How Important Are All Those Scales?

Technique is important, but don’t lose sight of the music

By Jon Liebman
Week of October 14, 2019

In some of my recent interviews, I’ve noticed a pattern that seems to be emerging about what one really needs to do in order to become a great bass player. I’m speaking specifically about practicing scales, arpeggios, and the like. Will learning all those scales and modes inside and out truly enable us to make music, or will they just get us bogged down on developing technique for technique’s sake?

The topic was touched on in my interviews with Bryan Beller and Rex Brown. Most recently, it came up again when I sat down with Florida Georgia Line bassist Tom Beaupre, in an interview published this week on FBPO. We all want to have great technique, and we all want to make music. So where’s the balance between the two?

In the current interview, Tom advises bass players to just “pick a song and start learning” it. Citing a philosophy he attributes to Victor Wooten, Tom reminds us that we don’t learn to speak in full sentences at first, but rather one word at a time. So why not approach music the same way? Start with what you’re able to do now, and build on that. Learn a simple bass line, an easy groove, and work on making it feel good.

Does that mean we don’t have to practice our scales and arpeggios?

Well, no, I wouldn’t say that (nice try!). As I alluded to above, there’s a balance. The ultimate goal is to apply your technique to making music that grooves and feels good.

In my bass instruction books, I’ve always strived to attain that balance by developing what I call “exercises that groove, or grooves that are good for you!” My Bass Aerobics book and my just-released Bass Chops book are prime examples of this approach: Having fun while you’re getting good, and getting good while you’re having fun.

Taking the concept to the next level, I’ve incorporated this same way of learning into my online bass lessons, right here at FBPO. I love all the positive feedback I get from my students, telling me how excited they are with this style of learning and how effective it is in helping them attain their bass-playing goals.

Like I said, it’s all about finding the right balance that works for you. Technique is important, but it’s a means to an end. Don’t let it get in the way of doing what’s expected of you as a bass player. 

Make music. Make it groove. Make it feel good.

Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below. I’d love to know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Tom here.

Comments on How Important Are All Those Scales?

  1. jdashiell says:

    When working on a new song (new to me), I always work out the scale to aid in developing a bass line

    Also, Jon

    I just received my signed copy of Chops! My first impression was wow, that’s thicker/meatier than some of your other books- must have a lot of great content. Skimming it revealed just that.
    All else is on hold while I start playing!!

  2. Charles Irwin says:

    Ray Brown thought scales were important. On the day he died, he was practicing scales in his room. Carol Kaye insists that playing chord tones (arpeggiating sp?) is a basic necessity. It’s all about making music – but you gotta have the proper tools in your tool-box.

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