Learned two valuable lessons this weekend. More precisely, I saw in real-time how two lessons I’ve understood intellectually actually feel to experience. For nearly 30 years, I’ve been playing drums in bands. This weekend, I played my first covers gig as a bassist, playing with a drummer I had never met before that evening. I got to experience how numerous other bass players experienced my drumming for the first time.
Floods of memories of how I tried to impress both the band and the audience with flashy chops or speed, failing to see how self-serving and ego driven I’d been. I thought about all the times I failed to do my job. The times I failed to make the music feel good. The times I failed to listen to what the other musicians, especially the bass players, were doing so I could figure out how to lock everyone together to connect the experience for the band and the audience. The times I broke the cardinal rule of never bringing what’s still in practice into a performance.
Being on the receiving end of a drummer that didn’t listen to lead from behind was frustrating, especially for a green bass player. Experiencing past the bar line, chopped-up, linear fills and metric modulations during extended jams on Marvin Gaye tunes left me feeling like I was drowning and being thrown weights instead of a life preserver. It also made the few people attempting to dance be unable to do so. Although it was an admittedly small crowd, the size of the crowd should never sacrifice the integrity of the performance. For if great care is not demonstrated from the stage, it can never be fully-appreciated by the audience.
The second lesson I learned was how discipline truly equals freedom. My inexperience as a bassist was confining. In a 4-chord song, I could play the root notes of the progression well-enough, but I had no freedom outside of adding occasional 5ths and octaves to enhance the musicality because I was literally locked in a box. I realized the importance of mastering the fretboard, the keys and the chord shapes to truly be able to be expressive. My lack of being a disciplined bassist meant I had no freedom to express the music beyond the bare minimum.
Although sometimes the bare minimum is just the right amount, in most cases, it simply means the job was done effectively. May we all aim to be more than simply effective in whatever work we do!
The lessons learned: 1) If you can put yourself on the receiving end of your own job, you’ll learn how to perform your job better. 2) If you can’t apply freedom to the job you do, you need to get better for your sake and for the sake of those you work with.