The Fastest Way to Get Good on the Bass

Wise advice from one who knows

By Jon Liebman
Week of February 17, 2020

Catching up with Donald Waugh was one of the highlights for me of this year’s NAMM show. In my latest interview with Donald, published this week on FBPO, I got the scoop on Donald’s forthcoming record, and got to take part in some interesting banter about gear, bass technique, and even parenthood (Donald recently became a father).

Then I asked Donald what he thought was truly important for someone who wants to learn to play bass. Anyone who heeds his words is sure to benefit tremendously from his advice.

Basically, it comes down to discipline and patience. In his response to my question, Donald’s first words were, “Take it slow.” Then he cited the tendency new bass players often have to want to jump right into the Victor Wooten or Jaco stuff, before even becoming proficient with the fundamentals.

Don’t skimp on learning your scales, arpeggios, and harmony, he advises. (Note: Members of my online bass lessons know that I’ve got a fun, groove-oriented method for learning those things!) His point is that you should develop your technique slowly. 

He also suggests learning songs you actually like. After all, learning bass shouldn’t feel like drudgery. Sure, you’ll have to pay some dues, but it’s best if you can view this period as a means to an end. 

Donald recalls that the first song he learned on the bass was “La Bamba” and how much fun he found it to play. Now that it’s been over 30 years since I’ve played that song to death, again and again, I’d probably agree that, yes, “La Bamba” is a fun song to play on the bass!

Playing bass shouldn’t be painful either. “Try to play comfortably,” Donald says, cautioning bass students to avoid bad habits, which can lead to a variety of physical ailments.

In the end, playing bass is all about laying down a groove, and making the music feel good. That’s why the approach I take to teaching bass is to make all my lessons groove! That way, you’re having fun while you’re getting good, and getting good while you’re having fun. 

And, “if you’re not having fun doing it,” Donald says, “what’s the point?”

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Donald here.

Comments on The Fastest Way to Get Good on the Bass

  1. Joe Dashiell says:

    In your current newsletter, you stated “Don’t skimp on learning your scales, arpeggios, and harmony”.
    Can you elaborate on harmony?


    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Hi, Joe. Thanks for your question. When I say harmony, I’m primarily referring to how the notes relate to one another, rather than standing alone in vacuum. Learning to play scales for scales’ sake, or arpeggios for arpeggios’ sake is not enough. While these skills are important, they are a means to an end. That end, of course, is making music! 🙂

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