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!