OK . . . this is going to piss off a few bass players, but I’m just going to say it:
Bass is easy to learn.
Come on bass players, let’s just admit it to ourselves and everyone else. The bass guitar really wasn’t that difficult to figure out, was it?
Unlike guitar players, who had to figure out chords, scales, leads and solos, or drummers who had to figure out how to make their four limbs work together and separately at the same time, we had it pretty easy.
If you could afford a couple quick lessons or had a decent ear, you were off to the races, thump-thumping to your heart’s content.
At its most basic level, bass is a pretty simple instrument. Unless you’re into some weird, freaky-ass jazz fusion kinda shit, you can get away with banging out root eighth notes most of the time. Learn to play the right notes, more or less in time, and you pretty much have a gig for life.
And there’s the problem — so many bass players learn to get by on so little skill because their services are so in demand.
Let’s face it, we all get lazy. Especially when no one is pushing us to get better.
So here’s my challenge to you: Is your playing sub-par? Get better. Already pretty good? There’s always room for improvement.
Here are 7 ways to improve your playing:
1. Play with musicians who are better than you.
Nothing will motivate you to get better as much as the prospect of being a band’s weak link. Nobody wants to be the guy that can’t keep up. So seek out opportunities to play with musicians who are more accomplished than you are — and then work your ass off so you don’t embarrass yourself.
2. Explore different genres.
I’ve always been a rock guy. But a few years ago I spent some time with a band that did some country music. I HATE country music, but it was a great learning experience — especially in the art of walking bass lines. I later put those skills to use in an original hard rock project.
3. Play only with the best drummers you can find.
Everyone knows that drums and bass go hand in hand in creating a band’s foundation. A great drummer will elevate your bass playing to new heights. A shitty drummer will drag you (and the rest of the band) down into a pit of mediocrity. The drummer needs to be the most accomplished member of the band. He’s the quarterback of the team. And it doesn’t matter how strong the offensive line is, if the quarterback gets sacked, or fumbles the ball, the play is over. So if your drummer sucks, get rid of him — even if he’s your buddy.
4. Think like a drummer.
Better yet, think like YOUR drummer. Your job as a bass player is to lock in with the drums. Period. You need to tune into your drummer on a much deeper level than other members of the band. This takes time, but you can speed up the process by studying your drummer’s playing. Watch his kick drum foot. Pay attention to how and when he plays cymbal accents and fills. Over time, your playing will begin to take on some of your drummer’s characteristics. This is when you know you’ve found your groove as a rhythm section.
5. Find a bass guitar that you’re comfortable with.
Don’t play a bass just because you think it looks cool or because your favorite bass player plays it. A bass has to fit you and your playing style. Basses come in a variety of styles and shapes. There are different neck sizes, pick-up configurations and on-board electronics. Even a bass’ inherent tonal qualities will affect your playing ability. A bass that doesn’t feel or sound the way you want it too will impair your playing ability and negatively affect your playing enjoyment. Try different basses until you find the one that feels right. Experiment with different price points. Don’t assume that a higher-priced bass is the answer. That $3,000 boutique bass may feel like the worst piece of crap you’ve ever played, while the $400 Squire Precision fits like a glove. Be open minded and don’t worry about what other people think about what you’re playing.
6. Practice with a metronome.
To get the most out of your practice time, make sure you’re using a metronome. A metronome keeps you focused on what’s most important to your role as a bass player — rhythm and timing. Start at about 100 beats-per-minute and work on playing nice steady quarter and eighth notes. Every few minutes, bump up the beats-per-minute so that you’re spreading your practice across a range of tempos. Do this for 30-45 minutes every day and watch your chops improve dramatically.
7. Ask your band mates for feedback.
Finally, no one knows your playing better than the musicians who play with you all the time. So don’t be afraid to ask them for some constructive feedback. They may be able to point out things about your playing that you are completely unaware of. As musicians and performers, we tend to be a little sensitive and resistant to criticism, but a little feedback can go a long way in motivating you to get better at your craft. Your band mates rely on you to be the steady, driving force that keeps things nice and tight — so give ’em what they want and everyone will be happy!