None of us are born experts when it comes to playing the bass. If you are aspiring to play the guitar, you should strengthen your basics and learn about the common bass techniques. However, there is no single way in which you can play the bass correctly. But certainly, the basics remain the same. Some important terms and techniques you should be knowing include:
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Up is Down & Down is Up for the Bass Guitar
For any student that starts playing the guitar, the 1st and foremost thing that confuses are the terms up, down, high, and low. An example to this would be:
- In a scenario where a person says to go up one string, he/she actually means going up in pitch and not the physical space of the instrument. For the bass, going up a string refers to fretting hand being moved towards the floor.
- Similarly, up the neck would mean moving towards the body of the bass making the pitch go higher.
The quicker you understand these terminologies and their implications, the better you would do when playing the guitar.
Plucking Bass Techniques
Another perspective is to pluck the strings of your bass. Although, there is not a single way you could do this, but there are some good and bad ways.
Hence, seeking as many perspectives possible would help you grow stronger as a student of the bass. The number of ways for doing this is endless and you certainly have the option of making your own technique. A few approaches that might be of use would include:
1. Finger Numbering: Many musicians prefer numbering their fingers for the bass. Like T could be the thumb, 1 being the index finger, 2 being the middle finger, and so on.
2. Trimmed fingernails: To avoid nail catching the strings, it is recommended to keep the finger nails trimmed and short.
3. Hand reflexes: Plucking the hand hang limp in the natural shape of your hands while keeping them loose, you can reflex shape in a manner that there is no need of tension.
4. Using alternate fingers: In order to improve plucking speed and efficiency, it is often recommended to at least use 2 fingers. Most would prefer using the index and the middle fingers alternatively.
5. Knowing where to pluck: Depending where you pluck on the string, you can produce a range of tones through your bass guitar. If you pluck nearer, it will offer a fatter and warmer tone. Moreover, if you pluck near to the bride, it will produce a percussive and brighter tone.
6. The Power you Pluck: Often you might come across musicians playing at live shows adopting aggressive styles of music. You might wonder if they are digging in and plucking hard, but that’s not the case. You need not pluck the strings hard to produce such sounds and doing so might cause several bad things.
7. Avoid forceful repetitions: Using amp can take light and small sounds from the fingers from the bass and translate that into a big sound. Here, you should make sure you avoid forceful repetitions as they might lead to injuries.
8. Position your thumb: Placing the thumb over the face and not on the top of the pickup closest to the neck is advised. Lingering the thumb over the E-string can facilitate good all-purpose tone from the bass.
Muting the Strings
Keeping the strings quiet or getting the notes ringing out when playing the bass needs an equal amount of work. Many a times you might only want a single string to ring at a time. It means, on the 4-string bass, you have to keep the other 3 quiet to hear the 4th string alone.
You cannot let the open strings ring freely as it might muddy up the sound and create unwanted dissonance. It is important to control each sound coming out of the bass and that requires developing a solid string muting strategy.
Usually, the plucking hand mutes any strings below the one you might be playing, while the fretting hand mutes the strings above the one being played.
1. Muting with Thumb: In this case, the thumb would slide down and help in muting the E-string every time it is not being played. Here it would be better to ensure your thumb is as close to the E-string as possible.
2. Ring Finger Muting: Another popular bass technique for muting is through the use of ring finger. This can help in muting the A-string each time when you pluck the G-string. Here, the ring finger has to loosely touch the A-string from preventing it from ringing.
There is no right way of good fretting hand technique, but the following might help you adopt a better approach. Once you are clear about the plucking hand technique, it is important to strive for a relaxed hand to produce a clear as well as a consistent tone.
These are possible only through the use of efficient emotions and takes some time to develop. It is better to focus on the aspect of awareness of different points while playing.
1. Finger Numbering: Like plucking, here the fingers can be numbered as 1 for the index finger, 2 for the middle finger, 3 for the ring finger and 4 for the pinky finger.
2. Fingernails: It is again important that your fingernails are trimmed and short.
3. Avoid injuries: While playing the bass, musicians are definitely prone to get injured. However, it is important to keep the wrists straight. Fingertips would definitely hurt a little in the early days, but you should have a close look and ensure you do not feel shooting pains in the wrists.
4. Arm positioning: It’s better to keep your hands relaxed at your side and avoid any tension in the shoulders. Make sure you don’t rest the elbow of the leg when you are practicing while sitting down.
5. Thumb Placement: Placing the thumb on the middle of the back of the neck is a good idea when it comes to a better thumb placement. You should let it hang around the top of the neck. The thumb should be placed in a manner that it points towards the ceiling and is straight and flat.
6. Avoid touching the neck’s underside: It is very important that your palm doesn’t touch the underside of the neck. You must ensure there is ample spacing in between. With increased friction against the neck, it is bound to slow you down and result in accidental muting of the highest string.
7. Single Finger for every Fret: Most bassists would advise you using one-finger-per-fret allowing you to cover all the fingers and a span of 4 frets of the fretboard.
Mastering Legato and Staccato
Lastly, it is very important to understand the concepts of legato and staccato. Although, it takes time, learning it quickly can have a drastic impact on the sound produced.
To understand this, it would be a wise idea to listen to several recordings and paying attention to the length of each note. While doing so, you should ask yourself if they are playing legato or staccato.
To understand the difference, try playing the same as legato and then again staccato. You will surely experience a change of sound of the bassline. Usually, several guitarists use a range of legato and staccato notes throughout their sessions. It highly contributes towards the overall effectiveness to the bassline.