For many bands and musicians bass guitar players are looked upon as being disposable and easily replaced. This idea as only been validated by the majority of bassists out there who really have very little skills or musical knowledge. We hold bass players up to a lower standard and that’s usually what we get.
If you want to stop being one of the thousands of disposable bass players out there you’re going to have to be able stand out from the crowd. Once a band is blessed enough to play with truly talented bass player most musicians wonder how they ever settled for the mediocre playing that seems to be the norm. Fortunately, since most bass players really have no desire to become great bass players, the ones with the drive to excel can quickly become stand out players who demand respect from their fellow musicians.
I’ve put together a list of areas where you can make the most improvement in your bass playing. Learning these things will give you the best results in the shortest time, however, to become a truly phenomenal bassist one has to realize that there is much more to be learned, more than most guitarists know.
1. Become one with the drummer’s right foot. The drummer and the bass player in any band should almost become one entity. We do commonly refer to this combination as the “rhythm section” and a three piece band can not survive unless they are almost indistinguishable from one another. The key to a tight rhythm section is that the bass player and the bass drum play in such close time with one another that when both are playing on the same beat even a trained musician can barely distinguish the two sounds.
The way to gain that tightness is to simply be listening so closely to what the drummer is playing and then adjusting your timing until you, as the bass player, can barely hear the difference between the two sounds. This is one of those things that no one perceives when it’s done right but just sounds “off” when it’s not done correctly.
2. Learn how to play chords. Since the bass guitar is an instrument that is usually played one note at a time many players mistakenly believe that they have no reason to learn chords. Not only is this not true but as the bass player you need to know more about chords than the guitarist generally knows. While most guitar players only know how to finger the chord, a good bass player needs to know what notes actually make up the chord.
Most chords are made up of either three or four notes. There are very simple patterns for these notes that determine whether or not a chord is a major chord, a minor chord, and if it’s a four note chord, usually what note is added to make it a seventh chord. These patterns can be learned very quickly even if you don’t initially understand the music theory behind it. Imagine how the guitar players in your band will start reacting to you when you start asking questions like “Hey is that a minor seventh you’re playing in that bridge?” Talk about gaining some instant respect.
3. Learn your scales. This is without a doubt the most important thing that you can learn as a bass player and it’s the one area where almost all bass players lack in knowledge. They may have figured out what notes they need to play in the runs between the chords but very few bass player understand how playing scales works. Learning even the two main scales will make a tremendous difference in your playing.
Like chords, scales can be quickly learned in patterns that you can transpose across keys. Once you’ve mastered the major and minor scales and can play them in any key your only obstacle at that point is to understand which scale you should be playing to get the right sound for the song and which scales work best under what chords. Like playing chords, even though there is much to learn to truly understand scales, it is not that difficult to get the basic patterns down.
Learning these three items is what will propel you from being the guy who is just playing the root notes and few bass runs to the bass player that your band can’t live without. Even though great guitar players are a dime a dozen, great bass players are extremely sought out by top notch bands, and with a little work on your part you can become one of those in demand players.
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