Learning bass later in life? Don’t try to learn everything at once.

The fastest way to improve is to go slowly, no matter how old you are

By Jon Liebman
January 19, 2024

It seems just about every day I meet someone who’s always wanted to play bass, but because of family, job and life in general, they never had time to learn how to play their favorite music, typically classic rock or blues songs.

Now they’re at a point where they’re finally able to devote some time to learning music and playing bass. Problem is, they feel like they have to make up for lost time.

One step at a time

Whenever you take on a new goal, it usually comes with a lot of enthusiasm. You’re excited. You’re eager to jump right in. You feel like you’re late to the game so you try to devour everything all at once.

Does any of this sound like you?

Having that kind of drive is laudable, but it’s important to pace yourself. You’ll be a lot better off taking things one step at a time, following a plan with specific goals. That approach will bring about much better and longer lasting results.

I was talking to Chris Walker recently in a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview. Chris spent over two decades as bassist and musical director for Al Jarreau, and has worked with Ornette Coleman, Bob James, Cassandra Wilson, George Benson, and a long list of others.

When I asked Chris what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, especially someone starting later in life, he had some helpful suggestions.

Start from where you are

“Pick songs that are realistic for you to start off,” Chris says. “Work on getting a great tone, and just have fun.”

I’m sure you’ve got your own list of songs you’ve always wanted to play. You’re chomping to jump right in and start tackling them. But (as I think you already know, deep inside), you need to get control of few basic things first.

So slow down.

“Don’t get frustrated trying to learn difficult pieces of music that are going to frustrate you and make you put the bass away,” Chris says. “You have to be patient.”

I couldn’t agree more. As I’m always telling my students, don’t go for perfection right away. Go for steady progress. That always works out best in the long run.

Goals, deadlines… and patience

“It’s not gonna come overnight,” Chris says. “Take 30 minutes a day, just 30 minutes a day, and practice things that will help you,” citing things like learning scales, simple walking patterns, and songs that are appropriate for your level of bass player as examples. “Small steps,” he says, “to eventually help you achieve the bigger steps.”

Setting attainable goals for yourself is a great start. But be sure to assign deadlines, or at least target dates, for achieving them. Even if you don’t hit them all, you’re still making progress.

“Try simple steps first and achieve those goals,” says Chris. “I think that’ll make you feel pretty good about yourself and you can keep growing from there.”

He also gave a generous shout-out to the students learning bass here at For Bass Players Only.

“If they’re getting lessons from you,” Chris says, “I’m sure they’re getting some pointers on what to do in terms of fingering, in terms of trying to place their fingers in the right way to get the best tone, and things of that nature.”

Most of my students are over 50. I have a lot in their 70s and even a few in their 80s. The point is, it doesn’t matter how late you start. Taking a step-by-step approach and focusing on steady progress will take you much farther than trying to take it on all at once. It’ll get you there quicker too.

“Do what you love and just have fun,” says Chris. That would be that would be my advice.

How about you?

Have you ever felt discouraged about not learning bass until later in life? How did you handle it? Leave a comment below and share your story. And be sure to watch my interview with Chris here.

Comments on Learning bass later in life? Don’t try to learn everything at once.

  1. John Pavlic says:

    I really like the bass. Sometimes I feel the way the article describes. I am coming up on early retirement. So, I don’t feel like that as much. Interesting topic. Al jarreau is one of my favorite music artist right next to Steely Dan.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, John. Glad to hear I’m reaching you at the “right” level.

  2. klaus says:

    I always had a lot of music in my life – I started playing piano at 12 and lost track of making music when I started earning money.
    Later I experimented with didgeridoo and started playing with a percussion group…

    At the age of 45 I started playing bass. Since then I have been to Warwick Basscamp 3 times and finally became member of 3 different rock bands.

    In my experience there is no reason not to start late. And there is a shortcut: get a good teacher for some time. Biggest challenge is not to compare myself to other musicians – this is not a race…

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Great approach, Klaus, thanks. BTW, I was at the Warwick Bass Camp three times. No doubt we were there at the same time!

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