Ask Damian Erskine: Recommendations for starting out?

Q: What would you recommend to someone just starting out on bass?

A: These are the things you will regret NOT doing if you stick with any instrument, so be ahead of the curve and do the work now, instead of later or never!

1. Learn to read music (not tab, but actual notation!) Read EVERY DAY, even if only for 10 minutes.

2. Learn as many tunes by ear (also solos, melodies, etc.) as you can.

3. After you’ve learned anything by ear, write it down and save them. It’s great for your reading to practice writing and you won’t believe how much you’ll forget throughout the years. Keep a catalogue of stuff you’ve worked on.

4. Practice your scales, modes, arpeggios, chord shapes, and get your teacher to help you work that knowledge into playing over tunes.

5. Play as much different music as you can, with as many people as you can.

6. Get in over your head and get your musical butt kicked! You learn so much when you are forced to stare head on at everything you don’t know yet. Always try and play with people better than you.

7. Ask questions! The only stupid question is the one that’s never asked.

8. Have fun with the music and practice things that are fun but also practice things that will serve you as a working bassist! (Don’t just slap all day long… practice playing in time, with good tone and with different techniques. Playing Victor’s “Classical Thump” is definitely awesome but can you also play “Oh Darling” by the Beatles?

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Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. joe

    I’ve been playing bass for 34 years and I can’t read music at all, and I can honestly say I’ve never regretted that decision in my life.

  2. Tim

    Trying is not failing.
    Failing is not trying.

  3. Mike

    Great advice.

    knowing how to read music is extremely important if you want to do any thing other than playing with a bunch of guitarists who say “its this cord on seven” if you go to a gig and they say here’s the music what do you do if you have never herd the song.
    if you can’t play by ear or don’t know scales, how do you solo? and the only reason why i can play bass better than a lot of people is because i surrounded my self with better musicians be it in person or by watching Victor Wooten or Jaco.

  4. Clifton

    This is the Good Stuff!!!