You are tuned in to the very first episode under our new name – formerly The Musicality Podcast, this show is now called simply “Musicality Now” which we think better captures the spirit and variety of the show and where we’ll be taking it in the future.

When we made the switch to video back in January we were delighted to have our first interview be with Sabrina Peña Young, someone we know well and who has deep insights, which made for a long and fascinating converation.

We’re excited now to kick off this new incarnation of the show similarly, with a particularly meaty episode that is going to have a big and positive impact on your own musicality journey.

Our guest today is Scott Devine, the man behind Scott’s Bass Lessons, the #1 website for learning bass guitar – they have over 650,000 YouTube subscribers, and have trained over 25,000 bassists to date. If you play bass, then you know Scott – he’ll be all over your Facebook, your YouTube, and there’s a good chance you’re already a member of the Academy site where they provide extensive training, masterclasses and live calls with a faculty of the top bass educators in the world.

In this conversation we talk about:

  • How spending six months at sea transformed Scott’s bass playing.
  • The simple piece of advice that immediately put an end to Scott’s umming and ahhing over what to study next in his own bass learning.
  • And, after talking to, interviewing, and studying with dozens upon dozens of the world’s top bassists and musicians, the one thing Scott has learned they all have in common – and (spoiler alert) it’s not “talent”!

Scott also gives a fantastic mini tutorial on a particular bass technique, walking basslines, which is something that’s really valuable to understand, whether you play bass or not – you’re going to hear these everywhere, and after today’s conversation you’re going to understand how exactly they’re put together.

There is a ton packed in here and you guys are in for a treat…

This is Musicality Now.

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Scott Devine of Scott's Bass Lessons, the #1 website for learning bass guitar, shares the secrets he learnt from studying with the world's top musicians.



Scott started out on guitar with weekly lessons at school and got off to a good start, studying up to Grade 8 level in classical guitar – which he says probably benefitted him in the long term even if it wasn’t the rock guitar he was eager to play at the time or the bass he’d go on to specialise in!

Where he grew up there weren’t really any examples of professional musicians to look to and get an idea of what a career in music might look like. But through an apprenticeship with a luthier he was exposed to the theatre music scene and was encouraged to try his hand at bass, partly because there was more demand for bassists than guitarists in the professional world.

An opportunity came up to fill in for a bassist in a theatre band and his boss volunteered him. To his credit Scott rose to the challenge even though his bass skills were raw and there was a ton of music to learn at very short notice. At this stage he says he knew nothing of music theory and has been learning the classical repertoire note by note from the sheet music with just a bit of figuring-out-by-ear on the pop/rock side. So he was coming into that gig with very little in the way of jamming or play-by-ear skills.

He took two weeks off work to study up on almost 300 songs – and just about managed to scrape by! Scott says he’s been in various trial-by-fire situations like that in his life and the hard work it calls for always pays off.

I wanted to know how Scott had gone from this experience of being a beginner bassist with rudimentary understanding of what the instrument can do to somebody who understands the bass inside-out probably better than almost anyone else on the planet.

He said his boss gave him this idea that there were fewer really great bass players than guitarists and that set him off on a journey of discovery, looking for inspiring bass players to check out. He gravitated to bass players who were playing solos, like Jimmy Johnson and Skúli Sverrisson, and also started to notice particular basslines in popular music like Wham! songs and found an interest in what the bass can really do. I asked Scott for some suggestions of who to listen to if you want to better appreciate the bass – and check the shownotes for this episode at for a playlist of his picks.

This listening and exploration went hand-in-hand with playing in the theatre band and getting a really broad exposure to the bass’s role in various genres of popular music from the 50s through to modern day.

The band he was playing with there were career musicians but they weren’t the most enthusiastic bunch. So while he learned a lot, it was all very limited to exactly what was required of them.

The next big leap in his playing came from another last-minute trial-by-fire opportunity, when a position as a bass player on a cruise ship came up and he bravely auditioned. And although the audition was a disaster, he turned out to be their only option! So the pressure was on to skill up, both before and after the ship left port, and again he rose to that challenge – despite it being an age pre-internet and him living in a smaller town where it wasn’t easy to suddenly dive into all this new jazzier material he was expected to play.

One big learning point for him was when the guitarist pointed him to Ray Brown recordings as a way to tune his ear in to his new role as bassists in this jazz band and that led on to understanding walking basslines, the versatile way of building a bassline for a chord progression which can get you through any jazz standard as a bassist without it sounding too bad. Scott gave us a mini tutorial in how walking basslines are constructed and I hope that’s given you a new awareness and understanding of what the bassist in jazz tracks is often doing under the chords.

Scott highlighted the elegance of walking basslines as a way of isolating the note choice from any rhythmic considerations, since you know you’ll just be playing a steady two or four notes per bar. And that it’s also a neat clear-cut case of “can you do it or not”, rather than there being much subjectivity over whether what you played was good or not – something that’s rare in the context of improvisation, and makes walking basslines a really neat road into more creative playing if you’re a bassist.

I should throw in there too that although walking basslines are typically only played by the bassist in real musical situations, or maybe a piano player’s left hand, as an exercise this can be a really cool thing to try on any instrument. For example, wind or brass players exploring chord tone based improv in jazz can definitely use this as an easy route in, or if you’re into jazz and have never tried improvising then whatever instrument you play you can try out this exercise of building a walking bassline, and then explore from there. So do go back and listen again to Scott’s tutorial and give it a whirl.

As well as the intense performing, with five sets each of 45 minutes every night and pretty much no days off, Scott was also inspired to study jazz further by conversations with a guest on the cruise who was a pianist at a top tier conservatory who’d chat with him and explain the impact learning jazz would have on him as a player, whether or not he aspired to be a jazz player in the end.

After the cruise he headed to Leeds, where there’s one of the top music colleges in the UK and moved into a house with music students to immerse himself in that world even if he wasn’t studying at the college himself. He put together his own bass education by finding great players to study with, in the UK and abroad. He started booking gigs as a player and musical director, and said this was more about his personality and being obliging and reliable than it was about having amazing chops on the bass.

I was curious to know what it looked like in practice, to learn from the greats the way he did. He said it varied from one-off lessons one-to-one to week-long workshops, or regular intensives – and what tied it all together was his tendency to be particularly sensitive to and receptive to the most powerful comments made by these teachers.

He shared one example, where in a lesson with Brad Shepik Scott asked him: what should I learn first, and gave a laundry list of things he was considering going deep one. And Brad’s answer was “all of it”. There’s no shortcut, there’s no magic bullet. You need to learn it all – and that’s just the price of admission. Getting that technique and understanding down is the prerequisite for becoming great, it’s not in itself what will make you great. And as a corollary to this point, it hit home that studying the same thing from multiple directions is what really gets it to be second nature.

That freed him up from worrying endlessly about how to optimise his studying or what the perfect linear path would be to skill up. And if you’ve listened to this show or followed us at Musical U for a while you’ll likely have heard me rail against trying to follow a single straight-line course when it comes to musicality training, so it was interesting to hear Scott talk about a similar thing when it comes to instrument technique.

There was an interesting corollary to that later in the conversation: he said that Gary Willis taught him that sometimes it’s okay to give yourself permission to *not* study something just because everybody else does. In that case it was melodic minor scales, which Scott had convinced himself were an essential thing to know for soloing. And Gary just flat-out said “Nope, tried them, didn’t work for me so I ditched it and moved on”. Obviously there’s a balance you need to find there – but a good reminder that learning the hard things that will be useful doesn’t rule out allowing yourself to tailor the syllabus to suit you – something we’re big believers in here at Musical U.

Scott said he went into all this imagining that there was some “special sauce” that the greatest players had, or some secrets they knew. It reminded me a lot of the “talent myth” we’ve talked about a lot on past episodes of this show – and so I was eager to hear what Scott discovered about so-called musical “talent”.

He said clearly: There is no secret sauce. Whether it’s Gary Willis, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius or other greats of bass and beyond – they didn’t have any innate gift and they didn’t have any special information or exercises that the mere mortals of the world are lacking.

But here’s where it got even more interesting. Scott said that there is, in his opinion, one core trait that all these greats have. There’s one thing that *does* set them apart from the good and the excellent.

He said it’s their personality. The biggest secret to learning any musical instrument – or any skill – is how you approach the learning. He pointed out that if you took one of these musicians and set them the task of learning something completely different, chances are they’d nail it. Because they have the tenacity, the consistency, the focus, to succeed.

He gave a few examples where he’d seen top-tier musicians suddenly reveal a whole other area of passion where they’d nerded out in a similar way – gone deep and skilled up far beyond normal levels. They were able to bring that expertise in learning to a whole different area.

That statement right there was the killer takeaway from this whole conversation from me. Obviously it aligns perfectly with our whole message about talent versus hard work here at Musical U and the belief that we all have what it takes to achieve whatever level of greatness in music we set out to. But I love the way Scott presented it. That not only do those greats *not* have a magical gift that explains their skills – they *do* have a single core ability that makes it all possible. And that ability is something every one of us can cultivate and develop to empower ourselves.

Scott put some meat on this by sharing how Gary Willis, for example, practiced no more than four hours a day. Now I know that for some of us who struggle to carve out 30 minutes a day as a hobbyist, four hours seems like a lot! But if becoming one of the top players in the world can be done in just four hours a day – that puts things in perspective, right? And what mattered was how he spent that time, 100% laser focused on what he was meant to be practicing and improving.

It was clear from our conversation that for Scott, any so-called “talent” in music only really means finding that the pure physicality of the instrument comes more easily to you – and maybe only that you get off to an easier start. So there may be natural variation in how much or how quickly you can master the technique of a particular instrument. But hopefully if you’ve been listening to this show for any length of time, you’ve long ago shed the idea that instrument technique is the be-all and end-all of being a great musician!

And this expertise in learning that all the greats share – it’s not some dry, academic thing. Yes, it requires focus and discipline – but Scott also described it in terms of “geeking out” or having a child-like curiosity, where you go deep and spend hours on something because you’re just genuinely so passionate and interested. That’s a very different framing of “spend hours practicing” than what mainstream music education tends to hand us, the tedious drilling of things you’re mostly bored by…

Scott said if you’re not currently feeling that childlike enthusiasm for your music practice then it’s worth pausing to ask yourself: how can I birth that attitude? How do I get into it? Is there anything here that I could lean into and get excited about?

When I asked Scott what he’d observed after so many conversations with the world’s top musicians, as well as this point about their attitude to learning he said the big thing is that the best players aren’t always the most successful. In fact it’s easy for him to point to amazing players who struggle in their careers, and very successful career musicians who aren’t actually top of the heap in terms of instrument abilities. In fact what tends to lead to career success is combining strong instrument skills with a variety of soft skills and social skills – things like being reliable, knowing about different playing contexts like studio sessions, and knowing some theory and terminology so you can talk to other musicians effectively.

He said those things haven’t been covered well in the past, leading musicians to pay too little attention to those vital skills and too much to the pure instrument skills.

Fortunately we live in a new age of education where just knowing *what* you need to learn lets you go off and find plenty of material on *how* to learn it. We talked about the incredible benefits of having that vast library accessible to us, both with free information like YouTube videos and deeper, more structured and supported training like he offers inside the Scott’s Bass Lessons Academy.

Scott pointed out that informational videos can be deceptive – we can feel like we’re learning, but actually it tends to take going through a more structured program and holding yourself accountable to actually doing the hands-on practice necessary for us to get the results we want. That’s something we covered in a couple of past episodes of the show about online music courses – I’ll put a link to those in the shownotes. And as Scott and I discussed and those episodes touch on: even structured courses can sometimes leave a risk that we plough through watching or reading everything without taking action. And so the challenge facing online course creators today is how to best help students actually get the full impact of the material they’re working on.

Like we do at Musical U, Scott puts a big emphasis on community as one way to help tie together all the material and keep people progressing. And they also have plenty of opportunities to connect live with their world-leading instructors each week. Scott’s also working on new ways to change how the material’s delivered and how students move through it, to help ensure they really learn each lesson rather than just thinking they did. For example they’ve recently launched a couple of standalone “accelerator” programs which provide a clear, week-by-week practice regimen on a particular area to transform your playing by giving you the clear focus and assisting on that critical follow-through. It comes back a bit to what we’d discussed earlier: because in *theory* people can construct a similar learning experience for themselves using the vast library of tutorials inside the main Academy. But if you don’t yet have that ultra-focus and expertise in learning – why not make life easy on yourself by getting some of those benefits rolled into the way the material’s set up?

That’s one reason we’ve been exploring having standalone courses alongside Musical U membership too – and although there are lots of important details and subtleties about how that’s done to best serve students and members, it can’t be denied that in some cases there’s a more effective learning experience when things are set apart and organised in their own way, separate from an all-you-can eat buffet of training material.

So as Scott pointed out, this is an area where there’s some exciting innovation going on, and in all honesty, people like us who run music education sites are still figuring it out, just like all of us as students in the 21st century online environment are. It means there are exciting things ahead for just how personalised, engaging, and ultimately effective all of this training material can become.

Well there you have it. What an episode to kick off our new name, Musicality Now. Big thanks again to Scott for joining us on the show, and I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did.

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