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Bass playing for guitarists - tips & pitfalls?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by earlofmar11, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. Hello, I'm new to this forum. I have been playing the guitar for more than 30 years (classical, steel string, electric). I've been interested by the bass for a long time. Recently I decided I wanted to try my hand at bass guitar myself, to be able to add non-keyboard bass lines to some home recording I'd like to do.

    Coming from a guitar background, I ended up with a short scale bass (a lovely candy apple red Squier VM Jaguar SS), because the feel was closer to a guitar than with the full scale models I tried. I also bought a Vox Amplug Bass for home practice and have been playing along with backing tracks, songs on my iPod and DVDs to get used to the new instrument, using either the Amplug or the Roland Mobile Cube I already had.

    Being fairly proficient at the guitar, I don't really have too much technical issues with the bass. But I've come to realise very quickly that, although the technique may be quite similar, the approach and mindset for playing bass is very different from playing the guitar!

    So my question, especially to the multi-instrumentalists among you: can you share hints & tips, recommendations, pitfalls to avoid or typical guitarist "errors" that can help me play the bass in an idiomatic way that doesn't scream "guitar player"?

    Thanks in advance for your help!
  2. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    It's not about how many notes you can fit in, it's about how the notes fit.

    The obvious guitar player turned bass players seem to be quite busy. Lock in with the drummer, close your eyes, and groove!

    Welcome to the low end!
  3. Yes, definitely. The most common problem a guitar player does when playing bass is playing 10x too many notes, too busy, too complex bass lines that usually kills the arrangements and groove. Start small and high and build up. And learn what the drummer does, you are entering a kind of marriage between the drummer and the bass player.
  4. Welcome - and I'll try:

    The role of the bass is primarily supportive so it's important to recognize what that means. To me, it means linking the rhythm section to the melody/chordal voices in the ensemble by primarily laying down root notes/chord tones on strong beats.

    Less is (almost) always more and if you get bored easily and have a hard time appreciating the value of sustaining roots and playing 'simpler' parts than what you are used to on guitar, you may find being a 'good' bass player a challenge.

    But if you can learn to love the role by appreciating the challenges of connecting intimately with the rhythm section as well as providing support to the melodic/chordal parts, you can find all sorts of coolness therein.

    You have to be light on your feet, but not 'picky'. Legato is your friend. A lot of times I see bass players 'picking' and 'chopping' their notes rather than allowing them to ring out and become round. Don't be afraid to let those note sustain and fill out.

    Tone-wise, I've found that flatwound strings and a nice, warm, round overall tone makes the entire ensemble sound really great. By itself it can sound less than 'zingy' - and for that reason a lot of people 'prefer' how rounds sound - but in the mix, flats really do something right. You can get there with rounds too - but IMO and IME, they tend to put you in a more 'guitar-like' sonic space - which can be great for some things.

    Learn to LOVE being a part of the rhythm section and don't think of yourself as a single instrument. You are part of a team and when everyone is doing there thing properly, the result greater than the sum of it's parts. Learn to listen to the kick drum, snare and cymbal patterns to find your strong, back-beats and intermediate patterns, respectively.

    Less is more - did I already say that? Repetition is your friend but you don't have to make everything exactly the same - but by the same token you should try to play with strong consistency. Those you are supporting will thank you.

    Good luck! Hope some of this made sense... I am running on very little sleep today...
  5. Welcome to the bottom yeah agree with everything above I will add start listening to the bass players now. As a guitar player you listen to what the guitarist was doing now the same goes for bass. It isn't hard to do you just need to set your mind to it as you've done it the past when learning guitar. The first step in the right direction is admitting it isn't like playing guitar which you have done. Now you just need to learn your role. Good Luck
  6. I sometimes think guitar players should also focus more on tight comp playing and less about trillion-notes-a-second solos. We do play comp guitar 95% of the time, anyway... At jams I've heard many-many guitar players who play solos but are like a deer seeing a headlight when it comes to just doing comp work to support the song. Not to speak of they don't even know any additional chords beyond the basic barre major/minor ones...
  7. I'm sure you have played from fake chord in the past. Do so now, we do not strum the chord, we play the chord's notes one note at a time.

    I think the guys have said "Less is more".LOL.......
    Right at first you solo with scales and you play accompaniment with chord tones.

    Roots just by themselves work fine. If you have room think about adding a five. If you still have room the eight is a safe bet. Roots, fives, eights and the correct 3 and 7 will play a lot of bass.

    A friend:
    Major Scale Box. 
    G|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    The song is in C and follows a I IV V progression -- look how that spells out on the bass.
    Place your major scale box pattern on the C note on the 3rd string. Where is your IV (F) and V (G). Check out D, G, A. How about A, D, E. Yep, piece of cake.

    Another friend; www.studybass.com

    Have fun. Remember less is more.
  8. droo46


    Jun 16, 2011
    One thing that I did when I was transitioning was learning songs that I liked and attempting to play them identically to what was recorded. If you find yourself getting bored, I suggest Led Zepplin. Those basslines will teach you how to be a good support instrument as well as you keep you busy.
  9. Indeed, one of the things I noticed straight away is that in a bass line, the wrong note stands out like a sore thumb, whereas with the guitar, you can kind of skate away over a less fortunate note choice so it doesn't really hurt too much...
  10. Once again agree with the less is more and supporting role mindset. But don't let that scare you off. It can be fun and rewarding. Think Tim commerford and like someone mentioned John Paul jones. You can still have fun and create some awesome grooves. As long as it fits with and supports the melody. Also locking in with drums like the others said. And if you have a drummer who does cool little things in a song you get to articulate those fills and little nuances into notes. It's almost a if your translating between drummer and guitarist with a bit of your own accent. And don't use a pick! Just kidding.
  11. I'd say this depends on the style you're playing. One of my favourite styles is prog rock. I love the bass playing of people like Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, Jonas Reingold... They can both build solid foundations and go quite complex. Their art is of course to know when to do what so it all fits in.

    On the other hand, I also love the blues and some classic and southern rock. And there I think your point is absolutely true.
  12. ^^ exactly
  13. The beauty with Geddy Lee et rest is that their complex playing fits the song or arrangements. You could be very busy with lets say "The Thrill is Gone" But then the thrill is gone from that song.
  14. tinyd


    Mar 11, 2003
    One thing that many guitarists don't get right when they pick up a bass IMO is concentrate on getting a good tone with their right hand. If you're playing with fingers, try and use the fleshy pad of your fingertip to play 'through' the string rather than getting your finger nail under the string and pulling it towards you. This may mean positioning your hand so that your fingers are more vertical than you're used to. This doesn't apply to all styles of bass playing, but for general finger-style it's a good place to start.
  15. gre107


    Dec 25, 2005
    They are two totally different instruments.
    Approach the bass with that in mind.
    You're timing and feel MUST be impeccable. You got to groove!
    Number one, you have to play with some hutzpa no matter what you are playing.
    Number two, don't loose the groove looking for a note!
  16. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2002
    Oak Park, IL
    Wow. These comments are so true. My guitarist and I recently 'switched' for a few minutes to try things out. He played some really cool lines but I thought, "that's a lot of notes per square inch!"
  17. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    Guitar players create tension and release from the selection of notes they play. As a bass player, your very presence in the mix adds a certain kind of tension. It's a weight or gravity that is added or released when you stop playing.

    I disagree with many that it's about the number of notes played. A bassist can play fast runs or even chords and still the band can sound great. (check out Henrik from the band Dirty Loops) But most music is not written for such athletics in the low end. Because it's very hard to do that sort of thing and maintain a groove at the same time. (Victor Wooten can do it though!)

    Basically, when you approach the bass guitar, just be aware of the sheer power you are wielding at your fingertips. You control the feel of the music not just with which notes you choose to add weight to, but with the timing and release of that weight.

    The kick drum is picking notes out too. It is generally best to work with the kick rather than against it to establish a groove. However, rules like this can be broken if it is done in good taste.

    With the power you have, you have a lot of responsibility. Less is usually more because if you add more you better know what you're doing because any mistake is going to be felt as well as heard. So be careful and selective. Focus on the feel of of what the song needs.
  18. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    Best advice I ever got- think of the simplest thing you can do. Now play half of that.
  19. It's actually very simple if you can remember these four things:

    1. Make sure you play the root on the "one" of a measure.
    2. Pay attention to a song's time.
    3. Don't play 630,000 notes in a measure. Less is more.
    4. Dynamics! Dynamics! Dynamics!

    Do this and you'll be playing bass in a band in no time! :D
  20. Yep. The sooner you do that, the sooner you will be a versatile, in-demand bass player.

    It doesn't mean you can't play more challenging and fun parts. Quite the opposite - if you learn to embrace that attitude, when you do step up and play something interesting it will really stand out and be well received.

    The more you 'busy up' things, the less people hear them. By 'people', I don't mean other bass players or musicians. Play for people and learn to LOVE what makes them happy.

    Again - focusing on the fundamentals and keeping it simple does not mean play dull, boring, lifeless parts. That's where the real challenge lies - keeping it simple AND interesting. It's a LOT harder than throwing out a blur of scales and arpeggios. Anyone can train themselves to play fact acrobatic stuff that will certainly impress people for a bit - but the minute that becomes the norm they tune you out and you are essentially wasting a lot of great riffs that you could be using much more effectively.

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