Catapult your bass skills by playing with others

How performing in a band setting can help release the “good stuff”

By Jon Liebman
Week of June 8, 2020

When you decided you wanted to learn bass, what end result did you have in mind? Did you see yourself practicing so you could play in a band, or would you be happy just playing on your couch at home? In other words, learning bass is cool, but to what end?

The topic came up in this week’s interview, a compelling conversation with Josh Cohen, master of the 6-string bass. While best known for his unaccompanied solo performances, both live and recorded, Josh strongly advocates playing with other musicians in order to improve one’s playing. While it’s sounds a bit counterintuitive at first, Josh’s advice actually makes a lot of sense.

When he first began learning bass, Josh’s approach was in more of a mathematical context than a musical one. He immediately became obsessed with patterns, continually challenging himself to learn how the notes fit together on the bass fingerboard. To some degree, learning bass for him was more scientific and less heartfelt. At first, anyway. 

The metamorphosis of parlaying that cerebral approach into actually making music came about abruptly for Josh when he started playing in an ensemble setting. “Nothing will replace the real-world experience of playing with other musicians,” Josh says. “I think that is 50% of your learning.” 

But he goes deeper. “The performance stage is where our intuition takes over,” he continues, “and our sub-conscious takes over.” In other words, the things that we practice when we’re alone, according to Josh, get ingrained into our subconscious and come out more readily, more strongly, when we play with other people.

If you’re a member of For Bass Players Only, you’re already getting your groove chops together in a multitude of styles. At the same time, you’re learning music theory, soloing, building bass lines, and more. Practically all FBPO members have a specific goal in mind, whether it’s doing a better job at your church gig, your bar band, or just getting together with friends to jam. I feel so privileged to show you how to do what you want to learn, but it’s up to you to put it into action. Playing with others will really take your bass playing to the next level.

“Invest in your education,” Josh says, “get a good teacher. But you need to have an outlet. If you really want to improve your playing, there needs to be a performance outlet for what you’re learning.” A strong advocate for learning bass, Josh says, “always do your homework. Get into the weeds.” 

Throughout the process, be sure to continue feeding your subconscious so the good stuff comes out in your performances. “If you feel that a lot of your practice is very cerebral and very methodical,” Josh says, “don’t worry. The natural stuff will come. What you’re practicing now might be natural a year or two from now.” 

Even if you’re a band of only one.

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 Josh here.

P.S. FBPO members, login and check out Joe Santerre’s 6-string course, if you haven’t yet. Great stuff!

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