3 things “old rockers” should do to learn bass

Those classic rock bass riffs aren’t going to play themselves!

By Jon Liebman
November 11, 2022

First of all, you’re not too old to learn bass. Let’s get that out of the way.

When you think back on the music you listened to when you were growing up, it always makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

You love classic rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s: The Beatles, Vanilla Fudge, Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Who…

And that, in turn, must mean you have great respect for the rock bassists of the time: Paul McCartney, Tim Bogert, John Paul Jones, Jack Bruce, John Entwistle…

Wouldn’t it be a blast to lay down some classic rock bass riffs in those styles?

Maybe you’ve dabbled in bass over the years (possibly because there were already plenty of guitar players and nobody else wanted to play bass). 

Or maybe you’ve never played bass, but you think it would be a lot of fun. [Spoiler alert: It is!]

Recently, I was talking with Carmine Rojas (David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Billy Gibbons…) and the conversation turned to people who identify as “old rockers.”

If you’re an old rocker, and you want to learn bass, here are three things you should do:

Go back and get reacquainted with those great songs and those amazing bass lines.

“You gotta go back to the past,” Carmine says. “Go back to some of the old stuff just to replenish your head again, get the well back up again.”

I understand you may not feel the need to get re-acquainted because you’re already listening to that great music, whether it be on the “Classic Vinyl” station on SiriusXM, your own iTunes collection, or some of those cool rock documentaries popping up on Netflix or Hulu.

Start listening with a different ear. You’ll pick up things you never noticed before, especially with the bass. That’ll given you an even deeper understanding of why you’ve loved that music in the first place. It’ll make you more eager to play bass too.

“Replenish your well with music and soul and stuff that’s close to your heart,” Carmine continues, “and you’re back in it again.”

Your body’s not what it used to be. Does that mean the game’s over? 

Hell no!

I have so many students in their 50s, 60s, and 70s with all kinds of physical challenges and annoyances, like arthritis, tendonitis, shoulder pain, neck pain, back pain, and so on.

Know what I mean?

Fortunately, a lot of them have found ways to pursue their passion for learning bass by doing warm-up exercises, stretches, switching to short-scale bass, and other remedies.

Carmine himself, who’ll be 70 in a few months, is still bothered by a shoulder injury from a car accident many years ago. He’s always done whatever he could in order to continue with his career as a bass player, including an exercise routine targeted to getting relief where he needs it the most.

He’s even modified his bass technique. “The remedy for me was do it more often,” he says, “exercising it and just being flexible and relaxing, changing technique.” 

In some ways it’s actually made him a better bass player. “My technique was wrong in the first place,” he says with a laugh.

Play it simple. You don’t have to be an acrobat to play a great bass line.

I commented to Carmine about countless observations I’ve made of people who think they have to be some kind of super athlete or contortionist in order to be a good bass player. 

No doubt you’ve seen some of those technically amazing bass players on YouTube doing all kinds of unbelievable things on the bass. While that’s impressive, it’s not what people want in a bass player. 

When I see someone aspiring to play like that, I want to ask them, “Can you play a blues? Can you play a shuffle?”

“Can you play one note long enough,” Carmine chimed in, “patient enough to make it work?” 

I further commented on how great a groove can feel with just a super simple bass line, and without the need for a lot of flashy pyrotechnics.

“I 100% agree with you,” Carmine said. “The skill of all that stuff is great when it’s used properly, not overused.”

And when you play those simple bass lines, giving the song just what it needs, you have a much smaller chance of getting fired. If only more people realized that.

“Most people don’t think that’s being supportive enough,” Carmine says, “and they end up showing off.”

You don’t have to be Victor Wooten to be considered a great bass player.

“No, you don’t,” Carmine says. “Just play beautiful.”

The bottom line…

Next time you think you’re too old to learn bass, consider the hundreds of thousands of people I’ve taught who just refused to accept that thought. 

I’m not saying learning bass is easy, anyone can do it. I will tell you, though, that it takes a much smaller toll on your muscles and bones than most people think. 

Think about the music you love and what a blast it would be to play it. With just a simple bass groove, you can relive those early days, make the music feel great, and have a whole lot of fun in the process.

Want to learn bass? Try it! Those classic rock riffs aren’t going to play themselves.

Your turn. Are you an “old rocker” who wants to learn bass? Leave a comment below and share your takeaways from this blog. And be sure to watch my interview with Carmine here.

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