How to Learn Bass

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How to Learn Bass

Rock bands like U2, Rage Against the Machine, Slayer, and Red Hot Chili Peppers all put special emphasis on bass lines during the course of a song. Bass is one of the most important parts of a rock band, because it puts together the rest of the instruments in the performance into a coherent beat or line. Bass players like Adam Clayton, Tim Commerford, Tom Araya, and Michael “Flea” Balzary all are rock stars in their own right because of their talents with the bass guitar. If you want to add to your repertoire of musical instruments and be a true god of rock, you may want to learn rock bass for yourself.

Choosing a Bass Guitar

Some people think that the bass guitar is just a four-stringed cousin of the lead or rhythm guitar. Unlike standard guitars, bass requires very different skills to play. Some people already familiar with lead or rhythm guitars may already know how to play bass. Some bassists recommend that you go through the basics of a six-string guitar first before moving on to bass.

All the bass skills in the world is useless if you don’t have a good bass guitar to play with. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when picking out a bass guitar:

  • Weight. Electric guitars are quite heavy, but that doesn’t mean that you should end up with a neck or shoulder injury because of the weight of the bass guitar. Pick one that you can comfortably carry and balance during a performance.
  • Resonance. Make sure that the microphone pick-ups are dampened enough to carry the sound of the bass strings when you play them. The soundboard and body of the guitar should also have the right density to carry the full body of bass lines.
  • Width of fretboard. There are many ways to play a bass guitar, but you should use one that you can reach with your fingers without stress or fatigue. Bass lines are quite long, and you may end up tweaking your wrists if the fretboard is too wide.
  • Quality of strings. Nylon or metal strings depend on your own preference, but it’s often better to buy bass strings named from wound wire than nylon strings of different thicknesses.

Reading Bass Tabs and Handling Bass Guitars

While it is possible to play a bass guitar using sheet music, many musicians and bassists prefer to use guitar tablature. For lead and rhythm guitars, chords are used to tell the musician what chord or technique should be used for a particular part of a song or a guitar solo. Bassists, though, use bass tabs and lines to know when to play the right line, and what strings are involved during the line.

A bass tablature is composed of four lines:

  • G: the top string (usually called a “dead string,” because the string is not touched during fret movements)
  • D: the second string
  • A: the third string
  • E: the fourth string

The numbers in a bass tablature correspond to the fret the line should be played. Most bass pieces do not involve the dead string, although some pieces in jazz and rock may require you to manipulate the top string. To make handling the bass fretboard easier, it may help you to grip the fretboard from the top, instead of below. That way, you can manipulate the guitar like a piano, and relieve some of the stress from the hand controlling the fretboard.

Bass Techniques

To add extra depth and sound to your bass routine, you can apply different techniques when playing bass. Here are some of the many ways that you can add dimensions and characters to an ordinary bass line.

  • Taps and plucks form the basis of the bass sound. Tapping the string gives you a steady and consistent tune, while a pluck provides a heavier, more powerful tone.
  • Strumming. Believe it or not, you can strum a bass guitar. It takes a bit of practice to get the motion to sweep across all four strings.
  • Special techniques. Improvisation in bass lines can give you a whole new effect, especially if you play industrial or metal songs. You can position yourself in front of an amplifier for feedback, use a wah-wah pedal, or play your bass guitar with things like forks or small wrenches to add distortions and vibration.

Bass is all about harmony and unity in an ensemble of rock instruments. With these tips to help you learn bass, and a lot of practice to freshen up your skills, you can be the next heavy metal rock icon.