Very often when searching for our voice, we do so by looking outside ourselves and trying things. This isn’t a bad idea, and much of what I’ve presented in this column has been from this direction. But another way to find your own voice is to search within yourself. Most people probably don’t suggest this method simply because they don’t know how to do it. Here are some approaches:
Sit (or stand) with your instrument. Empty your mind as best you can, and wait until you hear something (this could take a while). Wait until you hear it clearly in your head, and then find it on the bass. If it helps, sing or hum the idea you’re hearing first. Then figure it out.
Sometimes what works better is to sit without your instrument. Then do the same thing: clear your mind and wait to hear something internally. When you’ve got something, repeat it in your mind (like a groove, maybe). Next time you pick up your bass, figure it out. When doing this I find that singing or humming it first works best.
If this doesn’t work for you, like perhaps nothing is coming to mind, you can kick-start it. Play one note. Then stop and sit (or stand) in silence until you hear what should come after that note. If you don’t hear anything for a while, play the first note again.
These types of techniques can help you create basslines as well. If your guitarist has written yet another heavy riff, or chord sequence that needs a bassline, just listen to it. Wait until you’ve heard something internally before you play anything. If you can get a recording of it, listen to it over and over until you hear what the bass part should be (at least in your mind).
I’ll also do this with play-a-longs. Maybe I’ll solo on a blues, but I won’t just run scales or play licks. I’ll actually play nothing until I hear something. And I don’t mean thinking of licks and what they would sound like, or envisioning Dorian sounds or anything like that. I’ll wait until a sound comes into my mind.
This is an important point about this exercise. You don’t want to try and think of something, or if your ear and knowledge of music is advanced enough to come up with a theoretical idea and then imagine the sound of it. You want to wait until a sound appears seemingly on its own. If you haven’t yet experienced this, then don’t get concerned if it takes a while. With any of these approaches, if you have to wait a long time and nothing comes up, don’t let that bother you. Just try again the next day. The discovering of what you sound like at a deep level will be worth it.
Also, if the first times you do any of these things, you come up with something that’s not “hip” (like a major scale run, or a triad, or just a root-fifth pattern) don’t let that get you down, either. Or if you create something that you don’t understand, treat that the same way. As much as possible, withhold judgment on whatever it is. Just let whatever comes up be there.