Practicing vs. Performing for Musical Growth
Q: I’ve been playing the bass in a blues band for two years. Then we started playing rock and funk songs, and my practicing has always been based on what I hear and what I feel. I don’t really count in my head, and I’ve hardly worked my scales but my band keeps telling me that what I play is ok, and I’ve even been told after some small venues that I’ve developed a kind of style of my own. The point is that, in spite of my lines and groove, I can’t do great solos. I spend few bars soloing sometimes but it’s never incredible. My question is simple: is that possible that a bassist would become a good player (in a couple of music styles) without “hard work”, but with lots of passion and rehearsal. Or, is there a compulsory “study” time?
A: The answer I want to give is that there are no rules, no guarantees and no promises of anything in art. Hard work doesn’t make everyone great and not all greats worked hard. The general truth is that it takes a lifetime to master anything and at the very least, quite a bit of hard work to become very good or better.
Often what is equally (or even more) important is that you have passion and love for your art or craft and dedicate to it in some way.
That “some way” could be in the shed or with a band. The important thing is that you are playing the instrument and trying to make your music better every time you pick up the instrument.
The impression I get from reading your question is that you are hoping it will continue to come through osmosis. Be aware that even though you may “play great for only playing bass for X amount of time”, there will come a time when expectations may be higher as you’ve been playing longer. You also mentioned being proficient in multiple genres. My experience says that this takes a lot of listening, love of music and experience playing in those styles. Experience playing the music is the real key, I think.
There are plenty of places in the world where the masters don’t grow up practicing in the bedroom, going to music school and then start trying to play music “for real”. Instead, they start making music with their elders as children and never stop. They simply make music and spend a lifetime improving their craft.
Specific to your question, the common thread most everyone shares is the “work” part. “Hard work” is subjective. If you mean hard as in school, books, studying jazz simply because it challenges you, and so on then, no, not everyone needs to work hard. Everyone does, however, need to spend hundreds and thousands of hours playing music and striving to become better in order to really own it.
It doesn’t have to be scales, notation, Real Books and ear training classes that get you there but it will be something. It might be playing in church and with various musicians every chance you get. It might be playing with your siblings every afternoon. The point is that you have to love it, do it often and actively try and improve yourself. It’s time plus intention, everything else is flexible, in my estimation.
I have a feeling this one will get quite the conversation started. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.