magazine.

Jim Lill


I’ve been meaning to tell you folks about Jim Lill since I started this blog, and today’s the day. Jim is a guitar player. He specializes in country but he can play in any genre, and best of all, he will show you how to do the same.

Jim’s not just a top-notch guitarist and teacher; he’s also a great example of how to create and grow a musical presence and business on the Internet. I first noticed his YouTube channel when it was mentioned in Guitar Player, and then learned that Jim gave a free video lesson every week! Each one combines good humor with solid information. Is there anyone who doesn’t like the combination of high-quality and FREE? So this was the perfect way to get noticed at first, and I suggest that you all head to Jim’s home page and sign up for these free lessons.

Jim has since expanded to Instagram, where he posts a lick a day (with TAB) and now onto Patreon, where you can get more advanced stuff in return for a fee (you choose the level at which you want to participate and support him).

Because we have so many readers from Just Jazz Guitar I thought I’d link to one of Jim’s shorter videos on How to Fake Jazz Guitar. He also shows you how to fake most other styles, how to improve your harmonic vocabulary, gain speed in your playing, use pedals effectively, and much, much more. These are all short, no-nonsense videos that get right to the point and teach you something useful that you can use right now! Check out Jim Lill today.