These are my notes on playing and learning the electric bass. A couple of reasons have propelled me to do so: seeing Doug Wimbish play with Living Colour in December 2018 and having the intention for Cahaya to learn piano throughout the year of 2019. (She started her lessons in February 2019). I had regrets about not following through with my bass, and seeing Wimbish was a spur which made me want to get back in touch with something I had neglected. I thought that if I committed to learning the bass (again) I could set a better example for Cahaya in her keyboard lessons.
Trajectory. I started playing the bass when I was a teenager. These were half-hearted attempts. I was not a proper student: I was just focused on playing songs and imitating what I heard. I took too many shortcuts and didn’t have the discipline to learn to read music properly or to train my ear. I was part of the school band, but never performed consistently with them.
We played ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ one night, which I stuffed up monumentally. I was nervous and couldn’t focus on the notation. I had played well during the rehearsals, but, during the actual performance there was a disconnect between myself and the music that others were playing. I had a novice degree of playing ability and no real grasp of any music theory and no performance practice. When I was lost, I was lost. I was disappointed; it wasn’t what I expected.
This experience was countered by a pleasurable one, whereby I performed to the best of my abilities in a small ensemble competition at school. The little group I was a part of performed “The Nearness of You” as a quartet: piano, trumpet, bass and drums. I was in the zone and I didn’t miss a note. We were the only group playing jazz: all other ensembles fronted with some kind of classical combination. At the following school assembly, it was announced that our group won. It was so satisfying. But at the same time, the main satisfaction had been derived from practicing and playing well together. We were lucky to have a skilled musician in our group who would later be a professional violinist. He trained us diligently and it paid off. This was very small scale, but it was a real experience.
This practicing of the bass is in part a continuation of an earlier hobby. I’ve picked up the same instrument but am using it as a means to explore musical learning and for interaction with my daughter and others. I have no ambitions to play like Doug Wimbish: his style involves far too many pyrotechnics. My favourite players are gentler: John Patitucci, Gail Ann Dorsey, Meshell Ndegeocello. My ambitions are mild: I want simply to be an adequate musician in an adequate ensemble being capable of playing interesting music.
Ten Months. I have had some ten months of playing the bass now. I have had occasional private lessons* and have used various sources on YouTube for tips and hints. I have myself three basses (and want more). I’m working on finding the right mix for learning: technical ability; ear training; rhythmic ability; theoretical knowledge and creativity. I’m in a little ensemble (keyboard; guitar; bass) and we practice once a week. This is a vital learning experience too; it is a kind of testing of one’s skills and ability to adapt on the spot. I have started to accompany Cahaya while she practices her keyboard. I do this as a means to share something creative with her and for us both to think about the relationship of one instrument to another.
*Private lessons have been far and away the most inspiring and enjoyable and beneficial moments in my learning. They instantly outweigh any number of hours of YouTube tutorials. One needs to have one’s playing critiqued by a real, live, human in order to progress. Playing an instrument is too fine a motor skill to be left to one’s own devices.