There's an "inside joke" amongst bass players: no one wants to be the bass player. It's a strange coincidence but most of the pros somehow got "stuck" playing bass. They either wanted to learn guitar, drums, or another instrument but somehow they wound up becoming the bassist. (We like to say it's fate. The bass chooses you, not the other way around.) One great example of this is Peter Hook of Joy Divison. The band was formed by a group of friends that didn't know anything about music, they just knew they liked the punk rock-attitude. Their story is actually quite inspiring and it's one that I may write on in the future, but for now all you need to know is that Peter didn't want to play bass originally. He's now one of my favorite bass players and he's one of the best out there.
"Terry volunteered to be the singer. Barney had been given a guitar and little red practice amp for Christmas, which made him the guitarist, so I thought, 'Right, I'll get a bass.'" - Peter Hook, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
I am also one of these bassists that didn't want to learn bass - I wanted to learn drums. But at the time I was considering this, my family was in the process of moving and there was nowhere to put a drum-set. I had too many friends that played guitar and I didn't want them telling me what to do (I'm stubborn that way), I had no other option but to learn bass.
Learn from the Best
This applies to anything you want to learn. If you want to teach yourself a subject or a skill, you need to learn from the best. Learn from the people that mastered it, watch how they work and test their advice. Experimentation with a master's mind is one of the greatest ways of achieving skills.
The first song I ever learned on bass was "Money" by Pink Floyd - Roger Waters is also one of the greatest - and this song is in an odd time signature (7/4). From my experience, it's also a good idea to take big steps right from the beginning. Always ask yourself how much you think you can do and then make it your goal to do even more than that. Mastering a skill means constantly pushing yourself, the whole process should be uncomfortable and painful. That's the only way you'll keep moving forward - if not you'll only be moving sideways.
My second greatest influence is Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Within my first year of playing bass I was learning how to slap and play funk-rock. Some of my favorite memories were the days I spent going through a specific RHCP album and learning the songs one by one. Some days I would spend 8 - 10 hours practicing - I loved it so much I would forget to eat. I desperately wanted to absorb everything I could by listening to Flea and mimicking his style. That's what it means to learn from a master, you have to immerse yourself into their minds and think the way they think.
There are countless other bassists that I've studied and learned from but Jaco Pastorius, Peter Hook, and Les Claypool are definitely some of the ones the influenced me the most.
I truly think that the only way to learn something is to learn it yourself, however, one of the best decisions you can make is to allow yourself to have mentors to guide you. A mentor is different from a teacher. We've all (hopefully) seen Karate Kid, School of Rock, and Finding Forrester. If you haven't seen these, you have to check them out. All of these movies show great examples of the relationship between a mentor and a student. Even if you don't watch them, I'm sure you've seen some example of great mentor leaders in your life.
No matter what you're desperate to learn, find a mentor.
I've had the privilege of having an amazing mentor throughout my journey as a bassist. His name is Ron Suffredini (look him up) and he's incredible. Not only as a musician but as a leader as well. He's been encouraging me, pushing me, and guiding me for about four years now and I don't know where I would be without him.
Find someone that already mastered whatever it is you're learning and ask them to mentor you.
Practice... Lot's of Practice
Lots and lots of practice. So much so that when I'm finished, I'm physically exhausted. As I said before, I've put in 5+ hours per day of working towards getting my technique down. Learning a new skill requires practice. You need to live and breathe it, it should become all you can think about. So much of learning is just about doing - that's a simple fact that so many fail to fully understand.
I blog every day because I want to become a better writer. I don't do it just because it's fun, no, in fact until I started blogging I hated writing. Ask anyone that knows me, I absolutely hated it. However, I know the benefits that come with having great writing skills and I wanted to learn writing. I'm also learning to have a lot of fun with it - the process of learning can come with many surprises.
Sometimes I sit down to write my post for the day and I have no idea what to say. It seems that there's nothing of significance on my mind, it doesn't feel worth it. I have to think of something to write about but it's discouraging to think that maybe no one cares. How do you fight writer's block? Just start writing. Even if it sounds stupid, get words down and then go back and rewrite it until it expresses what you want to say.
Learning is about doing.
I can't tell you how many times I've told people that I'm unschooled and their reactions were always negative. It's been countless times. I already know the reaction that I will get when they ask me, "What school do you go to?". I can already predict the remainder of the conversation because it happens so often. Even about an hour before writing this post I was talking to two men about self-education. Sure, they were intrigued, but there was also a sense of discomfort. I can speak forever about why doing something different makes other people uncomfortable, but the point is that if you want to learn something, teach yourself. Don't be afraid to take big steps. It's going to be a long and crazy process, but it'll be worth it. That's exactly what I learned by teaching myself to play bass - and now I love it.