“Without us and the drums, you’re not gettin’ anywhere!”
By Jon Liebman
Week of July 13, 2020
As someone who’s known for helping people learn bass, it seems I’m always indoctrinating my students to the actual role of the bass, ensuring they know what’s expected of them as bass players.
While I have no issue with flashy solos that display dazzling technique – I love it, in fact! – I find myself almost incessantly preaching the importance of the groove, cautioning bass players not to get themselves fired for noodling around “up there” when they should be taking care of business “down here.”
Though I strongly believe in that philosophy, there’s another way of looking at it, as I discovered in this week’s interview with Derek Menchan, an absolutely brilliant musician.
Derek, who’s actually a classically trained cellist, is also a renowned producer, composer, arranger, and conductor, who harbored a secret love for the bass practically his entire life. He says we should fall in love with the function of the bass. As bassists, we shouldn’t view our taking-care-of-business role as a chore, but rather as a beautiful opportunity, a blessing even.
“The bass world,” Derek says, “is not necessarily only about flash, right? We’ve got room for that. But… without us and the drums, you’re not gettin’ anywhere,” he continues, with a big laugh!
In other words, embrace the beauty of what we do, groove-wise. “Go to the bass with a smile on your face,” Derek says. “Train yourself to have big ears and learn what foundational work is.”
If flash is important to you, you could, in a perfect world, have the best of both worlds. But if the responsibility of laying down a groove and making the music feel good is something you do begrudgingly because you’d rather be showing off, you’re missing the point, big time. You’re not “relegated” to the role of bassist. Supplying the groove is a beautiful thing! The music just can’t live without it.
“Get a tune,” Derek says. “Hey, man: root-four-five. Lay down that root. Once you can lay down the foundation of a groove, you can become the soloist who uses hammer-ons and harmonics if you’d like. But you don’t have to.”
For my students learning bass at For Bass Players Only, the majority of the lessons and courses focus on grooving in a variety of styles. There’s plenty of technique-oriented instruction too, as well as scales & theory, sight reading and more.
Notwithstanding my cautionary indoctrination, there are also courses in Slapping, Chops, and other techniques beyond the traditional role of the bass player. The point is there’s a time and a place for everything. Go ahead and learn it all if you want! Just be sure you understand what’s expected of you at any given time.
“Fall in love with the function of the bass,” Derek says. “Get comfortable with that, and then, for Heaven’s sake, the sky is the limit.”
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 Derek here.
At For Bass Players Only, I take the frustration out of learning bass, so you can build confidence and thoroughly enjoy making music! Start your free trial membership here!