Technique Is About Adapting
No one was physically born to play bass (or any instrument but voice for that matter). As a bass player you are adapting your hands and body to this musical instrument. A musical instrument is designed the way it is because of 1) the sound it needs to create, coupled with 2) the average human body in mind. The technique to play it lies somewhere in-between the two.
In my opinion, there is no single, correct way of playing the bass — only better and worse ways. Rigidly thinking there is only one way to play the bass can really stunt you as a bassist and crush the development of an original voice. Just because something works for one bassist doesn’t make it so for all of them.
Results of Bass Technique
While there are no “correct” ways of playing the bass guitar, what does exist are correct results of playing the bass guitar. It needs to sound and feel good. How you accomplish those results is up to you. If you find a way to achieve those results by throwing rocks at your bass, more power to you! (Maybe practice that with someone else’s bass first.)
Thinking about the results end of things gives you creative freedom to experiment. Try things your own way. Try things the way other successful bassists before you have.
Why do so many great bass players sound so different from one another? The most revered bassists rarely sound exactly like any other bassist you can point to. If you examine the bass technique of many of the greatest bass players, you will see each has a different approach than the other. Often times he or she has a wildly different approach. And, it is often this different approach that brought about his or her greatness or uniqueness.
If you look more closely at these great bassists you will notice there are a lot of common results from all of their different bass techniques. It is these results we need to pay attention to and figure out various ways to accomplish them — whether we copy the techniques of other bassists, or blaze our own path.
Studying bass technique is about examining the better and worse ways of producing good bass-playing results.
You should deliberately choose the bass techniques you use for the results they produce. A big mistake, especially for the self-taught, is to choose what comes easiest. The path of least resistance doesn’t always work so well. Some results are going to be hard to achieve. You’re going to have to work at it. When people listen to you play they don’t care how easy it is for you. They only care about the results of your bass playing. Does it sound good? That is what should determine the bass techniques you use.
The Goals of Bass Technique
In my opinion, these are the 4 main bass technique goals from which good bass technique will flow:
Goal #1: Avoiding Injury and Musician Health Problems
The most important goal of your bass technique is to avoid injuring your hands, back, ears, or anything else that may arrest your ability to play bass. You want to play bass for the rest of your life. Your bass technique must support this goal or you are doomed to a very short career.
Goal #2: Clarity and Good Tone
Each note you play should ring clearly with a full, pleasing tone. That means:
- No unwanted buzzing
- No unintentional muffled, or muted, notes
- No unwelcome open strings ringing in the background
- No unintentional harmonics, and
- No other accidentally produced extraneous noises
It is quite a tall order, but you have to learn to control all of these aspects of the bass guitar. Notice I say unintentional a lot here. These are all valid sounds the bass guitar can make. Make sure you are making them intentionally.
Goal #3: Efficiency/Economy
I tell students all the time I want them to be lazy when they play. You should use the least amount of effort possible to produce the desired results. This will help you play more quickly, more accurately, and more comfortably for longer periods of time.
Early on this is difficult. Your attention is divided and you’re just trying so hard to play something. With time and practice, things will become more and more effortless. But, you must develop a relaxed technique by consciously working on and thinking about it. You need to make a habit of being relaxed. It takes work to not work so much!
Goal #4: Accuracy
You need to develop accuracy with where you place your fingers, your tone, and your rhythm. It’s important to know exactly what is about to come out of your fingers. If you don’t know what to expect from your playing, you will lack confidence as you play. That lack of confidence will translate into some shaky bass playing.
Accuracy comes from a lot of patient, mindful practice. Early in your playing you will have a lot of problems with consistency. Time and experience are your greatest teachers.
About the Bass Technique Lessons
As I said earlier, there are better and worse ways of accomplishing all of these goals and results I’ve outlined. In the forthcoming bass technique lessons, I will show you ways I approach accomplishing these bass-playing goals and results. I’ve taught these techniques to hundreds of bass students with much success. Mainly, it is the logic behind each bass technique I want to convey. I don’t want you to take my word that these are the ways to play bass. They aren’t. They are just some ways that work pretty well for me and might for you. Apply and practice the techniques one-by-one and see if you experience the difference and effectiveness of each approach. If it works for you, use it. But, never stop looking for better ways! I highly encourage you to hunt high and low for different bass playing approaches and bass techniques. The bass guitar is only 50 years old or so. There are many things to be discovered. Practice a lot and always keep an open mind.