I get lots of questions about how to do various things on the bass guitar but, the reality is that there are lots of areas that come together to make you a great musician. This guide contains one hundred ideas that will make you a better player. Save this post, give it a good read and get ready to become a better bass player!
Make sure to download my free Bass Guitar Resources ebook as it expands on some of these tips and contains more shapes, patterns, scales, chords, and arpeggios.
1. Learn The Note Names At 3 Points On The Neck
Effortless playing across the neck involves being absolutely sure where all the notes are. These three points are easy to learn and will act as a springboard to locate surrounding notes.
The open strings (Every Alsatian Dog Growls) are the same as the notes on the 12th fret. They're one octave apart. A note on the 5th fret is the same as the open string next to it.
Related lesson: 3 Points On The Fretboard You Should Know
2. Know ALL Note Names
From there, you can start to piece together all the note names.
The best way to understand this is to learn the piano keyboard:
3. Memorise Five Octave Patterns
Octaves are played a lot on the bass and many scales, arpeggios, and patterns are organised around them. Learn these patterns and you'll easily locate notes all over the bass fretboard. These are five useful octave patterns
Related lesson: Very Useful OCTAVE Patterns
4.Think In Patterns
The bass fretboard is a highly geometric environment where shapes allow you to play familiar sounds all over the neck. You saw the octave patterns in the previous tip. Every other interval has two or three patterns associated with it. Learn them, connect the sound they make to the shape and you will make complete sense of the fretboard.
5. Focus On Technique
If you're a beginner, the biggest barrier to playing is going to be your inability to manipulate the bass how you want. You get over this with good technique. Complete freedom of expression can only come if you have total control over your instrument and that only comes from focusing on technique. Not to the detriment of other skills, of course.
6. Hold Your Bass Properly
You want your bass to feel like an extension of your body and you something you are very relaxed with. Angle the neck slightly up to the ceiling and away from your body so that your fretting hand has access across the entire neck. Make sure you play with good posture and that you breathe regularly and deeply.
7. Keep Your Fretting Hand Wrist Straight
This ensures that you don't injure yourself now or in the future. Curl your fingers, play on the fingertips and keep your thumb behind the neck, roughly in line with your second finger. This straightens the wrist and takes the pressure of the joints and tendons. You only need a light touch when you play so don't press into the frets too hard.
8. Don't Grab The Neck
Lot's of beginners hold the bass neck with their fretting hand so it doesn't fall away from them. You need that hand to fly around the fretboard. Instead, have the bass in contact with your body at three points: your leg where the cutaway of the bass is, your chest where the upper bout is, and the top of the body where your plucking hand wrist wrests (don't say that too quickly). This means there is absolutely no need to grab the neck and you can now play faster and with more accuracy and efficiency.
9. Play With A Light Touch
The pressure you need to fret a note without it buzzing is quite low. Try it. Fret a note anywhere very lightly at first and observe the point at which you get a good sound. Now deliberately press progressively much harder until your finger starts hurting a bit. Notice that all that extra pressure did nothing to the quality of the tone. That first light touch is what you want to aim for. You will play faster, more accurately, for longer and sounding much better with that touch.
10. Learn To Play Fingerstyle
Most bass playing involves plucking with your index and middle fingers. Start with this and then you can always incorporate more advanced style including using three fingers, classical style chordal fingerstyle, and strumming.
11. Cut Your Fingernails
Jaco used to meticulously cut and file his nails to maintain the tone he got from his fingertips. Nathan East used to keep a bit of nail exposed to then angle his finger slightly to get a plectrum-like sound. Your fingernails can add to your tone so keep them short for plucking precision.
12. Learn To Use a Plectrum
Ignore the plectrum vs. fingers debate. It's a non-starter. They're both different things and they create different vibes, tones, and outcomes. Learn to do both. If you think playing a plectrum is just for rock players, listen to Bobby Vega. It's a strength to be able to create different textures.
13. Learn To Slap
Fingers, plectrum, and slap. The three main bass techniques. It's good to know how to use all those techniques. You don't need to use them all and it's not mandatory. It's just another tool in the toolbox. There are many ways to slap from simple funk grooves to complex Victor Wooten lines.
14. Use One-Finger-Per Fret Technique...
This is where you line up the first finger of your fretting hand on a fret and then place fingers two, three, and four on consecutive frets after it. This gives you a fingering system for most parts of the bass neck.
15 ... But Also Extended Fingering
Stretching a finger out of the one-finger-per-fret shape opens up the fretboard. It gives you more notes to play in a given section of the neck and is especially useful for playing three notes on a string. That lends itself well to fast single-note runs.
16. Use Your Little Finger
This is a general tip as many players start off with this as their weakest finger so they end up ignoring it. Think about it. Not using one of your four fingers reduces your efficiency by 25%. Practise using that pinkie finger and before you know it, it will be as strong as the other fingers. You then won't be at all hindered in the future when you want to play, for example, hammer-ons in legato technique. If you're in first position (first finger lining up at the first fret) then use your little finger on the 3rd fret. This reduces the stretch in your hand and straightens the wrist. The Little finger is also useful when playing octaves.
17. Keep Your Volume, Tone & Speed Consistent
It doesn't matter what technique you use. Make sure there are no huge variations in volume, tone, and speed when you play. There should be no difference in these three factors when you pluck using the index and middle fingers, when you use alternate picking or when you slap and pop.
Related lesson: Bass Guitar Fingerstyle Technique: Left And Right Hand Checklist
18. Figure Out Basslines By Ear
With TAB sites and YouTube channel (like my own!) telling you how to play everything, there is a whole generation of bass players with a weak ear because they never practise it. It's hard at first but find a simple bassline and split it up into tiny bits and work those out by ear. You'll quickly improve. Do this every day.
19. Create Your Own Basslines
The more you figure out your favourite basslines and use your knowledge of music theory to decipher them, the better a position you will be in to come up with your own lines. It's not a magical thing that only the chosen few get to do. Basslines are made up of scales, triads, and arpeggios. Know what these things are and get some experience of these in use and you will be writing your own grooves in no time.
Related lesson: Pro Tips To Make Your Own Basslines Up
20. Note Length Is King
You can make a bassline come to life by altering the length of the notes you play. Funk lines don't sound right if your notes are too long. It sounds flabby and loose. Conversely, playing a ballad with short, clipped notes might not let the line breath. Note length is related to your sense of groove, feel, where you place the notes in the beat and the control you have over the instrument. Learn to master your note lengths.
21. Use Slow Down Software
Yes, using your ear is very important and you should rely on it for most of your transcribing and figuring out. However, sometimes there are passages that you just can't catch. Software like Transcribe! allows you to slow down, loop, EQ and, well... transcribe music.
22. Practice Ear Training
Since basslines are constructed from scales, arpeggios, intervals, and triads, it helps to be able to identify the sound of these things. You will get to a point where far from not having a clue where to start, you will instantly recognise bits of basslines.
23. Know Your Intervals
Ear training starts by memorising intervals:
Related lesson: Making Music Using Intervals
24. Tune Up
Before a recording session, rehearsal, practice, or any time you pick up a bass ever....tune up. Get yourself a digital tuner that clips to the back of the headstock and tune regularly. This is such an easy thing to overlook but no one wants to heat out of tune playing. Also, know how to tune from a piano or using harmonics.
25. Use Drones
A drone is a long continuous note. Used in practice, they make playing intervals and scales much more musical sounding. They give you a reference point when notes change and your ears get used to these patterns.
Related lessons: Drones (includes a free download of 12 drones so you can practise in all keys)
26. Have A Practice Zone
Create a sanctuary where you can go and play with no distractions. Have your journal, manuscript, laptop, pedals, amp or whatever you use ready and set up so you can start playing with minimal fuss. Take your bass out of its case so it's ready to be picked up and played in an instant. Remove all barriers to you getting up and practising.
27. Develop A Practice Routine
It's no good learning anything if you can't reinforce and build on it. This is where regular practice comes in. Make it a part of your lifestyle and be serious about it and this will be the one thing that can make any of your musical dreams come true.
Related lesson: How To Develop And Keep A Music Practice Routine
28. You're In Control
The best practice routine is the one you stick to. How good you want to get is largely down to you. Yes, natural talent is always a bonus but becoming a really good bass player is about working hard over a period of time. You get to decide how important it is to you and how much time you are going to dedicate to it. Sacrifices often have to be made to reach a high standard and it's within your control to use your time wisely.
Related lesson: How To Improve Your Bass Playing In The Quickest Time
29. Develop Patience, Grit & Determination
You'll need all three on your musical journey. Roadblocks and setbacks abound so trust in your practice routine and keep going. Enjoy the process and you will avoid frustration. A lot of becoming great at something is not giving up.
30. Focus Deeply When You Practise
Make practice time sacred. Switch off your phone and disable notifications, turn off the TV, stop browsing Facebook. You can get a lot done in a very short period of time if you focus deliberately and with full concentration on the task in hand.
Related lesson: 4 Habits Of Successful Musicians
31. Have A Practice Checklist
Know what you intend to do when you practise. Having a clear game plan means you won't aimlessly cycle around the same old riff you've known for months. Start with something technical, then something you need to work on, then use the rest of your time to explore and play.
Related Lesson: Bass Guitar Practice Checklist
32. Aim For Consistency
In your practice and in your playing. The more you pick up your bass and practice deliberately, the better you will get. Furthermore, strive for consistency and accuracy in your playing by getting a tiny bit better each practice session. This might mean playing faster or making fewer mistakes. Use a practice journal or notebook to log your progress. This will provide momentum, motivation and give you a place to write all your ideas down.
Related lesson: 11 Principles Of Music Practice
33. Don't Practice Mistakes
Be honest with yourself and be on the lookout for any mistakes or shortcomings in your playing. Every time we learn something, myelin is laid down in our brains and neural pathways strengthen to lock skills in. This works for us and against us depending on what we allow ourselves to learn.
34. Don't Practice What You Can Already Play
A lot of people just rehash what they can already do. This leads to ruts, stagnation and a lack of improvement. By all means, sharpen your sword and keep what you know fresh in your mind. Make sure that once you have cracked something that you move on to the next thing on your list (make a list of all the things you dream of being able to play or learn).
35. Make A Playlist Of Your Favourite Songs
If you have Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music or any streaming service you can create a playlist. Find your favourite bands, songs, bass players and basslines and organise them into one playlist. This is the music you're going to learn how to play (preferably by ear...).
36. Know Your Lineage
There's a line that goes straight back to the first electric bass players. Monk Montgomery, James Jamerson, Carole Kaye, Duck Dunn and hundreds of others started out with a Fender Precision and here we are now not even a hundred years on. The instrument is relatively young and by knowing the pioneers and major players of each genre, you create a picture can be an endless source of ideas and inspiration.
Related lesson: Awesome Bass Players
37. Learn Something Difficult
Whenever you feel yourself plateauing and you feel you're in a bit of a rut, browse your playlist and pick something that you can't play. Choose a small section and get to work learning it. You'll get a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction that will spark your passion again.
38. Record Yourself Playing
Doing this places a magnifying glass over your playing, exposing all the flaws present that you didn't notice in the moment. This also develops your timing if you play to a click (basically a metronome).
39. Focus on Groove, Timing, and Tone
There are three things your bandmates and other musicians want from you and they're all in the subheading above. Groove is the life force of bass playing, your timing supplies the groove and your tone transports your sound. Get these things right and you can play the simplest lines ever and they will feel amazing.
40. Go To Gigs
Going to gigs is fun. Its also a place to meet musicians, talk shop, and see how top musicians do the thing you want to do. Going to gigs is a form of practice and will also inspire and motivate.
41. Get Lessons
We live in the Information Age and you can learn a lot from guides like this. At some point though, your learning can accelerate through lessons. This can be on Skype or from a local player. A good teacher can identify your shortcomings and give you ways to improve. Paying a teacher should also motivate you as you want results from parting with your hard-earned cash.
42. Use A Metronome
Or drum machine or - better still - real (and good) drummer. Sloppy, inaccurate bass playing makes a band sound terrible. You can fix these timing issues by working on your groove and timing. A metronome can really help.
43. Work On Your Shuffle
Shuffle time is found a lot in blues and is sometimes called swing in jazz. It occurs when there is an underlying triplet feel, and two eight notes are felt like two tied eighths and one eighth in a triplet. Learn to nail this feel.
44. Play In Odd Meters
Meter refers to the subdivision of beats within a bar and is represented by time signatures. 4/4 is the most common but you should familiarise yourself with odd meters like 7/4, 6/8, and 12/8. Loads of songs and styles feature different meters so the more you know the better. There are only a few that you'll see over ad over again.
Related lesson: The Magic Of Learning From Different Musical Styles & Genres
45. To Play Fast Slow Down
This sounds very Mr. Myagi and it is. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to try and play fast before securing the foundations. You will only reinforce errors if you continue that way. Instead, slow down to a manageable tempo and build up speed from that point. Crank up the speed gradually and make sure there are no slips or inaccuracies.
Related lesson: How To Play Fast On The Bass Guitar
46. Never Stop Learning
Be humble and ask questions. Having an open mind and a thirst for knowledge will sustain your journey as a musician. If you're lucky, it will last a lifetime and you will never run out of things to learn. The best musicians are always learning even into old age. It keeps the mind young as well as you motivated and fascinated in the beauty of music.
47. Take A Break
There is such a thing as over-practising and getting burnt out in general with music. This happens to anyone in any field when they overdo it. This is pretty rare for most people but if you feel like you're in this state then take a break. Go on holiday and don't practice, do something different and non-musical. Sometimes a little press of the reset button does wonders for creativity and reinvigoration.
48. Find Inspiration From Non-Musical Sources
Cooking, sports, debate, language learning, psychology. These are just some areas whose top practitioners give us musicians huge inspiration. Whether it's coming up with unusual ingredients for a recipe or formulating training sessions, if you look around you will find so many things that can help you as a musician. Composing, practising, organisation, planning, goal setting are just some of the areas you can find ideas from the world around you.
49. Play A Groove At 45 BPM
This is a fantastic discipline to improve your inner clock. Set a metronome to 45 BPM and choose a line you know. now play it trying to nail the beats. It's hard. To increase the challenge, feel the click on different beats. Do this a lot and then prepare to groove HARD.
50. Understand Beat Placement
There are levels to every game and playing in time is a basic but vital foundation. The beat isn't a fixed point and musicians can place notes slightly in front (or ahead) of the beat, behind it or right on it. There are degrees between these points. Being aware of this will allow you to create different feels by thinking about where you are playing in relation to the beat. This is a fascinating topic and one every bass player should be aware of.
As a very simple example, playing ahead adds excitement, playing behind gives you a relaxed feel and playing on the beat sounds tight and metronomic.
Ahead: Stewart Copeland's drumming
On: Electronic music
Behind: Pino's playing on Voodoo
51. Music Theory Can Change Your Life
Many people regard music theory as something that is too difficult or that it will stifle their creativity and soul. Complete nonsense. It will if you play without feel, groove, and great timing.
52. Learn Scales
Scales make up the building blocks of music. All they are are collections of notes with different patterns between the notes. This simple formula creates different sounds, colours and - most importantly - emotions and moods.
Related lesson: 4 Common Scales For Bass Players
53. Know How To Play In All Keys
Pop and rock friendly keys (due primarily to the open strings that guitarists and bass players enjoy using) are E, A, and a few others. In jazz and many other styles, you will need to know how to play songs in all keys.
54. Learn Triads
Triads come from scales - the first, third, and fifth notes create them. Loads of basslines are just triads played with some rhythm.
Related lesson: How To Learn And Use Triads On Bass Guitar
55. Learn Arpeggios
Arpeggios - or chord tones - add notes to simple triads. Between scales, triads, and arpeggios, bass players have the ingredients they need to create a bassline. Of course, you need tone, rhythm, melody, and other devices to bring it to life but they're so important and relatively easy to grasp. Arpeggios are used a lot in blues and jazz.
56. Bass Chords
Played together at the same time, triads and arpeggios create chords. They're not played much on bass in band settings but they sound really cool and can help you to come up with songs and basslines.
Related lesson: Fingerstyle (chords, fills, bass lines)
57. Harmonise A Scale
A scale gives you a set of triads, arpeggios, and chords, all of them closely related. This gives you a set of related musical material. This is what musicians use to make songs. This hugely important so make sure you learn this.
Related lesson: Guide To Chord Progressions
58. Join A Band
People improve when they are accountable to others. If you stand to look stupid in front of others then you'll do the work. Joining a band will put all your skills to the test and quickly make you realise things that you need to get better at what you didn't know you needed. Don't think that you're not ready now. You are. You'll be slightly rubbish then you'll get better. Go for it.
59. Play With Better Musicians
This can feel uncomfortable but, ultimately, playing with superior musicians is a joy and a way to get better much quicker than you normally would. The great motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, 'you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with'. It's harsh but if those people in your band aren't great then you won't improve that much.
60. Befriend Great Drummers
Drummers and bass players form the heart of the rhythm section. A good drummer will help your timing, groove, and feel and if they get asked to be in bands, you can tag along as part of the section. Tony Levin and Steve Gadd, Flea and Chad Smith, Jaco and Peter Erskine. Study the great rhythm sections to know the importance of our union with drummers. Then find some good ones!
61. Learn The Role Of The Bass
In a band setting, the bass is part of the rhythm section and its role is to provide a solid foundation for the rest of the band. Think of it as providing the other musicians with a comfy armchair. It's a selfless role that requires you to be the heartbeat and pulse of the music. Know that you are the bridge between rhythm, harmony, and melody: It's an incredibly important and powerful position to be in.
62. Ask Your Bandmates For Feedback
This could be tough and you'll need to develop a thick skin but positive criticism will provide you with a wealth of practice material. Never take it personally. If it's true and weaknesses in our playing are identified then get to work and turn them into strengths.
63. Play Through A Setlist
If you're not in a band yet, make up a setlist list and play through it as you would on a gig. Don't stop (unless you want to simulate an interval). This will at least get you some stamina, teach you the tunes and it is the next best thing to playing a gig. In fact, choose a cool setlist and you could be virtually playing your dream gig!
64. Learn Different Styles
The more different genres you know the more rounded a musician you will become. If you want to make a living as a working bass player then you will come across pop, jazz, blues, funk, rock, hip hop, and blues. The more authentically you can play the better and the more employable you will be. If you don't want to turn pro then these different styles will all contribute to your unique voice.
65. Learn jazz
Jazz is the musical equivalent of vegetables: very good for you (even if you don't like it). Jazz is a mish-mash of blues, African and South American styles as well as bebop, modal, and more. It is an art form that draws on improvisation and creativity. Learn jazz and you have to improve your application of theory, your technique, your ears and your all-round musicianship.
66. Learn Latin Music
Latin music comes from South America and is based on the clave; an underling rhythmic ostinato. Bass players use syncopated rhythms that are quite alien to anyone exposed only to western music. It's a good discipline to practice syncopated rhythms.
Related lesson: The Magic Of Learning From Different Musical Styles & Genres
67. Learn Rock
Rock can be looked down upon by some jazz players but those same players often can't play rock. It teaches you how to play riffs with attitude and flair and how to make music often with very simple harmony. The minor pentatonic and blues scales feature a lot, especially in classic rock.
Related lesson: Learn A Bass Line (Fast Rock)
68. Learn Pop
Popular music is designed to appeal to the masses and not all of it is great. The best pop music delivers catchy hooks, groove, and melody in short format. There's a real beauty to pop basslines and it's not easy to create really memorable ones.
Related lesson: Pop Funk Bass Line In C Natural Minor
69. Learn A 12 Bar Blues
The prototype of modern styles of music including jazz. Every beginner bass player should know how to play a 12 bar blues. It's a springboard to improvisation and learning other more complex chord progressions. It's another style of music that sounds simpler than it is. Learning blues will set you up for assimilating other styles of music like soul and RnB.
Related lesson: How To Play A 12 Bar Blues On The Bass Guitar
70. Learn Funk
For timing, groove and pure feel, funk can't be beaten. It's bass-lead music which requires good technique and deep pocket. The slap technique came from funk which lead to an era of music where the bass was king.
Related lesson: The Funkiest 4 Notes Of All Time: Bass Guitar Lesson
71. Use Harmonics
These bell-like tones sound amazing on bass. You can use them in basslines or solos and they are especially effective on endings. You can play them as chords or as single lines. Listen to Portrait of Tracy by Jaco Pastorius. It's the benchmark when it comes to harmonics.
Related lesson: Learn To Improvise A Bassline Using Harmonics
72. Palm Muting Rocks
This technique is where you use the side of your hand in a karate chop motion placed at the bridge of the bass. Apply a tiny amount of pressure and you mute the strings slightly (not too much or you'll completely choke the strings getting a ghost note). This changes the attack, decay, and release of the note. The bass sounds a little more like a double bass and the notes can sit int he mix better. Great for jazz, reggae and hip hop.
73. Mute Unwanted Noise
One of the most annoying sounds, when you're busy tearing it up on the bass, is the ringing of open strings and the clanking of notes you didn't intend to hit. A very unglamorous technique that all the pros do is to use different methods to control the strings. Part of it is having clean technique, and part if it is touching strings with various parts of your hands.
Related lesson: Muting Unwanted Noise
74. Alter Your Tone With Hand Placement
Pino Palladino once mentioned in a Bass Player interview that there are a hundred ways to play a string. Tone can be wildly changed depending on where you pluck from the bridge to the neck, how hard you pluck and with what part of your digits. Using a bit of nail emphasises the top end, palm muting the low end. The options are endless so explore them.
75. Use Articulations
There are tons but the most common are hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, vibrato, and ghost notes. They bring a certain flair and life to your playing. Try playing a simple minor pentatonic scale and sprinkle articulations in. You will sound like you're playing real music and not a scale.
76. Get Your Bass Setup Properly
An expensive, well-made bass with high action, poor intonation, and buzzes and crackles will lead to a very poor playing experience. Taking a bass to an expert will turn even a cheap bass into a glorious machine that you can express all your ideas through. They will probably change the strings, adjust the truss rod and bridge for your optimum action (the height between the frets and the strings), and make sure the bass is fully in tune across the whole neck (intonation).
77. Learn To Make Adjustments To Your Bass
Changing pickups, making a new neck, adding a preamp. These are three things best left to the professionals (unless you want to learn how to do it yourself). You can easily learn to set your own action by adjusting the truss rod and bridge. Setting the intonation is also an easy thing to learn. This will save you money and enable you to keep your bass playing and sounding exactly how you want it to.
78. Search For Your Dream Bass
It doesn't have t be expensive. It just has to play well and feel right in your hands. So get yourself to a shop to try out a few. If you're far from a shop, make a day of it and travel to a good one. The correct setup and a few modifications can make a cheap bass play and sound incredibly well. Go on a tone quest to find the bass you want to make music with.
79. You Don't Need A Big Rig Rig
Gone are the days when you need a full Ampeg SVT stack to play bass. Most companies offer powerful amps and cabinets in small sizes. A 2x12 cab with a small head will save your back, sound amazing and fit into a variety of gigging situations.
Related lesson: Bass Guitar Gear I Take To A Gig
80. Load Your Pedalboard With The Classic Sounds
If you play a few styles of music then put a board together that covers most of the more common bass effects. These are; compressor, octave pedal, envelope filter, overdrive/distortion, chorus, and maybe a synth pedal.
81. Put Your Effects In Loops
Long chains of pedals tend to suck your tone; especially the low end. One way to mitigate any loss is to place your pedals in loops. When you're not using an effect, it's as if your signal goes from bass to amp. When engaged, the loop switched that pedal (or pedals) into the equation. It's a great way of keeping your tone pristine.
82. Use A 5 string
For certain styles and gigs, you need a 5 string (for others you don't). If you're playing a covers gigs or musical theatre or metal or gigs where you can only take one bass then a 5 string can be a great tool. Find one with a tight B string. Fitting a 130 gauge for the B can help make it sound less 'flappy' which is the criticism of many 5 string basses. Dingwall make great 5 strings as do MusicMan, Fender and a whole host of other manufacturers.
83. Choose Your Strings Wisely
There are all kinds of string gauges and materials which affect tone and playability. Learn about these differences so you can choose the best strings for your style. Victor Wooten uses 40, 60, 80, 100 gauge string which makes it slightly easier to play his super-fast licks. Mark King also uses light gauge strings. Higher gauge flatwound strings have a weighty tone, suitable for hip hop and vintage genres. Bright stainless steel strings offer the right amount of cut and sizzle for heavy rock mixes.
84. Don't Obsess Over Gear
No amount of gear will make up for a lack of musical ability built up through hard work. Spend as much as you can afford and no more on enough gear that you need then concentrate on learning your craft.
As Squarepusher said, 'I hate the whole collection of gear thing. To me it’s another hiding to nowhere, thinking ‘if I get the CS80 I can really make beautiful music, but until then I’m not going to do anything’.
85. Get A Fender Jazz & Precision
Actually, get any bass that speaks to you and creates the sound in your head. If you don't know what that is yet then these two titans will cover almost all the styles you could ever want to play. Everyone recognises the sound and look and you really can't go wrong.
86. Learn To Read
Reading helps you understand rhythms, harmony, and melody and gives you instant access to new music. If you're thinking of turning pro it gets you work. Forget that though. It's such a valuable and useful skill to have and makes self-learning so much easier too.
87. The Most Common Rhythms
There are only a few rhythms that you hear and play over and over again. Since bass playing involves nailing these rhythms it makes sense to know them. They are whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes. Learn triplets too but start with these.
88. Read Chord Symbols
Chord symbols are letters you see in music that players read from. Jazz lead sheets are chord heavy and it's really useful to be able to read these. Bass players convert those chords into arpeggios or chord tones and make basslines from them. It's the ultimate in creativity and opens so many doors, not to mention making gigs easier to play as you can just read off charts you're given last minute.
89. Be Able To Make & Read Charts
Making quick charts makes learning loads of songs easier. If you have a last-minute gig or you're playing in church or in a rehearsal or for a new band, charts are lifesavers. You can use digital, analog (paper!), chords, TAB, notation or a combination. I recommend avoiding TAB and learning to notate and read rhythms and notes as well as how to read chord symbols. This makes you a more rounded and skilled musician.
Related lessons: How to Quickly Make Lifesaving Charts for Gigs
90. Have Some Go-To Warm-Up Exercises
There are hundreds of exercises you can use to get your fingers warmed up and to use for technique practice. Choose a few that you know off by heart that work on different aspects of you playing (preferably areas you are weak in). It's much better if these exercises sound musical and are the kind of thing you can use in real-life situations.
Related lessons: Creative Bass Technique Exercises
91. Learn The Major Scale Modes
People get confused very easily over modes. They seem to have garnered a mystical reputation. The truth is that they are just scales that become tools you can use to make music. They are important. The major scale modes are the gateway to the modes of the harmonic and melodic minor so learn them first.
Related lesson: How To Memorise The Major Scale Modes
92. Know Your Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, And Aeolian
These are the most commonly used modes. Ionian and Aeolian are all over pop and rock. Dorian crops up in funk and jazz, and the Mixolydian in blues (as well as funk and jazz).
Related lesson: Learn A Killer Way To Understand Modes On Bass Guitar
93. For Jazz: Learn the Melodic Minor Scale
Jazz music uses many rich and exotic sounds beyond the capabilities of the major scale. Loads of jazz tunes use the melodic minor scale and its modes (especially the 7th mode). This is because it creates lots of unusual chords (and, therefore, arpeggios and chord tones) and extensions (b9, #9, b5, #5, etc.). The 7th mode is called the super locrian, altered scale, or diminished whole tone (just to confuse things a little...).
94. Learn Some Keyboard
The notes on the bass make more sense when you learn the keyboard. That's where the notes came from originally. Piano players have a vastly greater knowledge of harmony than bass players and theory really becomes easier when you look at it from a keyboard perspective. Also, you can learn to compose and if you're called on to play synth bass, it'll be a doddle.
95. Learn Some Guitar
The transition from electric bass to the electric guitar isn't that taxing if you're up for a challenge. It gives you a brilliant understanding of chords and progressions as well as melody. If you're a bass player who can play a little guitar and/or keys, you are instantly more employable and you can write and produce music more easily. I've written a free ebook with all the basics. Download it here:
96. Study Self Improvement
A musician is often on their own when it comes to learning an instrument. The wisdom of the finest minds in history is stored in books, articles, and other media. Books on time management, organisation, habits, and creativity can change your life if you act on the best information that works for you. Some of my favourites are Eat That Frog, Atomic Habits, Getting Things Done, and The Four Hour Chef. If you're organised, have great habits, and use your time well, the world is your oyster.
97. Listen To Podcasts
Use your commute, downtime or lunch break to immerse yourself in music with podcasts. Interviews with professional musicians (not just bass players) will give you loads of ideas and things to work on and study. A few of my favourites are I'd Hit That, Sodajerker On Songwriting, Broken Record, Pensado's Place, Sound Of Cinema, and Tom Huth Podcast.
98. Watch Documentaries
Documentaries serve the same purpose as podcasts but the visual and storytelling aspect is even more potent. Some crackers: Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, The Wrecking Crew, Marcus, Jaco, Back In Brooklyn, Muscle Shoals, Hired Gun, and 20 Feet From Stardom.
99. Reach Out To Your Favorite Player
You'd be amazed at how accomodating and lovely famous bass players are. I've emailed several world-famous players for advice ranging from mundane gear tips to musical questions. Nearly all got back with generous answers. We are all part of the bass community and it's a wonderful place to be.
100. Send Me An Email
What have I forgotten that could make you a better bass player? Email me and let me know.