Why You Should Be Cautious of Great Bass Technique

Fundamentals are important, but don’t forget the music

By Jon Liebman
Week of November 30, 2020

In this week’s interview with the inimitable Trip Wamsley, we got into all sorts of different topics about bass, including Trip’s approaches to recording, thoughts on fretless playing, different philosophies about tuning, and more.

As a bass educator, naturally I also asked him what sort of things he thought were important for someone who wants to learn bass. Right away, Trip cited a quote from jazz legend Ron Carter, who, when asked about the subject, replied, “When you’re first starting out, find a good teacher. Period.”

But what makes a good bass teacher? And how do you decide whether to take a chance on someone or not? Not surprisingly, I have some thoughts on the subject, so keep reading.

Recounting his early years as a young student of music, Trip fondly recalled his teacher, Mr. Mouton, for being “an absolute stickler” about teaching proper fingerings and the fundamentals of good technique. “God bless him for it,” Trip says.

So far, I’m on board. After all, when learning bass, you’re going to develop some habits, so you might as well make sure they’re good ones. 

Still, I have some concerns.

Though having proper technique is essential for being a good bass player, it’s important not to get lost in a “technique for technique’s sake” mentality. It’s fun to be able to play a bunch of cool licks, but the benefits are infinitely greater if understand what they mean musically. 

I believe in the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. My goal is to provide my students with the tools they need to build their own bass lines, lay down their own bass grooves, and improvise their own bass solos, rather than playing a bizillion 16th notes a minute, or throwing some disjointed Jaco lick into a song, with no rhyme or reason as to how if fits into the music.

The mechanics of bass playing are important. “That is so critical,” Trip says. “You need to have a good fundamental technique.” And I agree. It’s equally important, though, to understand how to apply that technique, and use it responsibly.

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

Comments on Why You Should Be Cautious of Great Bass Technique

  1. David says:

    Good technique is just another tool that should be available when needed. Investing most of your time in technique while ignoring fundamentals, such as harmony or time is not constructive. However, the tendency to patronize certain talking points I often hear, where great technique is not necessary for bass playing, is just patronizing some sort of contrarian thinking that sounds hip because the inference is that “you can get by with so little, here let me show you”. It sometimes sounds like there is virtue in being able to say, “see I get gigs and can make it happen with hardly ANY technique at all”. I think this is dumb, to be honest. Being able to play a fast passage cleanly, or knowing some basic slap technique, or how to play chords, or whatever are useful techniques that, even in the simplest music, can enhance your playing and contribute to the music.

  2. Robert says:

    Learning what I’m doing musically on bass I stepped away from bass to learn/Spanish Classical guitar it all ties together! There is so much more to bass/music,than academic study,it’s the human element,if you don’t have a teacher an just learning bass like Billy Sheehan said once before”Get out there an start jamming with people”! There is a lot of music/lessons to be learned that you won’t learn from study!! Study is a lifetime anyway !!! Enjoyed this guy’s 👏👏❤💪

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