Here’s an approach that will make them MUCH easier to play
By Jon Liebman
January 5, 2024
Most songs are not difficult.
Even songs with busy or elaborate bass lines aren’t necessarily hard. You don’t have to copy those bass lines, note for note, in order to capture the essence of those songs. How sad it would be if you let a lack of super chops hold you back from learning bass and playing songs you love.
When you hear those songs with amazing bass lines, like ones by James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, or whoever your favorite players are, don’t say, “Wow, I’d really love to play those songs, but (sigh) I could never play like those guys.”
Here’s all you need to do…
Simplify the bass line. You can play fewer notes and still give the song the right feel.
There are tons of songs that only have three chords: “one,” “four” and “five.” A lot of songs also have a “two” chord, a “six” chord, a… whatever chord.
Can you play the root of the chord? Can you play a super simple bass line and still make the music feel good?
“It starts with the joy of it”
I was talking with Shem von Schroeck recently, in a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview.
Shem’s played with everyone from Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross to Stephen Stills and Kenny Loggins (he’s also an accomplished opera singer, but that’s a little off-topic).
I was telling Shem about the thousands of people coming to For Bass Players Only to learn bass. Most of them are over 50 with no burning desire to become a rock star and tour the world. They just want to make music and have fun.
“That’s great, Jon,” says Shem. “I’m so glad you got this set up. You really got a great program put together.”
I thanked him for his kindness and asked what advice he could impart to someone who fits that description and wants to learn bass.
“It starts with the joy of it,” he says. “They wouldn’t be doing this unless they want to experience some form of satisfaction, pleasure, positive things that ultimately give them joy and satisfaction.”
Figuring it out may be easier than you think
Look, I could talk to you all day long about bass technique. Or music theory. Or… Jaco. Not that you wouldn’t benefit from those topics, if they’re presented properly. But what’s really at the core here?
“I’ve said this for a while,” says Shem. “Play music you love. There’s something about playing, figuring out a song that you learn on your own that you want to play.”
At the risk of sounding like an old guy, find today’s music so different from what we used to listen to back in day, especially music from the ‘70s or even the ‘60s. And I have a hunch I’m not the only one that feels that way. There are so many great songs from those eras, iconic rock songs that still make us feel good every time we hear them.
I remember trying to figure out how to play my favorite songs, and that feeling of a quasi euphoria I experienced when I had at least part of it nailed. There’s definitely something to be said for that one-step-at-a-time approach to learning songs.
“And now you’re able to do it,” says Shem, providing encouragement to newer players. “You started, you didn’t know how to play it.” He cites that beautiful transformation, “going through that journey of, ‘I know this song’ till ‘Yes I can!’”
Maybe you’ve experienced some of that yourself. If not, who’s to say it’s beyond your capability?
“I would encourage any musician, whatever their instrument, (to) go do that,” says Shem. “Find a song you love. Find a song you’ve always loved.”
Make a list
Specifically addressing the over-50 crowd, Shem says, “You’ve been listening to music a long time. Make a list of 10 songs that you always wanted to play. A Zeppelin tune, or an AC/DC tune, or a Mariah Carey song. Just go do it!”
For just about every song, there’s a simplified version you can play — without making it sound corny or hokey. Start with the basics and then put a little bit of yourself into it.
I never tell people that learning bass is easy, or that it doesn’t require any time or effort. But making music, and grooving, is a lot more attainable than most people think.
Come up with your list of songs. It doesn’t have to be ten songs. Start with two or three. Or even one. Just give it a try and see what happens.
“That would be the first advice I would (give),” says Shem. “Play songs you love. You can learn so much from the music that moves you.”
What about you?
What songs have you always wanted to learn on the bass but thought they were too complicated or over your head? Leave a comment below and share some of your list. Then start learning those songs, with simplified bass lines. Be sure to watch my interview with Shem too. Just click here.