Does your bass playing make the people dance?

Don’t get hung up on shredding or playing ‘stupid fast’

By Jon Liebman
March 22, 2024

It comes up time and time again. Someone sees a bass player on YouTube playing something ridiculously fast, demonstrating incredible chops all over the instrument.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can be pretty entertaining to watch.

But what happens if you ask that person to play an easy blues in F, or a simple R&B groove. Some can do it; many can’t.

Make it musical

I had a very enjoyable conversation recently with George Price, a talented bassist who’s played all over the UK and beyond, doing all kinds of shows, festivals, and recording sessions. When we got around to talking about learning bass, I asked George what advice he had for someone who wants to play bass, particularly someone over 50.

“I think a lot of it is just trying to make it as musical as possible,” George says. “It doesn’t have to be crazy difficult. I look at stuff on the Internet all the time and I see people shredding. I don’t know how to shred or go really fast.”

Such an important point. People don’t need a bass player who can play fast. They need someone who can make the music sound good and feel good. 

Play for the song

“What I’ve learned is that you gotta play for the song,” says George. “You got to serve the song and do what the bass should do.”

He was taught well, both in school and on the job. And he just ‘gets’ it.

“We’ve gotta play the notes,” he continues. “We gotta be clean and consistent and accurate, so don’t worry about being stupid fast or whatever. That’s great but it isn’t what bass should be. It should be cool and groovy.”

Helpful feedback

Some of the things he learned at the “uni” he attended will carry him a long way.

“I’ve been told in my uni exams,” George recalls, “‘Yeah, that was good, but you could simplify it a little bit,’ or ‘You didn’t need to play this at this point,’ or ‘Don’t rush, sit back.’ And all this feedback has just been given at different angles, and I think that’s what’s happened over the years.”

If you’ve got it… proceed with caution

That’s not to say there isn’t a time to pull out the fancy stuff once in a while, if there’s a place for it.

“If you have a really great fast lick that you can that you can play, by all means play it. [If it fits the song!] But don’t overplay it. Just do it once in a song and make people go, ‘Whoa! What was that!’ and then go back to playing what you should be.”

The bass player’s job is to make the music groove and make it feel good.

“They say that bass makes the people dance ,” says George, “or makes people bob their head, you know. I think that’s what it comes down to the end of the day.”

How true.

What about you?

Have you ever felt frustrated about not being able to shred or play ‘stupid fast?’ If so, then take George’s advice to heart. Play it cool, play it groovy. Serve the song. Leave a comment below. I’d love to know your thoughts on the subject. Be sure to watch my interview with George here.

Comments on Does your bass playing make the people dance?

  1. Michael E Skovgaard says:

    I prefer the basslines that support the music, steady, rhythmic, and in time, with an occadional creative moment mild solo if you will.
    But I have always preferred the lines that make your feet wanna move, doesn’t necessarily mean slow tunes, but rock and blues inclusive.
    All instruments and the notes they play enhancing one another.
    Goes back to my music theory days and chorales study.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Good feedback, Michael. Thanks!

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