Talk about any of the major genres of modern music – rock, metal, blues, country, R&B, hip-hop or reggae, the bass guitar brings in a unique flavor to songs and musical performances. Bass guitar is, well, a guitar, but is different.

That the tone of bass is distinct with a unique feel can be made out from listening to any rock song on the radio. Being at lower end of the scale, the tonality of bass brings a unique flavor to any song or performance. Listen to any number from ‘The Joshua Tree” and the bass notes flow so magically from the hands of U2’s Adam Clayton. Want to play like him? Here are a few tips that could help you.

bass guitar
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Subtlety Rules

In most genres of music, bass playing is seen as something that needs to be managed with restraint rather than in a full-blown way. While exceptions exist and many song sections feature the bass part in the lead, by and large, the bass guitar needs to support the notes coming out of the lead guitar, piano and vocals.

The drummer is your best friend!

The bass guitar, along with the drums or other percussive instruments like banjos, congas, or synth pad makes up the rhythm and bass section of a band or group. The bass links up the lead guitar, piano, and vocals with the drums section of the group. So, the bass lines that a guitarist writes and plays must be perfectly in sync with the drumming for songs to sound good.

What’s your trademark sound like?

Just like with the guitar, most famous bass guitar players have developed their own signature sound, one they have evolved over years of playing and experimenting with the instrument. While some pluck the strings very hard and close to the fretboard’s base, others pluck them near the bridge very lightly with just their finger-tips.

lady playing the bass guitar
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

As you try various ways in which you pluck strings, you can evolve your own distinct sound – a tone that is ‘your’ sound and one that the rest of the group also likes.

Get Picky with it, only if You like It

There are some bass guitarists who like the finger-plucking style while there are others who prefer using a pick. You can choose either way based on the kind of tone that you need to play. As bass strings are widely spaced, you can easily work with large, thick picks to give you a big, booming bass sound.

Timing is everything, Buddy

This again goes back to the fact that the bass guitar, along with the drums or percussion instruments, makes up the heart of the rhythm section. Often times, you would have already noticed how it falls on you to keep up the right tempo when the drummer slips up. Of course, it’s also true that the drummer can help you catch up to the beat when you go off-track.

Too Low or too High Won’t Work

Watch out for the scale you play in. Tones that are too low in the octave often sound good but can bring in a certain gravitas or heaviness to the number. You often see very low tones in heavy metal, hip-hop, and hard rock, so it also depends on the genre or style your group plays in. Bass tones that are too high in the octave can sometimes work in very interesting ways so long as the interlays with the high notes are clear.

sketch of a bass guitarist
Image Courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

Study Music Theory

Now, being an expert on the theoretical side of music never made a person a successful musician. Having said that, having a bit of knowledge of music theory and notation helps a lot. Particularly as you go on in your musical journey, you may find yourself somewhat left out or out of sync with others around you if you don’t understand notation. A fantastic understanding of musical notation would also help you be confident in composing scores.

Absorb Ideas from a Variety of Music

Almost all astounding musicians are passionate music lovers too. Keep listening to a variety of music, be it club or country. All the influences of the sounds you liked would flow into you and enrich your playing style.

Play with as many People as You Can
It’s music – being instinctive, being yourself, being natural is what it’s all about. The only way musicians develop their skills is by playing more and more. And it’s not only about playing more; it’s also about playing along with all kinds of people.

Have an opportunity to play for the school band, go for it! See a chance to cover a sick guitarist for the neighbourhood garage band, take their spot and prove your metal (no pun intended)! Wherever you get a chance to play, you should simply go and just play. After a while, your own unique style and tone starts developing by itself in very organic way and it’s a beautiful thing.

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How to play bass guitar (for beginners)

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