Learning From The Masters

From the second I began playing Bass Guitar, I had always taken the approach of learning from the masters.
Most musicians at some point have the desire to meet their musical heroes.

Some of us dream of ultimately playing with one of these great musicians.

What Defines A Master?

Musicians that we hold in high regard, aside from playing on a level that touches us very deeply, tend to have had experiences that we have not (and sometimes may never have).

Generally, these masters have played with other great musicians (quite often older generation of master musicians who have changed the face of their genre or even music in general).

This makes them an absolute mine of information, amazing stories and invaluable guidance.


The Musician’s Apprentice 

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of playing a week’s residency at the world famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London, with the legendary pioneer of the drum set, the great Billy Cobham.

It’s always a privilege and honour for me to play with Billy in what was, as of 2013, a twenty year musical association and just over 30 years since I first heard him on his albums “Spectrum” and “Shabazz” and with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

It was the sound and feel of Billy’s drumming that ignited the voice inside me that said; “I’m a Bass player and (pointing at the record player at my parents’ house) I’m going to play with HIM!”


Follow Your Passion

Billy Cobham inspired me enough to make the change from budding teenage graphic designer to Bass Guitarist.

I dabbled in drums but wasn’t committed to practice like my brother was but Billy’s drumming inspired me to practice Bass so I could be near the sound of his drums. It worked!

But How Do I Learn From A Master I Can’t Get Close To?

A good question is; ” I’m not playing with a great musician like Billy Cobham. How do I get to learn from such a master?”

My answer is that I learned a lot from Billy way before I worked with him or even met him.

My brother Mark and I played Billy’s records over and over, lifting the needle of the record player and repeating little sections till we could sing every note on the record. Our record player had a built-in tape deck. We found out that if we pressed the play button down half way while recording, the motor would move at twice the speed, resulting in a half-speed playback. (Nowadays, there’s software to make things easier for budding musicians to hear what’s going on).

We deciphered a lot of Billy’s phrasing from this crude recording method.


Transcription Holds The Key

I realise now that we were transcribing Billy’s grooves and solos. I didn’t know how to read or write music so I just visualised where he was playing on the drums. It was only when we saw Billy playing
live that we made two discoveries; Not only did he play with a very relaxed, flowing posture but he
played “open handed”; left hand on hi-hat and ride, right hand on snare, rather than the more
common but less logical “crossed hands” method.

This opened up a whole new playing world for Mark and a new way of “ergonomic observation”
for me. From then, I was able to learn from Bassists in the same way.


Many Levels Of Mastery

Aside from transcribing from recordings, which is the traditional road to mastery from way back in the early days of Jazz till the present day, you can also gain mastery from simply spending time with musicians who play higher than your current level.

Even if it’s only a little bit higher.

Keep Looking Up!

Wherever you are in your playing journey, there’s always someone you can learn from.

The masters on recordings are the obvious place to start but don’t forget the masters in your neighbourhood.

If you’re not sure how to play anything from 12 bar blues to Giant Steps, there’s probably someone
in your neighbourhood who has that knowledge. They may not be world class players yet…may even just be one rung above you, playing wise, but if they have that one nugget of knowledge, get it.
Don’t be too proud to ask. Don’t ask. Don’t get.


Masters Beget Masters

If you’re looking to attain mastery of your instrument and music in general;

•Aim high.

Find the best examples to learn from. Do what they did musically. Get similar results.

(Disclaimer; Do NOT copy their lifestyles if they are destructive/self destructive personalities. It’s possible to be a successful artist but an unsuccessful human being. Contrary to popular myth, these things are SEPARATE and do not HAVE to go together!).

•Transcribe their solos.

(study their note choices and how those notes relate to the chord being played. Don’t overlook the rhythmic content. Most masters are rhythmically strong as well as harmonically).

Read their interviews.

Get into the mindset of a master. How are they approaching the music mentally, physically and spiritually.

•Meet these players and hang out if you can.

Don’t be too much like a fan and bombard them with questions. They might play amazingly but they’re still human. Treating them as such may get you further than being star struck.

•Listen to critiques on your playing and NEVER take it personally.

It’s not about you, it’s about the music. If they tell you that you need to work on an area, they’re probably right.

•Listen more than talk.

Observe. You’ll gain much more with your eyes and ears open.

•Give, Rather Than Take.

Maybe think about how you can help them on a gig, (carrying/setting up gear, offering a lift, etc). They’ll probably appreciate the human touch, especially if everyone else is fawning or wanting a piece of them.

Be Open.

There are so many roads to take within this journey of musical discovery. Some are quicker and more detailed than others.

Do you want to take the “I’ll work it out on my own” approach, similar to trying to
reinvent the wheel or do you see the many advantages of learning from the masters?

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Michael is a freelance Bass Guitar player, who studied at the much lauded

Bedroom School Of Music.
(just means he's self-taught, don't panic!)

He began his professional music career in 1983, playing Bass Guitar with his brother, drummer Mark Mondesir
(John McLaughlin, Jethro Tull,
Glenn Hughes),
forming a trio with guitarist

Hawi Gondwe
(Amy Winehouse/
George Michael).

Since then he has performed with
artists as diverse as;
Jeff Beck, Billy Cobham, Ginger Baker, Eddie Harris, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, Oumou Sangare, Usher, Whitney Houston, Imogen Heap, Sir George Martin, State of Bengal, Hermeto Pascoal, David Garibaldi, Jan Hammer, Ty, Zoe Rahman, Jim Mullen, Ronnie Wood, John Serry, Andy Summers, Django Bates, Gary Husband, Chante Moore, Lulu, Nitin Sawhney, Lenny White, Chad Smith, Courtney Pine, Jocelyn Brown, Jason Rebello, Brice Wassy, Neneh Cherry, Nikki Yeoh, Bernard Purdie, Iain Ballamy, Bill Bruford, Julian Joseph, Leni Stern, Mory Kante, Keith More, Trilok Gurtu, Aster Aweke, S-Club 7, Talvin Singh and Pee Wee Ellis.

Michael entered the Pop, R&B, Funk and Dance music world, composing tracks on albums by funk trombone legend Fred Wesley and singer/songwriter, Lewis Taylor.

In September 2009, Michael joined the
Thriller Live world tour.
He is currently part of the visiting faculty of various education establishments including the Royal Academy of Music, Rhythmic Conservatory of Copenhagen and British Academy of New Music as well as teaching privately at home
(schedule permitting).

Michael Mondesir uses:
Yamaha Basses, Costalab Pedals and Elixir Strings.