There are a great many number of things that a young bass player can learn to improve his playing. He or she can learn about the importance of having backup strings, or the about the pertinence of adequate preparation. He or she can be told about the value of practicing with a metronome, and how sometimes meandering around in the scale is better than playing the scale from top to bottom. The information out there that can help one learn how to play bass better is limitless and infinite. Everything is already out there; even that which hasn’t been discovered yet.
To me, today, the most important lesson to young and old bassists alike is to always keep your heart open.
Before we should sit down to play, it would always behoove us to tune our instrument. On some level this means to make sure our 4 strings are tuned to E, A, D, G (if we are in standard tuning). On another level this means to attune ourselves to our particular environment. If we are playing a fancy party, it might help to appreciate what that means and how that is precisely unique from a frat party. On another level, this tuning our instrument means to check and see how the ultimate instrument, our heart, is doing.
I have to credit Madeline Bruser with helping me appreciate this tuning of the heart. I simply thought that sometimes the music flowed with truth and other times I had to force it. I never knew that this act of opening your heart can be made easy with some concrete steps of vigilant effort.
So how do we tune our hearts to be open? For me, the first step is accepting the vulnerability of the moment. Music has always been so amazing to me because I understand the transient nature of each performance; of each chord; of each single beat. Here one minute, the next gone. This is the reality of music and this is even the reality of all things. Nothing lasts forever. This is a crushing concept to think about before playing music, but this is also incredible hopeful because each mistake doesn’t nearly matter as much as you’d think. And, if nothing lasts forever, then the only solution is to appreciate whatever is happening currently with all of your heart.
The next step is to
be thankful for the opportunity in front of you. I could have been hardly more lucky so far in my career as a musician, and any chance I get to strap on my bass and jam out is unbelievable. But even if you are only playing in your bedroom at home, think about the amazing opportunities you have compared to people in destitute countries. Think about the amazing opportunities you have compared to people in the past. Many people have been jailed for practicing and performing music throughout time’s story. Here we are with the opportunity to be a part of that without the strife. This is an amazing feeling.
When we reflect on the preciousness of all in our lives, our hearts warm and vital energy flows thru our bodies and our minds. The heart is open and, much like the bass itself, adds harmony and texture to every other physical and mental aspect of our bodies.
Finally, we have step 3, which is to consider the frame. Music is not performed in a vacuum; it is played in a hall; it is played in the state of Georgia; it is played on the earth; it is played in the year 2014; it is played to people who have had different days; it is played in a town where their football team with high expectations didn’t perform well; it is played by us, who sometimes have vastly different days.
We must be observant and consider the frame of our performance. Our heart will be attuned towards sympathy and empathy to all aspects that participate in the performance, of which there may be infinite outside influences. Although we can do nothing to control those aforementioned influences, we can accept them and thank them and consider them. They are there and so are we. Let’s be thankful.
Although none of this is truly technical advice, I believe that the musician could always benefit from remembering to always keep his or her heart open. Music is the language of the heart organized into mathematical patterns; it is truly communicative, but only when performed with the gusto and appreciation for the transient nature of life. Notes are here and then they aren’t. A chord is played and, while its vibrations never end, we can never keep it quite the same in our ears. It simply leaves our life. Or maybe we leave it.
This understanding of the duality between true joy and true sadness can create true music. And while exposing the heart is frightening, realize it is the only way to be the best musician you can be.
You simply have no other choice.