How old is too old to start learning bass?

There’s plenty of joy and fulfillment to be had with the bass, regardless of your age

By Jon Liebman
August 19, 2022

I think it’s great how more and more people are discovering the joys of learning bass after turning 50, 60, or in many cases 70.

Rather than lamenting over how “all those other bass players” have a 40- or 50-year head start over them, these latecomers see no reason why they can’t make significant progress and have a great time, doing something they love.

This was the topic of my conversation with my friend Jason Heath, published as this week’s FBPO interview. I contacted Jason after watching a video of him in Germany, talking with three people, all over 50, who had recently taken up bass. Seeing how excited they were about learning bass was truly a delight.

Humans are amazing

Most of the bass players in Jason’s world happen to be upright players, but he’s observed plenty of enthusiasm in older people who are taking up the electric bass as well.

“I see it all,” Jason says. “I’ve had a lot of people, they get into the bass, let’s say they’re in their 50s or 60s, they become obsessed and they join a community orchestra or they start up a jazz trio, or often both.

Sometimes, though, that enthusiasm leads these newcomers to biting off more than they can chew, quickly finding themselves over their heads. Once again, it’s Jason to the rescue.

“I try to help people with coping strategies for music that’s just beyond them,” Jason says. “Humans are amazing and they can accomplish anything. And just the fact that you’re coming to something later in life doesn’t mean you can’t make significant progress.”

It’s fun to get better!

Everyone is good at something. Truth be told, for most of us, there are more things we’re not good at. Jason helps his bass students keep that in perspective.

“I’m an amateur in so many things in my life too,” he says. “I’ve been playing bass for a long time, but I notice myself getting better at various (other) things (too), so I can relate to people that are picking up the bass later in life. I’m a terrible basketball player, but I’m a little better than I was because I’m practicing my shots. And it’s fun to get better!”

Learn to play beyond your capability

Jason enjoys sharing his coping strategies with newcomer bass students, especially if they’re feeling discouraged about their progress.

“If you’re thrown into a musical situation that’s way too challenging for you to accomplish,” Jason explains, “I’ll say, ‘Here’s a way to achieve some success with it,’” after which he’ll have them focus first on just playing downbeats, or playing an octave lower, or trying some other variation in order to simplify the part.

While playing something that’s a little beyond your capability is the only way to improve as a bass player, it’s important to do that with a healthy approach, a philosophy Jason embraces wholeheartedly.

What to do when you’re in over your head

“Now ideally, people are playing music that’s maybe a stretch and not totally crazy too hard for them,” he says. “It’s cool to try something super challenging, (but) let’s just try to find a way that you can feel successful at your level and contribute something, even if that’s just quarter note downbeats and some sort of 16th note passage. Or let’s pick one passage and really go for it.”

If you’re starting to learn bass later in life, allow yourself to be inspired by the growing number other students in your age group finding joy and fulfillment by doing the very same thing. Just take it one step at a time and watch yourself steadily improve. I think your results will surprise you!

Your turn: How about you? Did you start learning bass relatively late in life? Leave a comment below and share your experience. Then watch my interview with Jason here.

Comments on How old is too old to start learning bass?

  1. Eric T Peterson aka “Petey” says:

    Hi Jon,
    I feel like this; as long as you are ALIVE and BREATHING; you’re never too late to learn ANYTHING. Once you’re pushing daisy’s, THEN it’s too late. It’s all in the mindset.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Love it! Thanks, Petey.

  2. Playing bass in your golden years keeps you mentally sharp, and young!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      So true, Ralph! Thanks.

  3. Andres Molina Vela says:

    Hi Jon, I actually started playing bass after many years playing in bands as a guitar player. And it was because I wanted to keep playing and the band needed a bass player. I fell in love. It was like why had I not been doing this all of my life. I sold my guitars and started playing every bass I could get my hands on. It was like I was re born. I took classes and bought several of your books (which I love) The pandemic hit me and I had to sell all my gear, but life showed me the way and I am playing again! What I love the most, is that everyday I learn something new. I am not a kid anymore and learning everyday keeps me alive as well! The Bass is the most incredible instrument! Cheers and thank you for sharing with us!!! Many blessings!!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Andres! You’re definitely one of us! 🙂 Welcome home!

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