Why Learning to Play Bass is A Whole New Ballgame

The new stuff is great, but don’t forget: You’re the anchor of the band

By Jon Liebman
Week of November 4, 2019

This week’s interview is with my old friend Stu Hamm. Stu and I go back a long way, having worked on at least one big project together, transcribing a collection of his acrobatic-laden tunes for a compilation with a major publishing corporation. We’ve also done a lot of hanging out together, whether at a NAMM show, a music event in London, Germany, or any of a number of other fun spots around the globe.

Stu’s really into the bass. He’s often excited to talk about a new bass technique he’s just discovered, an upcoming solo release he’s working on, a fun tour, or something else.

When the subject of learning bass came up in the interview, Stu made some interesting points, most notably about how today’s up-and-coming bass students have a drastically different perspective than we did when we were first learning bass.

“When you and I were transcribing ‘Flow My Tears’ and all that stuff, literally no one played that way,” Stu remarks, reflecting on our transcription project, which was way back in 1991. “When you think about it,” he adds, “when I was 16, maybe five people in the world slapped on the bass, three people played harmonics, no one really played chords.” 

Nowadays, the expectations are so much greater than they were, with kids striving to learn bass techniques that just weren’t around when we were their age. “By the time a bass player is 16,” says Stu, “they’ve got to be able to slap, to tap, play chords, play harmonics, and do this whole vocabulary that just didn’t exist, really, when we were kids.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Or is there?

If you’re accomplished at any or all of those bass techniques, then all the power to you, but only if you’re applying the showmanship stuff in the right places. 

While Stu is an absolute master at myriad crowd-pleasing bass tricks, he seems almost disappointed that most people are unaware of his grooving ability, the fact that he can play upright bass, make the music swing, read really well, and other factors that are crucial for any bass player, even it it’s just playing whole notes. The bass player is the anchor of the band, he says, “the bricks, the concrete” that form the foundation.

Ability to play tunes like “Moondance” or “Killer Joe” or “Billy Jean” is an absolute must. “That’s really what bass playing is,” says Stu. “The other stuff is cream on the top.” 

Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below. I’d love to know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Stu here.

Comments on Why Learning to Play Bass is A Whole New Ballgame

  1. jdashiell says:

    Ps- Jons books and online lessons are insanely good!

  2. Paul says:

    Excellent blog John
    Enjoying the new book to

  3. Philippe Melkonian says:

    Very good analysis. So as 60+ amateur bass player it is frustrating to deal with all these modern vocabularies but such a joy to ear and see the young generation. Only if it stay musical and not only demonstration

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