Like many professional bass players, Anthony Wellington has a multi-stranded approach to succeeding in the modern commercial environment – and he implements it with a commitment to excellence from which we could all learn. Now in his fifties, the Washington DC-based player proved his chops long ago by holding down a long-term position as second bassist in Victor Wooten’s band, a position that requires superhuman confidence and ability. In between those gigs, he delivers his Bassology brand, an educational program that runs international events including cruises, masterclass series, and clinics devoted to bass and music theory education at institutions as prestigious as the Berklee College of Music, Stanford University and Gerald Veasley’s Bass Bootcamp, aided by gear endorsements from Fodera, Aguilar and Lathon Bass Wear. A bassist with much to teach us then – pun intended.
How are the Bassology cruises doing?
This is only our second year, but we did the first one last November and it went over so well that before it was over, our students were asking us to book another. So this fall we are doing a Greek Isles cruise and a Caribbean cruise. We also did a three-day masterclass series in the Florida Keys that went over so well we are doing these three-day series in Auckland, New Zealand and Melbourne and Sydney, Australia this fall as well as a repeat of the FL Keys in February, 2020. And now we’re working on one in New Hampshire for next fall. We want to bring the Bassology curriculum to anyone, anywhere in the world that people want it. I say ‘we’ because my Director of Business Development, Tamatha Bechtel, has been instrumental in coming up with these ideas and making them happen for me. She’s also finding opportunities for me to do not-for-profit clinics for kids in underserved areas. That is something I am really excited to be doing, because I want to give back the great mentoring and teaching I was given when I was growing up.
Washington, DC has always been well-known for its music.
It still has a great music scene. If a bass player isn’t gigging here, it’s because they don’t want to gig or because they don’t understand the mechanism of gigging, because there’s a lot of work in DC for bass players right now.
What else are you up to?
Primarily, I think of myself as an educator. I do in-person lessons and Skype lessons. I did my first Skype lesson in 2007, so I think I was a little innovative there. I still haven’t met anybody, from any instrument – or any endeavor – who was teaching on Skype when I started. It was invented in 2003, and people were using it to communicate back home if they were in the military, or if they were musicians on tour, which was how I was introduced to it. I thought it could be useful for a couple of lessons with some guys back home when I was away, and it was absolutely was.
You were ahead of the curve.
People said at first that online lessons weren’t as good because they weren’t as personal, but they said the same thing about online degrees. The internet has changed education so much; the millennials don’t know anything else, so all kinds of industries have changed to cater for them. My clientele is worldwide. I have a lot of students in the UK, Europe, South America; I’ve done classes in five or six continents.
How do the students view your lessons?
Some students do it on an iPad, some on a phone, some on a computer screen, some on a TV monitor. At my end I use a 40” monitor because I want to see every nuance and every hand movement, but I can’t control what happens at their end.
Do you prefer lessons in person or online?
The best lessons are always in person, but the Skype lessons are the next best thing. A Skype lesson with a great teacher is better than an in-person lesson with a good teacher. It’s about information in both cases, but one thing that you lose online, that I think is valuable, is the intimidation factor. That can actually be useful in teaching. If a student is a little bit intimidated and nervous, that will be increased if you’re teaching in person, because you’re not separated by a screen. You can use that, because they’ll be more motivated to get stuff done for you. Skype can alleviate that, which is good in some ways, but in some ways it’s a little better to be intimidated. I know it sounds weird.
Are there disadvantages to online lessons?
The technology isn’t fast enough so that we can play together, which can be a problem. If a student is in person with me, we can run drills and scales at the same time to the same piece of music, but Skype always has some milliseconds of delay, so they may hear themselves playing perfectly in time to the music at my end, but I’ll hear them late. The solution there is for me to create music files which they play at their end and then I can hear them play along with their source.
How much teaching do you do?
I used to do half-hour lessons when I was only doing them in person, but now I only do full hours. I try not to go overboard; I do between 40 and 50 hours a week. Students do the lessons weekly, biweekly or monthly, and there are a lot of impromptu lessons as well, so it’s hard to keep track of exactly how many students I have. Fifty hours a week is a lot; every day is different, so some days I have three lessons, some days I have 10.
That sounds exhausting.
It is, and there’s a reason why it’s exhausting. Imagine if you were working at a desk in a post office or wherever: out of every hour you worked, you could zone out for 10 or 15 minutes – but in an hour of teaching, when someone is paying you, you’ve got to be on for that whole hour. Sometimes I’ll have six or seven hours in a row, which is six or seven hours of constantly being on, except for when I’m switching one off and the next one on.
What is the essence of your approach?
I borrow coaching philosophies from athletics, a lot from math and a lot from English grammar. You have to be so many things as a bass teacher. You need to be a part-time therapist, and in my business I’m also a booking agent and a manager and an accountant and a travel agent. As a self-employed person, I handle many of these things myself and the stuff I’m not good at or don’t want to do, I have Tamatha handle for me because I don’t want anything to get in the way of my focus on teaching. That’s what I love and what I do best.
Do you also teach while traveling?
When I travel, I’m set up for Skype lessons. I have three Skype setups that live in suitcases; they never even come out. I just grab them when I’m leaving. I have one at my office and one at my house – I’m always ready to do an online lesson.
How much gigging do you do these days?
When Victor needs a second bass player, I get the call for that, so I do stuff with him, and I do clinics too. I’ve been playing with an Italian artist, Paolo Schianchi, in his country and we have some exciting gigs in the works for the US. I also play with a local artist named John Lusky, although I try not to do a lot of gigs. I’ve done that since I was 14, when I made my living in bars and clubs. I decided that by the time I was 50 I was going to retire from doing that 9 PM to 1 AM slot. With John I do a lot of gigs at happy-hour time, so I’m home by nine or 10 PM, and I love that. There’s only one place where a 50-year-old man should be at 2 AM, and that’s in bed.
How do you plan your teaching?
Well, in general, people don’t know what they don’t know. You can’t go by what people ask you to teach them, because if they ask you to teach them parallel minors and they don’t know what a parallel minor is, it won’t work. They’ll give you their back story, but that back story won’t include stuff they don’t know, so a lot of times – and this is going to sound weird – they aren’t the best qualified ones to tell you what they need. They can only tell you about the stuff that they know exists.
What area are most students deficient in?
Nobody teaches efficient hand position shifts. If you’re efficiently moving from third position to fifth position, it’s great, but a lot of players – especially self-taught ones, like myself – won’t arrive at that, because most of them aren’t even using their fingers equally. I’ll make sure they get that stuff down at the beginning.
What’s another common failing?
Most people aren’t teaching notes on the bass, so even a lot of good players don’t know the notes on the instrument. I teach the notes when the student isn’t holding a bass. I’ll give them a grid of scrambled numbers from one to 12, or six to 17, as it’s a 12-note music system, and ask them to name the notes on the frets for each string without looking at the bass. Most of the time, when you ask somebody what note they’re playing, they’ve got to look at the bass, so their knowledge is based on the instrument being in their hands – and when you take it away, that knowledge doesn’t exist. I refer to that as the instrument holding you hostage – the instrument that you supposedly love! I can do it myself, down to the F string of a seven-string bass, although I don’t play that kind of bass. The same skill applies to the guitar, or the mandolin, as it’s really a study of intervals.
Do you place much importance on studying music theory?
A lot! It’s all based on knowledge, or the lack thereof. When you’re talking, you can only talk within the parameters of your knowledge base, or lack of it – they’re no different. If you ask somebody to play a solo over a chord, they’re using their knowledge base. If a student just wants to learn Metallica riffs, for example, I tell them to go and study at a music store and save some money, because I’m not the right teacher for that – but once you’re at the point where you want to know how that Metallica song works, then I’m the right guy. I’m trying to get them to understand their music better and their instrument better.
So, no time-wasters welcome?
No, I’m not that teacher. I’m not trying to discourage students from learning to play, but if I’m preparing people to be musicians in the real world, I want them to achieve their best, and that means taking no shortcuts. I teach with a level of seriousness, because I want people to have the same level of seriousness. Even if it’s a hobby for you, I want you to treat it like you’re a professional. My curriculum weeds out people who aren’t serious.
It sounds as if commitment is important for your students.
I see it like martial arts. There are two kinds of martial arts teachers – ones where it’s fun for all the family, and ones who teach self-defence. It’s great that your kids can have fun, but if you’re in a life-or-death situation, you’re gonna wish that you had that harder teacher. And I’m that bass teacher. You gotta be ready for me!