A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

First 15 Lessons: Bass, by Jon Liebman

The First 15 Lessons: Bass Guitar is a 30-page beginner’s method, written by Jon Liebman of ForBassPlayersOnly.com and published by Hal Leonard as part of its First 15 Lessons series. I have Jon’s Bass Aerobics book, and while that volume completely awed me, its also beyond my skill level with regard to reading and playing. This book, however, aims to provide those who are new to bass with a foundation for playing. Here’s Jon’s statement of intent from the first page:

The purpose of this book is to provide the beginning bassist with a hands-on approach to the fundamentals of good bass playing. As in all of my books, as well as my online bass lessons, I have presented you with a sequence of practical exercises to provide not only technical instruction, but examples that are musically satisfying and enjoyable to play. I’ve also included several examples from well-known songs to further enhance your real-world learning experience. Note that the lessons progress sequentially, with each lesson building on the previous material, so be sure to go through them in order.

First 15 Lessons - Bass

This is the description text from Amazon, which essentially covers what the table of contents lists, as well as the songs spread throughout the book:

The First 15 Lessons series provides a step-by-step lesson plan for the absolute beginner, complete with audio tracks, video lessons, and real songs! Designed for self-teaching or for use with an instructor, you’ll build a solid foundation as you work through each lesson, learning the basics of the instrument and music reading while practicing the many exercises, concepts and song excerpts within. Must-know instruction so you can start playing right away, with a free online tuner and metronome! The bass guitar book features lessons on: bass fundamentals, music reading, tuning, the 1-5 pattern, arpeggios, grooves, position shifts, scales, syncopation, chromatics, swing/shuffle feel, and blues, funk & rock styles. Includes full bass lines from five real songs: Get Ready (The Temptations) * I Shot the Sheriff (Bob Marley & The Wailers) * Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes) * Smooth (Santana) * Super Freak (Rick James).

Each of the 15 lessons is two pages long, with multiple exercises to drill the addressed topic, except for the five songs covered. Those don’t have exercises, they notate the given song. Jon discusses note values, so that note durations can be understood (eighth, quarter, half and whole notes) as well as a few other concepts for reading music. He then shows readers how tablature works before moving onto an explanation of “rhythm tab,” which is a mash-up of notation and tablature.

Rhythm tab is tablature which utilize tails and circles to essentially let readers know note duration on top of which string and tab to play. I think its an innovative way to present musical information, but its not as robust as standard notation, even though its a bit more comprehensive than tablature.


The lessons include the following:

  1. Lesson 1: First, A Few Things You Need to Know
  2. Lesson 2: Getting Started: Groovin’ on Open Strings
  3. Lesson 3: The 1-5 Pattern: A Bass-Playing Essential
  4. Lesson 4: Same-Fret 1-5 Patterns: There Is a Difference
  5. Lesson 5: Single-String Grooves
  6. Lesson 5: Playing Across the Fingerboard
  7. Lesson 7:  Position Shifts
  8. Lesson 8: “Smooth” Santana
  9. Lesson 9: Chromatics
  10. Lesson 10: Minor Pentatonic Scale
  11. Lesson 11: The Blues
  12. Lesson 12: Rock
  13. Lesson 13: Funk
  14. Lesson 14: Swing/Shuffle
  15. Lesson 15: “Get Ready” The Temptations

Lesson 1 discusses holding and tuning the bass, what the strings are called, how to pluck the strings, and an overview of how to read music, tablature and rhythm tab. There are 4 examples in this section which show us note durations, rests, tablature and rhythm tab. Its purpose is essentially to orient the reader to how the book works and how to operate the bass physically.

Lesson 2 is where the meat of the method begins. It provides us with information about the open strings, alternating fingers on the plucking hand, muting strings and the repeat sign in the tablature. Then, it does something I love: it dives directly into playing. Using rhythm tab, it presents the reader with a 12-bar blues using only the open strings on the bass.

The initial exercise has us play on the A, D and E strings, and until I ran the exercise, I never realized that in A, the D is the IV and the E is the V; so we’re playing a I-IV-V progression without fretting a string. When I realized that, it put a little smile on my face, because its a clever way of crafting an open string exercise that’s also musical.

Exercises 2-7 then gives us variations of the first exercise, to really drill the open strings, and the 12-bar blues, into our hands. They’re each only 4 measures, leaving us to figure out the remaining 8 measures to play an entire 12 bars. Its also a nice way to do this, as it saves space and makes us think about the structure of what we’re playing, to fill in the blanks and play a blues.

At the end of the section, its recommended that we repeat the exercises starting on the D string, instead of the A string. This way, we’ll cover all 4 strings on a standard bass.

Lesson 3 gives the same treatment to roots and fifths, with 4 exercises that have 17 bars each. All of them have different rhythms, but only have us fret 2 notes, the 3rd fret on the E, A or D string and the 5th fret on the A, D or G string, respectively. The rhythms are all combinations of 3-5 or 3-3-5 or 3-3-5-5 with different note durations (half, quarter and eighth notes).

Lesson 4 discusses same-fret 1-5 patterns. Note, this isn’t same-string patterns, its same-fret. Essentially, we’re playing root notes and then the fifth on the same fret, but one string below the root. Its a lower-fifth, instead of a higher one. The examples make use of the 1-5 from Lesson 3, with the new 1-lower 5 from this lesson, and octaves. There are 6 exercises in this lesson. Exercise 3 is a 24-bar blues (well, 25 if you count the 1-bar, root note ending).

Lesson 5 gives us grooves to play on a single string. There are 7 exercises. They start off slow, with 3 notes, vary rhythms, add notes and new rhythms, and then introduce ties, which connect notes between two bars. All of the exercises use only the E string, and it is recommended that we repeat them on the other strings once we’ve gotten them down on the E.

Lesson 6 has us play patterns across multiple strings, but from a single position. This means that we don’t move our fretting hand up or down the neck of the bass. We do move our fingers across strings though. There are 6 exercises in this section. The first one starts us with 2 frets, the 3rd and 5th fret, across all 4 strings. The next one varies the rhythm. Then, we move up to the 5th and 7th frets and add notes for musicality. After this, we play our first arpeggios. Then, we play an exercise that combines arpeggios and other rhythms across all 4 strings.

Lesson 7 begins position shifts. There are 8 exercises here. The first starts us on frets 3 & 5 and moves us down to frets 1 & 3. Then come 3 exercises with variations, all using the 1st, 3rd & 5th frets. Then, we tackle an exercise that starts us with 3 & 5, moves us to 5 & 7, and then to 6 & 8 and back down. The next two exercises start on the 5 & 7 and then move down the neck, and add different rhythms. Finally, the last one adds on dotted rhythms to the previous exercise, which completely changes the feel of what’s being played.

Lesson 8 has us play our first song, “Smooth,” from Santana. Its a lengthy exercise, taking up the entire 2 pages afforded to each lesson. It makes use of repeat signs for some sections, and first and second endings. Different sections are labeled Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Guitar Solo, Chorus (again) and Outro-Guitar Solo. There are lots of ties, open notes, dotted notes and different rests. Its also interesting to see the piece presented using rhythm tab, because it breaks from the typical sight of tablature with no note values to include note values, rests, repeats and the like. Looking at it is almost like looking at sheet music.

Lesson 9 presents chromatics, and with it, the notes between the ones we’ve been playing. Previously, we were playing frets like [1 & 3], [3 & 5], [5 & 7], etc. This lessons changes that to something like [1, 2 & 3]; [3, 4 & 5], [5, 6 & 7] etc. Chromatic notes are played on frets that are directly adjacent to each other, without skipping frets, like we’ve been doing thus far. These are called half-steps. Skipping a fret, like moving from fret 1 to 3, is a whole step. There are 5 exercises in this section. The first gives us chromatic notes along with open strings. It says that this type of groove works well in jazz, blues and other styles of music. It is recommended that we run this exercise twice more, on the two higher strings.

The next exercise takes chromatic runs up and down the neck and makes them musical. Sometimes, we start on a fret, continue 3 frets higher, and then walk back down to the initial one. Then, we get a pattern that repeats notes and a more rhythmically complex variation. The last one has us play roots and then walk down chromatically from the octave in some bars.

Lesson 10 introduces the minor pentatonic scale. There are 9 exercises and a song in this lesson. We play the scale first, holding some notes longer than others, then we vary the rhythm to show how different the same notes can sound if played for different durations. Then, we start at the top of the scale and descend, and then do it again with a new rhythm. After this, we tackle the scale coupled with a position change up the neck. Then, the rhythm is varied again.

Once we have all of that under our fingers, we’re given 3 exercises to prep us for playing “I Shot the Sheriff” from Bob Marley. We’re cautioned that we’ll make a lot of use of our 3rd and 4th fingers, which hasn’t been done heavily until now. This one also makes use of ties and dotted notes in every bar.

Lesson 11 includes 8 exercises that introduce the blues. It starts with the blues scale, which is the minor pentatonic plus an additional note – also known as the blue note. The first 6 exercises feature the scale and rhythmic variations. Exercise 7 uses the notes from the blues scale over a 12-bar blues. Suggested fingerings are included. Finally, exercise 8 uses the blues scale in a busier 12-bar blues that looks like it makes use of all 4 fingers on the fretting hand.

Lesson 12 is the rock lesson. There are 7 exercises, and then “Seven Nation Army” from the White Stripes. The first exercise gets us used to the notes in the rock pattern. The next one varies the rhythm and includes elements from both the minor pentatonic and blues scales. Then comes an exercise that includes playing same-fret 5ths using the pinky and shifting. Then, a rhythmic variation. An arpeggiated bass line follows, then comes a more rock-oriented variation.

After all of this, we get an exercise in which we play the same notes from 3 different positions. The first uses open strings. The 2nd takes us up to the 5th & 7th frets, and the last starts us up on the 7th fret and has us playing up to the 10th.

We close out the lesson with “Seven Nation Army”. The notation gets a little more complex, with dotted quarter notes followed by eighth notes, and then it introduces us to 16th notes. Hearing it played makes it more understandable than looking at it on paper.

Lesson 13 gives us another style of music – funk. I’ve always been a fan of funk basslines. They’re generally fast, bouncy, intricate and a lot of fun to hear. This lesson starts us down that path, but without the slap & pop technique that peppers the style. There are 9 exercises included, and a song – “Super Freak” from Rick James.

The first exercise gets us used to the overall feel and some position changes. Its made up entirely of quarter notes and quarter rests. Once we have it under our fingers, exercise 2 “nasties it up” by changing the rhythm and adding notes. At this point, its all eighth notes and rests. Exercises 3 & 4 do the same thing, introducing notes and a downward jump on the neck in the last bar and then funkifying it in the paired exercise. 5 & 6 follow suite, with the former introducing a line with position shifts and the latter making it funky with syncopation.

Exercises 7-9 all use the same notes, but with different rhythmic patterns. It turns out that they’re the same notes used in “Super Freak,” and are meant as a series of warm-ups to the main event. At the end, we’re advised to pay attention to the feel of what we’re playing, and to keep the style in our mind. If my research proves correct, you can’t fake the funk.

Lesson 14 is all about the last style we learn in the book – swing/shuffle. The swing/shuffle feel changes the groove of eighth notes. It front-loads the first eighth note, holding it longer than the 2nd. This contrasts with typical “straight 8th” rhythm that we hear almost everywhere else. Swing does bleed into other styles of music, however, including jazz and blues (and, I think, country).

There are seven exercises in this lesson. The first 3 give us a basic swing rhythm and vary it only by playing it starting on 3 different strings. The 4th exercise is a 12-bar blues played with a swing/shuffle feel. Its almost entirely quarter notes, with the only variance being two eighth notes in the 5th bar (and a whole root note at the end). The 5th exercise has arpeggiated swing, and the 6th is the same exercise, moved up a string.

The last exercise is a 12-bar shuffle blues  that can be applied in a lot of musical settings. Its all eighth notes, with no rests until the end. This particular lesson seemed to have less original content than the other lessons did. There were essentially 4 exercises, with 5 of them being repeats on different strings.

Lesson 15 closes out the book with “Get Ready” from The Temptations. The bassline is changed a little from James Jamerson‘s original line. Note-wise, it doesn’t look complex. The number of notes and the feel seem like they might take some work to get down cold, and there are 12 distinct parts to the song, including 3 verses and 3 choruses.


I really like the layout of this book. Since buying it, I’ve been thinking about what the better book to start with, as a beginner, would be, between this one, the Hal Leonard Bass Method (HLBM) by Ed Friedland, and Building Rock Bass Lines (BRBL), also by Ed. This book seems to be a mash-up of both of Ed’s books, but with its own slant and a strong sense of musicality. There are no pure exercises in the book, unlike BRBL. All of the exercises are essentially grooves or songs. It also covers material that’s present in the HLBM, but does so without standard notation, which speeds up the physical process immensely, but doesn’t foster fretboard familiarity. I actually think that going through this first would probably lead to beginners developing a lot of technique and practical ability with regard to physically playing and familiarity with different music styles. Following it up with the HLBM would probably be ideal, as finding and playing the notes would then be less of a task, and more attention could be given to reading notation, which I think the HLBM addresses wonderfully, while covering many of the same concepts as this book.

BRBL and this book also both use their own systems of notation, with this one focusing on “rhythm tab” and BRBL focusing on scale degrees (and other significators) to really help define what each note’s role in a bassline is. In this manner, notation from The First 15 Lessons helps with playing the bass more, and BRBL helps with understanding what’s being played from a theory standpoint more. Taking the books from both authors that I have into account, I think that my process would be The First 15 Lessons, HLBM, BRBL and then Bass Aerobics.


One response

  1. Pingback: F15L 01: Lessons 2 & 3 | Ugly Bass Face

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