What to do when learning bass feels too challenging

Chances are, you’re making more progress than you realize
By Jon Liebman
March 18, 2022

By this point in your life, you know that nothing comes easy. Or at least not without a little work. 

And that includes learning bass.

Not that learning bass is the most difficult thing in the world. But, like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it.

The topic came up during a conversation I had recently with my old friend Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Journey…), published as this week’s FBPO interview. 

I first met Marco in LA, back in the early ‘90s. We used to sit in at the same jam sessions before going our separate ways. I’ve always found him to be super friendly, always very helpful.

And he knows a thing or two about playing bass. When I asked Marco what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, he shared his own story with me, and it really hit home.

“I have to say,” Marco told me, “I got out of it what I put in. Repetition, and being very tolerant and patient with yourself (is key)”

He talked about human nature, how people want things to happen right away. And how music simply doesn’t work that way.

“You find a lick that’s pretty intense, and you want to pick it up and play it,” he says. “Well guess what? Sometimes you have to put some time in. It’s very important, in my opinion, to be willing to put the time in.”

Oftentimes, I see my own students getting discouraged because they don’t feel things are happening fast enough. I have to remind them that progress isn’t always immediately apparent. If you look back at what you can play on the bass now, compared to where you were, say, a year ago, or six months ago, or even one month ago, you suddenly realize that you’ve been making steady progress all along.

“Be really patient with yourself,” Marco says. “Music is like that. Sometimes things are going to come up that are very challenging. The people who excel are the people who put the time in.”

When learning bass, it’s important to keep the end result in mind. Are you going to find it difficult at times? Of course you are! But anything worth having is worth working for. Imagine how great it’ll feel to lay down that groove, to lock in with the drummer, and to give the music exactly what it needs. It’s an amazing feeling!

“Listen to the songs,” Marco says. Listen to the chords. Where’s it going, the groove, the drums, right there. Apply yourself, and make it count.”

When you’re learning bass, go into it with realistic expectations. You’re not going to become a virtuoso overnight. So stick with it, put in the time, and watch your progress increase, sure and steady.

Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, watch my interview with Marco here.

Comments on What to do when learning bass feels too challenging

  1. A.J. Hager says:

    When I was learning how to play many years ago, sometimes if I was struggling to learn a bass part after trying, and trying, and trying many, many times, I’d start to feel frustrated, and that was the time to give it a rest and take a break from it. Even if that meant taking a break for a day or two. Then, when I’d come back to it, most times, my brain’s “muscle memory” would surprise me, and I’d start to “get it”, and the part I was trying to learn would start to become easier to play. It didn’t always happen though on the first few tries, but it would eventually. So, persistence does pay off, but having patience, and sometimes walking away and coming back to it later definitely helps as well.
    –A.J. Hager- Former bassist w/internationally touring Blues artist Debbie Davies (Debbie toured w/the late, great Albert Collins)

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