So you want to play Bass Guitar?
The bass guitar is probably one of the funkiest instruments you could ever choose to play, but is a versatile instrument that can sound as complex or simple as you want it to be. The low end adds weight and dimension that bridges the gap between the guitar and drums, and because of that it’s one of the most essential instruments across genre. The possibilities are endless and it just depends on how far you want to take it. This is a guide for the curious and aspiring bassist that will help you identify what you love, how to look for it, and avoid long term issues that lead to discouragement.
Picking out a bass isn’t as hard or scary as it sounds. Guitars are very magical instruments that are special and unique in their own way. You want to choose a guitar that chooses you as well. This wasn’t necessarily he case for me. I got my first bass guitar when I was 15—It was a extremely heavy, clear acrylic body and I chose it just because it looked cool. What I learned the hard way: do your research.
Not every bass is created equal, so doing your research can help get you familiar with what brands or body shapes you dig, and prevent major discouragements or creative ruts in the long run. A few ways to research:
- Watch bass demonstrations and take notes of the sounds and tones you’re into.
- Take a trip to your local music store, try out as many basses as you can or see if they have any of the ones you found on the internet to try for yourself!
Remember that you don’t necessarily have to go in with the intent of making a purchase that day. Go in with the intent of finding a bass that feels right for you. Bass guitars seldom feel exactly how they look—making sure you feel comfortable is one of the most important parts of playing bass. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you’ll be able to stick with it and that is the #1 goal of this piece.
Notice how your fingers feel between the frets. You don’t want too much space between the frets because that can put too much strain on your fingers and can make it uncomfortable or painful in the long run. In that case, look for a bass with a shorter neck, which will have the frets closer together. Try standing with it using a guitar strap, with all of its weight on your body and ask yourself the following questions:
Does it feel heavy? Does it feel light? Does the body feel too small or too big? Do you feel light and flexible? Or do you feel anchored down?
If you want to move around while you play a bit more—dance, or even thrash—a lighter, smaller option is great for you. If you want to hold it down instead and aren’t looking for much action, you might like a heavier, larger option. Just keep in mind if you plan on doing shows or tours in the future, the heavier option may cause some setbacks.
Ultimately comfort and playability come first. Remember that you can always manipulate the sound in the future by changing pickups, etc., but if you’re uncomfortable then you’ll be back to square one: finding the right bass.
Notice the tone and feel you get from playing it. Bring a note pad and write down or take pictures of the basses you like the most. Taking notes of brands that stood out to you, will help you build a profile of what you like, and will change as you become more seasoned.
Now when it comes to purchasing, it all depends on how much you want to spend and you will most likely want an amp as well, so budget accordingly. If you are more DIY like me, used is your best bet for a guitar starting out. If you know what guitar brand and style you like, you can look around your area at used music shop, pawn shops, or even used selling group or apps. (If you are purchasing off an app, make sure someone or an adult goes with you. Safety first!) The cheaper you go, the more you’ll have to spend on other things you will need.
**Bonus Exercise! Developing Your Ear.**
Okay, so you got your gear gear, now you’re gonna develop your ear for notes. Here’s a simple and fun exercise:
Think of any of your favorite songs or albums that you know in and out entirely. You can hear the melody and chord changes in your head and sing along with the harmonies. Make a playlist with some of your favorite songs or with bass lines you really like and are ready to learn. Put them on shuffle and try to play along with them without looking up the tabs or notation. Spend at the most 10 minutes learning on each song, and then switch to the next. This will train your ears and your hands to sync up and strengthen your aural skills as well as your timing. Do this exercise for about an hour.
What I like to do is once I learn a song by ear, I write down the notes in order and compare them to the official tabs or chords of the song and see how close I was to getting it down right. Sometimes a note you hear might be tricky to find, remember to be patient and do not force it. Remember to take breaks and breathes if you need to, and come back and try it again. Training your ears is like putting together a puzzle by looking at the picture. I’ve spent hours trying to play complex music by ear and each time makes it more worth it, especially if you’re wanting to write your own songs and jam with others. If you can hum, whistle, or sing a tune, you can learn to play it on bass!