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Advice on progressing as a bassist

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Max T, Jan 4, 2017.

  1. Max T

    Max T

    Jan 4, 2017
    Hi everyone. First post here - looking for some advice. Since my early teens I was always drawn to the bass. I loved the sound, and the fundamental role it played in music that many casual listeners didn't even realize, but I never pursued it. Now, as a middle-aged man, I finally decided to pick it up. My goal was not to play live, but to become competent enough that I could relax at home and play along to my favourite tracks etc.
    I rented a decent bass (Fender American Standard Jazz) and signed up for weekly lessons. I wanted to see if it was something I truly enjoyed and would stick with. Well, it's been two years now, I bought the same bass I was renting, and I'm still at it - weekly lessons, and daily practice without exception. Because I have a full time job, and a wife I need to spend time with occasionally ;), my practice time is usually limited to about an hour a night tops. I still look forward to getting to my practice space and learning though. My lessons are light on any theory and more focussed on just learning songs that will introduce me to new techniques/styles, etc.
    My problem is this: I was really hoping that after 2 years I'd be better than I am. Although I'm night and day above where I was when I started (which was literally nowhere!) I still feel quite clumsy on the instrument. Just to give you some perspective, I could absolutely never sit in and jam with anyone without it being a frustrating experience for them. So, my question after this long-winded intro is what should I be doing to progress? Or is there anything? I have my doubts that I can ever reach my original goal (e.g.: maybe I started too late in life, or maybe the constraints on my practice time are what's holding me back, or maybe I'm just not cut out for this). Any constructive thoughts on the subject would be appreciated.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Best advice I can give is to throw caution to the wind and start playing with other musicians, every chance you get. Doesn't matter whether you are at their playing level, or better or worse, every jam session is a learning opportunity. In my opinion/experience, music is a social activity, and even a day-one beginner is ready to start making music with other people. Don't be a perfectionist. :)
  3. vishalicious


    Mar 31, 2011
    Yonkers, NY
    I'm middle-aged as well now and I'm learning to play. I've been going through the Hal Leonard Bass Method, by Ed Friedland. Its fantastic. Because of it, I can read music now, at a basic level, and I'm only halfway through the first book (its a 3-volume set, the one I have compiles all 3 books into one).

    There are a million places on the internet with information about playing and basic theory. Studybass.com is a great one, as are many YouTube channels. Here's the link page from my blog, which has resources you might want to look at. In a nutshell though, its absolutely not too late to learn. Here, on Talkbass, there are people who started learning in their 50s, 60s and even 70s and who made good with it.
    If I might make a suggestion - if you do go about learning theory and generally practicing, keep a log and use a metronome. I recently started doing both, and they've proven to be two of the most helpful changes I've made to my practice. They give me explicit measures of what exercises have taken me longer to work through, let me see how long I've had to work at certain tempos to get something up to speed, and so on.

    Definitely go for it.
  4. Herbal


    Jul 10, 2016
    If you have a friend who plays an instrument, go for it & play along with them as you may get a surprise as to your own skills.!
    Practice scales and arpeggios to backing tracks and a metronome.
    Look for things in lessons and tabs that make you go "Aha! I can use that myself."
    Pentatonics are a good thing to know.
    5 Modes Of The Pentatonic Scale Bass Tabs - Bass Lessons @ BigBassTabs.com
  5. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    I started with the very same goals at the not so tender age of 43 ... with bass as my first instrument, just because I've always appreciated it so much. By the 2 year mark, i was looking on Craigslist for a beginner type drummer to practice with, & ended up trying out for a startup band with sound samples that i liked. Next thing i know, I'm a band member ... and we're putting out good original music and playing shows :) You never know where your musical journey journey could take you.

    Anyway, when i first started practicing daily on my own to different books (can't recommend Ed Freidland's Hal Leonard Bass Method v1-3 enough), tabs, scales, etc ... i noticed that i would learn a chunk, and then plateau for a week or more, before the next noticeable increment. Joining the band and playing even rudimentary songs with other players grew my playing in leaps and bounds in a short time frame!

    However, my ear (& memory) still kinda sucks ... and if i can't see the rythym players fingers, it's gonna be tough. So, I'm almost to the 5 year mark, and still have a difficult time jumping in with unknown musicians on unknown material

    Keep up the dedication and you can't possibly not improve, but expect plateaus and frustrations to be a part of the process.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
  6. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you've been practicing an hour a day for two years and can't sit in and jam with a group, you need a new teacher. It doesn't matter if you like them or not, IMHO they aren't doing their job. I think that focusing on learning songs is the wrong approach, and it doesn't seem to be working for you. Learn to play the bass, the songs will come, it doesn't always work the other way.

    You can do it, you just need a new approach.
  7. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    I don't see where OP said he has a knee to knee teacher. Hmmm ;):)
  8. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Well if he's teaching himself then he still needs a new teacher.
  9. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Perhaps I'm reading too much into OP's conundrum, but based on what I've seen of neophyte bassists, when someone self-describes as "clumsy" it refers to their physical technique. Newbs look awkward because they are awkward; their hands and fingers and butt and brain don't move as smoothly as pros' do, and you can see and hear that in their playing.

    I had a small retro-active epiphany when I was trying to figure out when and why I "got it" several decades ago, early on in my career...I couldn't remember any particular "ah-ha!" moment, but I knew there was a transition where Before Then I kinda sucked, but After Then I sucked a whole lot less. And eventually, by looking at old photographs of me playing, I realized that all the early stuff I was executing with a stiff, un-relaxed, almost awkward physical technique; I *looked* like a beginner.

    And then at some point I figured out where to put my fingers and how to relax my arms and how to execute a smooth, graceful string pluck, and how to get my hips behind the bass line, and it all just sort of came together: There's a pretty direct correlation between when I started to sound like a professional bassist, and when I stopped looking like an awkward dweeb and started to look like a smooth operator.

    So my advice to OP--provided I'm not completely off the mark here--is to learn how to relax, and how to execute comfortably.
  10. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    This. Exactly this.

    And Welcome to TalkBass @Max T !!!
    lfmn16 and Max T like this.
  11. Max T

    Max T

    Jan 4, 2017
    Nope, you were correct - I have a teacher. I have a weekly lesson with him. He's an amazing player, and to be fair to him, he has been encouraging me to start playing with others - he thinks I'm ready and it's necessary, but I just can't believe it. I don't have enough confidence in my playing to try it. You've given me something to think about. Thanks!
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
  12. Max T

    Max T

    Jan 4, 2017
    Thank you for this. Extremely helpful.
    vishalicious likes this.
  13. Max T

    Max T

    Jan 4, 2017
    I think you may be on to something - that's a good way to describe it. I feel "jerky" in my movements - like an "awkward dweeb"!
    Bob_Ross likes this.
  14. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    This is a post that will give you a million responses and I hope you read mine. - I have been playing bass off and on for a good long while now. I have not mastered the bass by any stretch. I think pros would say the same, so there's a little perspective to be had here...

    Just wanted to share what moved me from A to B the quickest and hope it helps you. Sorry if I hit anything you already know.

    1. Learn all the notes on the neck. - at least a lot of them. The more the better. This is important because with this you can decide where to "voice"your root note. A good way to start learning this is to learn where all the Cs are. Then all the Gs. Work your way around the circle of 5ths. Look that up on YouTube if you don't know what the circle of 5ths is. A bunch of people explain this, but in my opinion, Michael New explains it best.

    2. Make sure your bass is set up. Low action, proper intonation, everything working the way it's supposed to work.

    3. Take this as an example; pretend A is the root of your scale. Start on the E String, 5th fret. If you go up a string to the A 7th fret, that's a 5th. Go up one omer string to the D 7th fret, that's an octave.- there are more in there, but those are bread and butter for fills.
    This is movable too by the way. Easy example. Make the octave the root (start on the D string 7th fret and you can catch the 5th by going to the 9th fret of the G String. - this is (one of the reasons) why it's important to know where all the notes are on the notes are on the neck.

    4. Play with people. As often as possible. If you have a buddy who's a drummer that would be extra cool. Anyone who you can play music with is a learning experience that will help you - with the possible exception of accordion players. JK...

    Sorry if all this is stuff you may have already known, but I didn't have anyone tell me and I didn't catch on to having my bass properly set up for like 10 years or something, so you never know where the missing knowledge is.

    Hope this helps!!
  15. I, too, take a weekly lesson (weather & holidays permitting)... I feel I'm at a low plateau, as well... I decided that playing with another was the key to moving on... the obligation to learn for another (& the lessons, too, for that matter) create an outside push... the kick in the ass I needed. However, the response to my Craig's List request for players has brought nothing solid. BUT, I have seen, first hand, how playing with others can exponentially improve skills...
    Max T likes this.
  16. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Learn one Blues tune, i.e. Thrill is gone and try sitting
    in at a jam session.
  17. kkaarrll


    Jun 1, 2014

    we are much the same dude here

    and how do you know the bold part?

    if you have some true friends that play or just know some good folks

    just go play with em

    worst comes to worst

    its like a girl you wanted to ask out

    if she said no---oh well, there are more girls out there
  18. Max T

    Max T

    Jan 4, 2017
    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I've heard of the circle of fifths but it's always mystified me. Having a good resource to explain it would be really valuable. I'll check out Michael New.
  19. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    something that helps me is to play songs outside my usual genres - even those i might not care for till i have a feel for the music.

    also instead of just practicing, play with your favorite songs - it's a good segue to playing with some people, which is a great way to progress.
  20. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    +1 packe. I play bluegrass from time to time with some people. So not my cup of tea. It's quite the learning experience if you have the chance. Reaching for fills outside your normal go-tos is a good thing.
    pcake and Susqmike like this.

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