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BMM: Be Inspired, Not Intimidated

Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Bass Musician Magazine

How many of us have said at some point “____________ is so good, I just want to quit playing altogether.” I know there was a time that I listened to music that frustrated me and made me want to rethink my musical career. Looking back, I know that mentality was holding me back from trying new things, experimenting, failing (hey, it happens), learning and succeeding.

Why on earth would I want to listen to a musician or group that would frustrate me, making me want to STOP playing altogether? It seems counterproductive, doesn’t it? And yet there are a lot of people doing just that; listening to music and being intimidated instead of being inspired. Music should inspire you, not intimidate.

Years back, Michael Manring played a gig an hour north of me. I bought tickets the day they were available, and was in the front row for the show. That’s right, I’m a fan. Manring was probably three feet in front of me, and his set was awesome. Sure, he’s got the level of skill that I can only dream about, but that wasn’t the point. The music, his musicality, spirit, etc. were inspiring. I got the chance to shake his hand after the set and even say “Thank you, that was inspiring,” which led to a discussion where he and I talked shop for about ten minutes. I can probably recite that discussion verbatim; it was one of those moments I won’t ever forget.

When I got home, I played for about four hours straight (which ended around 3am) and had two solid foundations for solo bass pieces (which I still play now). Manring’s concert inspired me to play more, push myself beyond what I was capable of, elevate myself to try and achieve the level of musicianship that he commanded. I can’t tell you how many new things I learned by just attempting his greatness, that I still use today.

What would have happened if I had kept the mentality of “Oh, he’s so good, I can never do that?” after I had attended that show? I’ll tell you; nothing. I probably would have driven home, told my roommates how awesome the show was, and left it at that. If I was intimidated by the performance, it’s pretty easy to wager that I wouldn’t have done anything at all, limiting myself in the long term and honestly, not fully enjoying the show.

We need to stop comparing ourselves to each other in terms of “He’s better, period” or “I’ll never be that talented” and leave it at that. I may never be able to play like Michael Manring, but I’d wager that he’s never going to be able to play like me either. That doesn’t stop me from trying to elevate my playing to greater heights, because the amount of skill and musicianship that I learn from just TRYING something new can lead to greater things.

Please realize that healthy competition between you and your musical friends is not what we’re talking about here. I’m fortunate to play with a guitarist that pushes me on a regular basis; on occasion, I push back. Our competitive nature while playing results in both of us learning a lot of new things, and when either of us fail at what we’re trying, we both smile and move on.

So the next time you’re listening to something and are just overwhelmed to the point of selling your instrument and becoming an accountant, stop the music. Give yourself a second to really clear your head. Then, hit play again and listen to something you normally wouldn’t in the song; maybe it’s the drummer, maybe it’s the keyboard, whatever it is, DON’T LISTEN TO THE BASS. Maybe even give another genre of music a try to see what they really have to offer, or *God forbid* turn on the radio. Whatever you’re listening to, find something new in that music that surprises and inspires you, making you want to turn off the album and pick up that bass and play.

In closing, here are a couple of my favorite “go to” albums that I pop in for inspiration; find me on Twitter at @monjoody and share with me yours.

“Night Train” Oscar Peterson Trio – Yeah, Ray Brown is a monster but I think Ed Thigpen was the glue that kept that trio together. He’s such a musical drummer!

“Rift” Phish – Concept albums are a tough sell on me and yet I still find something new and interesting in every single listen of this album.

“Equilibre” Michael Manring & David Cullen – This is my favorite Manring album because while there are obvious times for him to showcase his soloing prowess, when he’s just sitting in the back and backing up David Cullen, you understand and appreciate how good Manring is.

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