Who decides whether a bass technique is right or wrong?

Achieving greatness through wildly unorthodox methods

By Jon Liebman
Week of April 27, 2020

We all want to get better at bass. It feels like ever since we first picked up the instrument, we’ve been told about the importance of learning proper bass technique. What’s more, we’ve been lectured incessantly about avoiding bad habits.

Okay… Like what?

Is there only one “approved” technique for bass to which we all must adhere? 

I remember being absolutely aghast the first time I saw Louis Johnson wrap his left thumb over the top of the neck of his bass to hold down a note. And watching Jimmy Haslip slapping on his “wrongly” strung lefty bass never ceases to blow me away. The same is true for Billy Sheehan’s bizarre three-finger technique.

Are these guys wrong?

Bass technique is important, but there’s more than one way to groove and to get the job done.

This week we published an upbeat interview with the always pleasant Robert “Bubby” Lewis, a phenomenal player. Bubby’s played with everyone from Snoop Dogg and Lupe Fiasco to Dr. Dre, The Clark Sisters, and Stevie Wonder. And he’s got some definite opinions about bass technique.

“I’m not like one of those type of guys who likes to spill a bunch of education,” Bubby says. “I just play what I hear and what makes me feel good, not so much what everybody might think is correct.”

He’s not saying practicing isn’t important. He’s just cautioning players not to lose sight of the goal, which is to make music. In other words, if you learn bass technique just for the sake of it, without an end result in mind, you’re missing the point. And he’s right.

At FBPO, my lessons for learning bass cover various bass techniques, as well as hands-on instruction for grooving in all kinds of styles and genres. The point I always stress, though, is that once you learn the basics, your goal should to become your own player, expressing independence and self-confidence. (That’s especially true in the new Soloing course that went live last week!)

“Know your instrument,” Bubby says. “If you know where every single note is, you should be able to play whatever you want.”

Go ahead and practice your scales, modes, licks, technique, grooving. It’s all important, and it’s all good for you. Just don’t lose sight of why you’re doing those things. Always imagine the feeling you’ll have when you get really good at them, and what they’ll enable you to do.

At For Bass Players Only, we take the frustration out of learning bass, so you can build confidence and thoroughly enjoy making music.

“You don’t want to critique yourself so much,” Bubby says. “You just want to be confident and play with freedom, because when you have that, you can be more creative.”

Even if someone tells you you’re doing it wrong.

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

Comments on Who decides whether a bass technique is right or wrong?

  1. MICHAEL OLSON says:

    Technique really has two aspects of concern, whatever the technique may be: it’s either “effective or ineffective”, and “efficient or inefficient”. Effective technique is more important than efficient technique, but efficiency has its place as well.

  2. Tony Flores says:

    I always feel a preasure. If isnt the technicque is the sigth reading. The academic, but always there are an aspect to make strugle the journey. The thinks is enjoy like Bubby Lewis said.

  3. Eliot McCann says:

    The only technique that is correct is the one that works best for the player, and the best way for the player to make that choice is to be open-minded toward all techniques.

    As Thomas Beecham has been attributed to having had said: Try anything once, except incest and folk-dancing.

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