Converting from Guitar to Bass

Guitar players often think of the bass as nothing more than a really big guitar with less strings; a cinch to learn for anyone who already knows how to play guitar.

Ya...not so much.

Bass playing is its own skill set, every bit as difficult to learn as any other instrument. As a guitarist who has spent time trying to convert to bass, here are few of the physical and conceptual differences I have discovered:

1. Guitarist tend to fret notes with their finger tips. Bassists tend to fret with their finger pads.

2. Your "picking" hand is now a percussive instrument. Play the strings that way. Not necessarily slapping and popping (though that is one viable method), but just in the way you approach the strings, rhythmically and physically.

3. Bass is inherently a noisy instrument. Make it work for you. Get those noises happening in a rhythmic way.

4. It's the bassist that decides what kind of song the band is playing. If you lay down a root/five country bass line, no amount of distortion or weedly-weedly from the guitarist is gonna change the fact that the band is playing a country tune. Ditto a driving 8ths rock bass line, walking blues bass line, etc. With great power, however, comes great responsibility. Learn the characteristic bass styles of various genres, so you can "speak the language" that is appropriate.

5. Corollary to #4: many will say "give the 2 and 4 to the drummer". This is fantastic advice for "groove" oriented music - funk, reggae, et al. - but it isn't a hard and fast rule, and doesn't work for every genre. Know the languages, and speak what is appropriate for the song.

6. Many musicians are under the false impression that a musician's job is to make sound. They become uncomfortable in silence. For no musician is this idea more detrimental than for a bassist. Playing bass is all about putting notes where they need to be, and creating holes where they don't; big holes, little holes, all kinds of holes. (holes on the 2 and the 4, for example, allow the snare to poke through, and that is what can make a song groove so hard...see?). Don't be afraid to let silence, big or small, fulfill its purpose.

7. Enough can't be said about how the bass and kick drum work to together. The bass gives the kick drum its melodic voice. Think of bass like this: the drums are a rhythmic instrument, keys and guitars are harmonic instruments, the bass is the bridge between them.

8. With subtle changes to the bass line here and there, a good bass player can make us guitar players look way more interesting that we really are. The second time through a repeating riff or a song's second verse are a perfect examples of places where a bassist can make a guitar player look like he is playing something new, when he really isn't.


Anonymous said...

You also have to grow the size of your ego when converting to bass. Guitarist's egos are large enough as it is but the ego of a bassist is just downright scary. Bassists are extremely full of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Previous comment must have been made by a guitarist that was shown up by a bassist.

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