Stop trying to play like somebody else!

There’s only one you, so just be yourself

By Jon Liebman
April 1, 2022

You’re doing your best to learn bass. You’re putting in the time and practicing diligently with the best of intentions. That’s great!

You’re watching and listening intently to whomever is teaching you, and you’re totally focused on following whatever you’re being instructed to do. Also great.

Eventually, though, you need to discover what works for you, and it may not be exactly the same as what you were taught. Regardless of how you’re going about learning bass, think of instruction as a basis, a foundation, then find a way to make it work for you.

The topic came up during an incredibly fun conversation I had recently with Marten Andersson (Lizzy Borden, Steelheart, Lynch Mob…), published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

When I asked Marten what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, his answer not only made so much sense, but it’s vitally important for anyone who wants to learn bass.

“I think the foundation of some music theory is a good start,” he says.

No argument from me there. Having a grasp on theory is definitely a tremendous advantage. 

But when Marten started talking about how to approach learning bass technique, he hit the nail on the head.

“Have the theory in mind,” he says, “but if they tell you, ‘Oh, you’ve got to sit straight and you’ve got to have your guitar on your lap,’” you don’t always have to take everything literally.

For example, Marten recounted a seminar with studio legend Tommy Tedesco he attended as a student at the Musicians Institute. According to Marten, Tommy, who was a big man – and a hilarious jokester! – told the group, “I have not had a lap in 30 years!” 

The point is, use whatever instruction you get as a guide. Ultimately, you need to find a way to get the job done in a way that works for you.

Pay attention to what you’re taught, then, when the time is right, you need to start developing your own technique and your own style. It might involve using your fingers and your thumbs in new and even innovative ways. Have you ever watched a YouTube video and discovered the bassist is using a completely different fingering than the one you came up with? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

The goal of course is to sound good and make the music feel good. But no one should tell you that there’s only one way to get there. Sometimes you have to forge your own path. After all, Paul McCartney doesn’t play like Chris Squire, who didn’t play like Geddy Lee, who doesn’t play like James Jamerson. Those guys, all great players, didn’t all play the same styles of music, but I think you get my point.

As Marten says, “If it works for you, then go with it.”

Stop trying to play like somebody else. There’s only one you.

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 Marten here.

Comments on Stop trying to play like somebody else!

  1. Richard West says:

    Awesome article, I play bass also and work with Emily. Been out of the seen for awhile do to a injury. I am back and playing catch up. I have a little self conscious about learning exactly scale for scale. But always felt this how I should play it. Drummer told me the other day.. There’s my bass player. Thank you..

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Richard. Don’t be self-conscious. Just do it, and you’ll make progress. Sorry to hear about your injury. Glad you’re back!

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