Ugh. I just checked out my gig calendar and realized I haven’t played a gig since June 12 and won’t play another until August 14. That’s more than two months without playing. This ‘Gigging Bass Player’ is NOT gigging right now. Not cool.
Lucky for me, I don’t depend on gigs to make a living. The extra cash is nice, but isn’t enough to make a huge impact on my lifestyle.
Having said that, not gigging for this long certainly has other impacts. My callouses go soft. My chops get a little dull. And I start to lose my mind . . . just a little bit.
Playing live is such a release. It does wonders for my mental health. For bass players like me, who live an otherwise normal lifestyle (e.g. day job, family, etc.), performing is like therapy. No matter what life throws at you, you can forget about everything at the gig and just lose yourself in musical and bass nirvana.
So what is a bass-playin’ dude to do when going through this kind of dry spell? How do I keep my hands loose, chops sharp and sanity intact?
I’ve been giving this some thought over the last day or so and come up with the following list of things to do while waiting for the next gig to roll around.
How NOT to Lose Your Mind Because You Haven’t Played a Gig in Two Months:
Noodle: Yes, noodle, in verb form. Or doodle if you prefer. Noodling refers to what you do when you casually pick up your bass and mess around while doing something else, like watching TV or surfing the web. When I’m gigging regularly, I get my fill of playing and don’t really have any desire to noodle around just for the hell of it. My bass tends to spend most of its time inside the case, only seeing the light of day at gig time. But noodling, while not a very rigorous form of practice, is still helpful in keeping your chops up.
Study: Sometimes I forget how much my playing style was developed based on what I picked up by studying my favourite bass players back in my wood-shed days. It never hurts to go back to the well of inspiration and have a listen to some of the material that provided me with my earliest bass influences. My recent playlist includes old masterpieces such as: Appetite for Destruction (Guns ‘n Roses), Moving Pictures (Rush), Master of Puppets (Metallica) and Operation: Mindcrime (Queensryche).
Practice: Yes, sometimes an intentional practice session is just what the doctor ordered in terms of keeping those four-string skills polished and honed to a fine point. While I’ve never been very disciplined when it comes to structured practice (I’m more of a noodler — see above), I do find there is some advantage to sitting down and working through some area of my playing that’s not entirely up-to-snuff. For example, I alternate between playing with a pick and playing with my fingers. While fairly proficient with both, my finger-playing stamina is not quite what it should be, especially when speed is involved. So my structured practice sessions will focus on various exercises to improve that aspect of my playing.
Forget: Forget what? How about forgetting that you’re a bass player, that you’re in a band and that you’re a performing musician. Sound ridiculous? Maybe. But sometimes just forgetting about it for awhile is what you need to feel fresh and committed once you’re back into a regular playing schedule. As much as I love playing, sometimes it becomes a bit of a grind. When gigs become a little tedious, it’s easy to forget how important music and the bass is to you. A little break can do wonders. And sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remember that there are other things in your life worth spending time on . . .