My journey to be a better bass player, and why it's so important for my mental health
Updated: Nov 9
Pictured: My actual bass, a Hofner Ignition Violin Bass
A little earlier this year, around July or August, I decided to start taking bass lessons online. I take them from https://artistworks.com, which I highly recommend. They offer structured videos that start at the simplest "beginner" difficulty and move all the way to very advanced levels for expert players. My teacher is Stu Hamm, who is a legendary bass player. Seriously, it's like taking guitar from Eddie Van Halen, or Steve Vai, or Joe Satriani (Stu's played with the latter two). I also get to submit videos to Stu directly through the website, and he gives me feedback on them. It's a nice interactive component that makes online learning better, because I can get needed feedback to become a better player.
Many of you that follow my work know that I am a musician too. I write and perform my own music, and I have a little home studio out of which I record my own music and mix and master music from others. For me, music is what I do for self-care. It's always been "my first love." I've beens singing (seriously) since I was around 12, and I started learning piano and guitar in my teens. I performed in my youth worship band throughout high school, and that's when I started writing and recording music too. It's always been a part of me. However, once I got married, started a family, and started working full time as a psychologist, music became an occasional hobby. Something I'd do when inspiration came to write or when I worked on recording an album, but not much outside of those specific projects.
As I hit my mid-30s and as I've been working stably in Chattanooga now for 4-5 years, I started to look at my life and think about things I could do to get back into music again. It's such a big part of my identity, and I missed it. As I worked on my last album, Anastomosis, I learned a TON about mixing and mastering. I loved learning about it and I loved the process of getting better and better at it the more I practiced. I learned this out of necessity. I wanted to make a great sounding album, but I couldn't afford to pay a professional engineer to do the work for me, so I taught myself how to do it (with a lot of help from people with a lot more expertise), and fell in love with the process there. But, perhaps what I enjoyed the most about that process was the LEARNING and the GROWTH. I saw myself go from a complete newbie, knowing almost nothing, to being good enough to even mix other people's music.
What I enjoyed the most about that process was the LEARNING and the GROWTH
You see, one thing that happens to us as adults is that we often stagnate in personal learning and growth. Once we are well-established in our jobs and in our fields, we don't really need to learn new things. We just need to execute reliably. And although I do learn new things frequently in my role as a doctor/clinical psychologist, this is extra knowledge on top of an already established, comfortable level of expertise. It's just not the same as starting from scratch.
That brings me to why I started learning bass. I love music. If I'm going to do something in my free time, I'd rather it be music than most anything else (spending time with my family excluded). A weak spot in my music skills though is the rhythm section - including bass and drums. I already had a bass that I used at times when recording to lay down a basic bass line, but I wasn't very good at it. I couldn't really play anything that I didn't write myself, and even the stuff I wrote, I couldn't play well without having 100 takes to get it right. I wanted to do better. So, I talked to my wife about taking the Artist Works Bass lessons.
(Learning drums was out of the question. Drums are loud and very difficult to record properly. Bass, on the other hand, fit right in with what I already had. Given I already play guitar too, bass was more likely to be something I could learn through online lessons. I think to really learn drums, I'd need more personalized (in person) lessons, as I've never played them before).
My experience with bass lessons has been great. I knew enough about guitar that I wasn't a complete newbie to a stringed instrument, but the growth I've seen in just 2 months of my bass lessons has been great. I'm playing Van Halen, Outkast (Hey Ya has a great bass line), Pink Floyd, Jaco Pistorius, and a lot of the Beatles. I'm trying (and failing) to mimic the blistering speed and gallop of Iron Maiden. A lot of it is slow, repetitive work. But if I compare myself now to how I was playing 2 months ago, the difference is amazing and clear. My fingers can move in ways I thought was impossible 2 months ago, and even things I could technically play 2 months ago just sound better - smoother, cleaner. Seeing that little bit of growth makes me feel proud of myself.
And that, I think, is the real heart of this post - finding pride in improving yourself in something that matters to you. That's the thing we're often missing as adults - growth. It's hard to come by. We are "grown ups," after all. By virtue of being already grown, we often find limits to the amount of growth we feel we can accomplish. Bass has been that thing for me for the last two months. I've still got plenty of room to grow too, so I'm sure I'll keep at it indefinitely. Importantly, it's rejuvenated my love for music, and, a big plus, it's something I can do while still spending time with my family. My wife and daughter can listen to my play, or can at least sit next to me while I play through headphones.
By virtue of being already grown, we often find limits to the amount of growth we feel we can accomplish.
So, whether its music lessons, or cooking, or fitness goals, or anything, think of something you've always wanted to do, and just do it. It won't solve every problem, but at least you'll come out of it all with a new skill. As you're working on the skill, take time to notice the small incremental changes that happen over time. Fight through the frustrations of imperfections. Despite some media portrayals, no one actually starts off being good at anything. Remember that being successful at something and being good/skilled at something are two different things. You can be successful without being skilled, and you can be skilled, and, more importantly BUILD skills, without being successful. Whatever your goal, choose a regimen and work to stick to it. Forgive yourself if you get off schedule. That's life. But just do you best. I started off playing bass every day, but some weeks I may only practice 2 or 3 days. It just depends on what time I have!
Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without me acknowledging that the luxury of having the time and money to take up music and bass lessons as a hobby is a privilege. Not everyone has the same privilege I do, and it may not be as easy for you as it was for me to just dedicate time and cash to a new hobby or life skill. If that's you, feel free to ignore most of what I've said in this post, and you do you. Find whatever else works for you.