Should you learn to solo on the bass?

Well, that depends…

By Jon Liebman
November 20, 2023

What excites you about playing bass? Do you dream of being the next Jaco? Or doing some of that fancy Victor Wooten or Billy Sheehan stuff?

Careful now…

Not that there’s anything wrong with the flashy stuff. Yeah, it’s cool and it’s fun. Just be sure you understand what it really means to be a bass player and that you keep things in perspective.

I was talking to Bunny Brunel recently in a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview. Bunny is an amazing soloist. But he also knows how to take care of business on the bass, and that’s what’s most important.

You’re never too old to learn bass

I told Bunny about the students learning bass in my Bottom Line Club membership program. Most of them are over 50 and just want to have fun playing bass. 

I also shared how I’m always saying, “You’re never too old and it’s never too late” to learn to play an instrument.

So I asked Bunny what advice he could impart to those people.

“I’m so I’m so glad that you got me back talking to you and talking about bass,” Bunny says. “I agree with what you said, that people, if they if they want to play an instrument, they should start. You don’t have to look at how old or young you are. Just pick it up.”

Is learning to solo a good investment of time?

But what should they learn? What’s important for an adult beginner to know about learning bass?

“If you want to play the bass,” Bunny says, “forget about the bass solos. Just learn how to get the groove going and nail it down. That’s your main thing. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”

In other words, get clear on what it really means to be a bass player. That’s where you need to start.

“This is very important to understand,” says Bunny. “There are many great bass players that just play the bass. They don’t even solo at all and they are on so many records. Why? Because they just do the job of the bass player. They just hold the boat and set the groove.”

As bass players, we often hear about holding down the beat. But I’ve never heard it called holding down the boat. I like that! It’s a good way to think about the job of the bass player.

Keep the end goal in mind

Talking to Bunny reminds me of all the hours I used to spend woodshedding pieces like “Donna Lee,” “Moto Perpetuo,” “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and “Joe Frazier.” Was it a waste of time? Not at all. Those were all great technique builders and so much fun to play. 

But it didn’t get me any gigs.

“You don’t need to play melodies a thousand miles an hour,” says Bunny. “You just need to play nice solid bass lines. That’s all you need to do.”

How about you?

Do you ever ask yourself if you’re practicing the right stuff? Or whether you’re doing it for the right reasons? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. And be sure to check out my interview with Bunny here.

Comments on Should you learn to solo on the bass?

  1. Gary Rodriguez says:

    Would like to have the access to Bass Groove Basics

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Sure thing, Gary. Here you go:

  2. Jimmy Miller says:

    For beginners, definitely concentrate on the basics and don’t worry about soloing. But I think once I got past the beginning stage, learning how to solo made my foundational playing a lot better. I can play fast at times but I’m not a speed demon, nor am I the best at improv over jazz changes, but learning melodies and how to create a solo has been very helpful overall, and helped me to come up with cooler foundational parts.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Makes sense, Jimmy. Thanks for weighing in!

  3. John A Ewing says:

    When I first started playing I didn’t solo at all. Then years later started playing with a band and we worked up Chain Chain Chain…guitar player says… John you need to work a bass solo into this… I was like HUH??? WHY??? But worked something simple into it. I am still on the fence with doing them. But must admit it can be fun.

  4. Bob Cotter says:

    100%! Serve the song, be the foundation, support the group no matter what your playing level.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Bob!

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