6 Tips To Improve Your Bass Playing

We all reach a plateau in our playing at some point; a time when nothing seems to inspire us in our own playing. I find the best way out of this funk (of the bad kind) is to simply do something different.

Here are 6 ideas to get you looking forward to practice time again.

1.Transcribe a bassline you’ve always loved

The strict meaning of the word ‘transcribe’ means to literally write the bassline out. That’s a great thing to do but it’s time consuming and not going to happen if you don’t read or write music. Just learning a bass line as close to how it was originally played as you can get will give you huge returns. I very strongly recommend you do this without the use of TAB. Just you and your ears. In fact, transcribing bass lines by ear really is one of the best habits to get into.

As you develop your ear and your ability to pick out the notes, techniques, grooves and harmonies going on, you will be developing your own voice.

All the great bass lines ever played represent an opportunity to learn directly from the player who came up with them Share on X. If you listen to the wisdom in the bass lines you’ll learn so much every time.

If you’re new to picking out bass lines by ear then it will be difficult at first. Start with something simple where you can hear the bass clearly. You will get better at this the more you do. You’ll also learn the bass much more quickly the more lines you work out. Remember, start simple - no Donna Lee yet!

It all revolves around developing your ear so make sure you prioritise this superhuman-like power.

2. Use musical sounding technical exercises

Kill 4 birds with one stone by working on technique, ear training, composing and theory in one go. This exercise uses 6ths from E major. In the video further down, when I start adding in E Major Pentatonic, it could easily be the springboard to a tune played on bass or arranged for different instruments.

The exercises also teaches you:

  1. What minor and major 6ths sound and look like.
  2. A string skipping workout.
  3. A very fun and musical way to work on your groove, timing and feel (if you add and play along to a drum beat or metronome).

Here are the patterns being used:

Major and Minor 6ths in E Major

Major and Minor 6ths in E Major (the major 6ths are the ones where the notes are on adjacent frets and the minor 6ths the ones with a gap of a fret between the notes)

Musical Sounding Exercise Using 6ths From E Major

DOWNLOAD Musical Sounding Exercise Using 6ths From E Major

E Major Pentatonic up to the 14th fret

E Major Pentatonic up to the 14th fret

  • I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to play a technical exercise if it sounds musical so that’s why I’ve written loads more like this (signup to the newsletter if you haven't already to keep up to date with these kinds of exercises and more).

For another example of a musical way to practise scales and modes head over here.

3. Practice with effects

I’m using Soundtoys EchoBoy in the video below and the 6th exercise above. I was born in the 80s so I’m brainwashed to like reverb and delay. Whenever I have a bit of delay going on I’m inspired to play more for longer. Other effects work equally well in other practice situations.

If you’re not using effects then make sure you are hearing and feeling your bass well. This could be through headphones or by using a practice amp. A well set up bass through an amp is a joy to play and that’s often enough to inspire you to get playing and start exploring.

4. Join a rehearsal band

This is a band where there is no pressure and you can make mistakes - a musical safe space if you will. It could be a bunch of friends or a more advanced big band or group that rehearse regularly. There are quite a few of those around me in London and they often need a bass player. So try and find one near you.

You can try out new gear, new licks, new lines all without the pressure of having to get it 100% right.

Playing in a band is the arena where you will really learn your craft. The difference between playing on your own in your bedroom and playing with other musicians is pretty big. The sooner you become comfortable listening and fitting in with other people the better. It’s also much less of a big deal than you think and you’re almost certainly ready now even if you think you’re not.

5. Play along to a live track

This is the next best thing. Channel your inner rock star by playing along to a few live tracks. You could even make a playlist and play with Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and then Slipknot in one set. That would be a random but cool gig…

Have your practice area set up well so you can easily listen to your bass plus the track together. You can put together a set and play it like a gig. This is great for learning songs and building the stamina needed to get through a gig.

Online Bass Player Studio

I have my little studio setup ready to go with the click of a couple of buttons

6. Learn another instrument

If you’re at all interested in composing or songwriting then learning a chord-based instrument is pretty much essential. Having some keyboard skills makes computer-based programming much quicker and easier.

Despite people sometimes thinking a bass is just a big electric guitar, we know they’re just plain wrong. It’s a different animal but not too tricky to pick up once you get some basics down. Here’s a free ebook with some chords (first chords to learn, rock chords, jazz chords, blues chords, barre´chords) strumming, easy chord progressions and a 12 Bar Blues to get you started.

Free Guitar Ebook with chords, scales, strumming, easy chord progressions and a 12 Bar Blues in A

You can buy a very cheap guitar these days and that’ll be enough to get you going (as long as it is set up nicely).

Developing your all round musicality can only ever help your bass playing. At the point where you know a little bit about notes and music and how it all works, you can apply that knowledge to any instrument. There are some free theory video lessons here.

There’s a lot here to think about so just pick the one thing that interests you the most and just go for it. I’d love to know how you get on with this so do get in touch.

Do you have any tips to share about your practice routine? Comment below.

Related Lessons

12 Really Useful Practice Tips For Bass Players

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