Learn bass like a farmer

“It’s better to do a little every day than to try to do it all at once”

By Jon Liebman
January 13, 2023

Whenever I’ve got something I need to do, there are generally two ways I go about it. 

If it’s a simple task, not requiring much in the way of thought or planning, I may be able to knock it out a day or two before the “due” date (notwithstanding the inherent risks of something else coming up at the last minute).

On the other hand, certain things require more ramp-up time, where I need be chipping away at the project at hand over a period of days or even weeks.

Why you can’t “save it up”

The second approach is like that of a farmer, or an athlete. If you’re growing crops, for example, or training for a marathon, science and nature simply won’t allow you to hold off till the last minute and do everything all at once. 

You may have the best of intentions, but some things just need to be done steadily and consistently, over a period of time.

Playing bass is one of those things. It is, after all, a physical activity where you’re training your muscles to move in a certain way. You can’t “save it up” for those days when you may be able to carve out an hour or two to practice. Even a few minutes a day is better than nothing.

Make sure you’re prepared

Back in the day, if I had a gig coming up, whether it was a jazz gig, a club date, or a Broadway show, if I hadn’t played in a while, I’d start loosening up about 3 or 4 days ahead of time, making sure I was I up for the task. (I’ve played some Jewish weddings where the horas would go on for 20 or 30 minutes, nonstop!)

The best way to learn bass

I was talking to Davey Faragher, longtime bassist with Elvis Costello and Jackshit, for a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

When I asked Davey what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, his answer emphasized the farmer/athlete approach.

“Just a little bit at a time,” Davey says, referring to the optimum practice regimen for learning bass. “However much time you can devote to it, doing it consistently is more important than doing 6 hours on Saturday and then not doing anything.”

Speaking from my own experience, your body will thank you for that kind of consistency. Your overall musical ability will improve more steadily too. 

“If you do 15 minutes a day, that’s going to be better,” Davey adds, “just depending on how much time you have to put in.”

I smiled when he said that, remembering how my bass teacher used to tell me the same thing. 

Make a plan, and stick with it

You’ve got to build up your technique in moderation. Regardless of how busy you are, if you want to learn bass, find 10 or 15 minutes a day to keep your fingers in shape. 

Schedule a time that works best for you. Maybe it’s in the morning, or just before dinner. 

Practice a scale, work on your arpeggios, do some chromatic runs… Just pick something!

You can keep it interesting by doing scales on Monday, string crossing exercises on Tuesday, and so on. 

Come up with a plan that includes one-octave scales, two-octave scales, major, minor, speed drills… whatever’s going to make you eager and excited about practicing.

“It’s better to do a little every day,” Davey says, “than to try to do it all at once.”

Come up with a plan that’s sure, steady, and consistent. You’ll find it fun you’ll get a real sense of accomplishment.

Learn bass like a farmer.

What about you?

What kind of plan will you put in place, taking the farmer’s approach to learning bass? Leave a comment below and let us know. 

For more thoughts on the subject, and some hilarious stories too, you can watch my complete interview with Davey here.

Comments on Learn bass like a farmer

  1. Grayden Provis says:

    Great piece, thanks Jon. The late Jim Stinnett used to say “practice is simply the repetition of a pre-determined idea”. I think the key words here are repetition and pre-determined. So, my practice-like-a-farmer routine will be as follows:

    1. I will practice every day for one hour

    2. I will decide exactly what I’m going to do for that hour before I pick up the bass

    3. I will have at most three things I’m going to repeat for that hour

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      There’s definitely something to be said for discipline and focus. Thanks for weighing in, Grayden. Jim was a kind man, for sure.

  2. Derick Polk says:

    I tell students that they should play their instruments everyday if possible even if you only play for 5 minutes.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Good advice, Derick. I hope they’re listening to you! 🙂

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