A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Dear Diary…

When I first attempted to learn to play bass, about 15 years ago, I had no musical background. I knew what I liked to hear and hung out with musicians and local bands at home, at shows and in the studio quite a bit, but had no real idea of what anyone was actually doing. Most of my friends who played in bands were guitarists and drummers. Some of the guitarists also played bass, but it was secondary to them, and now that I look back at it, they were probably just playing guitar on the bass.

I wanted to learn an instrument, but guitar and keyboard just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve always thought that there are too many guitarists in the world, and it also seems like an ego-driven instrument to me (sorry, guitarists – I know you’re not all like that). Somewhere along the way, while seeing shows and staring at drummers, I finally noticed that there was someone else on stage at a lot of these shows, and that person usually Boomed.

I’d generally thought of bassists as guitarists, but never understood their place. The only thing I knew was that their instruments had less strings than guitars. I didn’t even realize that they were so much bigger. It took a while before I came to understand what a bassline was, even thought I’d always been able to identify them when listening to people play on the radio.

Then one of my friends’ bands got a new bass player (they previously had 2 guitarists and a drummer) and I was able to begin seeing how things fit together. Their bassist seemed to know a lot more about what everyone was doing and how to fit things together than the rest of the players. I’d learn later on that this was music theory. I was pretty impressed. I started paying more attention to bassists when I went to shows, and was eventually blown away seeing the bassist for a local (NY) band called Idiot Syndicate play.

I saved up money, learned that left-handed people, like myself, were at a disadvantage when choosing instruments and bought myself a bass. I was in love with it for months, but didn’t really have anyone around to teach me how to play it. I grabbed an old Hal-Leonard book called Bass Bassics Step 1 that came with a CD and tried teaching myself to play. After a year, I’d really gotten nowhere and it eventually ended up mummified in its case at my parents’ house for more than a decade.

The thing is, I still wanted to learn. I just didn’t know where to begin and didn’t dedicate resources to really finding out how. I grabbed about 2-dozen books on bass and theory over the years, bought Bass Player magazine almost every month for years, and still focused on listening to bass guitarists play when I listened to music. I didn’t make myself sit and work on playing though. Instead, I got sucked into work, playing computer games (I’m looking at you Age of Empires II and City of Heroes) and lady trouble that ended with me being married. And yes, I know that all women are crazy. I tell my wife that almost every day.

So… marriage. That changes a lot of things. It makes you not have as much time to relax as you once did. You end up doing a lot of groceries, visiting family and endlessly working on your house; fixing things, cleaning things and arguing about how to prioritize renovations and what rooms should really be used for. I found myself with even less free time than before and way more stress. I also found myself getting moody and withdrawn again, like back in my early 20’s. Somehow, this magic formula of no time, lots of responsibility and bottling everything up led to me randomly digging up a bass teacher in my town and heading off for lessons. I kind of forced myself to make time for myself.

That’s what led to this blog, and to that girlish spilling of my guts above.

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