“The bass player’s function, along with the drums, is to be the engine that drives the car… everything else is merely colours.” – Suzi Quatro
If you want to get people dancing, you should play the bass. Paul McCartney didn’t originally even want to play bass in The Beatles, and look at how far he’s come, all thanks to his musical abilities!
Interesting, isn’t it?
Learning to play the bass is an enjoyable musical experience and one that could, if you’re lucky and work hard at it, be something that earns you money or a reputation for musical excellence.
Are you ready to go?
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the reasons why you should consider picking up a bass guitar and learning to play it.
With six strings, the electric guitar or the acoustic guitar can be harder for beginners to get the hang of.
Since a bass usually has fewer strings than a guitar, it can be easier to start playing. (Source: PublicDomainPictures)
The bass is an important part of almost every song, but many untrained listeners don’t even know it’s there despite this vital role it plays in supporting the tune. It provides tones that are around an octave lower than that of a guitar. Tuning is simpler because each string is the same interval apart. This makes scales much easier to play. This is easier than it would be on a guitar where there are more strings and they’re not all the same interval apart.
You want to play along with a metronome and develop your ear.
This means bass guitar for beginners tends to be easier. Of course, once you learn to play, you’ll soon see plenty of complicated techniques during your bass guitar lessons.
Whether it’s blues, rock, jazz, bossa nova, R ‘n’ B, you’ll probably hear the bass.
A bassist needs to be ready to play at any moment. (Source: zooverano)
The bass is the heart of soul of a lot of music and gives it the lower tones. The bass also tends to have more of a focus on rhythm, unlike the guitar, which focuses on melody. No need to start with major scales, pentatonic scales, chords, or a lot of the scales you have to learn before you can get started with the guitar.
A bassist will focus on the rhythm. Of course, when we say it’s easier, it’s relative. If you have no sense of rhythm, you’ll have to work on it.
You can learn how to play along to a given rhythm in just a few days rather than having to learn guitar chords which can take longer.
It’s easier to get started with the bass than the drums, too. You don’t need to do as much multitasking and your legs aren’t even involved.
On the bass, you’ll just use your left hand and your right hand. If you’re right-handed, your left hand will be on the fretboard and your right hand will strike the strings to make the noise.
Drums are cool, that’s a fact. If you like rhythm, you might be tempted to pick up some drum sticks and get started with the drums. That said, you don’t want to spend loads of time working out just to be able to lug all of your drums about.
Once you’ve transported the bass drum, cymbals, drum throne, etc., you’ve got to assemble the kit. While the drummer has to show up to shows early, the bassist can rock up with their bass and an amp. You just have to plug in your bass, grab your pick (if you use one), and start rocking!
Similarly, it’ll be far easier to bring your own bass guitar to your beginner bass lessons than it would be bringing your own drum kit to one.
When you think of famous musicians, most of them are the leading band member, often the one holding the guitar and performing those solos that send shivers down your spine or get everyone at a concert screaming. But, as exciting as that is, it’s just not for everyone.
As the bass player in a band, you can comfortably take a back seat if you so wish and simply enjoy the music you are busy producing, rather than trying to entertain the crowds or show off your charisma. Of course, many bass players are full of charm and personality and are happy to let it show on stage too!
Believe me, I know that what bass players do is what make the songs sound the way they do, but one advantage of not being the standout instrument that everyone recognises immediately is that if you happen to fluff up a note then you can get away with it a little easier!
If you don’t live on your own or don’t want to bother the neighbours, the bass is a good idea. If you have an electric bass, you can often play with headphones on. The only noise anyone will hear is a light sound from the strings. This is definitely good if you want to keep your flatmates, family, or neighbours happy.
The added practical benefit of this also is that you can practice far more often than if you played the drums. Late at night, early in the morning, it doesn’t really matter to anyone around you. So you go ahead and pluck some strings whenever you get a spare moment as that’s the way to get better and better at your skill!
The guitar has six strings that are relatively close together. With just four strings, it’s easy to position your fingers on the strings of a bass guitar. That said, you’ll need strong fingers if you want to play bass:
If you have big fingers, you’ll probably be better suited to these techniques.
The bass can be felt by the audience. When a guitarist makes a mistake, it sounds wrong. When a bassist makes a mistake, it feels wrong. The audience and the band will feel that something’s wrong, but as we’ve said before it could go slightly more unnoticed than the obvious flat note played by an electric guitar.
It’s hard to have a rock group without a bassist. (Source: zooverano)
The bassist creates the link between the melody and the rhythm section of the band. It’s much easier for a bassist to play along with any musician. In most songs, the chord structure is an evolution of the bassline. The bassist needs to harmonise and keep rhythm at the same time.
They’re the driving force behind every song. They create the harmonic foundation for the other members of the group. Their role is to follow the rhythm and be the driving force behind the music.
This is the reason why the bassist and drummer are usually best friends (musically). Their job is to work together and keep the band together.
Find out more about how often you should practise.
How many people do you know that play the guitar, even a little? How many of them play the bass?
In my group of friends, there are easily four times as many guitarists as bassists. Additionally, my dad’s a drummer so I probably know more bassists than most.
As a bassist, you’re more likely to find a band so have a look around a music school or music shop for bands. There are often noticeboards with bands looking for musicians. You’ll see that most are looking for drummers and bassists.
A guitarist won’t learn rhythm theory as quickly as a bassist. Put simply, music is 50% notes and 50% rhythm.
The bassist usually focuses on the rhythm. They’ll need to work on their ear much more than a guitarist.
You can’t learn rhythm in the same way as you’ll learn notes. You’ll need to listen to the guitar parts, bass parts, and the drumbeat if you want to master rhythm.
A Led Zeppelin song, for example, won’t have the same rhythm as a Clapton song.
Learn the nuances of the bass guitar to become a better bassist.
Find out more about the equipment you’ll need.
Even if the bass is easier to learn than the guitar and drums in some respects, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work on your playing.
Bass players are often snubbed but they’re arguably the most important member of a band. (Source: jonathansautter)
There are plenty of techniques you can teach yourself on the bass. There’s also slap, tapping, soloing, improvising, and arpeggios. Learning to play the bass allows you to become a versatile musician.
The most common bass techniques include:
Find out more about buying your first bass.
The bass is cool as hell… As long as you master the bassline and play in time with your drummer.
You need to synchronise with your drummer and play a sweet bassline that the other musicians can play on top of.
Even a bassist who isn’t the best in terms of technique can still be one of the best bassists.
If the bassist can play along to any beat, it allows the other members of the band to play to the best of their abilities.
The bassline is the backbone of any song and it is the bridge between the rhythm and the melody.
You need to be listening to both the drums and the other musicians.
Have I managed to convince you yet that playing the bass is super cool? If not, let me run through the list of top 5 bass players of all time as chosen by Bassplayer.com.
1 James Jamerson
American James Jamerson, though he died in a cloud of obscurity aged just 47 in the 80s, was massively influential on popular music of our time. He played the Fender Precision and featured on many artists’ work including but not limited to, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, the Temptations, and the Jackson 5.
This bass player is considered a musical genius by many who worked with him or loved his performances.
2 Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius, a Philadelphia native, contributed to a number of songs during his short time with us, including those by Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, and Weather Report across a space of around seven years.
Fans will remember how he fused seemingly disparate elements like big bands, Motown, the Caribbean/Latin, jazz, funk, Western classical, and contemporary sounds into a “hip, soulful, signature cocktail with more than a twist of rock & roll attitude”.
Now more than thirty years on from his death, he is still the pinnacle of bass playing expressiveness, setting high standards for those who study hi and the bass.
3 Paul McCartney
Everybody has heard of Paul McCartney, but he isn’t perhaps as famous for his bass playing as he is for his vocal contributions to the Beatles songs. McCartney, by the 60s, was already creating unique ear-catching sounds and made it very physically obvious when performing that his bass is doing something truly special.
He continued his memorable bass playing with Wings long after the Beatles split up, and inspired a generation of music lovers to pick up and play the bass. He and his instrument will go down in pop music history.
4 Larry Graham
Larry Graham discovered his passion for bass as a teenager, playing organ pedals and guitar alongside a drummer (as the story goes). He developed a highly rythmic sound with his thumb after switching to the bass, especially when the drummer left the band and the music lacked a thumping sound.
Graham is still seen as “the baddest thumb-slinger around”, a true bass hero.
5 Stanley Clarke
Philadelphia-born superstar Clarke revolutionized bass by “taking the acoustic bass to new technical and musical heights”, influenced by Trane and Hendrix.
Also in the top 100 were Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea at #30, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden at #51, then Sting featured at number 75 and Queen’s John’s Deacon got 84th spot.
So are you ready to start playing bass?
If you’re interested in learning how to play the bass guitar, you should consider getting help from a private tutor on Superprof. You can get one on one private tutorials, online tutorials, or group tutorials.
Private tutorials have you face-to-face with the tutor and you’ll be provided with bespoke tuition. This is the most expensive but also the most cost-effective solution.
Online tutorials are taught remotely by using a webcam and a programme such as Skype. With no travel costs, the tutor can charge a lower rate than a tutor who has to go to the student’s house.
Group tutorials are cheaper than the other options as the cost of the lesson is shared amongst all of those in attendance. However, you won’t necessarily get the tailored tutorials as you would in a one on one private tutorial.
There are many accomplished individuals seeking to pass on their skill on the bass; however, they may or may not have any experience teaching music theory. The advantage of choosing that route in your search for a bass guitar teacher is that you will certainly find someone with whom you ‘click’; someone you feel compatible with and can learn well from.
Another option, one possibly easier on your wallet, would be to interview with conservatory or university music students. These younger, less seasoned teachers may be better placed to teach you the basics in a more logical way, having not so long been a beginner themselves.
Always available for your learning needs, Superprof features strings tutors with varying levels of experience and offering different rates.
You might also be interested in knowing that most Superprof tutors give their first hour of lessons at no charge, just to see if you two would learn well together. With such an offer, how could anyone not choose that option?
Learning the bass over Internet connection is also great for those who have busy lives and need to schedule in lessons with minimal disruption to their routine like having to travel to a studio or tidy up in preparation for a visit from a tutor.
While an experienced instructor can help speed up the process, if you have a strong will and determination and a flair for music then it is absolutely possible to teach yourself to play bass guitar.
Choose, Set Up And Get Comfortable With Your Instrument
Firstly, you should pick out the right bass guitar for you and take some time to get used to the instrument. Even if you are already a guitar player, bass is quite different so don’t think that you have a huge advantage because of this. Also, be patient and don’t set yourself impossible targets, as learning a new instrument takes time and effort.
Once you’ve chosen your bass, you should practice holding it. When standing, your bass should ideally be at about waist height, with the neck angled. However, when sitting down, you should avoid resting the upper body or neck of the bass on your leg. Instead, hold the neck up at an angle, and move your leg out of the way. Your posture will affect how you play so sit up straight with your shoulders back and find a comfortable chair or stool.
In terms of playing, practice plucking at the strings with your index and middle fingers. With bass, you don’t use your thumb like you would an ordinary guitar and, instead, your four fingers are numbered (with 1 being your index finger and 4 being your little finger).
It’s important to keep your hand and wrist free and loose and to keep your nails short so that they don’t get in the way when you play. This isn’t usually an issue for male bassists. There’s always the option of using a pick, but you’ll probably need a chunkier one for bass than a standard guitar pick.
Next up, set up your amplifier by plugging it in and turning the volume down before plugging the bass in. The gain should be up at between 10 and 1 o’clock for most bass amps but you can experiment with what works best for you.
Plug the amp into the wall, then turn down the volume and gain before you plug your bass in.
For most bass amps, turn up the gain to between 10 o’clock and 1 o’clock. Experiment until you get a sound you like.
Finally, tuning your bass takes some practice. The tuning process is the same as with any other stringed instrument, yet the strings on a bass are tuned to E, A, D and G with E being the lowest pitch and G being the highest. If you practice tuning by ear rather than with a device, you’ll more familiar with the tones.
Practice Your Bass
Set aside time each day for your instrument as you can’t teach yourself to play bass without dedicating a lot of time to it. Alongside actually playing bass, watch videos and tutorials online or on video/DVD, plus read books about music and listen to songs that include some of your favourite bassists. You can even play along or mimic them!