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Tips for going from Drums to Bass

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by kennydakid, Jan 27, 2012.

  1. kennydakid


    Jan 8, 2009
    Amesbury, MA
    Hey guys, I have been a member here for a bit but I mostly used the Band Management forum. I am a drummer who recently decided to take up bass seriously. I've played drums for 15 years. My band broke up in October, 2011 and I put down the drum sticks. After taking some time off from music I got an offer to play bass in a praise band led by the guitarist/vocalist of my prior band.

    Do you guys have any tips for someone going from Drums to Bass? I've already played one gig with this group on bass, I basically played root notes for 5 songs (we had our first practice on Saturday and played on Sunday last week).

    Any tips for getting better/ more adventurous are welcome.
  2. kraigo


    Jun 21, 2007
    Minneapolis, MN
    Welcome. I still do both. There are lots of us here.

    Someone once said "you're never more than a half step [one fret] a good note." The problem is whether to go up or down, of course.

    Turn on the radio and play along through everything - the commercials, etc. Develop that ear. It's the three minute challenge. Learn the song as well as you can before the DJ throws another song at you. Hint: The most common keys in pop music are C, A, G, E and D.

    Pick and album and try to learn it all the way through, day after day. Go through another album.

    I'm not a reader, but it would make my life easier if I were. Consider learning to read - there's a lifetime's worth material out there.

    Respect the root. When the chord changes it usually the right thing to do to hit the root on the chord change.

    "Be the player you want to be". When confronted with a song, imagine what "a cool bass player" would play and try to find it. When I started doing this I played a lot fewer notes and everything breathed a lot better.

    I'm laying this out in black-and-white while acknowledging that I am glossing over a ton of stuff.

    To me, the chord progression is the best place to start. Within any chord there are strong notes and weak notes.

    Strong notes sound confident but aren't as interesting harmonically. They provide a solid foundation to the music but don't really spice it up as much. Weak notes have the possibility to make things interesting or they can just sound weak. They're more dangerous, but potentially more fulfilling. No guts, no glory.

    There are strong places rhythmically to place them, It's generally a good idea to play the root when the chord changes to define the chord change for the listener. Generally it's a good idea to play a strong note on a down beat (one and three in 4/4 time). Other places rhythmically you have a responsibility to fill in with other tones to make it interesting to yourself, your band and your audience.

    Usually the strongest notes in a chord are the root, the fifth and dominant seventh. You can make whole bass parts using just those notes over the chord and sound passible. You could be in a band that tours the world with just those tones. They will give you the most bang for the buck. Even when you branch out and move to more interesting tones, these notes will be prominent in your playing.

    The next strongest notes are chord tones, the third and the sixth. These are dangerous because you are committing to a major or minor tonality and it sounds awful if you get it wrong. The chord tones are used a lot in jazz and blues but not as often in rock. I'll put the major seventh in this category. Dominant seven chords are more common and I put them in the "strong tones" category. If there's a major seven chord, I'd say it's a chord tone.

    Next up come the scale tones, the second and the fourth. Both of these are safe in terms of tonality of the scale, the fourth is "perfect" there are no majors or minors. By second I mean major second - two frets up. A minor second, one fret up, is more chromatic to me. The scale tones usually want to lead your ear to the next chord or they're used in passing, on your way to a stronger tone. To reiterate, you are safe using the second and the fourth with either a major or minor chord because these tones are inside the scale but not in the chord - you aren't committing to a major or minor tonality. The second is more iffy with a minor chord because it's a half step from the minor third chord tone, the fourth is more iffy with a major chord because it's a half step from the major third. I think these are also known as "avoid tones".

    Chromatic tones are the weakest. Minor seconds, the "wrong" third and sixth (and seventh) for the chord and the tri-tone. They are used when you are just passing through or perhaps the key is modulating. They are useful in chord substitions when you want to add spice, but if you don't pull it off they sound like a mistake. Use them with caution.

    As with all music theory, this is just a general guideline - rules that have been successfully broken hundreds or thousands of times. But if you're in an unfamiliar situation and either for your own sake or for the sake of the people on the bandstand with you or for the audience, work more in the "strong tones" area and things will at least be firm. As everyone gets more confident start branching into the more interesting tones.

    Typical fingerings of intervals:

    Root: the named chord - A in an A, Am, A7, etc. It's octave is two strings and two frets up.

    Minor second: One fret up from the root (or two strings and one fret down in pitch).

    Major second: Two frets up from the root (or two strings down in pitch and the same fret).

    Minor third: Three frets up from the root or one string up and two frets down in pitch.

    Major third: One string up and one fret down in pitch.

    Perfect fourth: Up one string on the same fret or one string down and two frets down.

    Tritone (aka augmented fourth or diminished fifth): One string up and one fret up or one string down and one fret down.

    Perfect fifth: Up one string and two frets or down one string, same fret.

    Minor sixth: Up two strings and down two frets or down one string and up one fret.

    Major sixth: Up two strings down one fret or down one string and up two frets.

    Dominant (minor) seventh: Up two strings, same fret or same string, down two frets.

    Major seventh: Up two strings and one fret or same string, down one fret.

    Over three strings you have two easy places to get the root, the fifth and the dominant seventh:

    Root and it's octave up: Up two strings and up two frets.

    Fifth: One string and two frets up or same fret one string down.

    Major seventh: Two strings up same fret or two frets down same string.

    So using octaves you have six very solid notes at your disposal in very close proximity.

    All of this is to encourage you to branch out, but if you want to get things going quickly, that's one way to do it.

    benrtd likes this.
  3. kennydakid


    Jan 8, 2009
    Amesbury, MA
    thanks for the response, I have been working on playing within "boxes" much like a guitarist would. When I added a little color to the bass part last week i stayed within root-4th-5th-b7-octive. I just wasn't that confident in going to those spots and i felt nervous leaving the root. I have been putting in about 1 to 2 hours a day of practice (i am an attorney and I work from home so when I am not in court I take breaks from work and pick up the bass for 10 or so minutes in order to clear my mind)
  4. kraigo


    Jun 21, 2007
    Minneapolis, MN
    The fourth can be bad. If it's a major chord the major third and the fourth will clash fairly badly because of the semitone difference.

    Don't feel like you have to stray too far from the root/5th/flat 7th. A lot of cool bass lines have come from just those tones. If you have a moment to "hear the song in your head", do it and imagine a simple but cool bass line to go with it. Find it on the bass. At least for me, that's amazingly effective. Sometimes just a few notes in a nice simple syncopation is exactly what's needed.

    I tend to really have more fun when I see an unusual chord like an augmented or something. Find a place to fit in that unusual note for spice.

    As a drummer you probably can appreciate settling in and shaping the basis of the song. The bass has a similar role. As a drummer I like to do little things that won't screw up the song like little frills on the hi-hat or movement to the rides bell for a little accent. It keeps me entertained. I'm much more meat and potatoes on the bass, but I can see going there some day. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get past my ego and play less.

    Good luck. I hope you learn it faster than I did.

  5. DanAleks

    DanAleks Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2009
    Nicely said! Good solid advice.
  6. While this sounds like it's completely obvious, treat it like you're learning to play exactly like a beginner. Take all the baby steps and it will teach you a lot. Being a drummer, you have one of the most the most important aspects in you already; timing. Start with simple all root or root-5th basslines to translate that timing to your new found instrument. You have the advantage of being able to record your own drumming and use that to play along to with the bass.

    Have fun!!!
  7. kraigo


    Jun 21, 2007
    Minneapolis, MN
    If you're in the key of G, C or F (majors), feel free to go nuts with the pedal tones - use those open strings! For some reason it just doesn't feel the same when you're fretting every note.

  8. kraigo


    Jun 21, 2007
    Minneapolis, MN
    And let me reiterate the root, fifth and b7: If you're on a four string and you base many of your roots on the A string you have:

    Two octaves of root - the root on the A and the root two frets up on the G.
    Two octaves of fifth - the one on the E string same fret and the D string two frets up.
    Two octaves of b7 - two frets down on the A string and on the G string same fret as the root.

    Six strong notes per position. Very handy, when you're winging it.

    Also when you're winging it, the Paul McCartney "Drive My Car" trick: Each chord gets its own signature riff, each simple. It's sort of a no-brainer "this chord has this riff, the next chord has its riff and the next..." When played in context it sounds somewhat composed, but when you break it down it's "slap the forehead" simple.

    I'm about out of tricks now.


    Added: Not a trick, but knowing how to stitch the chords together takes time. Do you walk up? Walk down? Sometimes an accidental will mean you walk down to a chord one way and back up another, e.g. A-G-E down then A-G#-E back up. Sometimes you aren't really changing chords but you want to fake the listener into thinking you are: root, up a third, down to the second back to the root. Walking is fun.

    I play in a lot of folky/acoustic settings. The chords seem to change at a quicker pace than they do in rock, as a rule. Sometimes you have time to hit the root and maybe a fifth. Sometimes they're moving by quickly enough that it's the better part of valor is to just hit the root of the chord on beat one and sustain it through the rest for tension.

    I have trouble with "real notated" music because the pace is so fast compared to just a lead sheet (lyrics, notated melody and chords symbols) or just lyrics with chords over them. In grand staff a single verse can span four pages and since I don't read notation I have a hard time finding the chord symbol at the right time. It's funny because with just lyrics and chords I can transpose on the fly during performance, but you put out the grand staff and I really sweat it. Either learn to sight read both treble and bass clef or be prepared to write something out that you can read effectively and quickly.

    Since I'm adding crap: When someone says there's too much bass, they might really mean the frequency, not the instrument. Reach for the bass frequency knob on your amp first. The tone that works for you at home is often not right in an ensemble. If you have the urge to turn up, go to your EQ first and bring up more lower mids. A tone you can hear with no complaints from your band mates is a good tone. Bonus if you don't hate it. Listen to it after the music stops before you pack up. Mid sucking EQ sounds great soloed. You'll learn to hate it live.

    If you've got an amp on stage, make sure there's no bass in the monitors.
  9. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    The brutal truth is that root notes + a solid rhythm will get you 90% there. The rest is all about how you connect the roots.
  10. Triangle


    Jan 10, 2012
    Lawrence, KS
    I recently switched from guitar to bass, so while the technical aspects of the instrument are familiar, I can understand where you're coming from.
    Some things that have helped me so far:
    -Don't play unplugged. You'll develop a tendency to play far harder than you need to.
    -This will be easy for you, but really paying attention to the kick drum helped me understand and write better bass lines.
    -Play along to stuff as often as possible to help develop your ear. I just plug my bass straight into my mac and run garageband and itunes at the same time. Its not the best sounding tone, but I can hear myself well and can blend the levels with each programs volume control.
    -Try to spend less time here and more time with a bass in your hands. I try to play for an hour for every ten or twenty minutes I spend online.
  11. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Practice a lot, learn as much as you can about music, including reading it, and a good teacher versed in jazz is more valuable than you'll ever know, even if you hate jazz and never intend on playing it.
  12. kennydakid


    Jan 8, 2009
    Amesbury, MA
    Thanks for the tips guys. We just had our second performance (4 songs during church service) and we played well. I had one mistake, I missed a transition into a bridge following the second chorus, I hit an E (the first chord of the verse and chorus) instead of an F# (the first chord of the bridge) but I recovered well enough.

    If you all have any other tips I'd like to hear them.

    Edit: I have also been tweaking with my bass as well. I am currently using an ibanez soundgear (SRX 2 EX 2) and a peavy amp. I changed the strings over to ernie ball Power Slinkys (I wanted to try some heavier gauge strings) and I worked on getting a good tone, it seems to work well in our performances. Eventually I want to upgrade to a fender J (I love the look of a sunburst J) but the Ibanez (its actually my brother's bass) is working well for now. My brother bought the bass to try to take up the instrument but he gave up after a month or so. The bassist in my last band used to use my brother's bass as a 4 string alternative to his 5 string Ibanez Soundgear.
  13. kraigo


    Jun 21, 2007
    Minneapolis, MN
    Cool to hear. I was about to ask. My other tips seem brain dead: When you're not playing, turn down your bass's volume knobs. I've accidentally had the headstock hit something while doing something else with my hands during a prayer and it's embarrassing.

    If you have to hold hands with someone else during the service, point your headstock down toward your knees before you take hands. You don't want to accidentally clobber someone in the face with your headstock. One should only clobber one's band mates in the face with their headstock intentionally.

  14. kraigo


    Jun 21, 2007
    Minneapolis, MN
    That Ibanez should suit you fairly well for a while. My Artcore semi-hollow had the same pickup. I've put in an SGD Lutherie ND3 with a coil switch an it is absolutely killer now. I'm not advocating that you drop $200 worth of pickups into a bass that seems to go for $200 used unless you were thinking you'd use it for a few years.

    My Skyline 55-01 has two dual coil pickups with coil switches on it and I love the variations of tone I can get out of it. I must confess that I typically play a P-Bass - one basic tone for the duration. I do not usually want a preamp in my basses, so being able to get my variations via a coil switch is good. With the Artcore it's nice because I can get a very nice bass boost if I feel I need it by switching to series.


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