There were two things that would have helped me substantially as a bass player if I knew them earlier. These are things that every musician should do, but I feel like bass players tend to neglect these aspects of jazz musicianship.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying and transcribing bass lines, working on my rhythm and sound. I didn’t put nearly as much work into improvising, because I thought that my primary function was to support the drummer holding the time and provide a solid rhythm and harmony basis for the more convenient solo-instruments.
What I didn’t realize then is that my rhythm and my lines become much better, when I’m practicing improvisation. Now I consider working on my improvisation skills a part of my working on my bass lines and my rhythm as I get a stronger feel of 4th notes while practicing 8th notes and I get a better understanding of the harmonies, improvise better bass lines and feel much more relax playing 4th notes, because I’m used to play 8th notes.
Next time you pick up your instrument don’t forget about improvising, even if you play bass or drums.
If we think about it, music is really about sounds, moods, emotions and colours. While melodies can live you with strong emotions and can even set the mood and atmosphere of a tune, they are never as strong and lasting as chords. Simply because the same chord can be played of several bars, specially in modal music. Listening to solo piano and solo guitar concerts you will understand how strong their improvisation relies on the sound and moods they create with their comping.
As bass players we tend to forget, how important the harmonies are, and while we may learn them through scales, nothing teaches us harmonies better then the emotions we have while we hear them.
Next time you pick up your instrument try to play the harmonies of the song your working on. If you can’t hear the harmony that well on your instrument, take a guitar or a piano. If you transcribe solos, try transcribing chords aswell for a change. This will change you.