How To Play the Bass Guitar: Bass Playing Tips

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Playing bass

Were you made to be a bass player? Do you feel that urge to hold down the bottom and make people move to the music? Are you ready to get people onto the dance floor? Here are some ways to get started on electric bass. 

  1. Decide what type of bass you will play. There are many varieties. Many people start out with the standard four string, but you can also choose from a wide variety of extended-range instruments with five, six, seven or even more strings.
  2. Your bass should be comfortable to play. It should be of a manageable weight, and the neck should fit your hand well. If you're just beginning, this may be hard to determine; suffice it to say that the majority of people will be comfortable with the majority of four strings currently available on the market. Playing bass guitar is about more than just having a guitar that looks hip. You may notice that most of the basses in a music store are of a similar shape and size. This form is suitable to the widest variety of players. If you don't choose anything too radical, you're likely to find one that's suitable. You may want to ask an experienced friend to join you at the music store and impart her wisdom.
  3. Purchasing a used bass may have the advantage of costing less than a new version of the same model. If it's been played for several years, it may also mean that it's proven to be reliable. On the other hand, a used one may lack a warranty, and may have modifications that are unsuitable for beginners. This is another instance in which an experienced friend can be of assistance. If you're unsure, purchase from a trusted retailer with a good return policy. Another option is to rent or borrow an instrument.
  4. You may want to check the bulletin board at the music store to find a suitable teacher who can offer you playing tips and techniques. Be sure to have a conversation with any potential teacher before learning from them. Let him know your goals and aspirations, and ask how he plans to help you meet them. Ask about experience with the instrument. It may be helpful to ask for contact information of this person's current or former students. Some teachers will give one or two lessons for free to allow you to get a feel for their style and methods.

    A teacher isn't completely necessary. There are many excellent books and DVDs/videos available for beginners. However, it is extremely valuable to have someone who can evaluate your technique and offer suggestions tailored to your situation.

  5. Don't be discouraged if playing feelshow to play bass guitar awkward at first. Your body needs to get used to being used for laying down the low end. If you feel any pain in your hands and wrists, stop playing immediately. Bass playing is a physical activity, and many players have a basic warm-up routine that stretches the tendons and joints.
  6. Find a comfortable playing position. Ideally, your instrument should be in the same position whether you are playing standing (with the bass on a strap) or seated. Be sure that your wrists are as straight as possible. Avoid any extreme angles in either of your hands, as this causes strain and hinders your ability to play fluidly. Relaxation is the key. Do you know how the music feels when the bass is in the pocket? It sounds relaxed and completely natural. Strive to make your playing the same way.
  7. Now's the time to make a sound! Make sure that your bass is plugged into a cable, and the cable into the amp. Turn on the amp only after your instrument is plugged in.

    Start by playing an open string. There are several ways to pluck the string. You can use the tips of your fingers, your thumb, or a flat-pick. Each of these techniques yields a different tonality. You don't need to settle on just one way -- take some time to get used to all of them. We'll start with the tip of the index finger.

    You won't need to pull too hard on the string to make a sound. Think of the motion as brushing the tip of your finger across the string. In general, most of the motion comes from the second knuckle. Pluck through the string. Instead of plucking in an outward, horizontal direction, try to make your motion upward toward the ceiling.

  8. Once you've gotten the hang of this basic motion, you can tune your bass. You should do this before you play to ensure good sound during your sessions. Some people tune by ear, but it's much easier with an electronic tuner. On a bass with four strings, the notes are EADG from the lowest (thickest) string to the highest (thinnest) string.
  9. Now you might start working on your fretting hand. When you press down on the metal fret, you're changing the length of the string, thus altering its pitch. The thumb of your fretting hand should be on the back of the neck, not hanging over the top. Your fretting fingers will be slightly arched. Press on the string with the tip of your finger, rather than the flat part. It might take some work to determine the amount of pressure you'll need. Don't pinch or press down too hard -- use only as much effort as you need to make a clean note.
  10. You now have a basic grasp of the techniques needed to play the bass. Happy grooving!


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