Suddenly, you’re asking a lot from your body, so be sure to treat it well
By Jon Liebman
July 15, 2022
You’re learning bass. That’s great! You’ve got your favorite music, your favorite songs, maybe even a few favorite bass players. You hear things you’d like to imitate and you’re eager to dive in. Again, good for you. I admire your enthusiasm. Just be sure you’re doing it carefully. I don’t want to see you get caught off guard by doing too much too soon.
I was having a conversation recently with Joshua Lopez, bassist with Immortal Guardian, and he offered up some great suggestions for anyone who’s learning bass.
Infatuated with making music since he was 5 years old, Joshua learned to play a bunch of instruments throughout his life and career, each one putting its own unique demands on the body.
“You gotta have muscle development or else it’s gonna hurt,” says Joshua. “You have to have the strength just to keep up with playing bass.”
With that in mind, consider the following suggestions from Joshua. Some of them may seem obvious, but a little reminder from time to time never hurts.
Stick with the basics, at first
Having already been an accomplished guitar player before taking a deep dive into the bass, Joshua soon discovered that the bass required him to use a whole new set of muscles he never seemed to need before.
“I think people need to live in the basics a little bit more before they start tackling things a little harder,” he says. “The reason being is because, depending on the way you’re playing and your positions, there are different muscles in your hands that engage differently than guitar.”
Though the guitar and bass have a lot of structural similarities, the bass is a whole different animal and is played differently than a guitar, so be sure to ease your muscles into their new role as bass-playing muscles.
Moderation is key
Following up on the previous point, don’t try to do too much too soon. It’s better to build up slowly. Your muscles need time to get acclimated to moving in new ways. As with most things, moderation is important.
“A lot of people aren’t spending the time to develop, especially when it’s a new thing for you, to develop that muscle, that muscle engagement. Just like lifting weights, you have to develop it. It has to grow. I think once you start doing that, it starts to get easier.”
This point is even more relevant if you’re in the “over 50” (or “over 60”) group.
“We are getting older,” says Joshua. “We do have to pay attention to our bodies. And as you’re doing that workout, you are going to feel burn, you are going to feel some stress because you’re developing working out that muscle. You just gotta make sure that you’re really keeping with recovery as well.”
Warm up, stretch, and make sure you’re ready to play
It’s always a good idea to get your body warmed up before diving into any strenuous exercise or activity. Runners do it. Professional athletes do it. Musicians need to do it too. The way you move your muscles when you play the bass is different than just about any other activity, so you need to proceed accordingly.
“You really, really gotta make sure that, before you decide to sit down for an hour and jam,” Joshua says, “just spend two minutes warming up, and just develop that.”
Stretches and warm-up exercises may vary from person to person, depending on how your body reacts to your playing. The positioning of your hands, your arms, your posture, etc., need to be taken into account as well. Even the style of music you’re playing may have some bearing on which muscles you’re using, so make sure your body is ready for whatever you’re about to ask it to do.
Know when to move up – and when not to
Your body will let you know when it’s time to advance to more strenuous motions. Listen to your body, and don’t ignore pain. Avoid any continued movements that are going to in set you back and delay your progress. Be mindful of what you’re asking of your body and don’t let your zealousness to learn bass work against you.
“That’s another thing,” says Joshua. “Don’t forget, the things that are feeling tight, like when you’re working out, you need to massage those muscles and make sure there’s recovery.”
When your body’s trying to tell you something, it often means it’s unhappy with what you’re doing. It’s important to know what kind of pain and discomfort you can work through and what you need to avoid.
Again, playing bass requires using a different set of muscles than you’re likely accustomed to using. Don’t expect to just jump into playing bass and have your muscles cooperate immediately.
It’s great that you’re eager to learn bass. Just be sure to ease into it so you’re not taxing your body with too much too soon. Once you find the routine that’s right for you, it’ll enhance your bass-playing enjoyment exponentially.
Your turn: Do you have a warmup or stretching routine you go through before playing the bass? Any stories you’d care to share about getting your body acclimated to becoming a bass player? Leave a comment below and let me know what you’re doing. In the meantime, watch my interview with Joshua here.
None of my content or messaging should be construed as medical advice. My focus is on teaching proper bass technique, minimizing pain and discomfort, and sharing ideas that have helped students find joy and fulfillment in playing music. If you feel you need to consult your doctor, don’t hesitate to do so. I want you to stay healthy!