Want to learn that bass line? It may be easier than you think.

Here’s how to dig a little deeper in search of that “Aha!” moment.

By Jon Liebman
Week of October 18, 2021

Have you ever sat down to learn a bass line, a groove, or a solo, then quickly discover that it’s a lot harder than you thought?

Determined to get it down, you persevered, eventually discovering a new way to play it, using a fingering or technique you’d never thought of before, something that was actually a lot easier than how you originally set out to do it.

If that’s ever happened to you, no doubt you learned something in the process. You might have even incorporated your newfound abilities into your playing.

I was talking with longtime Lyle Lovett bassist Viktor Krauss recently, in a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview. Viktor offered a great insight into the process that, quite frankly, hadn’t occurred to me.

“When you listen to things,” Viktor says, “chances are, they’re easier than they seem. I think in looking at music and figuring out a part, there’s always an easier way than it than it appears to sound.”

I wasn’t sure where he was going with that thought, but I kept listening…

“There’s always a fingering somewhere in there that makes you say, Oh, okay,” he continued. “That’s the way they did it. That’s why it sounds natural to go to that spot.”

So what is it, Viktor? What’s the secret?

“Most people don’t want to write hard stuff,” he says. “They want to write something that sounds good, and is easy in your hand.”

Aha! Now I could relate to what he was talking about. Admittedly, there have been countless times over the years where I knew I was playing the right notes, but the way I had to configure my hands and fingers was awkward, to say the least. Then, it’s almost as if a light bulb goes off inside your head, where you say, “Oh! He must have played it like this. It makes so much sense!” You may feel dumb for not realizing it sooner, but that’s how you learn. 

The next time you get hung up trying to figure out how someone makes a passage sound so clean and effortless, see if there’s another way to play it on the bass. Viktor was spot on when he observed that the motivation isn’t to write something that’s hard to play. The goal is to write something that sounds good. So dig a little deeper. Oftentimes you’ll find that “Aha!” moment you weren’t expecting.

“Once you figure it out,” Viktor ways, “you go, ‘Oh, okay. That’s why that works. That’s why the pull-off here, or this is an open G versus a [fretted] G.’”

You’ll learn more about the bass in the process. You’ll also increase your technical ability and expand your musical vocabulary. All in all, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of music in general by going that extra mile, sticking with it just a little bit longer. Good luck!

What about you? Has this ever happened to you? Leave a comment below and tell me about your experience. In the meantime, check out my interview with Viktor here.

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