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Singer/Songwriter starting out on bass

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Goodness, Feb 1, 2014.

  1. Goodness


    Feb 1, 2014
    Hi! I’ve been reading the forums for a while but had a few Instruction questions I couldn’t find answers to otherwise.

    I’m a singer/songwriter who mostly writes lyrics but I have so many tunes and rhythms in my head. I can play a little piano and guitar, but I have a much easier time with bass, which I started playing a few months ago. I’m a few weeks into lessons. My goals are to sing and play at the same time, as well as compose and record my own music. I know it takes plenty of patience and time. And I’m having fun writing songs on bass and practicing, even with the frustration.

    At the moment, my instructor has me working on smaller goals to build on, as well as a lot of theory and technique. Inspired by the postings here, I bought Music Theory for Dummies (for now) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composition (for later). I’m not sure if these are sufficient enough resources as far as method goes. I can read music and write a little but don’t have ear training. Also I don’t know all the chords and scales.

    I’ve noticed that many people who are better at chord-based instruments can pick up the bass flawlessly. I’m wondering if the opposite might be true. Right now, I’m using a keyboard app on my Iphone to write chords, but it isn’t terribly effective for putting parts together. Would you recommend picking up a chord-based instrument after learning bass if I want to write songs? What would you recommend? Like, would it be easier to play a four-string instrument than guitar? And, if so, how soon?

    I’ve noticed several bass players can go between plucking and picking/strumming with their fingers, and I’m having trouble replicating that style. I’m mostly a pop/R&B songwriter, no crazy Les Claypool tricks for me. But I want to be able to play pick-style and alternate between both moves (and even some slapping) without using a pick. Any tips?

    Should I start reading into recording music long after I’ve mastered the instrument and writing music? Or sooner? Where are some good places to start? How do you feel about sampling and looping versus forming a band, or both?
  2. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I haven't read these books, but I've found Hal Leonard's Pocket Music Theory to be a decent resource for learning fundamentals in a practical and direct way without being too bookish. www.musictheory.net is an excellent online resource that you can use for ear training. Get really good at writing intervals and identifying them by ear, and you'll be on the right path.

    Everybody learns differently and has different strong suits. I suck at anything technological and my technique is laughable, but I have an excellent ear and I can write a lot of music in a short amount of time. I consider myself a composer, not a recording engineer. When I need a recording engineer, I'll hire someone. It works the other way, too: I've done transcription work and orchestrations/arrangements for singer/songwriter types who don't know how to notate, much less arrange what they're playing. I'm good at what I do, other people are good at what they do. You don't need to be an expert in a million things to make art (though it can have its advantages).

    One thing I think we need to remind ourselves to do every now and then is to stratify. I remember talking to guitarists who assumed that because I am good with theory that I must therefore be a shred god who can blow their playing out of the water. I'm not, technique and music theory are unrelated - one is intellectual and the other is physical. Before I knew how to write, I was still very strongly versed in music theory, yet was unable to use that to help me to write any more than before I learned what a dominant seventh chord is. Once again, theory and composition are separate disciplines. I used to write on the guitar, but found myself composing slowly and incompletely that way despite veing fairly fluent on the instrument. Once again, technique is different from composition. Technique is different from performance is different from talking to promoters is different from recording is different from ear training is different from species counterpoint is different from instrument repair... My point is to remind you to isolate. You can't expect to improve your understanding of MOLA score prep guidelines while figuring out how compression works and where the notes are on the fretboard, ya dig? It will all blend together in your brain eventually, but try learning music theory and recording away from an instrument for now, then learn technique without trying to record yourself while learning triads at the same time.
  3. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Wow, where to start? OK you have an instructor. Have you discussed the above with him/her? If not do so.

    I do not see the bass as an effective melody composing instrument. Other instruments lend themselves to this task better than our bass. Of course IMO.

    Your bass is a chordal instrument, in that we are primarily an accompaniment instrument. We follow the chord progression and play the root note of the chord on beat one, then add other chord tones as needed or dictated by the song on beats 2, 3 & 4. We are part of the rhythm section. Most of what we do is to provide harmony through the notes of the chord that the songwriter decided to use to harmonize a specific part of the melody. If we play the notes of the chord that the songwriter used to harmonize the melody - we too end up providing harmony.

    Basic dirt simple song writing normally results in fake chord or lead sheet music. In both cases the bass clef (bass lines) are only hinted at, i.e. the harmonizing chord's name is listed, but, the notes that will be used in the bass clef are left to the bassist.

    So as a singer/songwriter I think you could find a more suitable instrument. The rhythm 6 string acoustic guitar or the keyboard seem to be able to flesh out a song better than a bass. Of course that is my opinion. I use a 6 string rhythm guitar for the flow of the lyrics and the movement of the chords, but, when it is time to write the melody I move to the keyboard.

    Talk to your instructor about this.

    Good luck.
  4. Goodness


    Feb 1, 2014
    Thanks for the input so far. I'm registering all of this before my lesson tomorrow.

    The first thing I discussed with my teacher was why a songwriter would ever write songs on the bass when the guitar is more conducive to melody and chords rather than harmony. It sounds a little ridiculous in theory. Again, I play some piano and guitar and I was in jazz band/school band for like 7 years - plus all of my singer training through college and my 20s since I was about 16 (I'm 31). I had far too many reasons to say yes to the bass that outweighed the risks: My favorite singer/songwriters play bass (some as their primary/only instrument! Yes, they exist!), it's how my mind works, it fills in the blanks I need to be a more well-rounded musician, I want to play the role of a bassist/singer in a band someday, I've wanted to play it since I was 10, I have naturally long fingers and an ear for rhythm, I "get" the bass clef and harmony rather than chords, it's easy to transpose, it's fun for me to play and I actually love practicing it. I never felt that way with guitar and felt that way with piano until I realized how much more interested I was in singing and writing lyrics and dropped the ball on it. When I practice, I do the theory stuff first and quiz myself so I have it down cold. If I can woodshed/improvise some sung lyrics/melody and harmony on the bass and then jot it down to flesh out into a song with the piano later, then that's my reward for putting in the work first and focusing on small, single goals.

    My honest plan is to buy a cheap keyboard at some point after a certain amount of lessons because all the piano stuff is coming back to me. I could stand to learn more to build on that songwriting aspect, given what I've read on these forums. But if the guitar is a better choice, I'm curious to hear why.

    Side note: I worked as a counselor at a kids/teens rock camp last summer and most of the main singer/songwriters played bass. Some wrote songs on the bass, others wrote the lyrics/basic tune first and collaborated with the rest of the band on the music. But the bass parts definitely were in harmony with the chords
  5. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    You are correct the bass can play melody, and if that is what you want to do, be my quest.

    I do feel the guitar is better with getting the lyric chord movement between rest, tension, climax and return to rest, i.e. the ole I_IV_V7_I progression strummed to the beat - I pick up the chord's sound if it's strummed instead of being played as an arpeggio, but, that is just me. If you can feel the movement with the bass, that is the main thing.

    As far as the bass parts being in harmony with the chords, yes that is what makes the bass easy to use. If we follow the chords the songwriter placed - so they harmonize the melody - if we play notes from those chords we automatically also harmonize with the melody.

    Sounds like you will be good with the bass, have fun.
  6. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    Yeah... You can write songs on bass. I do it all the time. Go for it.