Electric Bass Method
The Monk Montgomery Electric Bass Method was released in 1978 by studio 224, a publishing company based in Lebanon, Indiana. Although the source material comes from Montgomery, the book was edited and compiled by the highly regarded jazz educator David Baker. It is reasonable to assume that Baker notated all of the material as Montgomery has stated in interviews that he was not a strong music reader.
The book begins with a foreword from another highly distinguished Indianapolis bass player, Larry Ridley. In the writing, Ridley states that 'It is given fact that William 'Monk' Montgomery is the first individual ever to play the Fender electric bass guitar...'. Although this statement isn't exactly true (Roy Johnson was playing it in the Lionel Hampton Orchestra before Montgomery joined), it is believed that Montgomery was the first to take the instrument on an international tour and expose it to a wide audience. He is also believed to be the first to record with the instrument (on an album by the Art Farmer Septet). Ridley also acknowledges Montgomery as his first bass teacher.
Following Ridley's Foreword, Montgomery writes about his own history and approach to playing. He describes himself as a self-taught musician who began playing at the age of 28. Although is seems to be the case that Montgomery did begin playing later in life, the exact age seems to vary between 26 and 28 in different interviews. Monk began playing the electric bass at the request of Lionel Hampton who's orchestra he joined approximately 2 and a half years after taking up the double bass. Montgomery also describes himself as '...the first to expose today's highly popular Fender electric bass.' In other interviews, he does acknowledge that at least one other musician played the instrument in live performance before he did.
In his written introduction, Montgomery makes several recommendations with regards to practise and performance.
- He encourages readers to strive for individuality once a certain level of technical proficiency has been reached using 'tried and tested methods'.
- There is an emphasis on physical and mental relaxation at all times when playing. He describes himself as 'an emotional player'.
- Montgomery preferred to sit on a stool when playing with his feet on the floor, giving 'a sense of security and balance' and allowing 'freedom of body and limb'.
- Readers are encouraged to practice slowly and use a metronome.
- He recommends using a sponge ball to exercise the left hand if it is weak, being careful not to overdo it.
- Readers should look for ways to make practicing more interesting and enjoyable. One of the ways he recommends is to play lines continuously more long periods without stopping.
- Bassists should 'learn phrasing, dynamics, play melodies of songs, make the bass sing. Be an accompanist, yet, never lose the concept of the role of the bass.'
- Montgomery describes the bass as 'the most important single note instrument in our modern music' and encourages readers to strive for 'perfection and quality'.
Montgomery lists 6 basic points with regard to bass playing -
- Make certain that your instrument is physically and mechanically in the best possible condition.
- It is most urgent that you, at all times, play in tune.
- It is absolutely necessary to have control over a relaxed mind and body.
- Always concentrate on getting a good, clean, clear sound.
- "Time" is one of your most important responsibilities.
- If you've already developed a nice touch, fine. If not...work at it. You'll never regret it.
With regard to his own playing technique, Montgomery states that when he first played, he used a downstroke with his thumb on the right hand. Early Fender bass guitars came with a finger rest on the treble side in order to facilitate this kind of playing. However, photographic evidence seems to indicate that Montgomery spread his hand across the bottom of the bass and hooked his fingers underneath the body. This indicates that he must have had a large handspan. He used this technique for many years until he encountered physical problems with his thumb following the death of his brother Wes. He then began playing with a homemade pick made which was covered with felt in order to get the sound he wanted. He states that the switch to the pick changed his style of playing and allowed him to play more melodically. He gripped the pick between his thumb and first 2 fingers and would do this for hours every day until it felt natural.
Montgomery played a Fender Precision Bass for many years, until it was stolen and then he switched to a Fender Jazz model. He used medium gauge flat-wound strings and would have his amplifier set to a low volume so that he could strike the strings harder.
Several scales are listed at the front of the book. (All of the material is in standard music notation, using bass and treble clef). The scales include - major, major modes, diminished, whole tone, melodic minor, pentatonic and blues. Readers are encouraged to play the scales in several ways - using 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc. In 3/4/5/etc not groupings. In triads and 7th arpeggios.
7 points are made with regard to practicing the scales -
- Walk all scales from as slow as possible to as fast as possible.
- Practise all scales staying in one position as much as possible.
- Practise all scales on one string using slides, etc.
- Practise all scales on two strings.
- Practise the scales starting in all positions and using varied fingering, rhythms, etc.
- Practise all the scales starting on the lowest note on the instrument.
- Practise playing the scales across the entire range of the instrument.
II V I Lines -
There are 136 II V I lines written in the next section of the book. Most of these are taken from transcriptions of Montgomery's playing. This shows the incredibly diverse range of melodic lines which he used in his walking lines. The II V I lines range from being largely diatonic to using 'outside' concepts such as chromatic enclosures, diminished and whole tone harmony. Readers are encouraged to play the lines in all keys. A considerable undertaking at this would require the reader to play 1632 lines if each one was played in all keys.
Walking Bass Lines -
Several complete walking bass lines are listed in the book. The first section of lines are not taking from transcriptions but seem to have been written specifically for this book. The chord structures include jazz blues in several keys, a Parker blues, Sippin' At Bells, a 12/8 exercise, rhythm changes, cyclic forms and a minor blues. These are followed by a series of blues using unusual altered dominant structures - Dom7b9, Dom7#5, Dom13#11, Dom7#5#9, diminished, Dom7#11, whole tone, pentatonic (vertical), pentatonic (horizontal), blues scale (horizontal) and blues scale (vertical).
A number of Monk Montgomery's bass lines and solo's are transcribed for the book. Some of these were originally performed on double bass and some on electric bass. They include - Love For Sale, And Then I Wrote, Darn That Dream and Double Deal from the George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers album, Big Boy from It's Never Too Late, Lover Man, Jingles and Monterey Blues from Wes Montgomery and His Brothers, Bock To Bock from A Portrait Of Wes Montgomery and Water's Edge and If I Should Lose You from Jazz Showcase.
Bass Duets -
The book concludes with 8 bass duets.