Can just anybody learn to play the bass?

Even non-musicians can have an awesome time laying down the low end

By Jon Liebman
November 17, 2023

There are people who just know from an early age what they want to do with their lives. Maybe a doctor, a teacher, a movie star…

But what about the rest of us? Sure, there may have been a few things that excited us when we were kids, but it wasn’t obvious which path we should pursue.

As a result, we just kept taking the most logical next step before eventually falling into something that just made sense.

But can you “fall into” being a musician?

What’s the next step for you?

At this point in your life, you probably don’t have a burning desire to be rock star, tour the world, and perform for your adoring fans.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t still become a bass player, just for the fun of it.

I got to thinking about the subject after a conversation I had with Jim Pons, former bassist with the Turtles and Frank Zappa, published as this week’s FBPO interview.

It doesn’t matter if you weren’t born to be a musician

Jim had an amazing career, not only as a musician, but also as Video Director for the New York Jets, both apparently by happenstance.

So when I asked Jim what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, he wasn’t sure how to respond.

“I feel like I’m just an actor,” he says. “I acted as a bass player in the first scene or the first act of my life. Then I acted as a film guy.”

Jim always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, excelling at whatever he took on.

“I never felt like I was born to be a musician,” he says. “I was just able to do it. It was a cool, fun job. I don’t know how to read or write music. I taught myself how to play a few notes and had a hit record. (Laughs) I don’t know what to tell people.”

“There was nothing complicated about it at all”

Jim speaks humbly about his early days, perhaps oversimplifying what it really means to be a good bass player. Up till that point, he probably hadn’t given it much thought.

“When I started out in the ‘60s,” he says, “all the hit records were like three chords. There was nothing complicated about it at all. Anybody could have done it, and that’s what I did.”

Even when he discovered that there was more to learning bass than just that, he still took things a step at a time without overthinking it. 

“As the music got more creative and complicated, I managed to learn,” he remembers. “I copied people that I heard and I watched them on television. I didn’t invent anything new. I played simple parts.”

If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right

Then, presumably by necessity, he developed more of an understanding of the role of the bass player, which he approached dutifully.

“I worked with the drummer to create a bottom for everybody else,” he says. “I didn’t care about showing off. I couldn’t. I didn’t know enough to show off. I played the bottom and I played simple. And it was easy.”

Playing bass: A beautiful (non-career) thing to do

Jim didn’t dream of becoming a rock star. He had an opportunity to play bass and he went for it. And it was fun!

“I was just kind of a blues rock and roll kind of guy,” says Jim, “learned enough to get by and was lucky enough to be in a hit-making band, a couple of them.”

But you don’t have to be in a hit-making band to learn bass and have fun.

If you like music (and who doesn’t?) and you think you’d enjoy playing bass, why not give it a try? Chances are you’ll find it an incredibly enjoyable, “most logical next step” to take in your life.

What’s your story?

You don’t have to have dreams of becoming a rock star to learn bass. Most of the over-50 crowd just want to get together with their friends and play some classic rock riffs, blues shuffles, or whatever their favorite music is. 

What’s your story? Leave a comment below and share your experience. Then be sure to check out my interview with Jim here.

Comments on Can just anybody learn to play the bass?

  1. John Ewing says:

    When I was in high school I had taken guitar lessons. Even my teacher thought, say you might be good at this. But it just seemed the low tones kept calling. The drums kept making that sound saying….say John…grab that bass and give it a try. I was hooked. Then stepped away…but the Bass kept calling me back…great read. I am sure there are soooo many that tried putting the Bass down.. for about a day..

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      So true. Thanks, John!

  2. Joyce Sheridan says:

    I grew up loving music and wanted to be a musician and scientist. Under all this was my real dream which I kept secret due to the fact that girls were never suppose to even hint at wanting to due something which was a man’s job. That could get you a beating. I was born in 1947. That dream of mine I thought would never happen; it was when I was 63 years old when I finally saw my dream come true. I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Of course I was too old at that point to be a commercial pilot. It is so expensive to fly privately I had to give it up. Next best thing is music. I enjoy what you throw at us. Right now I’m behind, but when winter really sits in I’m going to get into it. Snow flakes falling and my fingers flying!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      So glad you followed through and did what you wanted, Joyce. Thanks for weighing in. FYI, there’s no such thing as “behind” when learning bass! 🙂

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