Can you become a decent bassist if you're not creative?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Horgh, Aug 2, 2021.

  1. I picked up learning bass again after a 20-year pause, since I failed to really learn to play it when I was in my 20s. I'm determined to succeed now and it's going well, I'm going through the Bass Buzz course and loving it. However, I'm an engineer, an analytical mind, and I don't think I'm particularly creative. I can follow directions really well, I can mimic, I can replicate, I can work within frameworks, but when it comes to creating something new, I've always had serious trouble. I overthink it, I stay within the rules and boundaries others have set. Heck, I just spent 2 days trying to come up with a name for my newly adopted dog, and I settled on Rambo. Sigh.

    I'm not fully left brain, though, as I do have an ear for music, I have some imagination, and I'm actually really good at reading people, body language and emotions. I just can't seem to create original content. With that in mind, can I ever become what's considered a decent bassist? I feel like I'm destined to just play what others write, which may be fine, but are there any other engineers here who can relate? I'm not saying song writing is my ultimate goal, but I bet it feels good to come up with riffs that others find interesting or even catchy.
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  2. Musical creativity comes with time and experience. Since you come to this after a 20 year absence, thus far, you have neither.

    but eventually you will. Keep mimicking. Keep playing covers. Become something of an expert in the greatest hits of your chosen genre(s). I guarantee that when you know the best of what your genre has to offer, and the things that songs within that genre have in common, you will find yourself surprisingly adept at generating proper basslines for original songs in that style.
    bignc, KimDealWithIt, Artman and 21 others like this.
  3. 2112

    2112 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2005
    Depends on what you mean by "decent". For someone wired like you, it'll be far easier and take far less time to get decent at playing great covers and pre-written originals than it will be to decent playing great off-the-cuff jams, improvs, and writing those originals.

    Don't waste your time comparing your achievements to other people's achievements. Instead, compare your achievements to your goals. As long as you do that, then yes, you can get decent if you're willing to put the time (and have the time) into reaching those goals.
    Jamie_Funk, bignc, smogg and 19 others like this.
  4. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    I'm very similar. I tend to be a very analytical and problem solving oriented. But I'm not a robot. I'm also very good at reading people. I'm also very creative when it comes to problem solving and I've been known to be artistic at times. I'm sure you are too, in your own way.
    I'm similar with music too. I spent my first few years of playing in my late teens, learning songs by other people, by ear (mostly Rush), and picked it up pretty quick. But I couldn't create my own music to save my life. I picked up again in my late 20s/early 30s for a few yrs and ended up in a band with some friends. All the songs were originals, written by the lead singer and guitarist. I still couldn't write a song on my own, but I was able to come up with bass lines for all the songs. And it came pretty easily. And that was with no musical training, no lessons and and just a few years of learning songs by ear, a decade earlier.
    So, with that said, I think you have a leg up with taking a training course and I think it would help to find people to play with who can kinda take the lead on creating the music. I think you'll be surprised at what you can come up with, just with what you picked up so far.
    Anyway, I justed picked up again after another decade+ of not playing and I still can't write a song to save my life.
    But I'm into building now and just noodle for fun here and there.
    Once you feel comfy, find some folks to jam with.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2021
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  5. WrapRough


    Jan 26, 2021
    Here's a test... Take a drum loop and hum a bassline to it... I'll bet you can find a decent line. I believe we're all creative, but often dont have the technical ability to transfer that to the instrument. So we think we're not creative.. in my opinion of course :)
  6. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I think the solution for you is to learn/study music theory. Lots of "right-brained" players hate studying theory, don't find it valuable, and/or even believe that such an "analytical" approach to music stymies their "creativity." In your case it is likely to be exactly the opposite: You'll really enjoy it, and it will provide you with a new set of tools with which to be creative.

    Fortunately, music theory is something you can teach yourself (if properly motivated and analytically minded) using books and online resources; you won't need to hire a face-to-face teacher to do it. I'm sure lots of folks can recommend specific resources if you want to take this advice....
  7. Bass


    Nov 10, 2003
    Good suggestion. And then move into one of the books that stresses creativity.

    Like Chuck Sher's "The Improvisor's Bass Method" or "Foundation Exercises for Bass".
    Lobster11 likes this.
  8. WrapRough


    Jan 26, 2021
    As a techy geek, I can second that I am currently really enjoying studying theory :)
  9. jallenbass

    jallenbass Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    For Clark Terry, the art of learning jazz can be summed up into three words: Imitation, Assimilation, Innovation. In that order.
  10. Koshchei


    Mar 17, 2019
    Peterborough, ON
    As with language, it's all about repertoire. To you, it may not be original, but rather a series of interlinked colloquialisms and metaphors placed in the optimal context, but to others, it's creative.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
  11. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    As my tag says, I'm not an artist. I'm in the service business. Tell me what you want, and I'll play it.:D
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  12. Astronaut


    Jul 21, 2013
    You can be a crappy bassist by being creative.
  13. Justinian


    May 7, 2015
    Within just a few bars are hundreds of pop songs!
  14. kmon

    kmon Supporting Member

    May 11, 2009
    Chocolate Disneyland
    I hear ya, I'm a software engineer. I like logical, cohesive mental frameworks. For me, creativity comes after the mental model is internalized, it's never separate from the model. I feel like the deeper I get into the structured framework, the easier it is to exploit and bend it in creative and novel ways.

    So I'll second the music theory recommendations. One resource I've particularly enjoyed is the professional bass master class on udemy. It's a nicely structured course that covers a lot of very usable theory info.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
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  15. BassBrass


    Jul 6, 2009
    Boston MA
    Also, they say... Clark Terry had the most natural embouchure of them all. The ideal to be copied.
    This "Creativity" thing is actually a problem in logic and analysis. There are schemes to be used. The most basic is to copy and then ad-lib for 4 more. If you want to surprise yourself try using unexpected intervals or chord patterns. Just try stuff, identify, copy more. What sounds good to you? Have standards. You'll develop a basket of tricks that can be used to generate material. I also advocate using effects to create different sounds, sometimes a sound or a context change is all it takes for "creativity".
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
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  16. Eli_Kyiv


    Apr 7, 2020
    Kyiv, Ukraine
    Of course you can. There's a lot of us. ;)
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  17. Red Scorpion

    Red Scorpion

    Aug 3, 2021
    How do you define "decent"? As an engineer myself, I find it necessary to set fixed parameter on the definition of the word to be able to adequately determine if the standard is being met.

    So what makes a "decent" bassist? First I would say that you have to keep time. Count the beats one two three four and then do it consistently. If you can do that, then you have checked the first box.

    Second, a bass player has to keep rhythm. If you can follow the rhythm of the kick drum beat, then you have checked the second box.

    Third, a bass player has to follow the chord changes. Sound the root note of a chord on the kick drum beat while keeping time. You have checked the third and final box.

    That is what makes a "decent" bass player. "Creativity" is everything that is added on to the basics. I am not particularly creative, so I strive to get the basics down first, then add flavoring on top.

    What is the "flavoring" you ask? For me, it was music theory. For 25 years I avoided it because I didn't see the value of it and thought it was going to be too hard to learn. Two years ago I sat down and forced myself to learn it, and I can honestly say that it's opened a whole new world to me. Knowing theory has helped me to structure more complex bass lines and significantly reduced my stress levels when playing.

    Listen to different genres of music and imitate the rhythms and riffs. You can add them onto your own style later. Expand your horizons.

    Learn the basics, practice the basics until they become effortless. Then you can add in fills and whatnot from your knowledge of theory. Some people can do it naturally, others have to work hard at it. But remember, "creativity" is a journey, not a destination.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
  18. RichardW


    Feb 25, 2016
    near Philly
    Like this doesn't require skill? I'd say this is the first step for every musician. I mean, 95 percent of what Paul McCartney played in the first five years of the Beatles were covers! Just stick with it. Even if "creativity" never comes, you can still have a great time playing.
    hrodbert696 and Justinian like this.
  19. I'd go so far as to say that being a decent bassist and being creative are almost unrelated. There are hundreds of thousands of good songs with completely formulaic bass parts. But they take skill to execute.

    Conversely, I wasted years deliberately avoiding learning anyone else's parts in an effort to only play my own creative thing. As a result I mostly just sucked, but in a creative way.
  20. Rib 13

    Rib 13 Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2006
    the short answer: Yes

    the long answer: depends on the application. In some situations, it can be a hinderence (creating basslines on the fly in a studio). In other situations, it can be a huge benefit (sight reading charts without temptation)