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BASS

Tips for a Long-Term Career as a Professional, Working Bassist

WORDS BY

1. Top-notch, professional ability

a. Time and groove – ear training in conjunction with physical control

b. Taste – play what’s right for the music, not your ego. Err on the side of playing less.

c. Intonation on upright and fretless – ear training in conjunction with “muscle memory”


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d. Versatility

– knowledge and ability in nearly any genre
– upright doubling – pizz (jazz and classical), arco…. slap?
– various sound production techniques – fingers, slap, pick, palm mute and left-hand muting, harmonics and false harmonics, pick-up selection/blending, EQ, etc… tapping?
– reliable gear appropriate for situation – instruments (fretted, fretless, upright, Baby Bass, passive, active, 4 or more strings), strings (roundwounds, flatwounds, etc.), amps (size, colored vs. transparent), pedals

e. “Ears” – melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ear training

f. Reading and notation ability (Tab isn’t enough!) – melodic, rhythmic and harmonic reading practice. Know when and how much to stray from the written page. Keep ears and eyes open when reading for grooving, form “adjustments,” cues, etc.

g. Repertoire – know songs in a variety of styles but be ready to play the “right changes” and play in any key (transposition skills)

h. Jazz harmony/theory knowledge – most importantly, understand relationships between scales and chords, and vice-versa

i. Soloing ability (generally less of a priority)

j. The value of gigging in itself – examples: recognizing intros, endings, vamps, following cues and chordal progressions

2. Letting your passion determine your artistic voice which will help dictate where to spend more of your time; going through stylistic phases and music phases which don’t include playing; “Jack of all trades”?

3. Professionalism

a. Working car, gear and accessories (examples: music stand light when appropriate, extension cord, power strip, etc.)
b. A tuner always
c. Pencils at rehearsals
d. Be musically prepared when possible (homework!)
e. Be punctual and allow more than enough time.
f. Be alert and focused (not high).
g. Have a good attitude and be likeable without losing integrity and “brown nosing.” Leave problems at home.
h. Suggest ideas when appropriate without being controlling.
i. Stay open-minded.
j. Look and dress the part without losing integrity.
k. Stage presence (less critical with jazz & classical)
l. Humility as a career sideman (“Hero to Zero”)
m. Tactfulness, including knowing when to discuss monetary compensation

4. Music business knowledge (to prevent getting screwed!)

5. Basic production, arranging and recording knowledge – home studio, internet recording

6. Have an identity and life outside of music which will be beneficial to your music and sanity. Keep the passion alive despite the business and the economy via original projects, opportunities to learn (classes, workshops, retreats, etc.) and activities outside of music (photography, travel, family, friends, etc.)

7. Hustling gigs, hangin’ out (“being on the scene”), sitting in when appropriate, social networking with limits

8. Doubling on vocals and other instruments, especially piano and/or guitar for composition

9. Teaching – giving back

10. Protect your ears!

Tips for a Long-Term Career as a Professional, Working Bassist

By Larry Steen

Past winner of the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition, bassist/composer/producer Larry Steen attended the Berklee College of Music, the University of Miami (BM) and CALARTS (MFA). He has toured, performed and recorded with numerous renowned artists ranging from Mel Torme to Stevie Wonder and has recorded two ASCAP award winning CDs First Move and View From Afar with his own group, The Larry Steen World Jazz Ensemble.


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