Do you suck at playing bass? Here’s why that’s a good thing.

If you want to get good faster, do this!

By Jon Liebman
Week of April 19, 2021

I took up the upright bass at age 19, after playing electric for about four years. Transitioning to upright was a whole new experience for me, especially because I was trying to understand jazz concepts, most of which were new to me. 

The thing about starting so late was that in pretty much every situation, I was playing with people who were a lot better than I was. As frustrating as that was, for me as well as for the more seasoned players, the thing is, when everyone around you is a better player than you are, guess what happens to you? You become a better player!

I got to into a very interesting conversation on this topic with none other than Tony Levin in this week’s FBPO interview. At this point in Tony’s career, he certainly has nothing to prove, so it was great to see what a healthy attitude he has about learning bass. What Tony told me applies to everyone, at every stage of learning bass.

“I’m trying to learn to play the bass,” Tony says. “I’m trying to learn to play it better.”

What then, according to Tony, is the best way to do that? 

“I’m still exactly the same as I was when I was starting out,” he says. “I’m trying to learn how to play the thing better, and what I mostly enjoy doing in life — I would have answered the same when I was 14 years old — is playing music with good players. So how lucky is that?”

With all he’s accomplished, Tony could have easily fallen into the trap that many others have fallen into, letting ego take over and becoming a little too full of himself. Instead, Tony sets a good example by remaining humble. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with the feeling of like, ‘Well, I can do it all and that’s it. And I’m done learning.’ And it would be inappropriate because whenever I turn on YouTube, I realize that I can hardly do any of it, the things that people are doing online. And young people amaze me the way they amaze everybody else!”

How’s that for being secure with who you are?

“I’m more of a player and a learner than a teacher,” Tony continues, “but I would say that it’s important to really value the chances you have to play with other players. You can practice all you want, but playing with other players ups your game and you learn things.”

Even if you can’t quite keep up with them?

“I would advise players to do as I did,” he says, “to take any opportunity to play with other players, especially if they’re better than you or if they’re equal level to you.”

At the end of the day, no matter how good you are at playing bass, you can always learn something from somebody else.

“It’s kind of a good,” Tony says. “I can say at this age, at the age I am, it feels like a healthy attitude to have about your playing. That you’re still learning.” 

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 Tony here.

Comments on Do you suck at playing bass? Here’s why that’s a good thing.

  1. Jimmy McGirr says:

    Great to read about Tony’s outlook on playing. There’s always something to learn, refine, be amazed by, bow to. Humility counts!

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