Are you setting the right bass-playing goals?

Presumably, you’re learning bass so you can __________

By Jon Liebman
March 1, 2024

How would you fill in that blank? Is the time you spend learning bass going to get you there?

More importantly, do you know where you’re trying to get, and why?

YouTubing it?

Every time I see one of those hotshots on YouTube, I think, Oh man! Some of these people have incredible technique. I mean really impressive!

It does require a word of caution, though. You have to ask yourself, is that what you want to spend your time working on when you practice the bass? Is your goal to be a YouTube sensation with “wait’ll-they-get-a-load-of-me!” dreams?

If it is, well, good luck. Truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with doing that stuff. In fact, there’s a part of me that would love to do some of those things too.

Reality check

As you probably already know, though, that’s not what people are looking for in a bass player. So unless you want to be a YouTube rock star, you’d better come down to earth and reassess your goals.

First of all, if your objective is to function as a good, solid, dependable bass player, let me give you three things to think about when setting your goals:

1.     Lock in with the drummer

2.     Set the foundation for the band

3.     Make the music feel good

I strongly suggest you keep those three things in mind when setting your goals. Yes, even when you’re learning all your scales, modes, chromatic runs, slap/pop stuff… everything.

The next step

I got some good insights on goal setting for learning bass during a recent conversation I had with Kai Kurosawa, published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

Kai’s primary instrument is a Kubo, an extraordinarily impressive 15-string device made by Daniel and Michael Tobias. Kai’s been involved in all kinds of creative projects, playing everything from rock, pop, and jazz to progressive metal and electronic music.

I told Kai about the thousands of students in the For Bass Players Only community, most of them over 50, finally taking the time to do something for themselves, specifically learning bass.

When I asked Kai what advice he had for these people, goal-setting was one of the most important things he said.

“Thinking long term usually is a good idea,” Kai says. “I like to take goals and work towards them very gradually. The consistency of working on something and not getting frustrated with it is very important.”

Kai also stresses the importance of keeping things in perspective.

“A lot of musicians tend to set a goal and by the time you’re there the goal is no longer there,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to give yourself a pat on the back or praise yourself when you did good.”

I’m a big proponent of identifying the end goal, listing the things that need to happen in order to make that goal a reality, and checking things off as I proceed. [FBPO students will recognize that approach from the “Milestones” and “Action Items” feature in my online bass-learning resources.]

Be honest with yourself

It’s also important to acknowledge your progress accurately. If you’re really nailing that piece, you’ll know. You’ll feel it.

“Don’t be afraid to give yourself a pat on the back,” Kai says, “or praise yourself when you did good.”

And if you’re not nailing it, well, you’ll know that too. And that’s okay.

“Don’t be too harsh on yourself,” Kai says, “but be honest. Through that I think people can really learn how to enjoy music or how to enjoy the craft of it. Patience is important.”

Review and update

Periodically taking a step back and evaluating your goals is a healthy thing to do. You may be working very hard, but ask yourself, “Is the end goal still what I really want. Is it still relevant?”

Maybe once a year is enough. It’s probably better to do it ever 90 days. You can experiment to see what works best for you. 

Always start with the end goal in mind. And you do that by asking yourself why you want to learn bass and what you plan to do with your newfound skills.

How about you?

This sounds like a simple, very obvious question, but… Why do you want to learn bass? What is the desired goal? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. And be sure to watch my interview with Kai here.

Comments on Are you setting the right bass-playing goals?

  1. Guy Witherbase ;) says:

    This is some philosophical material. As I enter my sixth decade of being a teenager I still have this nagging desire to somehow “make it.” Kinda the way I thought I was going to run in the Olympics…At least I don’t want to be an astronaut, too.

    My realistic self wants to deepen my experience and enjoyment of music, and maybe, just maybe, use bass playing as a way to share that love with others–whether by playing together or even just connecting and having a common point of reference.

    You’re always putting out good stuff, Jon!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks so much, Guy. Your sixth decade of being a teenager? I love it! 🙂

  2. David says:

    After playing for 45 years, I’ve come to a place where I really just enjoy the craft of bass paying for its own sake. I dont play gigs I dont think I’ll enjoy (meaning weddings, corporate gigs, and dive-bar gigs), only playing those that really touch on my personal loves…. jazz, jazz–fusion, intersting original music, which may include singer-songwriter stuff, and some tribute music/bands taht allows me to pretend im in Steely Dan. When I practice, at this point in my musical development,learning music for gigs take very little of my time. I spend most of my time going deep on solo transcriptions, jazz harmonic approaches to blowing on changes, and fleshing out flaws in my technique to the extent that those flaws are hindering my expression on the instrument. My current main sources of practice material and information (aside from my own investigation and discovery) is the books/sources of Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and Janek Gwizdala. I do agree that the YouTube pyrotechnic phenomena is at most just entertainment, in fact, at this point I kind of just ignore it, unless I catch some technique that I can apply. I prefer listening/watching the jazz greats play, mostly to grab ideas for improvisation.

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