3 things to keep in mind when learning bass

A great perspective, from my interview with Roscoe Beck

By Jon Liebman
Week of August 2, 2021

Sometimes it’s easy to oversimplify things when it comes to learning bass. Other times, it can feel overcomplicated, with too many “rules” to keep track of. As with most things, when you get down to it, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I had a super conversation with none other than rock and blues bass sensation Roscoe Beck recently, published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

Roscoe has such an amazing story, from his deep involvement in the Austin music scene – including countless jam sessions and gigs with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, and Eric Johnson – to making the trek to LA, working with Robben Ford, and eventually becoming musical director for Leonard Cohen.

I asked Roscoe what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass. I love how he broke his answer down into three easily digestible components, casting such a healthy perspective on the topic of learning bass.

“Love of the music would be the first thing,” says Roscoe. “You have to be drawn to music to begin with.” Roscoe wanted to be a musician for as long as he can remember. “I grew up listening to the radio,” he recalls, “and I never wanted to do anything else but music. So obviously the love of music and the passion is the jumping off place.”

When it comes to understanding the role of the bass as it relates to the rest of the music and the band, Roscoe doesn’t miss a beat. “Listening, really listening, would be the second thing,” he continues. “My teachers were records.” Without any formal music education before college, listening intently to what others were doing was how Roscoe first learned to play bass. “I listened constantly and played along with records, he says.”

Finally, he puts it all in perspective with a stark reminder of why we do what we do. “I guess number three would be to remember that it should be fun,” he says. “We must practice,” he admonishes, “we must have discipline.” But he urges us to remember that practice and discipline are the means to an end. “I was drawn to music because it was exciting to me,” Roscoe says. “It thrilled me. And that’s the feeling I’m still looking for any time I step on a stage. It’s a privilege.”

The next time you find yourself caught between oversimplifying and overcomplicating things in your quest for learning bass, keep Roscoe’s view in mind. Sometimes having the right perspective is all we need to keep us going. Good luck!

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Roscoe here.

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