David Hodge: Complete Idiot’s Guide To Playing Bass Guitar

David Hodge states in the introduction to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Bass Guitar that he wants to help his readers think like bassists. That seems like a rather lofty goal, but it’s one that I think he achieves.

Having recently joined my church band as the bass player despite having no prior experience with the instrument (but I do have a couple of years of steady progress on electric and acoustic guitar,) I was glad to see that this book has a different presentation style than the typical bass method book. It is much more discussion oriented, which gives it a unique teaching value that I found very helpful for self-study. I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of the book many weeks ago, which is why I can write this review now as the book first begins to officially ship.

The first thing I noticed when I received my copy is how much text there is. Other bass books I purchased dive quickly into reading notation and playing one note, one string at a time, graduating up to scales and basic melody lines with very little explanatory text. Hodge takes a different route, that of mentor, guiding you through the how and why of every topic he presents, from finger placement during a riff to creating your own bass lines. Hodge writes in an easy-to-understand, down-to-earth manner, and it’s almost like having an experienced teacher there with you.

There is enough music theory to help you understand the basics of scales, chords and arpeggios, but not so much that you feel bogged down. Importantly, all of Hodge’s discussion on theory leads to practical application in the subsequent chapters. I was pleased to note that he explains but does not over-emphasize scale playing, but instead seems to focus on riffs and bass lines built using the chord tones that derive from scales. This is a more musical and interesting approach than you tend to find in other books (though a good foundation in the major scale won’t hurt, in my opinion).

Then there are the “jam along” songs. These are the meat and potatoes of Hodge’s presentation, and the reason I think this book exceeds where others may fall a bit short. At the most basic level, you can use these songs (really they are a framework for building a song) and the provided example riffs to practice your techniques and timing. From there, you can use the same songs as a springboard for improvisation, by coming up with your own riffs using the earlier lessons. When I was taking guitar lessons my teacher used a similar technique – he called it “structured improvisation” – and I found it to be an excellent way to learn to think about what I was playing.

Hodge also provides insight into real-world issues bass players may face, such as the scarcity of tablature or even sheet music for bass, and the many types of written music that a bass player might have to deal with – from the bass clef in piano sheet music to crude lyric sheets with guitar chords hopefully scrawled above the verses.

There are a handful of typos or misplaced examples in the book, but Hodge intends to post a web page with corrections (how’s that for service?!) Furthermore, he is regularly available at the GuitarNoise web forum for anyone with questions.

I do have a couple of complaints, both concerning the accompanying CD. First, I would have preferred that each example in the book have its own track on the CD, though I’m told it’s not technically possible to put that many tracks on a single disc (there are well over 150 examples!) As it is, there are instances where several examples are necessarily lumped into the same CD track, making it difficult to quickly jump to a particular example. One has to queue up the example using the CD player’s fast-forward or rewind button. Related to this, the track numbers containing the examples are referenced only in an appendix, not in the main body of the book. In my opinion they should have been noted next to the example in the text.

Second, at least on my copy of the CD, the recorded volume of the bass seems somewhat low relative to Hodge’s voice. I have to turn up my stereo’s volume to hear the bass clearly, but then the spoken introduction to each example gets a tad loud. Again, these are very minor issues, neither of which detracts from the excellent material in the book.

I am really pleased with what I’ve learned from this book in a fairly short time period, and intend to keep working with it even as I incorporate other books into my studies. I would definitely recommend it to anyone thinking about getting into bass. And don’t forget to order it through the Guitar Noise site (you can find links to Amazon on our home page) – this adds no cost to you, and it may help keep the site functioning smoothly so David can answer your questions online.