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Copying Famous Bass Players: Should You Do It, Too?

When it comes to originality, should you model your bass playing style after your musical heroes copy famous bass players’ work?

The question of influence and modeling are things that come up often in music and in business. Musicians share who inspired them and who they were influenced by. Business executives turn to mentors and share who infuenced their particular business style, approach and mindset.

But to the topic of modeling your musical idenity and copying the work of other famous bass players – should you? How much? Should you at all?

A while back, I came across this fantastic article from 99u called The Narrative Fallacy: Why You Shouldn’t Copy Steve Jobs.

The article explains very eloquently why selling your possessions, not showering, eating a strictly fruit diet and being generally eccentric for the sake of being eccentric ala Steve Jobs will not lead to a multi billion dollar company and those that do do these kinds of things because Steve Jobs did them are, for lack of a better word, a fool.

It was a profound article that nailed the right nail on the head about the problem that comes with modelling success and assuming that if you live exactly how someone successful lived, you too will be just that successful.

The question you’re probably wondering to yourself right now is what does this article have to do with music let alone bass guitar?

Quite a bit, actually. I was very surprised the similarities when I was hashing out ideas for this piece.

For bass players, many of the same pushes are there, especially towards younger bass players.

Stop me if this sounds familiar:

‘You need to practice [number] hours a day to be a great bass player’

‘You need to learn [very technically complicated songs] to be a great bass player’

‘What did [bass player] play? I want the sound he had on [album, location, feature, etc.]’

The formal word for this behavior to be like someone else by emulating their actions to a T is called modeling and music is full of modeling whether we call it that or not.

We habitually go out of our way to emulate the buying decisions, practice habits, sound and behavior of our favorite playing – at least when we start out as players. The strength that we use to look up to our players might fade with time as an individual musical identity is established, but in the beginning, modeling – at least what we see – as an ideal; success is omnipresent.

Heck – even our choices in gear from the bass to the pedals are charged, to an extent, because we saw someone else more successful using them and we want to be like them and sound like them.

Guaranteed Carl Thompson bass sales went through the roof when Primus and Les Claypool became seminal figures in bass playing.

The topic of practice regimens is something I’ve covered extensively here on Smart Bass (see below) and the premise of focused practice is something I’ve also covered in depth trying to solve these dilemmas once and for all with a practical, actionable solution. And yet, the question persists and, what I believe to be more detrimental to a young player, is that players will adopt the practice regimens of other players hoping to get the same results.

Today I wanted to explore that perspective specifically: should you copy another player’s practice routine and expect the same results as a young player? Is modeling your practice routine after a more successful player something players should be doing more of? How about less of?

Modeling Success Leads to Success….Right?

In the world of business, modeling success is huge. Finding the person whose driving the Mercedes and copying exactly what they’re doing is the key to success says countless self help and business strategy books. Moreover, if you can’t find a person to model, there are a fixed number of things you can do that successful people that, if done correctly, you too will achieve a level of success.

According to the experts, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for anything. Just find someone who you would like to be, figure out what made them successful and just do what they’re doing.

Don’t ask questions about why it works or how it works – just do what they’re doing and you’ll be successful.

All this begs the question: is there any merit to modeling? Is it just a lot of wind and you’re better off crafting your own path from the get go?

From what I’ve seen and experienced both in music and as a professional outside of music, there’s something positive to be said for modeling. Modeling does provide a pre-made set of tools for how to jump into something brand new with some degree of success. A good portion of the guess work is removed and you have something to work from with confidence.

Think about it: wouldn’t it make sense to turn to what the experts are doing at least for a baseline of what you should be doing or consider doing provided the expert is in fact someone of merit and whose word can be trusted for guidance?

Musically speaking, modeling does yield some fruits. Personally speaking, if it weren’t for modeling musical inspirations when I was starting off on bass, I probably would have never picked the version of Jazz bass I did (60s replica Jazz bass – just like John Paul Jones). I would have never taken to working more fingers into my playing early on. I probably wouldn’t have taken to developing the style of playing I currently have had I not modeled my playing after my earliest influences (Jack Bruce, Mike Gordon, Geddy Lee).

In that regard, there’s something positive to say about modeling for musicians. However, there’s also quite a bit of negative that needs to be hashed out as well.

Remember: Your Situation is Different Than Your Peer’s (or Teacher’s)

The fact of the matter is this: while others might say you need to do X to achieve Y result, your situation in life probably won’t allow for it to happen.

I’ve kept an ear to the major music education publications for a long while and one thing that I’ll see come up time and time again, whether in printed word or in an instructional video, is someone speaking in a definite tone about how much time you need to practice to achieve a certain kind of result.

The glaring fault here is that few people can allow 3 hours let alone an hour of practice a day.

For some, even a week!

Lifestyles play a major role in what can and can’t be achieved in certain spans of time for budding musicians – or even older musicians who have chosen to take up bass guitar later in their life. A younger bass player who’s still in school might have other interests like sports or drawing that consume their time and bass guitar is just another thing. For older players, having a family or a job (or two) might be what consumes their time and stops them from practicing 3 hours a day.

Does that make them any more or less a player? Absolutely not. That is their situation.

Some people can’t practice certain exercises or don’t have any business learning Bach suites out of the gate – so why say that the only way to become a quality bass player is to learn them? It’s to suggest that learning Beatles songs is somehow a less legitimate way of learning the technical ends of the instrument than learning to play a Bach chorale.

Taste, interest and origin are big players in a musician’s journey. Why someone chose to pick up the instrument will certainly be different than someone else and someone’s reason for playing and choosing to learn what they do will be different from player to player.

All that being said: is it even appropriate to provide ‘ideal’ times for how long to practice? Is it appropriate to tell developing musicians and bassists you need to practice X amount of time a day to be great?

Take Suggestion from Your Musical Heroes and Those Around You and Weigh The Options Accordingly

Does this mean that teachers – whether online or in person – are hacks if they tell you you need X amount of time each day to be great and that you need to practice A, B and C things, too?

Hack wouldn’t be the right word, but you should be skeptical of such rigid, harsh instructions – especially if the teacher seems to be oblivious to the kind of life you lead outside of music, what your reasons for getting into music are and what your goals are long and short term. After all, music shouldn’t be a chore especially if you’re in it to have fun.

Suggestions from teachers are one thing that should be taken into consideration and weighed based on what your personal goals are and what your capabilities are and what kind of projected growth they’re going to experience.

Modeling your playing, practice regimen and what you practice after one of your musical heroes is likely to lead to burnout, frustration and ultimately walking away from the instrument.

Most people – including myself – are not capable of 3 hours daily practice. But I do what I can to satisfy what it is I’m trying to learn. And you should, too. If that means 3 hours a day or 30 minutes a week, it’s important to do what works for you in music. Always.