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Q: Dear Mimi,
I would really like to learn to play the bass or at least take a few lessons to see if I like it (I don't really have any doubts). The problem is, whenever I start talking seriously about taking lessons or something, my dad (a self-taught long-time acoustic guitar player) tells me that even if I do learn bass, what's the point if I can't find a drummer and a band to play with? Do you think that is true?
Love,
Leslie

A: dear leslie,

you're asking someone who's really biased here, but i think bass is a wonderful instrument. over the past year or so that we've been online, quite a few people (especially girls) have asked me how to get started playing bass. i tend to think that learning to play from a good instructor is really an ideal way to do it. it's not the only way, but it's a good way. a lot of bad habits can be picked up when you're first starting, and repeating these bad habits for years can lead to problems that can be extremely difficult to overcome later. it's certainly not impossible to teach yourself, but in my opinion it's a lot easier to learn from someone who has many years of experience and knows how to make her lessons meaningful to the student. they can certainly save you a lot of time in the long run, especially in showing you how to approach the instrument. the bass serves a different function in music than does vocals, or guitar, or drums - a good teacher who's thought a lot about what the role of a bass is for years and years can really show you a lot that you otherwise may take years to even become aware of.

your dad brings up an interesting problem that a lot of people think about when they're first learning to play bass. it's not unusual for a guitarist to sit and play by themselves, but it's true that bass players usually don't do this (although i do). most bassists do tend to play mostly with others. so some people assume that you should have others to play with in order to learn to play bass. but it's also extremely important to learn how to play alone. we need to learn how to listen carefully to others, but we also need to learn how to hear what we're really playing. this is something you can do by yourself. there are also many things that you'll have to know how to do on your bass (technical things) - how to get a nice tone, developing rhythmic accuracy, knowing your scales and stuff, etc. - all of these things canít be learned all at once. i think it's good to practice by yourself for at least a little while before finding other people to play with. you can always worry about finding others to play with later - after all, if you didnít know anything about playing bass, why would anybody want to play with you? so not having anyone to play with from the very beginning really isn't a problem. i'd rather think of it as a nice time for you to develop some of the skills that you'll need for when you play with others.

i hope i'm not boring you with this long letter, but i want to encourage you to give the bass (or any other musical instrument, for that matter) a try. what if you were destined to be a fabulous bass player, and you never gave yourself the chance to realize that potential? ^_^
take care, mimi

 

Q: Dear Mimi, Two days ago my dad bought me a bass with some help from your girls page. I'm not exactly sure what he bought but I believe it was the red bass under the small bass section and the picture was titled ebo. my dad is a really good guitar player and has been playing from high school. my problem is that I'm really nervous about learning to play the bass. I know a little bit of regular gituar but not much. How much difference is there between a regular gituar and a bass? I know how to read music and all that but the biggest insturment I have ever played is a tenor sax and I'm used to playing a flute. I don't want my dad to think I'm phycotic or anything because I'm scared to play it. I don't live with my dad so it's not like I can just wander upstairs and talk to him. We both have jobs that keep us pretty busy. I'm in 10th grade and 5'4 and 95 lbs. do you know how heavy this bass is? thanks for your help.
-Dana

A: hi dana,
i think i understand what you're going through right now. at 5'4" and 95lbs, you're certainly 'big enough' to play a bass, but starting any new instrument can be really weird or daunting depending on how you look at it. but you're in a really good position to learn bass, because you already play other musical instruments. and although playing bass can be very different from playing flute, sax, or even guitar, having played other instruments will only give you a better understanding of music in general that will be really great for your bass playing. it works the other way too - playing bass will greatly help you understand how music is put together from a different perspective, and you'll be a better musician for it.
for now, i think one of the best ways to ease yourself into playing the bass is to do what comes naturally. if the bass feels heavy to you, get yourself a nice wide strap (maybe 3 inches wide or so) that feels comfy, and spend lots of time trying out different playing positions and see what feels most comfortable. in the beginning you may not ever feel 100% comfortable, but you'll find a good way to hold your bass pretty quickly. you might also start by playing sitting down. although you mostly see bassists on tv and in concert playing standing up, lots of people practice and record sitting down. i found it easier to do when i started - i was 10 and pretty small.
if you can find a music teacher to teach you how to play the bass, i think this is always really helpful. having someone to ask questions takes a lot of the mystery out of learning bass, especially at the beginning. and it can also be really helpful for you to start without immediately picking up bad habits that may be harder to break later. if you can't afford music lessons, there are some good fundamentals-type bass instruction videos that can be helpful. just watching someone doing something the right way over and over again can be good training, and it's very different from just listening to records with bass in it. if you can read music, there's a really great series of bass instruction books written by carol kaye and chuck rainey that you might want to check out.
i'm gonna post a question on the bunnybass message board about beginning videos and books for you, so please check back and see if anyone posts other suggestions that i may not be thinking of right now. i'll post it under the title 'learning to play bass with videos', or something like that, ok?

i'll put it here, on the message board

by the way, don't be afraid to ask me stuff - if i don't know, i can always post it to the message board. keep in touch, ok? sometimes i take a little while to get to folks, but i always do sooner or later! :)
take care,
mimi

 

Q: Hi Mimi,
First I want to say that you have an incredible amount of information on this page that is so pertinent to being a girl and playing the bass. I had yet to find this much info anywhere on the web! I am only 5'1 and have the tiniest fingers...believe me. I'm struggling with finding a smaller bass and thanks to your references I think I will be able to find one that fits. I am 25 and just beginning to learn to play and I'm very excited!

I plan to learn to play the bass as my primary instrument but I am scheduled to begin taking lessons for acoustic guitar next week and am now having second thoughts after reading your page. Do you feel it is necessary for me to learn on acoustic guitar before the bass? I had thought that this was the way to go, to learn the basics and to re-learn how to read music (used to play the violin) but now I'm not too sure... ~T.

A: hello "T",
thanks for emailing. i'm glad you're learning bass - it's such a great instrument. (superfun!)

i've met other girls (and some guys) who play bass that have very small hands. actually i've met some girls with REALLY small hands. myself my hands are actually more medium sized i think, they're not really small. but i don't think there's much (if any) correlation between the size of your hands and how well you'll be able to play. practicing solves just about everything. the kind of music you choose to play also matters - perhaps having large hands will be a big help when you decide to bust out those paganini violin concertos! but for most music, all manners of bass playing are possible, even with very small hands. especailly with so many different kinds of basses out there. some of the short scale basses i've played sound absolutely great. you don't need a 34" scale bass to produce a nice, balanced bass sound - i've played several high-quality short scale basses that prove this point very nicely.

okay, i'm getting off the subject. your real question was about learning to play acoustic guitar before bass. in my opinion, learning to play acoustic guitar and read standard notation does help. not because knowing how to play acoustic guitar inevitably produces better bass players, but because learning to play any other musical instrument in addition to playing bass tends to make for a more well-rounded musical education. on the other hand, i would disagree with the logic that suggests that learning to play guitar is particularly good for learning bass, just because they have similar structures (body, neck, strings, frets, tuning). if anything, you have to be _very careful_ to not be confused by the overt similarities that exist between the two. in my mind, they are completely different instruments with often very different music roles, even within the same musical piece. also, they are best played with totally different mechanics. i tend to disagree with most guitarists that think they can play bass well, simply because from their guitar playing experience they know where the notes are located on the fingerboard. usually they sound like guitarists who are 'getting by' on a big guitar. obviously that's not really the heart of bass playing.

actually, in my opinion, learning to play the piano is an even better instrument for helping you to learn to play bass. it doesn't lead to as much confusion about the mechanics of bass playing ("do i pluck this bass string like i do on my guitar?"), while providing you with a good grounding in understanding how (western) musical forms tend to be put together. my mother started me on the piano when i was in kindergarden and i've always found that it helped me a great deal in trying to solve all sorts of musical problems. you mention that you used to play violin - i'm sure that will help you as a bass player too. in other words, i consider learning to understand music more important than learning how to play bass. we learn to play instruments in order to satisfy the more important objective of learning to play (and enjoy!) music - not vice versa. these are my opinions, you may want to take them with a grain of salt :)

while i'm on this extended rant, i might as well add one last thing. i think it's really REALLY important for bassists to learn how to sing. paying close attention to the expressive nuances of your own voice will make you better bass players. ultimately, as human beings, playing any instrument refers us back to our first sound-instrument: our voices. when we understand the relationship between our breathing, emotions, and how we use our voices to communicate ideas and feelings, then we are better bass players and better musicians. and probably better listeners too. the implications of this, i think, are worth considering.

okay, that's a lot of spewing that you certainly didn't ask for! i'm sorry! but at any rate, i wish you the best in your musical travels. please feel free to email us anytime. one of us will always (eventually!) answer... ^_^

please take care,
mimi

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