View Full Version : What makes bass playing good versus correct?

12-04-2006, 08:38 PM
I've been playing guitar for 17+ years and I know my scales and such pretty well. I bought a bass guitar for two reasons: 1) to lay down bass lines for my recordings, and 2) exercise.

But I've noticed that my bass line runs are not creative and tend to be very boring. I try to play around with pentatonic shapes but everything tends to sound like... well, like a guitarist trying to play bass. Which of course makes perfect sense.

I'm not just playing the notes, mind you. I do have bass melodies in mind, but then I listed to some of the stuff that Billy Cox or JPJ or Cliff Burton did and I hear three distinctive bass sounds, but I don't know how they do it. I have a problem "hearing" bass notes, so it's tough for me to recreate and analyze their riffs.

What do I need to know to take bass playing to the next level?

12-05-2006, 01:11 PM
If you've been playing guitar for 17 years ,playing Bass should be a breeze once you've built up hand strength and acquired the requisite callouses especially on your plucking hand cuz this plays a large part in defining your sound .Playing Bass is physically demanding so once a week for 10 mins is not going to do a lot for you, it just makes it hard work next time round ,which demotivates .
I'm also a guitar player and before my daily practise I warm up slowly on the bass .It ensures that I lay my hands on the instrument most days which keeps my hands "fit" . I play through my guitar amp with the treble on zero and the volume low,about 1 hour minimum,
If you've got the chords to songs it's usually easy to work out the basslines unless it's Jaco and counterparts, then it can be work, if it's Rock there's a lot of thumping on Roots and 5's but the main thing is Groove and you can get that with careful placement of root notes. Try starting with Roots , 3,(b3) 5, and experiment, with these staple notes you've already got a million possibilities and it aint about speed, choose a chord sequence ,work out the arps and join them up with each other ,play roots on the 1 of the bar then add some colourful notes ,don't forget space and a little dissonance ,you are on a mission to please yourself .It's just like guitar playing really.
If you want to have a work out, although it might not be your type of music, check out Donny Hathaway Live ... The Ghetto, 12 minutes of fun Willie Weeks in charge of the Bass and the band ,a repeated ostinato figure in Bb which is easy to work out. You can learn a lot about bass playing from this recording it's got it all groove, stops, slow build up, punctuated dynamics,tempo changes, marking/counting bars , listening and following the leader . The target for me 'bout a year ago was to have the stamina to play it all the way through ,that achieved the recording, when you begin to understand what's goin on has the good feeling of a band listening to each other and grooving together as Donny whips the crowd into a frenzy. This to me is what bass playing is all about. To think that this guy at 36 went to the top of a high building and threw himself off was a terrible tradegy . G'Luck :cool:

12-05-2006, 03:10 PM
Well, it appears to be down right now, but if it's working you can go to my website: http://www.romplabs.com (http://www.romplabs.com/), click on "samples" and listen to some of the tracks in the Indy Projects folder.

You can hear some of the bass lines that I've written and recorded. In my opinion, they're just fine. But what I'm asking about is how to take my bass playing to the next level. I want to do something that's better than "just fine." My guitar playing mechanics are very advanced, and I feel like I could do more on bass if I just knew what else to do.

What I'm looking for is, what do the great bass players do beyond the basic intervals and exercises that you're describing?

12-05-2006, 05:54 PM
Can't log on to your site ,and I don't think I'm qualified to asses your qualities as a bass player especially as I have'nt heard you play maybe you should go book a lesson with the most renowned teacher in your area and let him make an assesment. . I do this about evey 6 months with a 2hr Lesson.I tell him what I want and he stuffs me full of info and it's just a matter of application.
The other thing is, what qualities do you admire in bass players ? Can you define these qualities and turn them into usable tools to improve your own playing my opinion would only be subjective . The "magic" factor comes with experience and playing a lot and can't just be conjured up, you are only as good as your own inventions. G'Luck :cool:

12-05-2006, 06:13 PM
Hm. Well, I'm still (and always will be) a student of guitar, and I know my teacher does teach bass students, so maybe I'll ask him. But if I had to summarize my desire in one sentence it would be: How do I construct original and compelling bass runs, while at the same time maintaining the bottom that the rest of the song relies on?

12-06-2006, 12:46 AM
From what I understand you are already constructing bass lines ,whether they are original & compelling seems to be the problem area you just think they're "fine " so let someone qualified be the judge ! Get the doubt out of the way and maybe you can concentrate on being original & compelling, don't get what you mean with maintaining the bottom the song relies on ,do you mean position playing or note timbre. Sorry don't wanna sound like a Professor but maybe you should be a little more specific.OK What do you find boring about your playing ? If you're staying within the Pentatonic boxes what are your alternatives for getting out of them ? Have you tried playing modally What sort of chord sequences are you using maybe the problem lies there ! Are you being constructive about your own playing or is it just naggin doubts ? Music is exploration .
Try this, play the root notes only in a 6,2,5,1 (Great Samba line) chord sequence ,say in G Play in position between 3rd & 5th fret ,start on the D string 2nd Fret, vary the rhythm ,vary the length of the notes ,try some 1/16 notes in between the changes . When you're bored with that ,start learning the Arps and join 'em up. Play this as fast as possible without injuring yourself work up the speed with a metronome .If original and compelling basslines don't start emerging outta that ....Well .
Here's another one .Record a simple 1,4,5, chord sequence in G, 2 bars for each chord, Play Root notes on the 1 beat of the changes.
play whatever you want in Bar 1, in Bar 2 you play a 6251 root note sequence in G .Bar 3 your choice again ,Bar 4 play a 76251 root note sequence in C. Bar 5 over to you ,Bar 6 over to you in D . All the notes are gonna fit cuz they're diatonic .Explore this incorporating Arps ,Modes,Licks, slides, Hammer ons ,offs, 1/2 Step Tritones, Chromatics,Etc ad naseum. To every one of the 6251 or 76251 notes you could add the 7 th or 9 .11, 13 ,b 's ,# 's.You'll be cramming a lot of notes in the bar ,so you have at sometime to get around to selection,but that's a personal thing ,depending on melody line and a 1000 other variables. Infinite possibilities. Try injecting the sequences into your own Basslines .Spicy enough ?
G'Night :cool:

12-06-2006, 02:17 PM
My easy answer is this: Stop thinking like a guitar player.

You might also hear the groove from the drummer's perspective and use your bass lines to support the rhythm rather than the melody.

Ultimately, you'll want to try other avenues...and then meld all this together.

12-06-2006, 04:53 PM
oh!.... and listen to SkinnyD.Amen ! :cool:

12-07-2006, 11:54 PM
Alright, my sites back up. You should be able to go to http://www.romplabs.com/samples/Indy%20Projects/ I'm not sure what has bass lines and what doesn't, but check out The Valley and listen closely. The bass line is extremely basic and I feel like it would add to the song to do something cool with it, but I don't have any ideas.

12-08-2006, 11:19 AM
The Valley does'nt have any bass , It's a bit of a hackneyed chord sequence, Am, G, F, E(you could slide the E up 1/2 tone at the end of the sequence or add a Bb there for variation, you need to watch your're intonation on the lead guitar you are bending the notes out of tune as you play your finger placement is off, makes you sound like you haven't been playing for 17 years . Your Voice is your best asset . I suspect this is what you wanted all along.. a critique .As for the Bass line... Well I can't comment on that can I ?. Are you from California ?

12-08-2006, 02:43 PM
Hm, maybe the bass line didn't come through well on the mp3 version. I listened to it on the ProTracks version to review it myself before posting. (I actually wasn't looking for a review of the song; it needs lots of fixing up, most of the lead was improvised and patched, hence the intonation sucks.) The bass line came through fine there, although again it wasn't much to listen to. It was basically a single pattern repeated throughout, which may lead to it having not come through well.

12-08-2006, 02:56 PM
I can just about make it out and it is a step sequence that follows the chord progression right?

I actually think in this case it works quite well. But I would be tempted to pull back on the chords once the lead gets going and re-introduce the chords once the vocals come in And keep them basic, once strum will do. Fiddly strumming patterns never sound good recorded this way, to me it's always more powerful to reduce them to the absolute minimum you can get away with.

So the bass becomes more effective simply by being stand alone. Then it is good bass. Why not.

I know your not looking for critique but I would add just for info that might be helpful to you, or not, try to give individual instruments some space in the mix and use some judicious EQ and compression on the vocals to seperate the vocal harmonies.

I agree with Spino your voice is a good one but I wouldn't be so harsh on the guitar. I quite like that raw Crosby Stills Nash and Young vibe you've got going on that lead tone. Sure, it's a bit solid state but I like it none the less.I say that onyl becasue it may have been deliberate to get that kind of vibe. It reminds me of "Almost Cut My Hair" from "Deja Vu". Great lead tone for the song. Why not?

Overall a tad Led Zep maybe but therein lies the secret! Bring the bass to the front with some nice bass EQ bass boost and lose the chords during the lead breaks.

Old school, simple and will sound the plums.

12-08-2006, 02:57 PM
Hey Romp, listen to the bass bit in that last thing I sent you. You'll feel MUCH better about your bass work. In fact, I should post my keyboard and bass stuff to various bulletin boards so people can a) feel better, b) have something against which to contrast quality work.

12-08-2006, 03:02 PM
...just think a little more on the bass line and how you could embelllish.

But it ties in with the idea of losing the chords. You stick to the principal of hitting the root on the strong beat of the change right. But then in between you have all the time in the world in which to really go for it.

One idea would be an arpeggio based approach that brings you up and down to the next root at the right time.

Or maybe simple octaves in this context would work well.

Just keeping your song in my head and trying to hear different options.

It's staying with me that song you know....I like it!

12-08-2006, 03:10 PM
I can just about make it out and it is a step sequence that follows the chord progression right?

Yep, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E. (Spino, you kinda oversimplified the chord progression a bit, but I know what you're getting at.)

But I would be tempted to pull back on the chords once the lead gets going and re-introduce the chords once the vocals come in And keep them basic, once strum will do.

This is actually very similar to critiques of this song from other fine guitarists. I've been planning to re-record the whole thing for months, but I've been planning lots[ of stuff I haven't gotten around to. :o

So the bass becomes more effective simply by being stand alone.

So noted. It's just that I can "hear" runs in my head but I have trouble playing them on the fly (which is how I mostly play, not a lot of planning in my solos). My instructor suggested vocally humming the bass lines and then mimicking what I hummed, but on the bass. Sounded like a good idea, and I'm going to try it.

I know your not looking for critique but...

The mix on this song sucks, horribly. I'm not a recording engineer in the least, and absolutely hate mixing and mastering because I'm so awful at it. I know nothing about EQ or leveling or anything like that; everything I do is just pecking away at the features in my software that I only sorta understand. I'm hoping to learn more of that as I get more experience in studios and such, but your comments are 100% correct and warranted. That may be the big problem with my dissatisfaction with the bass, who knows?

Overall a tad Led Zep...

Just to note, that was intentionally obvious. I was looking for a Zeppelin-esque sound on this song, and it was inspired by songs like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You," works where the song ebbs and flows and follows chromatic lines. I really like that kind of stuff and it shows up in my compositions. Color me Wolfmother. :D

12-08-2006, 03:27 PM
Oh tell me about having planned loads of stuff I never do! It's my main fault in life I think:D

Yes, the advice about vocalising your lines and then transferring them to bass is a good one. It works too. You really use notes and sequences of notes that just left to the instrument alone you probably wouldn't have hit on.

I thought it must be deliberate (the LZ quote) and hey there's nothing wrong with showing your influences anyway.

One way of making it less obvious is to change the rhythm or tempo of the line and despite the fact that it then follows the same progression it sound completely different.

LOL, believe I think we all have trouble with mixing which is why we go to the pros to let them do it. (Koala, where are you?:D ) Hands up all the home recordists who haven't spent all night fiddling with Eq only to realise five hours later that all you've done is boost the same freeqs on every instrument and end up back where you started!

But if I may plug a little title:

"Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies"

A fine place to start you on the road to understanding mixing, compression and EQ and how it brings your song to life.

12-08-2006, 03:33 PM
Well, I'll take a look. I've found, however, that most of those "...for Dummies" books are anything but. They tend to be bible-thick terminology quizzes, but I guess that depends on who writes them. Apparently that publisher will let just about anyone stamp "...for Dummies" on their book.

Who's the author?

12-08-2006, 03:39 PM
Jeff Strong.

This ones actually quite good as it assumes you are a competent musician but not a producer and it all makes good sense. It certainly prompts you to want to seek out more in depth info.

Differences between shelf EQ and parametric EQ etc. all quite easy to understand.

12-08-2006, 10:12 PM
Oi Russ ! What was harsh ? I did'nt say anything harsh 'bout his Guitar-playing and if You know that He does'nt want to have a critique! Why did you give him one ? Also shelf ! Parametric.... EQ..... is this what they call... gear talk ? :D

12-08-2006, 10:27 PM

I just wasn't as harsh as you in terms of the guitar critique, that's not to say you in fact were too harsh.

As for gear, I'm really talking about the book hoping it helps.

Do books count as gear? This mod says no...today:D

12-08-2006, 11:05 PM
I did'nt say anything harsh 'bout his Guitar-playing

It's a bit of a hackneyed chord sequence


you are bending the notes out of tune


your finger placement is off


you sound like you haven't been playing for 17 years

Oh, OUCH!!

Are you from California ?



I mean, your critique was accurate and all, but it was pretty harsh. Even deservedly so, I would add. (Just callin' a spade a spade.) Which is why I wasn't looking for a critique; this piece isn't ready for critique.

I did get some valuable ideas for improving my bass playing, though, which is why I started this thread. So thanks to everyone for that! :)

Now, my wife is 9.5 months pregnant, the January '07 issue of Playboy arrived in my mailbox today, Pam Anderson is on the cover and... well... I gotta go.

12-09-2006, 12:50 PM
Oh! That ...I call that constructive criticism .If you put unfinished work on the Net for the World to listen to, what do you expect. :(

12-09-2006, 03:29 PM
Oh! That's harsh.;)

12-09-2006, 05:51 PM
It's a harsh cruel world gradually filling up with silicone .No place for sensitive souls. What about a guitar made out of Pammies discarded "bits" you know after her yearly refurb,* HS Guitars Yeah..that's pretty sick, but then... so is she. Have a nice day! .....but I really like California.. old bean ! :D

*Hardened Silicone

12-12-2006, 04:35 PM
I'm actually from Kentucky. If that matters. ;)

12-13-2006, 08:49 AM
I think we can be sure about one thing. They're both a long way from where Spino comes from.

The Trooper
12-13-2006, 07:51 PM
Generally, with my bass when I get a new song (that isn't already recorded, like a riff someone sends me), I think of the simple root note thing. Then I make a pattern with it (maybe a Harris-gallop or some other rythmn) and then I "decorate" it to make it sound better. Work down arpeggios, octaves, up arpeggios, sometimes I even go backwards or purposely play odd notes. For example, a friend of mine wrote a riff where the general pattern was "E EE" (in like a gallop form) then D A to finish off the bar. My bass riff went in an odd direction

E EE D DD A AA A E (the first 3 As are A#)

and it still sounded good. Another way of oding it is to do "melodic" bass and play a bassline centering around the roots notes but wandering off in the same key. I'll send you a MIDI extract of what I mean if you want.