Who Am I? A Thought Exercise for Bassists

I whole-heartedly believe that who we are as people translates to who we become on our instrument. I’ve been kind of meditating lately during any down moments on every aspect of my personality and how it may or may not relate to any given part of my style of playing – the good and the bad!

This includes focusing on my playing, but goes way beyond. I’m becoming more aware of how to think about the player I want to be, and how this translates to the human I want to be.

Here are a few examples from my own self-explorations.

Detail Overload

Personally: I can be hyper attentive to detail and a little anal when it comes to being organized and task oriented.

Musically: Likewise, my playing can be a little over-articulate, possibly a little hyper-technical and therefore detracting from the over-all “stank” factor when playing funk or from the “organic” nature of a tune.

I’ve spent too much time thinking about the “right” notes instead of playing the sound.

Street Smart

Personally: I grew up rejecting conformity and spent quite a bit of time being a bit of a “bad kid” for the most part. I always seemed to relate more to the street kids than the “good” kids. I spent a lot of time doing things I shouldn’t have but have since developed a good balance between being focused, motivated, positive, law-abiding and sober while also maintaining just enough of my inner “street kid”.

Musically: I have a lot of “pocket” and can really play with some “booty” when it’s called for, and that’s what I have the most fun doing – laying big-fat-stanky-pocket! I think my inner street comes out in my funk or pocket!

Social Intelligence

Personally: I’ve always prided myself on being able to relate to almost anyone and my ability to function in any number of different environments (high-class down on to no-class. I’m pretty much at home with people, in general, as long as they’re genuine.

Musically: I’ve also always strove to sound “at home” in any given genre or musical situation. I don’t like feeling out of place musically and pay very special attention to whatever “vibe” it is that’s required for the music and to bring it with authenticity. But, if it doesn’t feel right to me, I just can’t do it. I’ll recommend someone else for the gig (I’m that way with people, too. If I don’t think I’m getting the real you or if the real me doesn’t fit… I’m not interested).

Those are just a few personal examples off the top of my head. I do think that this kind of thought-exploration can really bring to light certain things, both musical and personal. Of course, both are beneficial to explore.

I’ve long found that much can be gained from pontificating on the abstract as well as the literal. It’s just as important to consider your “vibe” as it is to memorize your scales, for example. I’ve come to believe that, in order to become well rounded players, we must also become well rounded people.

Just for fun, think about your favorite players and then think about what it is in their playing that intrigues you. Now consider the people (as best as you can, given that we pretty much only get the “public face” of our heroes… even when we may meet them, it’s still not like we’re chilling on the front porch talking about life, so we can only know them so much, but still, just spend a moment thinking about it.

Now look at yourself. Think about who you are and how people perceive you (objectively). Now consider who you are and what you tend to say musically. It’s actually kind of fun, and often times enlightening.

Granted, much of this doesn’t necessarily apply to beginners as we just don’t have the time spent with the instrument to have a musical identity of our own. But I still believe it to be a worthy exploration as it gets you thinking about how you play and how you interact with the music, and that’s never a bad thing.

Feel free to share. I look forward to hearing your story and insights in the comments below.

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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  1. Becca Kristovsky

    I only started playing bass after becoming a mother. Somehow I always see that as my role in the band – I keep house, making sure the other band members (children) can do their own thing knowing they have a stable and secure place to come home to at any point in time. (Maybe this is one reason I play in two steady, gigging bands even though I’m definitely not the best bass player around.)

  2. Michael Kelly


    This was great, honest and right to the point. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Henry Douglas

    Very well-thought-out, and I can honestly say that I am a mixture of #1 and #3. Ulike Becca’s comment, I am more of a hired gun, since the “kids” mostly resent the “father figure.” I blame my gift/curse of perfect pitch. Sing a backing part a 1/2 step off, and I will call you on it. Ditto for playing a passage with dissonant notes. When in a steady project, the band is unbeatable, since my perfectionist approach, when heeded, can yield transcendent results.

  4. Jarek Michalski

    Some truly interesting insight there…

  5. So great Damian, thanks heaps for your honesty and humility! I can really relate to heaps of the stuff you have to say. This is one of the many reasons its so great listening to you groove bro! Thanks again. JT