How to learn bass when your body’s making it difficult – and your mind’s being negative

First, go for it. Then, keep moving!

By Jon Liebman
October 20, 2023

You want to learn bass, but it seems there’s always something slowing you down or making it hard to begin.

You’re not alone. I can tell you countless stories of the thousands of students I’ve had over the years who’ve dealt with these very issues.

What’s amazing is how so many of these people have managed one workaround or another to find themselves actually playing bass and having fun.

Keep it simple

It’s especially gratifying when the light goes on and they realize that playing bass – and making the groove feel great! – is not nearly as physically demanding as most people think.

I’m always reminding my students that in most cases even a super simple bass line is enough to give the song what it needs. 

And when you can supply that, YOU feel great!

But don’t just take my word for it…

I had a very enjoyable conversation recently with longtime Paul Simon bass player Bakithi Kumalo, published as this week’s FBPO interview.

Bakithi understands these issues, as he’s worked with students of all ages, mentoring, advising, and teaching them how to play music.

I took the opportunity to ask Bakithi what advice he has for someone who wants to learn bass, especially when they’re over 50.

“I would say go for it,” he replied, right off the bat. “Anything you can play that’s going to make your fingers move, it’s important. It’s therapy. Just keep playing, just go forward.”

And that’s especially relevant for older students, he says.

“I have a bass player in his late 50s,” Bakithi continues. “He’s taking bass lessons with me and he wants to play. And then another gentleman, he’s almost 80 years old. This man is a painter, a famous painter, but he wants to play music.”

Just play something, and keep moving…

Bakithi provides oodles of support and encouragement to his students, regardless of their age.

“Just play something,” he tells them, “as long as your fingers can find the notes. It doesn’t have to be right notes, whatever. You’ll fix it later, but keep moving.”

And, according to Bakithi, that therapy isn’t limited to bass players.

“It doesn’t matter what instrument you play,” he says, “banjo, piano, even drums. You get physical. You have to stay with the music. It’s very important to get your fingers (moving) for arthritis and all that stuff.”

Easy does it

It’s also important to pace yourself, he says. Don’t try to be a virtuoso overnight.

“I’ve been playing for so many years,” says Bakithi. “I can play upside down, this way, that way, slap, all these things. But you can just take it slow. Take your time, don’t get frustrated. Just stay with it.”

How about you?

What kinds of roadblocks or hindrances have you experienced while learning bass? Leave a comment below and tell me how you’re coping with them. And be sure to check out my interview with Bakithi here.

Comments on How to learn bass when your body’s making it difficult – and your mind’s being negative

  1. Bill Burrell says:

    Thanks Jon. Inspiring words from 2 Masters.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Bill. I hope you got a lot out of it.

  2. Rob Quider says:

    This blog showed up at the right time for me, as I’m struggling to play The Beatles, Day Tripper, at the originally recorded speed. I have some issues with my fretting hand, due to a nicked nerve from surgery years ago. I’m a determined sort, but it’s been slow going getting two of my fingers to move as fast as needed on this one and I was starting to lose confidence I’ll be able to play it at the correct tempo. This blog and other commentaries on learning more difficult bass lines has been encouraging. I know I just need to keep at it, as I am seeing progress although slower than I would like. Thanks for sharing. Rob

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks so much for weighing in, Rob. Your determination is very inspiring. Just be sure to listen to your body; it’ll let you know how hard you can push. Good luck!

  3. Nicholas Ciabatoni says:

    Two things that frustrate me are 16 note combinations and memorization. I just don’t know how to master these two things. Any suggestions????

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