Photo By Sterling Trantham
Anne Luna, bassist for Steve Smith’s Hard Road Trio, grew up in a musical family living in eastern New Mexico. She said, “There were always instruments out and available to play when I was a kid. My dad was a multi-instrumentalist in country bands and my mom plays guitar and sings. So, I dabbled in different things. I played saxophone in junior high, I tried to play guitar because my older brother played, and I took piano lessons for a while.”
When Anne was fourteen she went to a bluegrass festival in west Texas. She recalls, “We saw the Chapman family playing. The youngest was playing bass and he was about my age.” Seeing a kid her age playing bass inspired her and shortly thereafter her father purchased a bass from a music store in Levelland, Texas. Anne started playing the bass at the local jam sessions and music festivals that her family would attend.
When she was sixteen, Anne attended Camp Bluegrass at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas as a bass student. Her instructor that week was Missy Raines. Anne and her family were very familiar with the bluegrass music programs at South Plains because her father had been a student there in the late 1970s—studying banjo and fiddle—and her brother had attended South Plains College in the late 1990s.
Anne graduated from high school in 2001 and, following her father and brother’s footsteps, enrolled as a student in the music program at South Plains College. While at school in Levelland she completed her basic college course requirements while studying bluegrass bass and playing in the various ensembles with other South Plains students. One of her classmates at South Plains was “Banjo” Ben Clark (who was featured in our May 2021 issue). Other classmates she mentioned included Jedd Hughes and Chris Elliott.
While studying at South Plains College, Anne attended a show in Lubbock, Texas given by Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall. The music they were playing inspired her to want to dive deeper into the study of the bass. So, after graduating from South Plains, she enrolled in Texas Tech and studied classical bass with Paul Sharpe. While she was in college, she met Steve Smith—a frequent instructor at Camp Bluegrass—and joined his band Hard Road. She remains a member of that band to this day. The core band is made up of the Trio—Steve Smith (mandolin), Chris Sanders (guitar) and Anne Luna (bass)—and, at times, features other musical guests, including Bill Evans (banjo), Nate Lee (fiddle), and/or Tim May (guitar).
In addition to teaching bass at various summer camps—including Camp Bluegrass and the Desert Night Acoustic Music Camps—Anne also teaches private bass lessons online. Anyone interested in learning to play the bass, or improving their bass skills, can find out about Anne’s classes on her website: annelunamusic.com. Also, in order to gain a feel for Anne’s teaching style, you can view one of the two video lessons that Anne has submitted to Bluegrass Unlimited’s Lesson page on our website: bluegrassunlimited.com/lessons.
When asked about her approach to teaching online bass lessons, Anne said, “I tailor my lessons to the player’s goals. There are basics that I hit on with everyone, but I also want to address each student’s goals, like learning specific tunes or solos.” Some of the bass basics that Anne typically addresses include improving timing and tone, ergonomics, body alignment, breath work, dexterity and strength exercises, how to practice efficiently and effectively, improving intonation, developing right hand feeling and groove, and—if the student is interested—sight reading music notation and beginning bow work.
When asked what aspects of bass playing beginning students usually have trouble developing, Anne said, “Hearing chord changes and general ergonomics. They want to collapse in on themselves, so they play with this kind of hunched posture. Also, on the left hand, they struggle getting their pinky to work. They feel like they can only play with that baseball bat grip.”
In order to help beginning students learn to hear chord changes, Anne will start them with simple two chord songs and have them work with melodies that facilitate easily hearing chord changes. She also likes to have them play scales on the bass against a drone note, which helps them hear the tonality of the various scale notes against the root note of the scale, or the “one.” Additionally, she will have them work to hear movement in a guitar or vocal line that might provide hints of a chord change.
When more experienced bass players come to Anne to have her help them further develop their skills, she finds that they are typically looking to work on more interesting walking lines, developing comfort with different grooves and rhythms that are not “square,” exploring more of the fingerboard, and developing the use of dynamics and other subtleties. She added, “Some also seem to struggle with knowing what to play when the song is in waltz time.”
In bluegrass music, one of the difficulties encountered by beginning bass players is learning not to rush when the lead player starts to lean forward and play on top of the beat. When lead players, or singers, are on top of the beat, beginners tend to want to follow them and they start to speed up. In order to help her students deal with this problem, Anne likes to have them work with a metronome or drum beats in order to develop a muscle memory, and the confidence, to hold a steady beat.
If you want to learn how to play the bass, or if you are already a bass player and are looking to take your playing to the next level, I highly recommend Anne Luna’s online private lessons. She is a patient, understanding, compassionate and knowledgeable teacher who knows how to work with you and your individual goals to help you continually develop your bass skills.