Q: I have really been obsessed with wanting my own unique voice and approach on the bass. Do you think that I’d be doing myself any harm in the long run if I avoid conventional approaches to learning (like scales, changes, learning blues lines, etc…) in an attempt to develop something new?
A: That’s an interesting question, (and one that is perfect for a continued discussion in the comments).
When I read your question, I immediately thought of Wayne Krantz and how I’ve heard that he tells his bassists to not do anything that anyone would expect the bassist to do. (I’m paraphrasing). Basically: avoid all the stock lines and licks. But if you make a list of all of his preferred bassists over the past 10 or 20 years, they are all seasoned pros who can cover a wide variety of musical aesthetics, principally because they have done their homework and understand the various idioms and stylistic tendencies.
If you avoid learning what others have done before you, yes, you might come up with something completely new (and hopefully, functional) but you will also most certainly miss out on a lot of things as well.
After thinking about this for a second, I came up with an analogy. Let’s say that you want to develop a new style of kung fu. Would you:
a) Specifically avoid learning anything about any other martial arts?
b) Start by building a foundation of many styles to best learn what works best for you from “this” and what works from “that”?
I would assume that one who first spends years devoting time to tai chi, wing chun, karate, kung fu, grappling, various weapons, and so on would have a much stronger foundation and likely develop their own unique style (a kind of personalized ‘best of’ all of the styles). Much more so than the person who just goes into the back yard and starts trying to come up with new moves.
How about golf? Do you think that you could develop a stronger form or better accuracy without instruction? I know that I couldn’t.
I would think that the same holds true for music and musicians. Doing anything well is difficult and we must master the basics before we can transcend our own limitations and discover true expression with an honest voice.
The more you understand different styles of music (with depth), learn common turnarounds, learn stock bass lines and common patterns, the more unique a player you will actually be!
Our voices are really the culmination of everything that we know. I’d would rather learn what came before and explore my own voice through that lens than start from a place of complete ignorance. I don’t mean that to sound so harsh but that’s what a blank knowledge base is: ignorant. We all start out ignorant but learn through experience and exploration and learning history so as to better be prepared for the future.
Readers, do you have any further thoughts on this? Think of your favorite players… Can you think of anyone who didn’t learn by learning songs and/or studying with a teacher? Please share in the comments.