Step out of your safety zone!

When was the last time you played something you hated?

By Jon Liebman
Week of December 20, 2021

We all want to get better at learning bass. Naturally, we tend to gravitate to certain styles, the ones we like the most.

What happens, though, if you’re asked to play something you really don’t like? Well, you could say, “Oh, I don’t play that stuff,” which makes you come off like a jerk. Or you can swallow your (baseless) pride and give it the best rendition you’ve got.

I played a ton of club dates in the ‘80s. I never felt it was beneath me to play “New York, New York” or “Roll Out the Barrell,” when I would have rather been playing – just about anything else. Not only did I play what was asked of me, but I gave it my all. And I did it with a smile!

I got to thinking about those days during a super fun interview I did with Tanya O’Callaghan, published as this week’s FBPO interview. Tanya, by the way, is the newest (and first-ever female) member of Whitesnake.

Having played all kinds of music in her career, Tanya has always demonstrated a very healthy approach to learning bass.

“My heart has always been in rock & metal,” she told me. 

Nonetheless, she’s played an awful lot of pop, funk, R&B, and anything else she was called upon to play.

When I asked her what advice she had for someone who wants to learn bass, she stressed the importance of branching out, learning to play things you might not naturally be inclined to play.

“Don’t be in your safety zone,” she says. “If you love rock and metal, go try to learn a Motown song, or a jazz song, or a pop song, or something you think you hate.”

Hate? Why would anyone want to play something they hate?

“You’ll start to appreciate the music,” she says. “Quite often,” she explains, “people are like, ‘Oh, I don’t like pop.’ And then when you really, really listen, especially ‘90s pop, wow! Those are really well written. The bass lines are amazing. Or something really, really heavy, and understanding the intricacy of what the bass is doing.”

The way I see it, you’ve got two choices: You can take the curmudgeon route, staying set in your ways, refusing to respect or even acknowledge any music that’s not on your playlist; or you can be open to learning new things, expanding your musical palette, and growing as a well-rounded bass player and overall musician.

“It’s just great for your playing all around,” Tanya says, “to be able to play things from different genres.”

Do you think Carol Kaye, or Leland Sklar, or Abraham Laboriel Sr. ever went to a session where they had to play something they didn’t love? Of course they did! But they’re there to make music, and to do it to the best of their ability. To me, that’s part of the fun of playing music. Making it sound good, even if it’s not your “bag.”

“It’s all about having fun,” Tanya says. “If it’s not fun, what’s the point? It shouldn’t feel like a job.”

What about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, watch my interview with Tanya here.

Comments on Step out of your safety zone!

  1. Dale Krevens says:

    Very wise words indeed! And excellent advice. Don’t keep your doors, or mind, closed. You’ll never progress. Listen, observe, apply.

  2. Celia Bradley says:

    I used to hate heavy metal music but now I’m learning bass I listen to the rhythms, I can appreciate the music more and I enjoy practising metal bass lines – I still hate screaming vocals though and it’s not the music I’d choose to listen to regularly.

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