I would say that in no particular order, timing, taste, tone, and technique are the most important elements of bass playing to master. Good bass players play with solid time-feel and sensitivity to the groove. These qualities are what people most admire in a bassist. Scroll down below the video to download the drum loops.
Make sure you watch the video as the following will make more sense.
1. Work On Your Technique
You can't play in time until you develop coordination between your hands and control of the instrument. Once you have that, the quality of what you hear in your head versus what actually comes out improves dramatically.
2. Subdivide the Beats
Once you know how to feel the division of beats within a bar you can develop your sense of rhythm. That is key to you being able to play in time and create interesting bass grooves.
3. Use a Metronome
Daily practise with a metronome hones your inner clock. This is where you set your groove and it's like a living pulse. Get that right and your bass playing will sound heavenly.
Metronome on beats 2 and 4 (120BPM)
Metronome only on beat 1 (120BPM)
This is a more detailed lesson on 7 Metronome Exercises For Bass.
4. Take Responsibility For Your Inner Clock
Don't rely on the drummer or any other musician in the band. Work on your own inner clock and come to trust it implicitly. You are part of the rhythm section so there's a certain amount of democracy required when playing in a band. However, you won't become a master of groove without an excellent inner clock.
5. Know Time Signatures and Meter
This is all about how beats are organised within bars. Beats that naturally divide into two are simple. If they divide into three they are compound. Understanding common time signatures like 4/4 and more complex ones like 7/8 will cover most music you'll encounter.
6. Practice Different Tempos
Tempo is measure in BPM and you already know 60BPM as it's one beat every second. Double that and you get 120BPM. Memorise those two to have a good sense of what is slow and fast, then practice a whole range of tempos. Weirdly, really slow tempos are hard to play! Try playing a groove with a metronome set to 45BPM...
7. Emulate Multiple Feels
Rock uses 1/8th note feels a lot and funk often employs 1/16th note grooves. Stevie Wonder used 12/8 to great effect in Master Blaster (Jammin').
1/8th Note Rock Feel
1/16th Note Funk Feel
For more funk grooves check out my book 100 Funk Grooves for Electric Bass.
Also study this lesson: 5 Examples Of Different Feels
8. Use Drum Loops
Drum loops are an excellent way of removing the dryness and boredom that can come from using a metronome. Here are the loops I used in the video and there are more here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
74BPM Reggae Drum Loop
120BPM 12/8 Drum Loop
120BPM Funk Drum Loop
120BPM Hip Hop Drum Loop
120BPM Old School Drum Loop
120BPM On The Beat Drum Loop
120BPM Rock Drum Loop
9. Play With Amazing Drummers
It goes without saying that the best way to develop your groove is to play with as many great drummers as you can. That's where you'll here different rhythmic interpretations as well as to sound human when you play (that really is what "feel" is all about).
10. Learn Beat Placement
You can place your notes before the beat (to create excitement), on the beat (precision), or behind it (relaxation). Each will create different feelings and moods. Listen to Stewart Copeland's drumming to hear some ahead of the beat playing. Arrested Development has a live band playing hip hop with an on the beat feel. Reggae's relaxed feel comes from behind the beat playing.
Ahead of the beat
On the beat
Behind the beat
There's a lot here so revisit this page often and ingest these ideas. I have hundreds of lessons on this site so have a poke around and see what interests you.
If you liked this lesson then watch 10 Music Theory Tips For Bass Players.