Top 5 Best Bass Instruction Books

Bass Instruction books are everywhere, heck, I even wrote one. But before my book, there were a couple of essential leaning tools that, along with private lessons, helped me become a better bass player. Here are the top 5 best bass instructional books out there. They might not be the classic go-to choices, but for me, they’re the books that will help you improve quickly, correctly, and efficiently more than many others. Go pick ’em up and start getting better today!

1) The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine


I know it’s not bass instruction specific, but this book is at the top of the list. A good grounding in music theory is important for any developing musician, and The Jazz Theory Book is simply the best one out there. I was about twenty when it came out, and I remember how excited my bass playing friends (and other musicians) were to finally have a book that explained the mysteries of music theory in an easy and understandable way. It’s jazz theory specific, and that’s ok, because as opposed to classical music theory, jazz theory finds relevance in every style of music. Whether you’re playing jazz, rock, R&B, blues, this book will help fill in theoretical gaps in your playing, and put you on the road toward becoming a more well-rounded bass player.

2) Essential Styles for the Drummer and Bassist


Yes it was released in 1990, and yes it comes on CD (what’s a CD?) but that’s okay. Essential Styles for the Drummer and Bassist is still the single best play-along series available for the developing bassist. Why? Because it comes with chord charts for every track, and the chord charts are very similar to what I see everyday working as a professional bass player in New York City. Don’t let the Amazon reviews fool you, if you’re interested in becoming a pro, there is no better way to do it than to study the music (and music notation style) that pros encounter every day. This isn’t a book that will show you what to play, it’s a book that will teach you how to play by forcing you to create bass lines yourself, to start visualizing music as it relates to how you decipher your bass. It’s a combination of ears, reading, and on-the-spot bass line creation. If you have trouble reading through a chord chart, or creating a walking bass line while reading music, this is the book for you. There’s two books (#1 & #2), number one is all you really need.

3) The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrich


I’m a big fan of non-traditional sources of bass education, and The Advancing Guitarist fits squarely into this category. Yes it’s written for guitar players, but the musical methodology it imparts is second-to-none. There’s some transcribing that needs to be done in terms of translating the musical information from guitar to bass, and the section on guitar voicings isn’t particularly relevant, but it is well worth it. The advice section in the back is worth the price of admission alone. A ton of useful information for any musician looking to be inspired, and nothing improves ones playing better than being inspired.

4) The Real Book

There was a time when the worlds most popular jazz standard fake book was illegal to own. That’s right, like Law and Order illegal. I remember buying my first one at the age of sixteen from a teacher who kept copies in a safe behind his studio wall. It was all very exciting. Times have changed. Hal Leonard went out and bought the rights to all the tunes in the book, and now you can buy it at Walmart. It doesn’t matter what style of music you play, if you want to become a more well-rounded bassist, taking even a cursory look at this book is a must. Used in conjunction with the Essential Styles book, you’ll be up and walking in no time. As a side note, another great purchase is iRealb. A mammoth collection of chord charts, rock tunes, jazz standards, and the like available for your smartphone. I use it constantly on gigs.

5) Standing in the Shadows of Motown


When this book came out in 1989, it set the bass world on fire. Not only because it featured the playing of one of the greatest bass players of all time, James Jamerson. But because it openly snubbed the reading of tablature. Included in this book are dozens of fully-realized transcriptions of Jamerson’s most famous bass lines, meticulously reproduced in living, breathing, music notation. Why is this important? If you’re interested in developing your sight-reading, then there is no better resource. Jamerson’s intricate sixteenth note lines make for complex reading, the upper level of what you’ll be asked to read on sessions, gigs, and anywhere else. If you can read these lines, you can read anything. And the bonus? You’re mastering Jamerson’s style at the same time, a style you’ll be asked to re-create many times as a woking professional bass player. Bonus #2? It comes with a play-along CD of all the music. You can pan the bass out of the mix and play along. Now that’s big bang for your bass-learning buck as far as I’m concerned.

About the Author

Chris TarryChris Tarry is a four-time Juno Award winning musician and a writer. His debut collection of short fiction, “How To Carry Bigfoot Home,” is out now from Red Hen Press (March 2015). He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with his wife Michelle, daughter Chloe, and son Lucas. Connect with Chris on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.View all posts by Chris Tarry

  1. Nicholas Tolkach
    Nicholas Tolkach05-11-2014

    Thanks for your advice. I ordered The Jazz Theory Book last Friday May 9th. I have Standing in the Shadows. But I hadn’t heard of Essential Styles for Drummer and Bass until finding this link.


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