Q: As a “hobby” bassist who doesn’t really want to study as much music as a professional might, is it most important to learn arpeggios or scales? I am not a chord player nor do I want to be as far as I know. (I have difficulty chording due to neuro-muscular problems in my hands. If I could do that, I’d play a guitar.)
A: I’ve likely said this in one way or another in previous columns, but I firmly believe that in both art and life, nobody needs to feel pressured into being or doing any more with it than they want.
If you want to paint only abstract shapes, but someone pressures you to work on figure drawing or realism for some perceived reason, you have every right to say no (in as many or few words as you like).
If you only want to play rock, but your teacher tries to force jazz on you because it’s “the only way to get better at your instrument”, find a new teacher.
The key is being honest with yourself with regard to what you truly do want out of your musical life. If you want to be a professional, freelance bassist then yes, you will truly need to learn to read, learn your scales, arpeggios, walking, soloing, and so on.
If you are playing music because it brings you joy and you don’t feel the need to have monster chops and blistering solos, then why would you push yourself that hard to internalize something that has nothing to do with the music you intend to make or hope to make in the future?
Just know that if you actively decide not to work on scales, theory or any of the rest of it, you will surely be limited in the scope of what you can expect to play down the road. The only “mistake” I see students and friends make with consistency is to avoid working on things out of laziness and then feel disappointed that they aren’t developing as quickly as they would like.
You also mentioned having neural-muscular issues with your hands. This surely limits what you might do physically on the instrument (although necessity truly is the mother of invention, and you very well may discover new and interesting ways to do things on the instrument). If you’re goal is to have fun and just play around within the physical limits you have on the instrument, I say to just keep it fun and do your thing!