Now, I know, I know, there’s lots to learn for bass other than songs. I’m working on it, in my Shelby-sort of way, but I also feel like, I’ve been at it long enough that I really need to start trying to learn actual songs for bass and guitar and committing them to actual memory. But, it’s an odd thing, really. How do you pick the first song to learn? Well, for me the answer is more or less ‘in the same arbitrary way you learn in general – also known as ‘googling stuff until something sticks’.
I’ve played along with a lot of songs thanks to Rocksmith, but I haven’t really attempted to commit any of them to memory. There’s no specific reason for that. I just…haven’t. I’ve been far more focused on smaller things, like switching frets easily, keeping pace, making the rhythm work. And, I’m not going to lie to you, guys. I should be using a metronome in my rocksmith free time. I should, but I’m not. I have one on my phone, but I just haven’t. (again, Shelby-style learning. I get to things in my own good time, when the motivation strikes.)
So, today I googled ‘easy songs to learn for bass’ just to get some ideas. I mean, the obvious answer would have been ‘something punk’. You know I love my punk, but…those guys are all pick style bassists, and there tends to be a lot of palm muting – a skill that I really need to practice more before I even attempt to play many songs that utilize it. So, something without much ‘fancy stuff’ is far more practical as a jumping point.
In my reading a lot of the cool classic rock bands came up(AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue, etc), and a few classic-to-me bands (Green Day, Weezer), and so I started browsing, and then it struck me ‘hey, what about the Who? I love the Who? Would Baba O’Reilly be really hard? It actually looks fairly straight forward when I look up the tab, so I think that will be on the agenda soon-ish, but I was also on youtube, looking up tips for how to memorize bass lines (for some reason this seems far more difficult than memorizing things with chords. It’s probably not in the long run, but at this specific moment in time, it feels much, much more difficult, I suspect due mostly to the difference between a support instrument and an instrument that is designed to hold it’s own in a solo. Sure, a bass CAN solo – not denying that, but it’s not really it’s primary function as an instrument, which for the time being forces me to inhabit a different mental space in my practice time with it.). Of course, I got no such tips. Mostly youtube just spit out anything with the word bass, and easy, and/or beginner in it. And in my arbitrary scrolling one of the things high on the list was this lesson for Stand By Me by Ben E. King:
So, I was like ‘you know, why the fuck not? Let’s check it out!’ So, I spent a good part of the day pausing and playing along and trying to remember this simple bass line. Overall, it’s gone really well. I can’t seem to play along yet, but I think that’s just because, while I remember the progression, I’m still really thinking about it, so add extra sounds and I can’t seem to keep track of the steps as I go. Alone, I can play it at the right pace, but once you put the recording there, I can’t seem to do it. A really similar thing happened to me learning ‘In My Mind’ for ukulele, so I’m not worried about it. It seems par for the course. It’s the first time I’m looking at this lesson, so I don’t really anticipate being to play it through the first round. With practice, though, I should be able to play along relatively soon.
I can’t play along just yet, but, I can play it blind with minimal screw ups. I don’t know why that matters, really, but it’s a think I do. Once I know a riff or a chord progression, I have a habit of trying to play it with my eyes closed. I don’t know if that’s specifically useful, but I do think the sooner you can get your eyes away from staring at the fretboard while you play, the better off you’ll be. I feel like your fretboard should function more like a rear-view mirror: quick spot checks more than intense staring. It may be Rocksmith that taught me that habit: you can’t follow the songs in Rocksmith if your eyes are glued to the fretboard, and I think that is probably one of the main advantages to working with programs – they train your eyes away from the instrument, and force you to play without looking at it much. That’s something I’ve carried over to my non-program time, so now, when I’m learning something, once I get to the point I can remember it, I try to play blind. That actually went fairly well. I expected to have more problems with the jump from the 5th to the 9th fret than I actually had, and while at a few times, I got buzz on the 9th fret playing blind, I did actually land within the fret I was aiming for every time, and the rest is really owing to not knowing my own level of flexibility quite as well as I’d like (It’s like it’s ever-changing; some days I’m more flexible than other days. Until I start playing, I don’t know if I’m in a more or less flexible day, it seems.)
In any case, I spent a good chunk of the day pausing a 9 minute video, but things overall went pretty well for my first day trying to actually learn and memorize a song for bass. It will take lots of practice if I want to keep it memorized, and play along, of course, but I’m feeling optimistic. Maybe by the end of the year, I’ll be able to say that I can confidently play at least one song from beginning to end for all three of my instruments….or more, even!
Until Next Time, moving forward, even when I’m playing blind.