Learning jazz bass as a beginner with Katie Thiroux

This course with Katie from Discover Double Bass is a great way to build your jazz bass foundation.

With Katie Thiroux · Los Angeles, CA

I’ve always considered myself an amateur-level jazz bassist. Even though I played in various jazz ensembles through high school and college, I never did much gigging beyond that, and I’ve never spent much time developing my skills in this genre.

As a bass teacher, I’ve found myself teaching countless jazz bass lessons, and I’ve frequently felt out of sorts in this role due to my limited knowledge.

Therefore, I was thrilled to see that jazz bassist and vocalist Katie Thiroux was putting out a course titled From Beginner to Bandstand with Discover Double Bass. I’ve been a fan of what Geoff Chalmers has done with his site ever since launching it five years ago, and it is really cool to see Katie join the ranks of tutors on the site.

I’ve also had Katie Thiroux as a guest on my Contrabass Conversations podcast, and it was a real delight to learn more about her and he path through the music world.

I’ve gone through the entire From Beginner to Bandstand course, practicing through the exercises and watching all the videos, and I’m thrilled by the clean and clear way that Katie lays out this material.

Here’s a look inside!

Chapter 1: Getting Started

  • Course Introduction
  • Holding the Bass and Playing in Comfort

Katie is joined throughout the course by Sam Watts on piano and Matt Witek on drums. Having the trio to demonstrate adds a richness to the course, and many of the lessons feature play along tracks without the bass so that you can practice with just the drums and piano.

I’ve moved over to using the iPad Pro and forScore for my music reading, and these courses work so well for this setup. I load up all of the PDF examples in a playlist on forScore, and I also attach the MP3 play along tracks to the music. This allows me to practice along with Sam and Matt without ever leaving forScore.

I have all the PDFs in From Beginner to Bandstand in forScore on my iPad, with the corresponding MP3s attached for practicing.

I’ll also play the Discover Double Bass videos on my iPhone while using the iPad to read the music, which is a great setup. In a pinch, I can do split screen on the iPad, with the Discover Double Bass course on one side and the sheet music on the other. This limits my screen real estate, though, so my preference is to use both devices.

Video plus PDF in split screen mode on my iPad Pro.

Inside Chapter 1

Katie emphasizes how important it is to hold the bass and play in comfort. She likes to pick up the instrument and let it drop toward her, so that there’s no reaching around to manipulate the bass.

A few tips from Katie for staying comfortable on the bass:

  • Get your eyebrow aligned with the nut of the bass
  • Your right hand should rest near the end of the fingerboard
  • Can you physically play A on the G string in three octaves (first position, thumb position, ad the end of the fingerboard)?

Keeping body position in mind at all times is crucial. Have gravity do as much of the work as possible for you.

If something hurts, stop right away and assess the situation.

Katie Thiroux in From Beginner to Bandstand

The mirror is your best friend as a bassist. We bassists tend to scrunch up our shoulders and have back issues, so keeping an eye on your physical approach at all times is crucial.

When moving into the higher positions, take a step back from the bass (generally with the left leg). This helps to get around the instrument in an ergonomic fashion.

Chapter 2: Practicing with Scales

  • Scale Practice to Build Technique and Find Your Sound
  • Scales and Rhythm

Scales are one of Katies favorite things. Fo her, practicing scales is like going to the doctor. They help us to identify the things we need to work on in our music to make us better.

Katie focuses on four primary things while practicing scales:

  1. Sound
  2. Intonation
  3. Time
  4. Technique

She starts practicing with just the bass: no metronome, drum track, or the like. She focuses on simply getting a nice, big, full sound.

She also asks herself the following two questions:

  1. Why do you want that particular sound at that particular moment
  2. How do you achieve that sound?

Right Hand

Katie likes to get a nice, big, round sound, using gravity to pluck and pull the finger into the next string. For the E string, Katie uses the analogy of opening a door to get the desired sound since there’s no string to land on.

She uses the full weight of her arm from the shoulder down, staying close to the bridge to get a full and clear sound.

Left Hand

Sound also comes from he left hand, of course, and not having the left hand fingers fully down will actually decrease the amount of sound. It’s important to engage the string with the left hand fingers, with fingers supporting each other. For example, when playing 4th finger, the other three fingers will assist in depressing the string.

Katie thinks about keeping all fingers on specific notes, so that she can lift up a finger and be precisely in tune on the next note. She also focuses on shifts and avoiding any scrunching up during the process.

Sing the note you’re shifting to before you shift, so that you clearly hear the new pitch before you play it.

Katie Thiroux sharing advice from John Clayton

Katie starts practicing her scales at quarter note = 60, focusing on:

  • Time
  • Intonation
  • Hand position
  • Avoiding any buzzes

She has 20 scale variations that she runs through, emphasizing feeling the subdivisions before playing them and understanding the specifics of alternating first and second fingers in the right hand.

Chapter 3: Walking Bass Line Masterclass

  • Walking the Blues Pt.1
  • Walking the Blues Pt.2
  • Adding Embellishments to Walking Bass Lines
  • Blues Turnarounds
  • Exercises in 4ths
  • Alternate Blues Changes

12 bar blues is one of the most popular forms in popular music, and Katie does a deep-dive into it in this chapter. She sings Duke Ellington’s C-Jam Blues as an example while moving through building a bass line.

This is a great introduction to developing a bass line, with important concepts like:

  • Understanding scale degrees
  • The blues progression
  • How to figure out the 5th scale degree
  • Hand positions for 5ths and octaves on adjacent strings
  • Understanding that the root is under the first finger

She also advises listening to many bassists as musical examples, including:

  • John Clayton
  • Ray Brown
  • Paul Chambers
  • Israel Crosby

Throughout this chapter, she adds in the 3rds, chromatic notes, moving from a two feel into a four feel in your bass lines, blues turnarounds, exercises in fourths, and alternate blues changes, all while singing C-Jam Blues.

Download the transcription here

Chapter 4: Learning and Transposing Songs

  • How to Memorize and Transpose Chord Changes
  • Learning Songs Using Numbers
  • Learning Songs Using Intervals
  • ‘Girl From Ipanema’ Example
  • ‘All the Things You Are’ Example

Many vocalists and horn players like to play songs in different keys, so understanding how to memorize and transpose chord changes is a must for the gigging bassist. Katie has some great methods for making this process manageable.

First of all, she advises listening to a song you’re trying to earn many, many times. 10-20 listens on a song will allow you to really absorb the musical world of that particular piece.

She also has a three-part method for learning and transposing songs:

  1. Figure out the key
  2. Figure out the form (AABA, etc)
  3. With your bass, listen to the song and figure out the starting notes for the bass line and melody

Katie also goes into detail on three methods of learning a bass line:

  1. Note names
  2. Numbers
  3. Intervals

She uses Girl from Ipanema and All The Things You Are as examples of songs that are frequently transposed into different keys, also emphasizing that it’s a good idea to know the starting note of the melody since many vocalists might not know their keys as well as the instrumentalists.

Download the transcription here

Chapter 5: Lessons with the Band

  • Improvising with Rhythmic Motifs
  • Trading Fours with the Band
  • Interacting with the Band
  • Switching Between Two and Four Feel Bass Lines
  • Katie’s Favourite Blues Pattern
  • Call and Response

I love these lessons with the band. Each of them has a series of Bb blues tracks at different tempos with just piano and drums, so you can play along with Matt and Sam and explore the various communication methods the tKatie covers here.

Katie kicks this chapter off with rhythmic motifs, offering up an easy way to start developing ideas I have been really digging this simple but effective way to explore imprecation, and I know that i will be using this with plenty of students in the future.

She also covers various methods of trading fours, emphasizing the importance of having a conversation with the other musicians and elaborating on their ideas.

She shows how do develop the ability to listen for chord alterations and lock into the new chord structures as quickly as possible.

She also demonstrate when and how to switch between a two and a four feel, and what to look for and listen for in the drummer so that you remain musically synced up with them.

Kate rounds out this chapter with a couple of lessons using her favorite blues pattern, which is a slight variation on the blues scale. She uses the major sixth in this line, which I find particularly interesting in her musical examples, and I know that I will be exploring this line quite a bit in my own improvising and teaching.

Chapter 6: Essential Skills for the Jazz Bassist

  • Really Learning a Melody — The 10x Method
  • Ear Training: Sing What You Play
  • Triplet Drops and Triplet Ups

This final chapter covers essential skills of developing as a jazz bassist, and there’s a lot to learn from all three of these lessons.

Katie’s 10x practicing method for learning a melody is extremely effective for learning anything. I know that I’ll be using it for my classical playing and in lessons with my private students as well as in a jazz context.

Here’s the method laid out in a step-by-step fashion:

  1. Have 10 coins or other such small item near you
  2. Put the metronome on quarter note = 60
  3. Play the first bar of the melody
  4. For every time that you play it correctly, move a coin into a pile
  5. If you make a mistake, move all the coins back and start from scratch
  6. Once you hit 10 times correct in a row, move on to the second bar and repeat the process
  7. Then connect the first and second bars using the same 10x process
  8. Then learn measure three using the 10x process
  9. Now connect measures 1-3 using the 10x process
  10. Do the same thing until you learn the complete melody
  11. Now move the metronome to quarter note = 70 and repeat the process

If your goal tempo for the tune is quarter note = 120, this might take several weeks to reach.

This might seem tedious. Once you do this process, however, you will realize the power of it. You will know that tune forever!

Kate rounds out her course with a lesson on learning to sing what you play and the musical and physical benefits of doing so, and also a lesson on developing triplet drops and triplet ups, which are a staple of jazz bass lines.

Katie chats with Geoff Chalmers of Discover Double Bass about jazz pedagogy

Final Thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Katie, and I highly encourage you to check out this course. The production quality is stellar, as is the case for all Discover Double Bass courses, and Katie has a great delivery style that will keep you engaged and enthusiastic throughout the learning process.

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