Why would anyone want to become a bass player? That is a question that science has yet to answer. But we’ll just assume someone, somewhere wants to pursue this as a career option.
Fact is, bass players are the scourge of the music world. For example, here are some of the jokes made at bass players’ expense:
Q: What’s the difference between an onion and a bass?
A: Nobody cries when you chop up a bass.
Q: What do you throw a drowning bass player?
A: His amp.
Q: How many bass players does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. The keyboard player does it with his left hand
Q: How do you make a bass player stop playing?
A: Put sheet music in front of him.
OK, you get the idea. A real knee-slapping good time. But honestly, the bass player, especially in the rock format, is essential to the groove. And unlike any other musician on the rock-and-roll stage, the bassist has two full-time jobs: Play rhythmically and melodically. Guitarists often get to play leads, drummers never have to carry the melody and singers … well, who really cares about the singer?
Point here is, the bass player, despite his lunk-headed reputation, is the foundational rock in rock-and-roll.
If you want to get your kid on the fast track to learning bass, just set him or her down in front of a string of Jaco Pastorius’ performance and instructional videos.
The tragic figure — following months of homelessness, died after being severely beaten by a bouncer outside a Florida nightclub in the fall of 1987 — Jaco played on countless jazz, fusion and rock albums. He is heralded worldwide as one of the greatest bass players ever. And though he made a career focused on jazz, Jaco acted like a rock star, strutting, dancing and rocking the hell out of his bass, sometimes to the chagrin of his tamer bandmates.
Of course, before your kid can play like Jaco, the child is going to need lessons. Look for a teacher who knows how to play bass. Often, guitarists will moonlight as bass players. This may get the kid acquainted with the stringed instrument, but to really learn proper bass technique, a kid needs a teacher that understands the rhythmic nature of the instrument.
For young girls interested in taking up the bass — of which there are far too few — there is Tal Wilkenfeld. This young woman is an inspiration for girls who think playing instruments, at least professionally, is for boys. Watch Tal, and be amazed.
An issue with children and heavier instruments like the bass regards hand and finger strength. A thorough practice regimen will help build the strength a child needs to manipulate the larger bass strings.
One exercise that is quite beneficial (for any musician that uses fingers in performance) is this: Take a piece of newspaper — a full broadsheet, not a tabloid style — and grasp it by one corner, so the rest of the page hangs at an angle, lengthwise toward the floor. Slowly begin to crumple the paper, bringing it into your balled fist. Continue until the entire sheet is clenched in your fist. Once this is accomplished, keep going, flexing your fist until the paper is in a super-tight ball. Repeat with the other hand. This is a tough one, but is amazing for building palm and finger strength. (Be sure to wash your hands after this exercise. Newsprint is pretty gross.)
Of course, when it comes to learning, there is no substitute for playing with other musicians, so get the kid with musical friends as soon as possible. Your encouragement, especially when the kid is feeling like he or she has hit a dead end, or worse, is being harassed for becoming a bass player, is so important. If none of the neighbors play an instrument, take up one yourself. (Chances are, you’re a frustrated musician, and have a guitar or small drum kit hiding in the attic. Break it out and start jamming with your kid).
Well … go do it!