Bass Chemistry

It was in my final year of high school that I earned a scholarship that paid my tuition to a music program in Toronto. Days after receiving this, I marched down to my high school guidance counselor to drop the chemistry class from my school schedule so that I could free up more time to prepare for music school.

I can quite vividly recall the guidance counselor pleading a pretty good case for chemistry, even though my mind was set on ‘axing’ it. What stands out in my mind is a chart that the counselor produced from his cluttered desk that had the word CHEMISTRY in thick, black, bold letters written across the centre of the page. There were about fifty arrows pointing out from the word to an equal amount of circles on the page. Each circle held a career choice in which high school chemistry was required. “Just look at all the careers you’re throwing away and carefully consider this chart…” were the guidance counselor’s wise words.

Although I did drop chemistry and waved ‘goodbye’ to fifty or more chemistry related careers, I often think of how such a chart relates to music, the study of music and the factors that are either ‘affirmed’ or ‘axed’ depending on whether we stick with it or drop it.

Let’s take being a professional bass player for instance. Seeing this is a bass column and not a science journal, let’s write a similar chart using bass.

Either on paper, tablet or in your mind, see the words (in thick black, bold font) ‘PROFESSIONAL BASS PLAYER’ across the middle of a page. Feel free to add the words ‘successful’ or ‘wealthy’ or ‘busy’ to this if it will make the exercise more impactful.

Now let’s think of as many aspects of a successful music career in bass as we can that would really make you the best asset to any musical situation. If we write ‘well maintained professional gear’ in one bubble, we’re off to a decent start. Let’s honestly ask ourselves: “Does good gear make you an awesome player and a first call professional?” Well, I’m sure we all agree that good gear is a big help, therefore it belongs in a bubble but we need more bubbles to keep going. Good gear is awesome but we need to be able to play.

Be specific. Don’t just add the ‘be a good player’ bubble. Try to unpack what that means.

Here are several suggestions of ‘Bass Bubbles’ in no particular order:

Songwriting, 5 String playing, Fretless Playing, Sight Reading, Ear Training, Theory knowledge, Upright (Acoustic or Double Bass), Personality, Slap style, Soloing, Playing with a pick, Professional look/attitude, Feel, Time, etc.

Consider all of these ‘bubbles’ and add your own. Realize that if you are lacking in any of these ‘bubbles’ there will be a direct reflection in lost gigs and less overall work and worth as a bass player. Remember that if you’re willing to do the work on (for instance) doubling on upright, learning to train your ears to easily recognize chords and intervals or to read music, you’ll be placing yourself in the top one percent or bassists around the world.

It is fair to also point out that on my list (maybe not yours) that there are some things that we spend a lot of time practicing that just don’t end up in the common repertoire of a professional working bassist. There are recordings and gigs that may require harmonics and hammer-ons and sixty-fourth note slap phrases, but be aware that this is a fraction of a percent in the grand scheme of things.

Have lots of fun with your instrument and enjoy and appreciate all the cool things you can do with it but make sure to refer to your ‘Chart’ as you strive to become the most valuable and sought-after player you can be. Work on the areas/bubbles that you’re weak in and you’ll see huge strides in your playing. You’ll know that you’re working towards what is important and you’ll see purpose in your daily routines.

Otherwise, there’s always chemistry…