Learning to groove on the bass is just the beginning

You need to be able to sustain that groove indefinitely. Here’s how.

By Jon Liebman
December 30, 2022

So you’ve learned that bass groove. You’ve got it down and you can play it really well. Good for you!

Now comes the question: How long can you keep it up?

Part of being a bass player is being able to play a groove for an indefinite length of time. Sometimes it feels like forever. And that’s okay! Stay with it. Embrace it. Dig it. That’s what bass players do. 

If you get bored holding down a bass groove for what feels like an eternity, you’re playing the wrong instrument.

It might even make a good solo

I saw a joke once defining a bass solo as when the rest of the band drops out and you keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing all along and the audience cheers for you.

It’s just a joke… but is it? J

I had a great conversation with Norwegian bassist Thomas Winther Andersen recently, published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

Thomas is an in-demand bass player, having performed with everyone from Jimmy Halperin and Lee Konitz to Sheila Jordan and loads of others. When I asked him what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, I loved his answer.

Playing with continuity

After some brief comments on the importance of proper fingerings, holding the bass correctly, and playing along with records, Thomas stressed the importance of being able to play with endurance and stability.

“Get into the vibe of playing with continuity,” Thomas says, “so if you pick up one thing, even if it’s one simple riff, try to keep doing it for 5 or 10 minutes.”

It’s a great point and, in my opinion, not talked about enough. Of course it’s important to be able to play the groove, but it’s even more important to sustain that groove for however long it takes.

“Continuity is a certain degree of concentration,” he says. “Let’s say you have one groove and you can play it and you say, ‘Oh. Okay, I know it.’ But once you put on the metronome or even play along with the records and you keep going for 10 minutes, you find out you have to relax somehow to be able to go, to play that long.”

Disciplined grooving

His point was really starting to hit home with me. It takes discipline to keep the groove going indefinitely. In every case, you’ve got to give the music what it needs, without letting up. 

Sometimes it’s okay to throw in a fill here and there. Other times you need to remain true to the line without adding anything or taking anything away.

Thomas’ method is great for sustaining a feel-good bass groove. I love the concept of the 10-minute test for achieving continuity!

“You feel how long 10 minutes is,” Thomas says, “so you build a sense of form. You discover if you play one thing that you get impatient, that you want to play a fill, but it might come too soon or too late. All those things develop with continuity.”

Thomas recalls how his teacher helped instill that discipline. “Make sure you fill those 10 minutes in a sensible way,” he recalls his teacher saying, “so you had to distribute your vocabulary to sort of make up a story.”

Thomas was bringing back all kinds of memories for me. I remember being in a blues club one time seeing the bass player lay down a groove without varying even an inch from the pattern. I thought, “Wow, that’s actually pretty hard to do. This guy’s got amazing self-control!” 

When you have to go it alone

Thomas says it’s best to practice this technique when you’re playing in a band setting. When that’s not possible, there are ways you can work on it when you’re alone.

“When I don’t get the energy from the band and I’m at home I say, ‘How can I get close to that energy when you play live?’” he says. “Putting the clock on 10 minutes really inspires me to go for it in a different way. It can be a simple thing but it gives a certain edge to the concentration you play with.”

Whether you do it with a metronome or by playing along with recordings, seeing how long 10 minutes actually is can be a real eye opener!

“Maybe it’s very natural for some people to just do that,” says Thomas, “but definitely having a look at the watch and the tunes and looking for it also in the practice situation does absolutely help.”

According to Thomas, the overall goal is consistency, regardless of what you’re playing.

“It can be simple or complex,” he says, “and the music needs the same kind of quality in that sense to get through. One can’t start too early in the practice process to also look for that.”

What about you?

Can you recall a situation where you had to hold down a groove for longer than expected? How did you deal with it? Leave a comment below and share your story. Give the 10-minute test a try and let me know how that goes too! For more thoughts on the subject, watch my complete interview with Thomas here.

Comments on Learning to groove on the bass is just the beginning

  1. Grayden Provis says:

    Fantastic Jon – thankyou. This is where the rubber meets the road! And Duck Dunn is probably Exhibit A. I like to think of how excited session musicians must have been when they heard that he was going to be the bass player for the day 😎.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Grayden!

  2. John Evans says:

    Two things related to this…
    A. It’s reported that when guitarist Jimmy Nolen auditioned for James Brown part of the conversation went like this- “Can you play a 9th chord?” “Yeah.” “Can you play it for fifteen minutes?”

    B. An interview in Bass Player Magazine with Daryll Jones decades ago- he talked about this specifically, saying he’d play something like “I’ll Take You There” from the Staple Singers and play it for ten minutes. Ten minutes because it gets you past all the distractions, the urges to think about something else, or to embellish, etc. and gets to where you are “in the zone” I started doing that- it’s a lot easier with headphones than withe an amp because neighbors, family, et. al. don’t get irritated!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Great points, John. Thanks!

  3. Brad Griffith says:

    Great post, thanks.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Brad. I’m glad you liked it!

  4. Rick Bevan says:

    “Goin Up Country” Canned Heat
    That’s cruel and unusual punishment😂😂

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      I don’t know, Rick. I think it’s a fun line to play! 🙂

  5. Eli Bennett says:

    At least you get a break every chorus – the IV chord is strictly root 8th notes!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      That’s true, Eli! 🙂

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