A Tom Sawyer analysis: is it as hard to learn as people say?

I love Geddy Lee, but he, like many others, has always given me a sense of “no way I can ever play that”. Tom Sawyer is one of those songs where I have always seen it being referred to as a really hard song to learn on bass. I have been using a Samboat bass tab, and I’ve been surprised that the song isn’t as hard as I feared-- of course I realise it’s not just about learning the notes and that there are other things like flow, endurance, the whacky time signatures, etc. And yes the middle bit is difficult butttttt not as difficult as I assumed (even though it will be a very long time before I can play it nicely!)

I would be very interested to know what you all think, particularly those of you who have been on B2B for a couple years. Is this song as hard to learn as people think, especially if slowed down a bit?



Mpst of the song sounds quite doable for someone post B2B, especially if you allowed yourself to simplify some fills.

The middle part solo looks quite difficult but might be doable with lots of practice.

I couldn’t do it without significant work at least :slight_smile:


I think it is great to have a song that you really like (very important!) as a long-term project, which you can tackle in sections and work on for some time, then let it sit, and pick it up again at a later time. I have a couple of those, which are really tough, but I work on them on and off.

In the process, you will learn a lot! In order to get most out of it, I would suggest to find the chords as well, such that you can see what Geddy chose to play over the different chords.

You will thus learn about the harmonies, but, of course, even more so about phrasing, articulation and timing! All of these are super important for bass players.

You will also learn to distinguish about the parts that are “essential” and the ones that are adornments, fills, etc. And, as @howard already mentioned, it is OK to reduce the difficulty level of those fills, and maybe even come up with variations or alternatives to Geddy’s fills.

One important thing: don’t take the information about where to play stuff on the fretboard (as given in the tab) for gospel! On the contrary, try to see whether there might be other ways to fret/finger some passages that might fit better to your playing style and perhaps what your fingers can do or not can do. The bass is fantastic in that most notes can be played at various locations over the fretboard. Let what is efficient and ergonomic for you be the guiding principle.

Above all: have fun exploring the tune and bass line :smile:


I reckon you can probably learn most pieces as a relative beginner just by pure grinding, but would it be worth the time involved? Having said that, you don’t have to be 100% faithful to the original and still enjoy playing a song. There’s a great video on youtube somewhere which gives different levels of playing Hendrix… ah here it is! You could probably use a similar approach to Tom Sawyer?


This is a great song to have fun with…

It took me a while (a long while) to learn to play this song as closely to the recorded version as possible, and to be honest, I’m glad that I learned it this way. Geddy is a true musician and I learned quite a bit by following his style in this song.

Many songs I play, I do “ad-hoc” many riffs and throw in a lot of my own stuff, but for this one I wanted to learn it as Geddy originally played it. There’s a lot that goes on (bass-wise AND synth-wise) in this song, and listening hard to differentiate those tones is a real challenge - besides, Geddy plays both which is why both the bass line and the synth sort of use the same notes and piggy back one another…

Yea, the solo section in the middle is a real challenge, but is a fairly simple repeating riff that follows a set pattern throughout. The biggest challenge is the speed and timing of the notes since it’s played in 7/8 timing, and you really have to have some “nimble” fingers to move quickly (and accurately) down the fretboard….

Bottom line…. A truly great “bass driven” song, and a really fun one to play. Take your time learning it - took me almost a month before I got it up to speed.

Having fun learning it on the synth now so I can play the lead up section before the bass kicks in….

A great warm up song that gets the fingers moving to some really funky timing signatures…. Love It!!

Keep On Thumpin’!


@StartedAt48 I think there’s value in setting unrealistic / lofty goals. When I started to learn ‘I want you back’ little did I know it would take me over 120 hours to get it down.

Do I regret it? No. It was an awesome tune to play and I learned an awful lot about string crossing and muting along the way.

Just make sure you’re OK listening to the song for 500 times and go for it!


Much tougher to play than what it looks like. When I had a local teacher (fairly early on in my bass learning odyssey), she made me learn this one - very humbling experience, but I learned a lot.

As to my point from a bit further above, however: I am not big into ACDC, and so “my heart” wasn’t in it, which meant I (subconsciously) didn’t give it my all. Thus, I think it is important to find a tune you really like for such a long-term technique/harmony deep dive :smile:


It’s a lot easier than the drum part :slightly_smiling_face:

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Ha, I can air drum badly to that!

I was watching Rush live performances and I can’t remember the specific songs, but Geddy Lee was plucking really hard and fast with index finger only here and there which I found interesting.

He has a unique style of playing, he generally played pretty hard and often will just use his index finger, I think he does it in YYZ. I’m sure all the highly cultured intelectuals here know that’s a “zed” not a “zee” :sweat_smile:


I took in person lessons for a bit, and my teacher said i needed a “one year song”. I started trying to learn “ramble on” by led zep. Three years later and i still haven’t nailed it, but i love playing it.


Not big on AC/DC either but dear Lord Thunder struck is way out of my league.

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