Are you really playing bass?

Go ahead with the dazzling stuff… but be a bass player

By Jon Liebman
Week of July 6, 2020

Okay, I’ll admit it. I love all the cool bass-playing stuff. I love slapping. I love two-handed tapping. I love double thumbing and all the crazy, acrobatic-like fingerboard formations that dazzle audiences. As a bass player, it’s fun to learn to play those kinds of techniques!

But be careful.

Whenever I teach any of stuff, I always include my disclaimer: Make sure you understand your role as a bass player. Lay down the groove and set the foundation for the band.

The subject came up loud and clear in my new interview with Bunny Brunel, published this week on For Bass Players Only. It was refreshing to hear Bunny talk about the history of bass playing and what he’s doing to spread the word about some of history’s greatest bass players and the importance of their legacy.

Bunny rattles off a long list of bass players, including Scott LaFaro, Bernard Odum, Eddie Gomez, Gary Peacock, and Stanley Clarke, lauding the way they dutifully supported the band with their solid groove playing. So much so that he started a new magazine Virtuoso Bass, to make sure people learning bass understand the history of the instrument and the artists that laid the groundwork for future generations.

“I want to have people listening to those players who started the whole thing,” says Bunny. “They’re not playing just solos; they would play the bass!”

It’s a lesson that needs to be repeated, over and over. While, on the one hand, students learning bass at FBPO have an opportunity to learn slapping, soloing, and other chops-oriented bass techniques, more importantly, on the other hand, the overwhelming majority of my lessons and courses focus on the nuts and bolts of bass playing, with heavy emphasis on laying down the groove and learning how to provide what’s expected of a bass player.

“That’s the thing I tell all the kids,” Bunny continues.”  “If you want to be a bass player, you have to play the bass. You have to have the pocket. Just play the bass.”

Citing players like Nathan East, Lee Sklar, Marcus Miller, and Neil Stubenhaus, Bunny says the reason they work so much is that they focus on the traditional role of the bass player, rather than tipping the balance too far in favor of soloing and spectacle.

So go ahead and learn the cool stuff, if you want. You have my blessing. It’s fun! Just keep in mind there is a time and a place for everything. Don’t forget, your job as a bass player is to lay down the groove and support the band.

“If somebody wants a bass player,” Bunny says, “they want somebody to play the fricking bass!”

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 Bunny here.

At For Bass Players Only, I take the frustration out of learning bass, so you can build confidence and thoroughly enjoy making music! Start your free trial membership here!

Comments on Are you really playing bass?

  1. Eric T Peterson says:

    I’m so glad I learned that lesson back in the 80’s when I started playing. It’s about being a “supportive” player to the band. Don’t get me wrong; I love Victor, Marcus, Stanley, Jaco, and the like. But the guys I was pretty drawn to is Nathan East, Lee Sklarr, Abraham Laboriel, Chuck Rainey, Willie Weeks, James Jamerson, Anthony Jackson, Basil Farrington, “Ready” Freddie Washington, and since i’m from Philadelphia, the Sound Of Philadelphia, my man Ronnie Baker (man that dude can swing). Even the newer bassists I like; Alex Al, Nate Kearney, Larry Kimpel (his work with George Duke and Boney James OMG) Rodney Jones, Adam Blackstone, Terry Tribbet, and I can go on and on. I like guys that can play anything with anybody. More versatility, more work. That’s my goal, to be more rounded as a bassist. A musician, not a “technician.” Bunny was on point; PLAY THE BASS!!

  2. Louis Lefrancois says:

    I love just “holding it down” in any band I’ve played with for the last 35 years. It’s how I’ve kept 99% of my gigs – all the technical stuff is way beyond me, but my fellow musicians don’t expect that anyway.

  3. I just want to say that I signed up for so many of the other well-known big-name bass playing programs that promise to teach you everything but really we’re just showing off or they would explain things so fast I would have to rewind rewind and rewind and still it didn’t flow good where everything on for bass players flows nice and smooth and you learn at your own pace So you should try the 14 day program and I bet you you turn it into a year-long program just like I did. Good luck stay low

  4. Grayden Provis says:

    I was a drummer before I was a bass player and when I think back to the bass players I loved playing with it was those like Louis Lefrancois above. This should be our theme song guys:

  5. Grayden Provis says:

    Just found this from the master so thought I’d share:

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Cool! Thanks, Grayden. Ray Brown was the master.

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