What to do when getting older affects your bass playing

Tips for keeping the groove alive when your body pushes back

By Jon Liebman
October 7, 2022

You want to learn bass. You’ve got the right attitude and mindset and you’re determined to do all the right things.

As you get older, though, your body occasionally gives a nudge and says, “Hey, buddy. Not so fast.”

To which you respond with, “But I’ve always done it this way.”

Sound familiar?

As we get older, we need to pay attention to what our body is telling us and, whenever possible, try to stay at least one step ahead.

The subject came up during a recent conversation I had with longtime Steve Vai bassist Philip Bynoe, published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

I was telling Philip about the amazing results people are getting from learning bass here at For Bass Players Only and I asked him what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, especially if they’re, say, “north” of 50 o 60.

“First of all,” he said, “welcome to playing bass! It’s a wonderful instrument.”

Having explained some of the challenges my students are facing, specifically when the body pushes back, Philip got it immediately. 

On a typical Steve Vai tour, Philip says it’s not unusual for the band to perform 5 or even 7 days a week, with a 2-hour soundcheck before every show. “Sometimes we’re playing 5 to 6 hours every day,” he explains. “And that beats ya up!”

Posture

So Philip likes to follow a first-things-first approach. “The pain and suffering we all endure,” he says with a laugh, “some people say that’s just part of it. But I’m always interested in somebody’s posture, how they’re sitting, how they’re standing when they’re playing, (and) the things that you can control, like is your strap too wide, are your arms cocked, are you relaxed when you’re doing it…?”

Sometimes making small adjustments to things like that can make a big difference in taking away pain and making playing the bass more comfortable.

Patience

You also need to come to terms with the fact that you’re not as young as you used to be and you need to respond to what your body is telling you. “Be patient with yourself,” Philip says. “If something starts to hurt, stop.”

We all kind of know that, but are we really doing it? It’s an important reminder that shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Tendonitis is a real thing,” Philip says.

“With your practice, it’s very exciting to play,” he continues, “but give yourself just a couple minutes in between, you know, 10 minutes, to just kind of let yourself relax, doing things in short bursts because we’re older.”

Water and ice

“Drink as much water as possible,” Philip advises. “In our older age, keeping your joints lubricated” is important. “I have a 32-ounce bottle and I empty it five times during the day. I just drink it, drink it, drink it.”

And what do you do during those times when you’re unable to ward off pain in advance?

“Don’t be afraid to ice after the show,” he says. “There are guys that do ice and (use) Icy Hot. There’s lots of things. I use a product called Voltaren. It’s an arthritic cream and it really works for me. So find things that work for you if you’re getting pain.”

Getting older is a natural part of life. It’s easy to assume we can do certain things like we used to, but when your body sends you messages, you need to take heed.

The good news is there’s often a way to counteract the things that slow us down. These things require a new mindset and modification of what we’re used to doing, but if the end result is the ability to keep on grooving, that makes it worthwhile.

Your turn. How has getting older affected your bass playing? What changes have you made in order to deal with pain and discomfort? Leave a comment below and share your story. And be sure to watch my interview with Philip here.

Comments on What to do when getting older affects your bass playing

  1. Stuart Bunyan says:

    At the tender age of 73 I had to accept a bit of arthritis creeping into my finger joints. Excercising them and a good warm up helps but the game changer was switching to medium scale basses. An absolute revelation.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      So glad you found something that works, Stuart. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Bill Burrell says:

    Thanks John. I’ve been enjoying your articles on aging and playing. Good stuff.
    Bill

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      You’re welcome, Bill. I appreciate your kind words.

  3. John Faulkinbury says:

    Hello Jon
    Thank you for another great article addressing how to best approach issue we face playing bass as we get older.
    Having arthritis in both hands is a challenge as well as having back problems.
    I have come to realize that adapting and overcoming this is very real and looking at options available such as switching to a short scale lighter bass might help in dealing with this.
    I will be interested in hearing what you and others have to say in dealing with these limitations.
    -John

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, John. First off, keep in mind that you don’t have to put a lot of undue stress on your muscles and bones in order to play a solid bass line and make the music feel great. I invite you to check out the FBPO Facebook page. A lot of people have weighed in on dealing with arthritis and other physical “nuisances.” Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/ForBassPlayersOnly

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