The dangers and risks you need to know, before it’s too late
By Jon Liebman
May 12, 2023
For most people who want to learn bass – or just about anything else – the most obvious place to start is YouTube.
Seems logical. After all, there’s a treasure trove of great stuff there. You’re bound to find something worthwhile, right?
The good, the bad… and the dangerous
There is a lot good stuff for learning bass on YouTube. But there’s also a lot of bad stuff. I’d even go so far as to call a lot of it downright dangerous.
It’s been obvious to me for a long time, but it came up again in a recent conversation I had with Michael Kenney, former bass tech for Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris, published as this week’s FBPO interview.
Having just retired after 40+ years of working alongside one of the most iconic bass players in rock, Michael was happy to weigh in on the subject.
“There’s everything you could possibly want to learn on YouTube,” he says, “which didn’t exist when I was a kid. When I wanted to learn something, I had to get the record and practically wear it out, moving the arm.”
While bringing back a lot of memories of all the times I used to do that, Michael’s comment brought a smile to my face.
Wow, that’s really awesome. So what.
Then I shared my concerns about some of the content on YouTube and how it requires sifting through so much bad stuff before you can find anything even remotely worthwhile.
“It can be daunting now,” Michael acknowledges. “Bass players are just lightyears beyond where they were. In fact, it’s turning into a solo instrument, which I don’t think it was ever meant to be.”
These days it’s super easy to find YouTubers who are ridiculously talented, technically. But while going “all-out-chops-crazy” may dazzle your friends and get you a lot of likes, that’s not what it means to be a good bass player.
“It can be interesting,” Michael agrees, “but it’s not what it’s all about. Your point is exactly what I was saying. There’s 10-year-old kids out there playing Jaco!”
Is this really how you want to spend your time?
Is it possible to find something genuinely helpful for learning bass on YouTube?
Sure. But you’ll likely have to plow through countless videos, spending untold hours trying to guess which ones may have what you need.
What’s more, even when you find something that looks promising, you’ll have to test it to see if actually gets you any results with your bass playing. And if it doesn’t, you’ll have to go back and start the whole process again.
Is that really how you want to spend your precious time? I doubt it.
What you need to get good at… and why
Bass technique is important. Having a lot of chops can be a crowd pleaser if played appropriately – and sparingly.
My concern is that too many people don’t understand that learning bass means learning how to lock in with the drummer, set the foundation for the band, and make the music feel good.
It’s not about how many notes you can fit in to your solo or how fast you can play.
“I’ve got a friend that practices night and day,” Michael says, “shredding to the hilt. I said, ‘Great, you can play 10,000 notes a second. Now play ONE and rip my heart out and I’ll believe you.’ And that’s kind of where I am.”
What are your thoughts?
Do you have an opinion about learning bass from YouTube? Leave a comment below and share what’s on your mind.
My lessons and courses in the Bottom Line Club provide you with everything you need to learn bass in a way that prepares you to give the song just what it needs and have a whole lot of fun in the process. Get all the info about how to join here.
Great article! The cold, hard reality is that other musicians just want you to play roots (mostly) and “disappear”. I’ve recently gone back to drumming and exactly the same applies – my band mates want ME to “disappear” too. They basically want me to play the groove and not a lot else. Let’s face it, bands are about singers and lead guitarists – everyone else is the support act 😏.
Thanks, Grayden. There’s plenty of honor in being in a support position. 🙂
Awhile back James McMurtry – singer/songwriter – was being interviewed in an Austin paper and he told the interviewer “Things got easier for me when I realized my real job was a beer salesman.” As a bassist and a working musician, I’m a contractor. I get hired to provide a service – back up the singer or lead guitarist, add tracks on a recording, whatever. If they want roots and fifths on the 1 & 3, that’s what I give them. And I make it the best that I can. As we used to say in New England – it beats hammering nails on the roof in the rain! Like a carpenter, painter or a plumber, it’s not my business to critique their choice of Kitchen cabinets, wall colors or faucets. If I don’t want to play what they’re looking for, I don’t take the gig. But – with the right mind-set – I can always have a good time making the groove and (probably) learning something in the process. IT’s all in the attitude.
Good points, Charlie. Thanks.
I’ve always tried to learn anything and everything new to challenge myself, all kinds of music, different Musicians, open mic are always a challenge, there’s always something new to learn or a new approach, yes, lock in with the Drummer and all else will follow the groove.
Great attitude, Marc. Thanks for weighing in.
I agree with all of you. It’s been said that bass is the glue between harmony and rhythm. It’s an awesome and crucial responsibility that can be overlooked, especially by non-musicians, but is obvious to musicians who have had to endure gigs with lame bassists.
Right on, Larry. Thanks!
Totally agree with Michael. Great chops is ok, but what counts is how you support the song. Some of my favourite bassists never play solos, but geez they are great in the foundations of the song. The other issue with YouTube is that your learning is not progressive and becomes very disjointed. There is also no accountability that you would get with a proper online course or person to person teacher. That’s my 2 cents.
Thanks, Ian. If you ask me, your comment’s worth more than just 2 cents! 🙂
This is why I stopped playing flute. I was classically trained, but I was dismayed the emphasis was on high and fast. You were only “good” if you could play in the stratosphere at impossible speeds when what I wanted was to produce the best, the sweetest tones I could. Now I study bass with the intent to make the listener cry with joy at the sonorous beauty of my riffs and tone.
Beautiful, Al! I hope a lot of people take heed of your comment. Thanks so much for weighing in.
No question, having the capability to share stuff on the internet has made learning new tunes easier. But, it is the internet, after all. Which means that most of the time, the stuff someone else figured out is largely correct, there’s often at least one, or more, (sometimes a lot more) incorrect chords in a chart; making it almost a musical version of the “Where’s Waldo”. Make sure to print the charts out and keep a pencil handy!
In my somewhat checkered past, I acquired a Master’s of Library Science degree and spent several years early 2000’s working in reference depts of academic libraries where my main jobs was teaching students, faculty and others how to do research on the internet. Massive amounts of info, totally unorganized and unfiltered. Blessing and a curse. Same as YouTube (and other music sources on the web). I am currently researching several tunes a band I’m working with want to add to the set list. Great to be able to hear each tune in different arrangements, by different performers. Really easy to go down the rabbit hole as well. Sometimes great opportunities are entangled with great risks….
Great analogy, Charlie. There’s so much info on YouTube, but it can be ridiculously time-consuming to find something that might be helpful. Even then, you can’t always be sure. Thanks for the comment.
It depends on what kind of music you play-and meshing with the kick is a basic ability that you must have but sometimes the bass can get more complicated. Greatest band in history couldn’t go on without their deceased drummer -Led Zeppelin. It depends what you want to do-if its roots great if its intricate lines great . Free’s bassist was awesome-massive sound and he didn’t need to do much to get noticed . Billy Sheehan is also great and there is a big audience for a bit of virtuosity in a great rock show . Remember though that the bass is the most powerful instrument in the band . Imagine “Whole Lotta Love” without the bass when the riff starts in the beginning . It sounds like a bunch of mosquitos having a party. Bass rules.
What a great way of putting it! Thanks, Andre.
Being an “old person”, it never even occurred to me to look for lessons on YouTube when I started learning bass (4 years ago) – I started with instruction books which included audio examples (including yours John). I eventually discovered various online bass teaching sites and now I’m overwhelmed with more courses than can actually handle, so I don’t tend to bother with YouTube because I prefer complete courses not just individual lessons – ‘progressive learning’ as someone mentioned above. I think you have to be able to find the good teachers, the ones that can actually teach as well as being able to play bass. Also there are some bass players who may have made a name for themselves but if you really look at their technique they’ve got away with a lot of sloppy stuff and bad habits that you really don’t want to learn! Some of the stuff on YouTube can be really hyped up too, which is too much for my old brain to handle – I think young people grow up these days with an attention issue – everything has to be fast-paced and quick-change or they lose interest. I just need clear step-by-step teaching and inspiring demonstrations without all the flashing images and high-speed performances.
Very astute and thoughtful observations, Celia, as always. Thanks so much for weighing in.