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Beyond Bass Camp

Digging Deeper Inside the Bass, with Steve Lawson.


Lawson Dodds Wood with Mark Lockheart, photographed by Helena Dornellas

I recently ran an ‘ask me anything‘ thread on my blog – the questions and the answers were posted in the comments, and I had intended to reblog the answers at some point. The first of them to leap out at me was one that fits better here than on stevelawson.net – a question from a former student of mine, Sam Hallam, about improv. Here’s Sam’s question and my answer:


Sam Hallam:

I’m interested in your thoughts on improvisation, and teaching improvisation.

There’s an amusing irony that a large amount of improvisational music is taught within very strict boundaries. (i.e. Bebop tunes, Rhythm Changes, whatever) and that as a beginning improviser you will mostly be able to practice with other musicians only in those idioms.

How and when is it then possible to break away from improvising in what can sometimes be a outdated and dogmatic context to truly get at the heart of what improvisation is and focus on spontaneity and MUSIC in general… rather than working on just ‘killing it’ over Oleo for the next 20 years? (more…)


At the moment, I’m in the middle of a three-day Artists Research Lab on Memory, organised by Motiroti – you can read more about it on the Amplified Site.

Here’s a fabulous TED talk, exploring the different between our experiencing selves and our remembering selves.

The implications of this for musicians are huge – how often does our reaction to a recording we make reflect our experiences when the music was actually played? (more…)

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Well, it’s been a while. Please be assured, there’ll be some Beyond Bass Camp news coming very soon. I promise 🙂

But in the meantime, here’s some smart thinking on music. One of the big mistakes instrumentalists make is to go looking to practitioners of their chosen instrument for wisdom on the subject of music. There’s no reason why bass guitarists should know more about music than anyone else. Truth be told, there’s a heck of a lot more wisdom about music out there by non-bassists than there is by bassists

So with that in mind, here are three of my favourite interviews with guitarist David Torn. David is both a truly remarkable guitarist/composer/improvisor and a brilliant thinker about the processes around music. Clear-headed, mischievous wisdom that ties music to human-ness. He’s brilliant.   (more…)

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This post was partly inspired by Michael Manring‘s masterclass last week at Chappell’s Music Shop in London, and the conversation he and I had after it.

The catalyst was his difficulty in answering questions that required him to fragment his thinking about music – and even detach music from its place within the rest of his being/existence. It wasn’t – it seemed – that he was unwilling to. It was that to do so felt somehow dishonest, especially if the question seemed to be loaded with an expectation that a certain fragment of information – whether it be about a particular technique, bit of music theory or piece of equipment – would somehow prove to be the key that unlocks ‘music’. (more…)

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OK, this is one of the best presentations on learning music I’ve seen in ages.

I got to play with Evelyn Glennie a few years back, in her studio – she had been talking to Rick Turner about electro-acoustic music, and he’d advised her to talk to me about looping. I went to meet her and talk to her about looping and processing, and demo the Looperlative for her. Her sensitivity to everything we played, every processed element I added to her percussion, was incredible. Her profound deafness was certainly no impediment to her musical performance or her ability to collaborate. Given just how quickly she reacted to every change, and how sensitive her touch was, one could just as easily suggest it was an advantage, based on experiential evidence alone.

What certainly is advantageous is the way that Evelyn has used her profile as a musician and her unique history in studying and performing music to speak about learning music, and learning in general, across the globe. Including the talk embedded below from the Ted Conference.

It’s no overstatement to say that this is one of the finest presentations I’ve ever seen on learning an instrument. Evelyn demonstrates and explains so clearly many of the things I talk about when teaching, particularly the point about learning music in the context of playing music, rather than what I refer to as ‘practicing practicing’ – getting good at musical exercises without rooting them in the magic of playing actual music.

Watch, learn, be inspired:

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I’m always amazed – and dismayed – at how often I fail to ask the above question in my life. I spend a whole lot of time on trivial, time-wasting things as a diversion from the important things I really ought to be doing. That’s not to say that ‘trivial fun’ isn’t valid – sometimes what’s most important is some rest n’ relaxation, or a good laugh, or some time playing a computer game to wind down – it’s just that so often trivia is the default because we don’t stop to think about what it is that really matters to us and what it will take to bring that about. (more…)

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I have certain pre-arranged responses to some of the questions and comments I get about my music.

One of my favourites to throw out is to comments like “hey, Steve, you should do a whole ambient record” or “I really like the funky tunes, you should do more of that“, or any other ‘you should‘-type comments. My response is invariably “no, YOU should, cos it’s you that wants to hear it!”

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The question in the title is one that is so often ignored and yet is fundamental to the process of learning music (and a lot of other things!)

Because so much that happens in music education is based on a model established for teaching classical repertoire, the emphasis is hugely on “Is It Right?” – the notes on the page are the right notes, any other notes are wrong notes, and there are pre-established measures of what are the ‘right‘ ways to play a piece, what are the ‘right‘ techniques to use… The fact that at some point they were were established as ‘right‘ because of someone’s idea of ‘good‘ has been lost somewhere down the years – the subjective aesthetic assessment of a piece of music by the person playing it is no longer a factor in deciding whether the performance is worthwhile, meaningful, pleasing or anything else(more…)

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screen grab of susan boyle on youtubeFor a week or so now, it seems like everyone has been talking about Susan Boyle. She’s a 40-something year old woman from lowland Scotland, who went on Britain’s Got Talent – the latest Simon Cowell vehicle – and ‘wowed’ everyone with her unexpectedly amazing voice. (more…)

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