Ive been playing bass for about 7 years and in the past year I have become extremely frustrated and unhappy with my standard of playing. After 7+ years you would think Id be some what better than just mediocre, but no. I find it impossible to play anything by ear and unable to improvise in songs or create my own nice pieces.
I can play pretty much anything once its shown to me or if there is a tab for it, but other than that I just cant do any more.
I find myself now picking up my bass and trying to play stuff but getting irritated after no more than 20 mins of playing and being unable to figure it out or get a nice feel for it and then I just put it back down. It really annoys me as Im always listening to music and want to play along but I cant. Im thinking of just retiring from playing it all together and taking up something else.
Although, I felt slightly the same about playing drums. Not in the sense that I couldnt play anything without being shown. But instead I got to a point where I just couldnt seem to improve my standard of playing, which was pretty low anyway.
Time to change tact a bit I'd say, maybe put down the bass and try some ear training. Or keep playing but try to hum or sing the notes as your playing along, helps me pick out the keys if I'm struggling.
If you have being relying solely on tabs for most of your seven years playing, then it's natural that your ear is not going to be so good.
Progress does not happen overnight, but is a slow process. Eoin5's suggestion above is a good one, i.e. hum/sing what you want to play, then play it on the bass. Same goes for making up bass lines. If you hear a piece of music that you want to put bass lines to, try singing them without the bass in your hands. When you think you have come up with something, then apply them to the bass.
Everyone hits a plateau from time to time. More than likely, you are better than you think.
A few lessons from a teacher would help to kick start your enthusiasm and get you back on the straight and narrow.
Sometimes a short break away from the bass ( a couple of weeks maybe) can help. People have said that they return with a fresh outlook after such a break.
Don't give up, keep at it, above all be patient, and you will get there.
I started to hit that wall myself on guitar few months ago,serious plateau for a few months.The way i got out of it (i hope) was to start listening and playing a completely different genre of music for example i'm mainly a bluesy to folk player but i started playing some metal,I hate metal but the speed and dexterity i've picked up from playing really affects my playing on my bluesy style in a good way.
Pick up your bass and look at it from a completely different angle for a while and the fun will come back.
Definitely good advice. For some anyway. Always, if you're frustrated take a break!
I'm pretty sure everyone hits a plateau at times. It's very common.
Check out the trainers here: http://classic.musictheory.net/
Record your progress. Like do 40 and see how you get on. You should notice slight improvements in the numbers over time.
If you want to improve on sight reading check this out: http://www.practicesightreading.com/
There's also a great book called 30 Etudes for String Bass if you want to go down the sight reading road some more.
Improvisation is really hard if you don't practice it. It doesn't come naturally, except to that one in a million person. If you have been practicing not improvising for 7 years you'll find it really hard to do. Most calssically trained musicians, who are amazing players, have huge difficulty in switching over and learning to improvise. It actually requires different parts of the brain to function and all that gas.
A change of genre is also great advice, as above.
I've found a change in style or a change in instrument can help. Why not try playing jazz or try a fretless bass, or move to a different instrument altogether. I was frustrated with rock and blues so I started to play banjo and it completely changed how I play guitar. Now I play banjo, uke and lap slide just so I can transfer what I learn on those instruments and the respective styles on each back to guitar.
There's a wealth of learning tools available, both online and in stores. If you need advice on books or dvds, chat to someone in McCullough Piggot or Opus II. They should be able to help
A change of instrument and perhaps style.
I played piano for a few years and was fairly like you are, I could play any piece-for my level-fairly OK but trying to do something myself was beyond me.
Messed about with bass for a while and got OK on it but could not just pick it up and 'doodle' on it for the life of me. Played mandolin for years but got locked into a style-trad-and could not play outside that style. Got a sax and could mess about all day long on that thing I can play that-again, within my level-just the way I want to.
I would say the bass is just not your instrument and you need to go on the hunt for the 'right' one!
I think one point needs to be emphasised in this discussion, that is that it takes a long time of hard work to become really proficient on any instrument.
The OP says he has being playing bass for around seven years. That is a comparatively short time. There are bassists who have being playing for upwards of thirty years who will admit to still having a lot to learn. I'm sure the same goes for all instruments.
Yes, it can be a good idea to try another instrument, but what happens if a person reaches the same plateau as the OP, on this instrument after five or so years ? Try another perhaps ? That's fair enough, if you want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. It depends on how far you want to take it with an instrument. The further you want to take it, the more you need to put into it.
Reaching a plateau is part of the journey. As I mentioned earlier, a good teacher can help in getting to the next level.
OP, perhaps you could let us know what your seven years of learning has consisted of ?