Definition: a 'Pro' is anyone who can make money playing music.
Some advice: get a small music dictionary (a good pamphlet type is called,
"Condensed Pocket Dictionary of Musical Terms," compiled and edited by Oscar
Coon and published by Carl Fischer, Inc., in New York. See the Appendix. Also,
get a couple of videos of Bass for Beginners. One distributor of videos for
musicians is listed in the Appendix. Also, some good mail order catalogs to get
are from American Musical Supply and Musician's Friend, see the Appendix. Just
call and ask them to send you one. Pick up an issue of "Bass Player" magazine at
your local magazine and book store. Once you have a longer term interest in
playing the bass, get a subscription to the magazine. Another good magazine is
About basses: If your hands are small and your fingers just don't reach,
can't span four frets without having to jump all over the place, you might want to
consider a bass with a smaller scale (string length). For example, a regular sized
bass has what is called a 34-inch scale. There are smaller basses, ones with a 30-
inch scale and even smaller. These all make the same sounds as the regular size
especially when they're played through an amplifier as are all electric basses so I'd
recommend trying smaller ones at a local music store. There's also a much
smaller and incredibly unique bass with unusual latex rubber strings which is said
to have a really good sound. It's called the Ashbory made by DeArmond. It's very
small (an 18-inch scale) and extremely lightweight. But you have to have a lot of
nerve to play it with other musicians because their teasing will never end. There's
also the Fernandez bass called the Nomad with a 25 1/2 inch scale. Very nice.
I have an Epiphone EB-O with a 30-inch scale and a single pickup and it
sounds excellent! I've played Fender Precision basses and Jazz basses with 34
inch scales. They are the 'standards' of the Rock music industry because their
sound is very 'punchy.' But I never really liked them very much. I just played them
because other musicians wanted me to use them. I recommend trying lots of
basses at a music store and go with your own feelings about what feels best to you.
It's better to have an instrument that's comfortable and easy to play rather than the
biggest, baddest block of wood with strings around. Also, as you develop better
and better technique you'll be able to make any bass sound good.
If you don't feel confident that your interest in music and bass playing will last,
you might consider buying a cheapo electric bass or renting one at your local music
store instead of buying. I would not recommend buying or renting any other
instrument that's cheap because when you are learning, a cheap instrument will
hurt your learning process very much. However, I make an exception with basses.
Cheapo basses can be found in the mail order catalogs or at your local music
store. Buy one whose description catches your interest for around a hundred
dollars. It won't sound bad at all. The difference in value between the sound of a
thousand dollar bass and the sound of a hundred dollar bass is nowhere near nine
hundred dollars. This isn't true for any other instrument.
Tune Up. Buy a bass pitch pipe or electronic tuner. A pitch pipe or a pitch
instrument is a device with a number of holes and tiny chambers, like a harmonica,
that you blow into to produce sounds. These sound chambers are designed to
produce certain pitches which we call notes. By listening to these pitches and the
notes on your bass and adjusting the tuning pegs on your bass to tighten or loosen
the strings you make the notes produced by the bass equal to the pitches produced
by the pitch instrument. When they are equal your bass is said to be 'in tune.' An
electronic tuner does the same except the tune up process is not audible. The
display on the electronic tuner has a gauge which displays the pitch of the bass
string being plucked or picked. A digital tuner displays a readout of numbers
which correspond to the pitch of the string in question. When the needle on the
gauge of an electronic tuner reaches the midpoint or the numbers in the readout of
a digital tuner become equal to a specified number which corresponds to the
desired pitch, then the string is said to be 'in tune.' Of course you can follow a
similar process using your ear to judge when the pitches of your strings are equal
to the specified notes of another musical sound source which is fixed, like a piano
or organ or xylophone.
Strings. Do get a set of new strings if you rent a bass. Also get someone at
the music store to 'set it up' (set up the bass) for you as part of the deal.
Set up - Make sure the new strings are correctly adjusted for height (bridge
adjustment) and that the pickup(s) are height adjusted also. Also, the bridge
ought to be adjusted so that the notes on all four strings at the twelfth fret
sound exactly an octave of the open strings' notes. And have the set up
person make sure that the neck angle is okay and results in the strings
lying pretty much the same distance from the neck over their entire length.
Of course the neck ought to be straight. This is a set up. Make sure this is
done correctly because trying to learn on an instrument whose notes are
hard to play or sound somewhat out of tune is an exercise in frustration
and can doom your efforts. On the other hand, an instrument that is set
up correctly is a pleasure to play and listen to.
Striking the strings. Pluck with your first two (or more) fingers (you might
also use your thumb) or pick with a plectrum or pick - you might want to get a
variety of types of picks (if you want to use them). One important type is a thick
felt pick. Other common pick materials are plastic, metal, wood.
Amplifiers. They're responsible for most of your sound. They're the last point
in the electronic signal chain and have the most controls for tailoring your final
sound. It's common for bassists to spend two to five times as much money on their
amp as on their bass. The manufacturers Fender, Ampeg and (mail order) Carvin
have excellent bass amps in varying sizes (size and weight, number of speakers).
Get one with wheels. These things are really heavy.
If you don't already have an amp and just want some rinky dink for now, until
you find out whether or not you have a longer term interest you can buy a tiny
'learning' amp for peanuts at your local music store or from Musician's Friend mail
order catalog - see Appendix. Maybe it'll have only a six or eight inch speaker and
hardly any controls but that's fine for the next month. You might also be able to
Speakers. What the bass players in the videos say about speakers is accurate.
Fifteen inch speakers give deeper tones than 12s and 10s. Tens are very 'tight'
sounding, succinct, and producers of well-defined tones. Twelves fall somewhere
in the middle. I prefer 10s myself. Of course the ideal bass amp would have two
to four 10 inch speakers as well as one or two 15s and throw in a small horn for
sounding the highest tones that you don't even hear very powerfully, each note's
harmonics, see definition, below. But you might not be able to afford that at first
or maybe you just don't want to lug around such a beast. In that case a smaller
amp with two 10s or 12s or a single 15 would do nicely. Ampeg makes a good
sounding amp with a single 15. Some of your sound gets picked up by the
microphones, too, and goes into the P.A. system so that helps a bit when you're on
stage. In more upscale places you can send your bass signals directly into the
mixing console (if they have a house mixing person and some equipment) with the
aid of a 'direct box' or DI. I've seen some people using an array of 8 inch speakers,
too. I like combos of 10s and 15s the best myself. I've used 18s and they
definitely have their uses when you want to have really deep sounding tones. I've
even used a 30-inch woofer with a 400 amp power amp, actually a little
underpowered - made my stomach curdle. Definitely a thrill ! But way too big and
heavy to consider seriously no matter how light the cabinet. You can't really use a
small cabinet for it. The one I had was about as big as a refrigerator!
Definition: harmonics: partial tones or overtones which accompany a simple
Definition: tone: a musical sound of definite pitch.
Definition: pitch: the highness or lowness of a sound, the tuning of an instrument.
Definition: tuning: to be in harmony.
Definition: harmony: the doctrine (theory) of chords. Harmony is 'concord' as
contrasted with 'discord.' Harmony is also the concord which follows a discord.
Definition: harmonize: to make concordant, to sound well together as defined
by our ears and in the thousand year old plus tradition of western music (which our
ears have become through a lifetime of exposure).
Definition: chord: any group of three or more notes sounded together.
Definition: concord: consonance - those parts which harmonize well with each
Definition: discord: dissonance - inharmonious, discordant.
Effects. You don't really need any. But if you want to have them, at first try a
(cheap) multi-effects device with tons of effects built in. That way you can try
many effects to hear which ones you can't live without and later you can get more
expensive specialized single effect devices. An inexpensive multi-effects device for
bass is made by Zoom. The most useful effects for bass are compression and EQ
(equalization - frequency isolation and boosting or decreasing).
In the following lessons I concentrate mostly on what notes to play and not
very much on techniques. Techniques are endless. You learn them by listening,
and talking to and watching and playing with other musicians. In order to be able
to play with other musicians you must first learn how to contribute something. I
suggest that the thing or the skill or talent that you offer is knowing what notes to
play. This is my approach because I think that it's a lot harder to learn what notes
to play than it is to learn techniques, hence my choice of this approach, which is
very concrete and not subjective as is technique.
However, a few words about how and when to play the notes.
If you know what notes to play, just how do you play them? Or, "So what if I
know that I have to play a C note when everyone else plays a C chord or is playing
in the key of C. What do I do with that C note?" Well, you can learn how to play
the notes in many different ways and from many different sources. Here are some
An important thing to do is to WATCH bass players and guitar players, too.
See how they pluck or pick and coordinate your eyes and ears to understand how
long they hold the string down which creates the duration of the sound of the note.
How do they pluck or pick their strings? Do they mute their strings? Where do
they mute? There are lots of observations of how to play the notes that you can
make and apply to your own playing.
When do I play the notes? Here are some ways to learn when to play the notes.
Become an avid listener. Listen to your favorite music genre as well as other
genres in which you have no interest. Listen to the placements of the bass notes
as you tap your foot or your fingers. Count the beats to yourself. They ought to
be mostly repetitive counts of fours or threes (mostly fours for rock music, ie., 1,
2, 3, 4 ). As you're counting, pay attention to just where in your counts each
of the notes falls. This will give you all the information you need to begin to
understand when to play the notes. Sometimes you'll have to break your counts
down into half counts. Counts = time. What's time? More or less, just counting
beats in repetition. It isn't so important right now to know the mathematics of the
divisions of time or to memorize any of this, just understand that by tapping your
foot or fingers and listening to music and the bass notes, you can get a feel for
when the notes are played within the simple beats or time counts.
It's also a good idea to play with other people and ask them for tips or flat out ask,
"Just how do you think I should play this?" Or, "Play it for me."
It's good to copy the bass lines from recorded music. Just copy. After a while
you'll begin to pick up a feel for rhythms and when to play the notes within the
rhythms or repetitive sequences of sounds or beats (see counts, above).
What's rhythm? Cadence.
Definition: cadence: the repetitive rise and fall of sound. The repetitive
emphasis of one sound among several.
The rest of this manual will give you the information about what notes to play.
Use your videos. You've purchased several beginning bass videos? Very
important !! They usually won't give you much information on what notes to play
but they are excellent to view and listen to how and when the notes are played !
Some comments about videos: in some videos, the player will be using a four-
string bass, in others a five or a six-string bass. Five or six strings look confusing
when comparing it to your four-string, but as the bassist in the video will say, just
watch the inner four strings (in the case of a video with a bass player using a six-
string bass) or the upper four strings (in the case of a video with a bass player
using a five-string bass). These will be the only strings that the bassist will use in
the video if it truly is a beginning video. Note: a four-string bass is all you will
ever need or have to learn about because: the high string on a six-string is too
high for playing in real life - it brings notes well up into the guitar's and piano's
range which only conflict with those instruments and muddy up the band's sound.
Usually the highest note that you will ever use is the note, E, on the G string at the
ninth fret on the four string bass and you probably won't go that high too often for
the above reason. As in some videos, occasionally you might like to challenge
yourself by harmonizing some strings here and there but you still won't usually
need to go above that high E and will rarely harmonize two or more notes anyway
in the reality of playing with other musicians (ninety five percent of your basic real
time bass playing, on stage or in a recording studio), again, due to the above
reasons about conflicting with the sounds of midrange instruments or creating a
'muddy' sound. This is especially true when you are making recordings. Note:
sometime in the future you might get a desire to go lower, in which case you might
buy a five-string bass. But a five-string bass is hardly ever necessary and there are
some problems with distortion when one gets into a fifth, lower string. The four-
string bass is designed very well to fit snugly right at the lowest end of the sonic
spectrum that's used in western (non-Asian) music structure.
This booklet presents basics of playing the Bass which probably were not
mentioned in the basics-of-bass videos and which will enable you to understand
what other musicians are talking about, converse with them in musical terminology
and then play with any other musicians on an equal basis. If you learn and practice
these lessons for just an hour or so each day, seven days a week for four weeks,
you'll be able to play with almost any rock musicians or groups of rock musicians
that you'll run across. Once you learn the last lessons you'll be able to play with
any rock musicians on earth. I'm not kidding. Just learn and play these lessons for
an hour a day and listen to the average amount of rock music that you listen to
every day, make the connections between what you've learned and the music that
you listen to and you'll feel confident. Confidence will take you places.
read the SECTION-OF-THE-DAY, day 1, day 2, day 3, etc . . . and apply what
you've read to your instrument each day for an hour. If you feel like it, or if you
have more time left or if you haven't yet used up the hour, reread the same
material and repeat the applying of that same material to your bass. Do not do
more material until tomorrow. I repeat, do not do more until tomorrow. Let the
short bits of info, the small amounts of material that you learned today sit overnight
in your head. Think about it. Picture it in your mind. Dream about it. But do not
do more than that one section for that day. Be patient. In one month you'll have
absorbed an enormous amount of knowledge. Be patient.
Read every sentence succinctly and in detail; read hard. Concentrate.
Don't let a SINGLE paragraph go by without completely understanding it even if
you have to slow up your progress that day. Don't skim anything ! Do not skim.
Take a break if you find yourself skimming. If you notice that you're skimming take
a break even if you have just started reading !
Also, there are fourteen Fingering Techniques at the back of the
Appendix. Learn one of them every two days. Learn one on the first day of
a two-day cycle and rehearse it on the second day. On the third day learn another
fingering technique. On the fifth day learn another . . . etc.
Thoroughly understand the following two paragraphs:
The sign # means 'sharp' or one note or half-step higher (more on half-steps in
lesson 2). The sign, 'b,' means 'flat' or one note or half-step lower.
Our western music is constructed using groups of twelve tones or notes, the
lowest and highest tones sound alike and are called, 'octaves.' The twelve notes
are labeled as the first seven letters of the alphabet, A to G, and some notes have
sharps (#) or flats ( b ) indicating the next higher or lower note. A, A# or Bb, B,
C, C# or Db, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, G# or Ab, and A, the 'octave' of the first note.
This series of notes can start on any letter and the notes just wrap around at the
letter, G, starting in again at A. For example: start at C: C, C# or Db, D, Eb,
E, F, F#, G, G# or Ab, - wraparound - A, A# or Bb, B, C.