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I used to play the electric bass, for about 8 years. I got quite good at it. By the end of my period of playing, I was playing pretty decent stuff, jazz, funk, finger style, slap etc. I had gotten to a point where I was feeling fairly competent with a lot of the songs I wanted to play, and learning new ones seemed really fun.

Over the past few years I've been busy and my practice sort of faded. I've picked it up and played some scales now and then, sparsely though.

And now I'm trying to get back into it but am really struggling as I feel I'm seriously out of touch. It's been a little disappointing as I look back at some of the stuff I was playing and don't really know where to begin. I'd really like to get back to my previous skill level, which I'd say was basically upper-intermediate or so, and even improve on that, but I honestly don't no where to start. I've forgotten a lot about techniques and when I pick it up, I feel like my fingers have returned home, but the locks have been changed.

Is it a matter just starting with the basics again and perhaps progressing back up again? I'm sure that others have been or are in this predicament with any of their instruments. What I'm basically asking is "What is the best way to go about re-learning an instrument?" - or will buying a new bass fix my problems :)?

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    Practice. Start slow and be patient. – Carl Witthoft Nov 21 at 14:49
  • Barring all the motivational stuff... 1.) set a schedule for practice and stick to it - an hour a day or every other at least. 2.) think about playing when you aren't - statistics show that thinking about the act of doing something helps to improve the ability itself. 3.) relearn all the songs you used to play & relearn all the old techniques you knew before. 4.) get a bass in your hands whenever you can - if you ever sit in front of a TV, unplug and work up your right hand speed by thumping the open E repeatedly. 5.) engage with new material & learn new techniques to keep it fresh and fun. +1 – Tim Burnett - Bassist Nov 21 at 16:54
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All good advice in the other answers. The thing I’d add is, have a reason to play regularly. What that reason is will be down to you.

Join a band, go to a regular jam session, be working towards your next exam or lesson, if you’re religious join the band at your church.

What exactly it is you do is actually fairly unimportant at this stage - the key is to always have a goal or a reason to be playing which is more than playing for its own sake, that if you don’t play and practice you’re missing out on a social activity. If the fear of letting other people down, or of missing out, is something that motivates you, use that.

Find why you want to play music, and that will be a huge help in making sure that you’ll make the time to do it.

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    good point: join a band! This is probably your goal. What you need now is self-confidence. You might start with a band on a lower level than you are but tell them that you mean to advance. Perhaps you can help to build up the next bass generation. – Albrecht Hügli Nov 21 at 14:07
  • I don't think this is a good advice. With Henry's current mastery of the bass, he will only be able to join a mediocre band, at best. However, because he mastered the bass significantly better, in only a few months, he will have improved his skills rapidly and will not be content with the level of the band and have to start looking for another one which will only cause frustration in all involved parties. – René Nyffenegger Nov 23 at 6:27
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I'm personally a big fan of music grades. I'd suggest finding a grade to start at (maybe grade 3-4 for you since that's when it starts to be more than just bare-bones basics) and working your way through them until you find a part where you really need to practice. I'd personally recommend the Rockschool exams if you're into playing more contemporary music.

That's what helped me get back into piano after not having played one since I was a kid at least. I'm sure others have other ideas. I think the crux of it is basically "get stuck in but be sensible about how you practice/improve" though.

Another suggestion is to find a local bass teacher. One-on-one personal feedback is invaluable.

  • RGT - now LCM bass guitar exams, I think - tend to have a more rounded approach to playing. Certainly worth a look. – Tim Nov 21 at 16:55
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One thing that happens when I don't use skills that I have developed in my life is that they seem to become less natural to me, less automatic, and slower. But I don't completely lose the skills altogether. I still retain a lot of the knowledge and understanding that I accumulated from my previous experience and it can help me move more quickly to get back to where I can perform at least adequately, which in turn offers the opportunity to play with others, get the social re-enforcement and incentive to continue, and before I know it, I'm once again growing and developing. For me it's kind of like riding a bicycle, once learned, I'll always know how to balance, pedal and steer, but I will probably need some practice if I want to perform some of the tricks I learned as a youngster. One technique I've used to get back up to speed is just putting on the stereo and spending time playing along with it. I can get my ears and hands back to the point that they are once again coordinated with each other. For me , that's a good starting place.

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Welcome to the site Henry.

I don't think re-learning an instrument will be very different from the first time you learned it. You will have the benefit of having some knowledge but also have the disadvantage of having some old bad habits. Just like learning anything else it is good to:

  1. set short term goals
  2. set long term goals
  3. make a routine
  4. evaluate and adjust

Without goals you can easily lose focus and forget what you are aiming for. Short term goals are good for letting you know how you are doing and keeps you moving forward. Long term goals gives you a prize to strive for. Make sure your goals are measurable. For example "be good at bass" is not measurable. But play all the songs on album x is.

A routine will help you keep on track. Make sure your routine incorporates the types of activities that will help you reach your goal.

Nothing in life ever goes as plan, so from time to time make sure you step back, check to see how things are going and adjust your goals, and routine accordingly.


I used to play the drums at a high level. I stopped and haven't played in years. I now play multiple stringed instruments, mainly guitar, but if I wanted to pick the drums back up I would do the following:

  1. Make sure my instrument was in good working order. I'd get new heads and sticks (strings and picks) if needed. If it is not in good working order I'd have it repaired if possible or buy a new one. You should do the same with your bass. Get new strings. get a set up at your local shop or buy a new one. Learning on an instrument that is not working properly will not be fun, can be frustrating and maybe even lead to injuries.

  2. I would set a time of day to practice or some how make sure to carve practice time into my day.

  3. List the things that I know I should have worked on when I was younger but didn't. (practice with a metronome. work on ear training. practice rudiments (or scales, arpeggios, etc in your case)). This is your chance to use your experience as a benefit. You are older and hopefully wiser now. Kick those old bad habits now before you re-establish them.

  4. Come up with my practice routine: warmup/exercises, transcribe a new song, work on last week's song, etc... Knowing what you will be doing when you practice will help it go faster and smoother. Nothing is worse for your progress than sitting down and noodling around for an hour. It doesn't help you improve much and sucks up all your time.

  5. I'd play along to music I like.

  6. I'd record myself playing. Nothing will bring all the flaws to your attention like a video or audio recording of your playing.

  7. Play with others.

I hope this helps. A good teacher can help you with all this stuff, and is worthwhile but not 100% necessary as you have the benefit from already knowing a lot of stuff that a typical beginner does not. The most important things are have fun, and play, play, play.

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Buying a new bass will not likely fix anything. You cannot "fix" lack of technique by any other method than practice, practice, practice.

One factor is how long did you stay away from the instrument. I don't think you stated that. Your skills are perishable. Just like being in shape by going to the gym. You can't get yourself in great shape, be a couch potato for a few years, and expect your physical fitness level to remain the same or jump right back into it and be at the level you left off. In fact you may be at a lower level then when you last went to the gym due to age.

I have been in this position twice in my life. I gave up violin as a kid to play guitar then thought I could pick it up 5 years later. Even with lessons it didn't come back. I'd been playing guitar for about 20 years when I decided to go to graduate school for science. The work was so intense I had to put the guitar down, or just not play as often like you. My skills greatly diminished. I was not able to play what I used to play before and could not execute some basic techniques. I had had lessons for quite some time and had worked through the Mel Bay graded series of books, Carcassi, and Levett. Since I had the benefit of several good music teachers in my youth I was able to get back on track by my self simply by working through those old lessons again. I had some self discipline. I don't think I could have done that on my own w/o having good lessons.

You are going to have to invest quite a bit of time in building up your basic skills again by playing simple technical exercises and working through old songs you used to know. I would highly recommend taking lessons if you never did. And either way I would recommend getting your hands on a reputable beginner series. Repetition breeds familiarity and even professional musicians still open the old grade 1 book they had as a kid and work through the exercises. The first thing you learn is often the most important. I am familiar with bass as I do play upright but I'm not familiar with what's out there for modern rock bass for example. I was taught out of F. Simandl (classical), Rufus Reed Evolving Bassist and Evolving Upward, and Ron Carter's book. Focus on technique, play every day, and use a metronome.

  • I agree that buying a new instrument won't be the solution. I haven't played my brass instrument for 25 years and bought 2 other Euphoniums (second hand) , they have much better construction and I always have to adapt the embouchure to each a new. But they are easier to play in the high and the correction of the intonation is better. So we actually don't know in which state OP's instrument was. But what I was going to say: I still practice my old instrument too and I still play the virtuous solos I played 50 years ago, but with more knowledge and self-confidence and certainly more musically. – Albrecht Hügli Nov 21 at 14:16
  • True, if the older bass became warped or damaged it may not be worth playing on – ggcg Nov 21 at 14:38
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You will surely remember the journey you made when you did start with playing e-bass. You could write a selection of your most favorite pieces in progression of difficulty - this may be about the same series like you learnt to play them. Then you can recover all difficulties you had in the past but you will play them diagonal through and you will find out that you master them in much little time than you needed before. This will evoke good memories and encourage you that you are now much better than eight years before.

Mind the problem you have is a lack of technique, practice and routine. It is not the brain that is getting older, you can do today much more with your resources in a shorter time and only when you are on the limit you can say: Now I am there where I stopped eight years ago.

You will learn new things now much easier as you have much more association-points and cognitive knots in a network you never had before.

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I'll address some related points, that mostly can help you to answer your question yourself:

  • I've let the bass aside myself for like 10 years, and picked it again when I broke 2 fingers, for re-education. I suggest you take advantage first of that pause so that it's easier to loose the bad habits if you had some. Muting strings you don't play is very important in bass, for example. Proper finger positions and such. It's easier to get rid of the bad habits when you have stopped for long, so take the first step a bit seriously.
  • It can be debatable, but as I've read from a known bass player, don't loose too much time on exercises, at the end of the day, it's music you'll play, not going up and down scales. If you don't have a lot of time for practise, better play real music, or work your scales in a musical way. Start by simpler tunes, be sure you play it well (good finger positions, muting strings all right), go on with more complex ones, but I recommend to play stuff you like (love) mostly.
  • Use a metronome regularly if you don't have a drummer. Not always, but you tend to loose regularity when playing on your own with no rythm support.
  • (can be debatable too) Find your motivation in the Music rather than in technicality. For me music is not a sport, you don't compete, and it's important for a bass player to be the glue in the band, it's often an under-listened instrument but your impact is huge. Feel the groove in music you like, don't focus too much on your level.. In my case at that period I sarted to compose some ballads, it was the motivation at the time that corresponded to my mood..

Once you start to take your habits again, it will go more smoothly..

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I was away from singing for about 15 years. It took me 2 years to "not suck" and about 5 to be as good or better than I had been. In that time I practiced multiple times a week, was 2 bands, wrote many songs (with others and alone) and was going to regular jam sessions. The bands and jam sessions were the motivation for the practice.

So, I would recommend practice, and ALSO find fun reasons to get better. I think it is best to find bands / sessions on your own level, and (THIS IS IMPORTANT) regularly "upgrade" them as you get better. (Ideally a band all gets better roughly together, but it isn't always the case so be prepared to leave / replace people).

(BTW: This whole timescale makes me very loathe to start playing brass again, as I would like to - I can't face the 2 years of suck...)

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