29th October 2020
What You Really Need To Learn To Play Bass
I have noticed an interesting phenomena over the last five or so years: - the rise of the internet bass shredder!
It use to be that guitarists were the shredders and on the whole bass players just got on with it, and laid down the groove. Of course there were always the slappers, and the jazzers who played blisteringly fast awesome solos, but on the whole that would be in their particular genre.
I stumbled across this quote by Marcus Miller, who put into words how I have been thinking lately:
“You know, we’ve got a new generation of bass players and I call them bedroom players because they basically play solo on a six-string bass. They can play the bass and the chords and the melody, but they’re more like guitar players because they play by themselves a lot.
“It’s beautiful… but I would just warn the guys that you really need to make sure you play with other people, because that’s a whole other education. Bending your rhythm to match a drummer or a guitar player and really learning how to work in a group is important.
“The one complaint I’ve heard from other musicians about the new generation of bass players is that they don’t know how to make the music feel good. They know how to play beautiful and very technically interesting things, but they kind of miss the main reason for playing music!
“I would advise bass players to go and play with other musicians, every opportunity they get. It’s not as easy these days because everything happens over the internet, so you don’t have guys playing together like they used to.
“I went to high school with the drummer Omar Hakim and we had a little band. Our band leader would show us a groove with bass and drums, and we’d start playing the groove and he would say, ‘Okay, you all keep playing that. I got to run some errands and I’ll be back in about an hour but don’t stop playing that groove 'til I get back!’ And we would just sit there, man, just playing this groove over and over again… it changes you, man, when you have to play the same thing over and over again and make it feel good.”
- Marcus Miller
Where am I going with this? Well, a knock on effect that I have seen with some of my students is that they are questioning their own standard on the bass and wondering if they should be striving to achieve these levels themselves.
Now, of course there is often a very high technical level going on with these types of players, and why not become a ‘solo bass player’? But on the whole most of us, myself included, probably picked up the bass to play in bands and lay down the groove.
The main narrative running through Marcus Miller’s quote is you have to play with other musicians to become a good bass player. I second this. When I started on the bass, from day one I practised to learn tunes for the bands that I was involved with. I was pretty much gigging from day one. That was not because I was a great player when I first picked up a bass guitar, but to be honest no one else in my area wanted to play bass! So I very quickly learnt to lay down the most basic of grooves and tried to maintain good time with the drummer. I then picked up licks and tricks as I went along.
I know that some of you will not necessarily have the opportunity to play with other musicians all the time, and this is especially difficult in current times. I for one am really missing playing and hanging with other musicians. But what you can do is focus on learning what is going to be useful to you as a bass player in a band, and not worry or get distracted by thinking you have to become a shredder!
The following areas are what I deem important to incorporate into your weekly practise sessions:
- Developing a good left and right hand technique
- Familiarity with chord tones and important scales
- Understanding of music theory
- Learning from other bass players
- Learning to read music
If you work on these skills, you will develop into a bass player with the skills to play in a wide variety of musical situations and styles.
The following exercise is great for developing one-finger-per-fret and training your fingers to stick near the fretboard.
Try to remember to keep your thumb behind the fretboard and space your hand out nicely.
Also remember that you don’t always use one-finger-per-fret, for example when playing octaves or 5th’s.
If you have’t seen it, my YouTube video on this topic will help with this.