How to learn hard bass lines

Just because something’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You can do this!

By Jon Liebman
February 2, 2024

Have you ever had trouble learning a bass line? 

Of course you have. At one point or another, it happens to everybody.

And I mean everybody.

I was talking to my old friend Mark Egan the other day, in a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview.

Mark and the Chick Corea session

At one point, when we were talking about different approaches to learning bass, Mark shared a story that’s sure to make you feel better about your playing, regardless of what level of player you are.

The story isn’t about a bass player, but that doesn’t matter. The lesson can be applied to anyone dealing with a challenging piece of music.

“I had the honor to play with Chick Corea,” Mark’s story begins, “with Airto Moreira, great percussionist.”

It’s a good story already!

“I remember being in the studio. We were playing this song in 5/4 and Chick was having trouble playing it. I couldn’t believe that he would have trouble playing anything.”

Mark watched and listened to what he remembers as a mind-blowing experience.

First, take it apart

“I saw how he got it happening. What he did was, he took it apart, he played it very slowly.”

Sounds pretty logical, I know. But learning something unfamiliar often takes a great deal of focus, patience, and persistence.

“He played the first measure,” Mark continues, “and he got the fingerings. And then he played the second measure. And then he played the first and the second together slowly.”

“And then he went to the third, and so on and so forth, until finally he played the whole thing through, had it all together.”

I would love to have been there to watch the whole process unfold.

After that, anything’s possible

But Chick, apparently, was just getting warmed up.

“He kept playing it faster and faster,” Mark says. “And then it was ridiculous!”

I guess I should add ‘determination’ to my list of focus, patience, and persistence, all the while keeping the end result in mind.

“Within 5 minutes he had it,” Mark says. “We recorded it and it sounded like he’d always played it.”

You can do it too

Hopefully, you’ll find some encouragement in Mark’s story. Keep it in mind next time you find yourself struggling with a piece of music. Take it apart, approach it slowly, and keep at it. 

It may take a little longer than you’d like, but in the end, you’ll feel that much more of a sense of accomplishment.

Remember also that it happens to everyone. What’s important is how you respond to it.

“It was eye opening for me,” Mark remembers, “because I wasn’t expecting him to not be able to play anything. It made him human to me.”

What about you?

Have you ever had trouble nailing a piece of music? (If you say no, I won’t believe you!) How did you get through it? What takeaways do you have from Mark’s story about Chick? Leave a comment below and weigh in. Watch my entire interview with Mark here.

Comments on How to learn hard bass lines

  1. Joe Primavera says:

    I’m in a cover band and this is my approach to getting the line right. It usually works fine unless it’s The Who as Ox was truly unique. Thanks Jon.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Yes, “Ox” was awesome, for sure. Oftentimes, it’s possible to capture the essence and the overall vibe of a groove without having to play the exact line, note-for-note. Thanks for weighing in, Joe!

  2. Tara Rae says:

    Before I studied music, I studied dance. Dance is very physical, and Chick’s approach is also commonly used to learn dance routines. You learn the first 8-count slowly, then faster. Then learn the second 8-count. Then put them together. Then continue on the 3rd 8-count. Music is also physical and we benefit from this approach. I take things even faster than they should be played, and when I return to original tempo, it becomes even easier to play.
    An excellent mentor and teacher also taught me two additional things – if you’re playing a fast run of notes, start slowly and if you get stuck, hang on that one note (before the stick) for however long until you figure out where to go next. If you don’t, you’re teaching your hands the wrong notes. Then get faster once you get the hang of it.
    The second thing is to try to play runs backwards. There’s something in that that helps you play them forwards. Can’t explain it, but it works!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      A great way to look at it. Thanks for sharing that approach, Tara!

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