What Do You Want To See Happen For the Future of Bass Playing?

Bass Player

Q: I imagine you’d agree when I say that I think creation doesn’t come from nothing. Everything that’s made is built on something that came before. Basically, this is my long-winded way of asking: what parts of the bass/music past (or present) would you like to see built on for the future?

What parts of the past do you think are overlooked?

For instance, Jaco is hugely influential in terms of tone and harmony and chops. What are some techniques or innovations you would like to see revisited?

And what do you see going on now that you’d like to see continue (genre explorations, production techniques, particular approaches to the instrument)?

I’d like to focus on the positive, but am also curious: anything you’d like to see people move past?

A: Oh man… This is one of those questions that I almost don’t want to answer publicly because I’m afraid of the backlash I may bring on either myself or the chaos that could ensue in comment threads.

But, I also thought it the kind of thing that could ignite some really interesting conversations (trolls and some folks anger-management issues aside).

Additionally, it seems like a really hard question to answer!

I love the direction things have gone in many ways. I love the stylistic blending that’s been happening as information and perspective have become more and more global. I frequently hear musicians talk about how to classify this or that and, I love being at a point in history where, more and more, you can’t classify anything with any kind of purist perspective. In my mind, there is only music. It may be heavily informed by region, class, sex, religion, political perspective, but it’s likely a fusion of sorts. It’s all music and I want to explore as much of it as I can. For me, music tends to be most interesting when it is coming from one place but led through the filter of another (Genre-ly speaking).

In other words, Brazilian music with a West African spin. Flamenco with a DJ. Arabic tonalities and/or rhythms in a jazz setting. European classical played by a jazz trio.

That is my favorite thing about music, as it exists right now.

I also love how eclectic things are in other ways. Lo-fi has made a come-back. Some of digitized, some of it organic. Production techniques and software have also gotten so good that people can produce phenomenally detailed music from home. Vintage instruments are huge. That old-school sound should never die (in my mind), but new hi-fi audio gear and luthiers are also everywhere. If you can imagine it, you can chase the sound you want. Everything you can imagine is possible, and the world is primed for the next not-yet-imagined thing. We’re so hungry for new ideas, new music, new sounds, that anything goes, in a way.

That also leads to the one more negative thing that immediately popped into my head.

  1. Musical attention spans are (seemingly) very short (especially online)
  2. Most emerging artists coming my way via social media seem mostly concerned with creating “viral” content as opposed to “quality” content.
  3. I think that those two things are closely related.

Granted, that is incredibly subjective. I don’t know everything, I haven’t heard everything, and, honestly, I don’t pay attention to social media nearly as much as I used to. My reality is mine alone. Your reality may (and should) vary.

I have noticed that, whenever the next or newest thing to explode online crosses my path, I only like it if I listen with my eyes.

Meaning, that if I first click the play button and close my eyes, focusing completely on the music that is happening. It’s not happening.

If I watch the video, I’m captivated and, thusly, immediately associate the music with the visuals and like it more.

I’ve been actively checking out the bands that seem to populate my social media feeds and I have to say (since you asked), I really don’t dig most of the music when I’m just listening in the car and not staring at the screen. At least not enough to listen to twice (let alone the hundreds of times I usually listen to the things that I resonate with).

A lot of other people do like it, so don’t take that as anything other my own opinion but I do feel like most of the social media feeds are over-populated with “flash in the pan” type music that is here and gone.

The “quality-music/art-bar” has been lowered in favor of the ‘over-all-production-of-the-content-bar”

This may be an old guy thing (I am getting closer and closer every year) but I really think we’re missing out by not sitting down with an album and letting it play while reading liner notes, staring at the art, or even with our eyes closed, in a comfy chair, and with some great headphones on, etc.

As much as I love the convenience of play-lists, skipping tunes that don’t resonate, just having my player pick music for me by mood or genre, I feel like some of us may be in danger of losing that deeper connection with music. So much that I hear is impressive, technical, quirky, inventive, unique, and, just not something I can imagine wanting to listen to as a music lover. IMHO.

Yeah, I might be sounding a little “get off my lawn”, right now but 95% of the time, my reaction when a friend shows me a new video to check out is “wow… That’s pretty neat. Okay, can you make it stop now?”

Ok, sorry, I had to go there.

Back to the positive. I love that people are still revisiting older norms and rebuilding them through a modern lens. That is the thing that I hope never stops. I firmly believe that boundaries should be pushed and we should always push forward, yet we should never forget where things came from. Information should be universally available and there is strength in diversity. I love stumbling upon a video of a 20-something white girl in the mid-west posting Konnakal rhythmic videos or teenage kids in Asia playing slump beats. It makes my world a better place for a few different reasons.

The one thing we can count on is change. Things come and go, trends come and get revisited, art never really dies, it just sits on the shelf for a while sometimes before re-emerging as something new and re-imagined. All of my complaints above are unfounded in some ways… things always change, the things worth keeping always come back in some way.

I love that it feels as though anything and everything is possible and that is the one thing that I hope gets nurtured and carried forth.

How about you? What do you want to see happen for the future of bass playing? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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. Steve

    Probably the most telling comment in the article..

    Most emerging artists coming my way via social media seem mostly concerned with creating “viral” content as opposed to “quality” content.

    So sad to see some music head down this path. You can still find good music, but you have to look.

  2. Steve

    Most emerging artists coming my way via social media seem mostly concerned with creating “viral” content as opposed to “quality” content.

    Such a telling statement.

  3. Also an old guy. I still believe in the album as an art form… listening in order… and if I don’t “get it” on the first listen, sometimes it takes three or four listens before an album clicks with me. I refuse to give up that type of discovery, but sadly, it feels like it’s kind of gone already, as you alluded to. (Being an old guy, I still make music with organic instruments, and I still make albums.)

    As far as trends, I really don’t know what those are. I could certainly do a better job of checking out more diverse genres and performers.

  4. ,MH

    I would like (and fully expect) to see a revival of acoustic instruments and 100% live music, and recording done mostly live. Of course this is still what’s happening in the classical world, but I think it will move to more popular genres as people get ever more tired of hearing the work of programmers rather than players.

  5. Len Mongeau

    I’d like to see more venues for performing. Live music is almost
    dead on the local scene. Solo acts are the only ones working steady.

  6. Len Mongeau

    I would like to see more venues and patrons. The live local scene is almost dead
    It’s hard for the younger players to get going if they do not have a place to perform.
    Also I would like to see patrons leave their cell phones at home. It’s a real bummer to
    play to these people as they stare at a i phones all night.

  7. William Siebold

    The viral versus quality issue is shared by many other content creators. Just thinking of musical composition and performance in terms of content creation seems disrespectful, I guess. But in the world of social media and digital marketing a lot of quality gets lost in production and output.

    I love the statements about stylistic blending. Accessibility to so many other genre and styles has (I think) never been greater. And just letting go to let the music happen is exactly where I want to be.

    Great article. Ignore the trolls with anger issues should they make an appearance. Seems to me the world is getting tired of that nonsense.

  8. Daniel King

    Back to Motown days…where creativity and heart and soul were tied together. Foundational stuff. I think we’ve come full circle…all the flash pop finger tapping…thumbing etc…where does it end…we see these stars and their so awesome true craftsmen…but they have come to the end of the road. Let’s all make music. Sorry but grunge with vocals you can’t understand? Rap…what? 50s 60s 70s that’s where it all started. My opinion cuz I’ve lived through all of it. Carry on fellow musicians…best tone wins. ???????

  9. James Greszczuk

    I would like to see a Bass player who can play like Cliff Burton’s finger picking a 5, 6, 7, & 8 string bass guitars! Cliff is the Bassits that I watched & learned from on thrash, speed metal, & David Ellefson’s way of bass playing! I’m saving up to purchase my 18th bass, 7-string fretless Wolf Bubinga bass before the year is finished & I also play with my fingers as a pick, I hardly ever use a pick! Jim Greszczuk

  10. Christophe de Saint-Do

    Well I mainly like bass in jazz or funk. Even the old player always find new ways.
    From michel Alibo, Alain Caron, marcus Miller, stanley Clarke, John Pattitucci,geddy lee, Phil kilmister,Mark Egan, will Lee, Flea , Doug Wimbish etc.
    I just discover Tal wilkenfeld. She’s great and a cracking singer too. I’m sure there will be evolution.

  11. Charlie Escher

    I mostly interact with YouTube music videos as audio-only. If that doesn’t fully engage me I’m out. But OTOH, yelling at clouds only gets you so far, and if it takes good video production values to reel you in, at least they are reeling you in.

  12. I’d like less notes, please. The bass is a functional thing, not a vehicle for tiresome gymnastics. And no more slapping, ever. :)

  13. Wayne Del Pino

    I want to hear some great bass playing