How hard should you be working in order to learn bass?

Are the things you’re working on aligned with your goals?

By Jon Liebman
December 9, 2022

Whenever I set out to do something, I go all in. One hundred percent.

Last week my wife and I went bowling with our granddaughters. “Papa, you’re so serious,” somebody said. What can I say? I’m intently focused on knocking down all the pins every time I’m up. That’s what I’m there for.

I’m also crossword fiend and I find myself unhappy and disappointed if I don’t fill in every square. 

I love to watch Jeopardy! but I hate those times when it makes me feel stupid.

That’s just the way I’m wired. Maybe you’re the same way?

Think about why you do what you do

When it comes to learning bass, is it possible that you’re putting too much pressure on yourself?

Ask yourself this: “How far am I trying to go?” 

Then ask, “Do I really need to push myself so hard? Is that goal really what I want? And is it worth it?”

Now I’m not advising you to slack off or adopt an unhealthy attitude. But let’s take a step back and look at things in perspective. 

Chances are you’re over 50 years old. You’re not trying to be a rock star. You’re not trying to set the world on fire. You’re not looking for a career as a professional musician. 

You just want to learn to play bass so you can have fun. And if you can avoid feeling any pain in the process, even better!

Don’t get hung up on the destination

I got to thinking about this during a recent conversation with my old friend, 8-string bass virtuoso Igor Saavedra, published as this week’s FBPO interview.

I was telling Igor about the students in the Bottom Line Club, and how I’m always impressing upon them the fact that they can make such an incredible impact on the music, and on the groove, just by playing a super simple bass line that doesn’t cause them any pain.

“What you said is totally right on the money,” Igor says, adding how you don’t need to be obsessed with the destination. It’s much better if you just relax and have fun. 

In fact, according to Igor, the destination may not even be all that important.

“Of course, the expectations have to be realistic,” Igor says, “and my advice would be focus on having fun, and the rest will come. Or not. But it doesn’t matter if you’re having fun.”

Remove the pressure

In other words, somebody might come along and offer your band a record contract. Cool. But is that really what you’re going for?

“If it does not happen but you had a great time, not thinking of any destination, it will be worth it,” says Igor.

If you were a career-bound bass student, still in your 20s, I’d be giving you a very different message. But at this stage in your life, wouldn’t you just like to learn bass for the sheer enjoyment of it and play music that you love?

“I have had many over 50 too,” Igor says about his bass students. “And it works like this: They lower their expectations, and if they’re really, really good, well, things happen and they do more stuff. Great! But if it does not happen, the whole trip was (still) incredible for them.”

Think about the goal you want to achieve and what it takes to get there. How closely do the things you’re doing align with that goal?

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” Igor reiterates. “Have fun!”

Your turn. How about you? How hard are you working to learn bass? Do you feel you need to give it everything you’ve got or is it enough just to have fun? Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. And be sure to watch my interview with Igor here. 

Comments on How hard should you be working in order to learn bass?

  1. Grayden says:

    Very good post. I was watching a video by “The Fretless Monster”, Tony Franklin the other day. He started noodling around on his bass and fell into a very simple three note groove. After a while he looked at the camera (while continuing to play the groove) and said with a huge grin “I could do just THIS all day!” It was a great lesson and I think the same one you’re making here.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Grayden. Yeah, Tony’s great! In fact, here’s our most recent interview with him: Enjoy!

  2. Andrew Atwill says:

    Good article and I can relate to a lot of it. However, I can only speak for myself. I know as I grew older, that a certain degree of reality sets in. It is not so much that suddenly I had a hindrance present, it was only that the priorities of my own development, as in musical direction, had changed. It is that simple, as general as that sounds.

    We all get busy with life, family and other things, yet I prefer to believe the experience I gathered over many years facilitated the capacity to focus consistently in areas that would be most beneficial for my own goals.

    I still remember something my very first teacher when I was not even in puberty said “The only pressure we have is the pressure we place upon ourselves”. To this day, I still believe it to be true.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Good approach, Andrew. It’s also a matter of prioritizing and doing whatever works for you. Even slow, incremental progress is good!

  3. Everett Fortin says:

    I am 61 . Im a life long amateur of Guitar and keys . Ive wanted to try Bass. My frustration with music is however never finding the right mic of laid back non judgemental musicians who play for the enjoyment of sounding good as a group.
    So my question what point have you actually learned the bass or any instrument or vocal for that matter to the point of entertaining others and having fun at the same time?

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      There are lots of things you can try, Everett. Maybe you start by playing along with records. If you’re already doing that, do more of it. See if you can hone in on what the bass player is doing. Try playing along, concentrating on locking in with the drummer, playing in time and making the music feel good. As for the other stuff, just play. The more you play, the more you’ll discover new things, and the better you’ll get. Thanks for your comment. Come back and share your progress and results. Good luck!

  4. Jim says:

    any advice for a 61 year old finger plucker who wants to learn to play with a pick as well as slap but gets frustrated with how sloppy I sound?
    Fyi, self taught and been playing since age 12, with over 40 years spent in cover bands and playing clubs

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Start with the basics, Jim. Focus on laying down the root of the chord on the downbeat, nice and clean. Concentrate on attacking the note at just the right time. You might even want to play just one note per bar and move up gradually. Recording yourself can be very helpful too (brace yourself for hearing things you didn’t know you were doing!). I’d be happy to help you more offline. Feel free to reach out to me anytime through the “Contact” link. I’m here to help! Thanks for weighing in. Good luck!

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