I got invited to join this band. They've got plenty more experience than I do, but I've been playing with one of the members for quite a while and, I guess, I wasn't doing so bad, since he's now invited me to join this more advanced project.

They've got a concert in a couple of weeks. They'll be opening for one of the biggest bands from my country, of which I'm also a HUGE fan. That means, if I make it into the band, my debut will happen in a very unique situation, to say the least.

Now, here's the thing. Their songs are way more complex than pretty much everything I've played before. I'm not saying I won't be able to play them, but I certainly need some advice here.

I've got 2 weeks to learn 7 finger-burning songs on bass. Any ideas on what my strategy should be?

Maybe focus on one song at a time? Pick 2 or 3 and work on them simultaneously, in order to let my brain rest? Anything else I should consider doing?

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    Are these the kind of songs that need a very specific line played, or does a ballpark 'right type of groove' work in most places? Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:01
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    Are you working from sheet music? Or from recordings of the band? Or both maybe? Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:03
  • @topomorto I believe I won't have to play it exactly how it was recorded. Their previous bassists didn't. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:16
  • @BrianTHOMAS I got both. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:16
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    Regardless what happens, good luck buddy! Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 17:04

4 Answers 4


I'm going to assume the usual way I get given new material to learn, as I don't read... so I get some recordings & have to figure it out from that.

This method is definitely intended to leave you a lot of mental space, never get bogged down in a difficult bit, move on to something else & come back later if you struggle.
At any point in the method feel free to try something else, drink tea, put the bass down & just listen for a while... or listen to something else entirely & come back when you're less frazzled.
Two weeks for 7 songs is not a hard schedule, so long as your ability is sufficient to be able to play the parts once learned.

...and always bear in mind...
at least one guy already knows you & how you play...
he wouldn't have booked you if he didn't think you could do it.

So don't get caught up in any "am I good enough?" head-games.

It may depend on how well you already know their material, as a listener.

If the songs are totally new to you, then it may be beneficial to simply listen to them round & round over a couple of days, before starting to really 'learn' how to play them. Get a feel for the vocals, if any, & the general song structure. I'm always certain it's less of a struggle if you already have the basic layout in your head before you fill in the details.

Only then pick up the instrument.

Take one song at a time & just fumble through it without stopping, a couple or three times.
That tightens what you already got from listening.
I'd do this for all the songs before going back for more detail.

Time spent so far, 3 days, max.

So, day 4 - pick the hardest song to start with [you'll appreciate that by the end] & follow it a line or even bar at a time. Make sure the general idea you picked up over the past couple of days is as accurate as you thought it was. It's amazing how the details can become easier to pick out once you have the gist of it, compared to trying to learn every single line as a new entity.
This is also the time to practise any particularly difficult bits in isolation, slow it down, play it without the track, then with the track until you're comfortable.

Day 5 should see the end of that process of analysis for 7 songs... & that's why you did the hard ones first.

You now have a clear week to just pick them up 'as & when' & see which you have & haven't got.

This is the time to get comfortable with them, you already worked out the parts so this is where you turn it from a part into a performance.
You're now standing up to play, too. No slouching, this bit is where you start to look like you're in the band, not just a session-man reading the dots at the back of the stage.

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    @WellingtonRodriguesPereira - A few additional things to add to this from my perspective. Singing your parts while listening should be very helpful as far as getting them all committed to memory. Focusing on the difficult stuff first can be a great approach, as that will take the most effort, however, be careful not to spend too much time on that if it's taking a long time to work out. If it takes you 3 days to work out your part to the hard song, then you have three less days to get the rest worked out. It can be good to change up what you're working on to get more accomplished. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:54
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    Basically, if you're stuck on one song for that long, you can develop anxiety over the fact that you still have 6 more after it, so tackling some of those can be helpful in easing your mind, which typically allows you to learn more easily because you're less distracted. It can also be helpful in general to take a break from something that is really difficult. I've spent hours and hours learning one piece that was difficult for me, making slow improvement, then took a couple days off and when I came back, I was improving much more quickly. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:58
  • @Basstickler - that's actually why I went for the strategy of getting comfortable with the overall structure/feel before getting caught up in the details - it gives you that bit of breathing space. Making sure your analysis/part-work only takes 2 days max ensures sufficient freedom of expression for the 2nd week. I've done 2-hour live sets in 3 days by this method, though I was already familiar with all the tracks beforehand, so avoided the 2 days 'just listening'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 14:04
  • I definitely like that thought process and approach. I think that would work very well and encourage it. The reason I thought to include my extra bit was that it sounds like Wellington has less experience and it may not be only a day or two of ironing out the details for the most difficult of the pieces. I've had to cram for a 3 hour set (of covers, not originals) and my approach was kind of the opposite, trying to work out the easy stuff first to get the bulk done but I had the option of telling the band I wasn't comfortable with a song and trying to skip it, which wouldn't apply here. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 14:11
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    Thank you for all the insights guys. That was totally helpful! I fell a bit more confident now. And let's face it. Even if I miss a note or two, it's still gonna be great. Also, I'll get to see one of my favorite bands walk in the stage right after we leave. It'll be a night to remember =D Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 17:08

I got 2 weeks to learn 7 finger-burning songs on bass. Any ideas on what should my strategy be?

Tough challenge based on how you're framing it up: Their songs are way more complex than pretty much everything I've played before.. I got 2 weeks to learn 7 finger-burning songs on bass.

First thing to do, if you are comfortable doing so, is to talk to your friend and ask what's expected of you. To play everything exactly as it's been played before? To fill in as best you can and just keep the groove going? Etc. That will give you an idea of how to approach your task.

Having said that, your situation is not at all uncommon. Working musicians are constantly faced with such scenarios, often far more difficult than yours, although such difficulty is all relative to your particular level of skill: A union musician gets a call - Be at the Hilton's bar on 6th Ave tomorrow night at 7. There's a trio playing there - they work until 11:30. The bass player is sick. I'm emailing you their set lists. You can find most of the music online. End of call.

Guy looks at the set list - 50 possible songs depending on what they feel like playing and how long they stretch things, and not including audience requests. He knows half of the material cold, the rest is vaguely familiar or unknown. He looks over the music or listens to it- some of it is fairly easy, some of it is very tough. So, one day to get down 25 songs - some work to do. One of the ways musicians often deal with this is called faking it:

It amounts to this: You don't necessarily try to play that finger-burning part. It's unlikely you'll be able to do it well, and when you mess it up, it's going to sound bad. Instead, you play something that sounds similar - produces a similar sound and effect, functionally adequate - but is well within your ability to learn quickly and play well enough without struggle.

Every tough, nuanced bass line has certain essential features, and other components which are embellishments and enhancements. You might find a bassline that's very funky, but its basic outline is simple. A hot-shot player might be throwing in 16th or 32nd notes or harmonics or double stops or adding chromatic passing notes or ghost notes as he blisters through it.

That sort of playing might intimidate you, and if you try to nail it all in a short time, under pressure, you'll in danger of failing: Sounding bad, wasting valuable time that could have been better spent with a different approach, maybe even losing your chance to gig again with some musicians you'd like to work with. But those parts are generally non-essential - the bassline and the song will work without them, as long as you can play the essential fundamental line, clearly and cleanly.

So your job is to listen to those bass parts carefully in the context of the song and pick out the dominant features that make it work and focus only those, ignoring the enhancements and embellishments. Play a simplified version that you know you can execute well. Very often, you can get by with a highly simplified bass part as long as it maintains the same basic groove and feel. Even properly placed and played roots and 5ths can cover for a great deal.

The key is to understand the original player's approach to the material, digest it and then, best done while playing along with a recording, develop your own simplified version that's within easy reach for you, but captures the fundamental feel and function of the original.

Don't worry about the fact that you're not playing the same thing as the original. Just keep in mind the fundamental role of the bass in that song and fulfill it, as best you can with your own abilities and the limited amount of time you have.

Whatever you play, make sure you can play it well: Good solid execution, a clean, clear sound, a strong, solid groove. Unless you're a star 'lead bassist', that's more important than the "finger blistering" stuff.

I remember a long time ago when I had to learn to play the Beatles' Come Together. It's a very simple song, but McCartney plays a cool bassline that jumps up to the b3 (if I remember correctly) on a higher octave and then quickly and smoothly slides back to the lower octave with great finesse and feel. I had trouble nailing it - I sounded awkward and sloppy. I wasn't able to make that jump and then come back down smoothly and elegantly and continue the bassline seamlessly. (Now, many years and practice sessions later, I can play it like Macca did... almost...)

So, I had a choice: try to play it like the record and sound sloppy, or play that b3 on the lower octave and sound good. I chose the latter - made sure to play it with just the right feel and as good as sound as I could get, and the guys in the band were OK with that - it worked. It didn't produce the wonderful Beatles' sound (we weren't the Beatles anyhow...) but it was 'passable': the song's identity was clear - the bass part was recognizable and functionally sufficient, because I faked it well enough: I played what I could play credibly and captured something of the original, based my own skill-set at the time.

Obviously, this is only for now - to get you through what appears to be this difficult initial period. As time goes on, you'll become more familiar with the material and will be able to do more with it - nail the parts perfectly, and add your own individual touches to it too. You may even develop your own original approach to a song that works better, or turns it in a different direction that your new band-mates would enjoy- that's quite common among working, growing musicians.

Good Luck!

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    @Tetsujin -- 'but I think this is a "learn to fail" methodology': Man, I could not disagree more with you on this. 1) As a general principle it is more important to learn the essential features of a tune than it is to learn tricky details and flourishes. 2) It is important for learners to do this to get some tunes under their hands without getting bogged down in impossible details. 3) Players should learn pieces for other instruments and must learn how to interpret things which can't be played easily or at all on their own instrument. 4) OP needs to get the important bits down now.
    – user39614
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 15:52
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    @Tetsujin - Their songs are way more complex than pretty much everything I've played before.. I got 2 weeks to learn 7 finger-burning songs on bass... " eminently do-able" is relative. A pro session bassist can walk into a big band session, sit down and play everything cold from a sheet - music he's never heard before. It's " eminently do-able" for him. Is that " eminently do-able" do for you? OP feels challenged - apparently it may not be " eminently do-able" for them right now. Again - this has nothing to do with "aim high" or "aim low": it's about getting the job done.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:07
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    @Tetsujin -- It may be do-able or not, depending on the technical challenges faced by the player. You are mis-characterizing when you say that this is an "aim low" strategy. It is a very reasonable and practical strategy to get the essentials down and to reach a comfort level with the music so that it can be performed under pressure before turning attention to other details for which there may not be time or technical capacity.
    – user39614
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:08
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    @Tetsujin -- I think you have a good answer and have laid out a good strategy, but I disagree that this answer is "aiming low." In fact I think that this answer adds something that your answer is missing, and which is a common tactic used by gigging players every day.
    – user39614
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:12
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    Thank you for all the insights guys. That was totally helpful! I fell a bit more confident now. And let's face it. Even if I miss a note or two, it's still gonna be great. Also, I'll get to see one of my favorite bands walk in the stage right after we leave. It'll be a night to remember =D Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 17:08

Congratulations on the gig!!!

Now, to your question, first you have already been playing with a member of the band for a while. He knows your skills and where you are at. I am sure he also told the rest of the band what you can and cannot do.

Now, the only answer is to practice, practice, practice. After that, practice.

But also realize your role as the bassist. In 99% of groups, the bass along with the drums is there to keep the groove. If that means that you have to simplify a line in order to keep the groove, then do it! I think it is better to keep the groove and miss a "finger-burning" lick, then to attempt a lick you don't know or are not comfortable with and let the song fall apart.

Lastly, have fun! Chances like this do not come around very often. Please enjoy yourself and enjoy the moment!


Bob Reynolds from Snarky Puppy shared his approach for this common issue we face as musicians.

I think it is interesting for current discussion... so, to give it a try!


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