100 Pro Tips To Improve Your Bass Playing

I get a lot of questions on how to do various things on the bass guitar but the reality is that there are many areas that connect to make you a great musician. This guide contains one hundred tips that will make you a better player. Save this post, give it a good read and get ready to become a better bass player!

Make sure to download my free Bass Guitar Resources ebook as it expands on some of these ideas and contains more shapes, patterns, scales, chords, and arpeggios.

 

1. Notes In Three Places

Effortless playing across the neck involves being absolutely sure where all the notes are. These three points are easy to learn and will act as a springboard to locate surrounding notes.

How to learn notes on the bass guitar

The open strings (Every Alsatian Dog Growls) are the same as the notes on the 12th fret. They’re one octave apart. A note on the 5th fret is the same as the open string next to it.

Related lesson: 3 Points On The Fretboard You Should Know

 

2. Know ALL The Notes

From there, you can start to piece together all the note names.

All notes on the bass

The best way to understand this is to learn the piano keyboard.

Related lesson: How To Find Any Note On The Bass Guitar

 

3. Memorise Five Octave Patterns

Octaves are played a lot on the bass and many scales, arpeggios and patterns are organised around them. Learn these patterns and you’ll easily locate notes all over the bass fretboard.

These are five useful octave patterns

Related lesson: Very Useful OCTAVE Patterns

 

4. Think Patterns

The bass fretboard is a highly geometric environment where shapes allow you to play familiar sounds all over the neck. You saw the octave patterns in the previous tip. Every other interval has two or three patterns associated with it. Learn them, connect the sound they make to the shape and you will make complete sense of the fretboard.

Patterns On The Bass Guitar

 

5. Focus On Technique

If you’re a beginner, the biggest barrier to playing is going to be your inability to manipulate the bass how you want. You get over this with good technique. Complete freedom of expression can only come if you have total control over your instrument and that comes from focusing on technique. Not to the detriment of other skills, of course, which will only serve to enhance your musicianship.

Related lesson: Bass Guitar Technique: Easy But Useful Single String Exercise

 

6. Hold Your Bass Properly

You want your bass to feel like an extension of your body; something you are very relaxed with. Angle the neck slightly up to the ceiling and away from your body so that your fretting hand has access across the entire neck. Make sure you play with good posture and that you breathe regularly and deeply.

How To Hold the Bass Properly

 

7. Keep Your Fretting Hand Wrist Straight

This ensures that you don’t injure yourself now or in the future. Curl your fingers, play on the fingertips and keep your thumb behind the neck, roughly in line with your second finger. This straightens the wrist and takes the pressure of the joints and tendons. You only need a light touch when you play so don’t press into the frets too hard.

Fretting Hand Wrist For Bass Guitar

 

8. Don’t Grab The Neck

Lot’s of beginners hold the bass neck with their fretting hand so it doesn’t fall away from them. You need that hand to fly around the fretboard. Instead, have the bass in contact with your body at three points: your leg where the cutaway of the bass is, your chest where the upper bout is, and the top of the body where your plucking hand wrist wrests (don’t say that too quickly). This means there is absolutely no need to grab the neck and you can now play faster and with more accuracy and efficiency.

How To Hold The Bass Guitar

 

9. Play With A Light Touch

The pressure you need to fret a note without it buzzing is much less than you think. Try it. Fret a note anywhere very lightly at first and observe the point at which you get a good sound. Now deliberately press progressively much harder until your finger starts hurting a bit. Notice that all that extra pressure did nothing good to the quality of the tone. That first light touch is what you want to aim for. You will play faster, more accurately, for longer and sounding much better with that touch.

 

10. Learn To Play Fingerstyle

Most bass playing involves plucking with your index and middle fingers. Start with this and then you can always incorporate more advanced styles including using three fingers, classical style chordal fingerstyle, and strumming.

 

11. Cut Your Fingernails

Jaco used to meticulously cut and file his nails to maintain the tone he got from his fingertips. Nathan East used to keep a bit of nail exposed so he could angle his finger slightly to get a plectrum-like sound. Your fingernails play an important part in your tone so keep them short.

 

12. Do Use a Plectrum

Ignore the plectrum vs. fingers debate. It’s a non-starter. They’re both different things that create different vibes, tones and outcomes. Learn to do both. If you think playing a plectrum is just for rock players, listen to Bobby Vega. It’s a strength to be able to create different textures.

Related lesson: How To Use A Plectrum On Bass Guitar

 

13. Learn To Slap

Fingers, plectrum, and slap: These are three main bass techniques and It’s useful to be on familiar terms with all of them. You don’t need to use them all and it’s not mandatory. Slap is just another tool in the toolbox. There are many ways to slap from simple funk grooves to complex Victor Wooten lines and some of the best slap lines are simple ones.

Related lesson: Bass Line Breakdown: Forget Me Nots (Freddie Washington)

 

14. Use One-Finger-Per Fret Technique…

This is where you line up the first finger of your fretting hand on a fret and then place fingers two, three, and four on consecutive frets after it. This gives you a fingering system for most parts of the bass neck.

one finger per fret bass guitar technique

 

15 … But Also Extended Fingering

Stretching a finger out of the one-finger-per-fret shape opens up the fretboard. It gives you more notes to play in a given section of the neck and is especially useful for playing three notes on a string. This lends itself well to fast single-note runs.

3 note per string patterns

 

16. Don’t Forget Your Little Finger

Many players start off with the little finger as an afterthought because it feels uncomfortable to use it. Think about it. Not using one of your four fingers reduces your efficiency by 25%. Practise using that pinkie finger and before you know it, it will be as strong as the other fingers. You then won’t be at all hindered in the future when you want to play, for example, hammer-ons in legato technique.

If you’re in first position (first finger lining up at the first fret) then use your little finger on the 3rd fret. This reduces the stretch in your hand and straightens the wrist. The Little finger is also useful when playing octaves.

Related lesson: The Most Useful Exercise For Bass Guitar Ever?

 

17. Keep Your Volume, Tone & Speed Consistent

It doesn’t matter what technique you use. Make sure there are no huge variations in volume, tone, and speed when you play. There should be no difference in these three factors when you pluck using the index and middle fingers, when you use alternate picking or when you slap and pop.

Related lesson: Bass Guitar Fingerstyle Technique: Left And Right Hand Checklist

 

18. Figure Out Basslines By Ear

With TAB sites and YouTube channels (like my own!) telling you how to play everything, there is a whole generation of bass players with weak ears because they never work on them. It’s hard at first but find a simple bassline and split it up into tiny bits and work those sections out by ear. You’ll quickly improve. Do this every day and you will soon be absorbing fills, solos, and basslines.

 

19. Create Your Own Basslines

The more you use music theory to decipher your favourite basslines, the easier it will be to come up with your own lines. It’s not a magical thing that only the chosen few get to do. Basslines are made up of scales, triads, and arpeggios with a sprinkling of rhythm. Recognise these elements and you will be able to create music as a chef would do with random ingredients.

Related lesson: Pro Tips To Make Your Own Basslines Up

 

20. Note Length Is King

You can make a bassline come to life by altering the length of the notes you play. A funk line might not sound right if your notes are too long. It’ll sound flabby and loose. Conversely, playing a ballad with short, clipped notes might not let the line breath. Note length is related to your sense of groove, feel, where you place the notes in the beat and the control you have over the instrument. Pay attention to your note lengths.

 

21. Use Slow Down Software

Yes, using your ear is very important and you should rely on it for most of your transcribing and figuring out. However, sometimes there are passages that you just can’t catch. Software like Transcribe! allows you to slow down, loop, EQ and, well… transcribe music.

 

22. Practise Ear Training

Since the notes in basslines are constructed from scales, arpeggios, intervals, and triads, it helps to be able to identify the sound of these things. You will get to the point where you will instantly recognise bits of basslines. The next tip gives you a good way to learn intervals. For scales, aim to be able to sing or hum them away from the bass.

 

23. Learn Intervals

Ear training starts with memorising intervals:

learn bass guitar intervals to easily work out basslines

Related lesson: Making Music Using Intervals

 

24. Get In Tune

Before a recording session, rehearsal, practice, or any time you pick up a bass ever….tune your bass. Get yourself a digital tuner that clips to the back of the headstock and tune regularly. This is such an easy thing to overlook but no one wants to hear out of tune playing. Also, know how to tune from a piano or by using the harmonics at the 5th and 7th frets.

Bass guitar clip on tuner

 

25. Play With Drones

A drone is a long continuous note. Used in practice, they make playing intervals and scales much more musical sounding. They give you a reference point when notes change and your ears get used to these patterns.

Related lessons: Drones (includes a free download of 12 drones so you can practise in all keys).

 

26. Set Up A Practice Zone

Create a sanctuary where you can go and play with no distractions. Have your journal, manuscript, laptop, pedals, amp or whatever you use ready and set up so you can start playing with minimal fuss. Take your bass out of its case so it’s ready to be picked up and played in an instant. Remove all barriers to getting up and practising.

Music practice

 

27. Develop A Practice Ritual

It’s no good learning anything if you can’t reinforce and build on it. This is where regular practice comes in. Make it a part of your lifestyle and be serious about it. This will be the one habit that can make any of your musical dreams come true.

Related lesson: How To Develop And Keep A Music Practice Routine

 

28. You’re In Control

The best practice routine is the one you stick to. How good you want to get is largely down to you. Yes, natural talent is always a bonus but becoming a really good bass player is about working hard over and over again. You get to decide how important it is to you and how much time you are going to dedicate to it. Sacrifices often have to be made to reach a high standard and it’s within your control to use your time wisely. You can live without hours of TV.

Related lesson: How To Improve Your Bass Playing In The Quickest Time

 

29. Patience, Grit & Determination

You’ll need all three on your musical journey. Roadblocks and setbacks abound so trust in your practice routine and keep going. Enjoy the process and you will avoid frustration. So much of becoming great at something is not giving up.

 

30. Focus Deeply

Make practice time sacred. Switch off your phone and disable notifications, turn off the TV, stop browsing Facebook. You can get a lot done in a very short period of time if you focus deliberately and with full concentration on the task in hand. Cal Newport wrote a great book on this subject called Deep Work.

Related lesson: 4 Habits Of Successful Musicians

 

31. Practice Checklist

Know what you intend to do when you practise. Having a clear game plan means you won’t aimlessly cycle around the same old riff you’ve known for months. Start with something technical, then something you need to work on, then use the rest of your time to explore and play.

How To Hold The Bass Guitar

Related Lesson: Bass Guitar Practice Checklist

 

32. Aim For Consistency

In your practice and in your playing. The more you pick up your bass and practice deliberately, the better you will get. Furthermore, strive for consistency and accuracy in your playing by getting a tiny bit better each practice session. This might mean playing faster or making fewer mistakes. Use a practice journal or notebook to log your progress. This will provide momentum, motivation, and give you a place to write all your ideas down.

Related lesson: 11 Principles Of Music Practice

 

33. Don’t Practise Mistakes

Be honest with yourself and be on the lookout for any mistakes or shortcomings in your playing. Every time we learn something, myelin is laid down in our brains and neural pathways strengthen. This works for us and against us depending on what we allow ourselves to learn.

 

34. Don’t Practise What You Already Know

A lot of people just rehash what they can already do. This leads to ruts, stagnation and a lack of improvement. By all means, sharpen your sword and keep what you know fresh in your mind. Make sure that once you have cracked something that you move on to the next thing on your list (make a list of all the things you dream of being able to play or learn).

 

35. Make A Playlist Of Your Favourite Songs

If you have Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music or any streaming service you can create a playlist. Find your favourite bands, songs, bass players and basslines and organise them into one playlist. This is the music you’re going to learn how to play (preferably by ear…). My current playlist:

 

36. Learn Your Lineage

There’s a line that goes straight back to the first electric bass players. Monk Montgomery, James Jamerson, Carole Kaye, Duck Dunn and hundreds of others started out with a Fender Precision and here we are now not even a hundred years on. The instrument is relatively young and by knowing the pioneers and major players of each genre, you create a picture can be an endless source of ideas and inspiration.

Related lesson: Awesome Bass Players

 

37. Learn Something Difficult

Whenever you feel yourself plateauing and you feel you’re in a bit of a rut, browse your playlist and pick something that you can’t play. Choose a small section and get to work on it. You’ll get a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction that will spark your passion again. When you feel uncomfortable, you know you’re onto something.

Related lesson: Learn The Everybody Dance Bass Guitar Riff (Bernard Edwards – CHIC)

 

38. Record Yourself Playing

Doing this places a magnifying glass over your playing, exposing all the flaws present that you didn’t notice in the moment. This also develops your timing if you play to a click (which is basically a metronome).

Related lesson: Studio Tour- (For Remote Bass Guitar Recording)

 

39. Focus on Groove, Timing and Tone

There are three things your bandmates and other musicians want from you and they’re all in the subheading above. Groove is the life force of bass playing, your timing supplies the groove and your tone transports your sound. Get these things right and you can play the simplest lines ever and they will feel and sound amazing.

 

40. Go To Gigs

Going to gigs is fun. Its also a place to meet musicians, talk shop, and see how top musicians do the thing you want to do. Going to gigs is a form of practice that will also inspire and motivate you.

 

41. Get Lessons

We live in the Information Age and you can learn a lot from guides like this one. At some point though, your learning can dramatically accelerate through lessons. This can be on Skype or from a local player. A good teacher can identify your shortcomings and give you ways to improve. Paying a teacher should also motivate you as you want results from parting with your hard-earned cash.

Skype Bass Lessons

 

42. Use A Metronome

Or drum machine or – better still – real (and good) drummer. Sloppy, inaccurate bass playing makes a band sound terrible. You can fix these timing issues by working on your groove and timing. A metronome can really help.

Related lesson: 7 Metronome Exercises For Bass Guitar To Work On Your Timing And Groove

 

43. Work On Your Shuffle

Shuffle time is found a lot in blues and is sometimes called swing in jazz. It occurs when there is an underlying triplet feel, and two eight notes are felt like two tied eighths and one eighth from a triplet. Learn to nail this feel.

Shuffle or Swing Rhythm:Feel

Related lesson: 5 Examples Of Different Feels On The Bass Guitar

 

44. Play In Odd Meters

Meter refers to the subdivision of beats within a bar and is represented by time signatures. 4/4 is the most common but you should familiarise yourself with odd meters like 7/4, 6/8, and 12/8. Loads of songs and styles feature different meters so the more you know the better. There are only a few that you’ll see over ad over again.

Related lesson: The Magic Of Learning From Different Musical Styles & Genres

 

45. To Play Fast Slow Down

This sounds very Mr. Myagi and it is. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to try and play fast before securing the foundations. You will only reinforce errors if you continue that way. Instead, slow down to a manageable tempo and build up speed from that point. Crank up the speed gradually and make sure there are no slips or inaccuracies.

Related lesson: How To Play Fast On The Bass Guitar

 

46. Never Stop Learning

Be humble and ask questions. Having an open mind and a thirst for knowledge will sustain your journey as a musician. If you’re lucky, it will last a lifetime and you will never run out of things to learn. The best musicians are always learning even into old age. It keeps your mind young as well as you motivated and fascinated in the beauty of music.

 

47. Take A Break

There is such a thing as over-practising and getting burnt out by music. This happens to anyone in any field when they overdo it. This is pretty rare for most people but if you feel like you’re in this state then take a break. Go on holiday and don’t practice, take a walk, go out with friends. Do something different and non-musical. Sometimes pressing the reset button works wonders for creativity and reinvigoration.

 

48. Find Inspiration From Non-Musical Sources

Cooking, sports, debate, language learning, psychology, writing. These are a few areas where the top practitioners give us musicians huge inspiration. Whether it’s a chef coming up with unusual ingredients for a recipe or a coach formulating training sessions, if you look around you will find so many things that will spark ideas.

 

49. Play A Groove At 45 BPM

This is a fantastic discipline to improve your inner clock. Set a metronome to 45 BPM and choose a line you know. now play it trying to nail the beats. It’s hard. To increase the challenge, feel the click on different beats. Do this a lot and then prepare to groove HARD.

 

50. Understand Beat Placement

There are levels to every game and playing in time is a basic but vital foundation. The beat isn’t a fixed point and musicians can place notes slightly in front (or ahead) of the beat, behind it or right on it. There are degrees between these points. Being aware of this will allow you to create different feels by thinking about where you are playing in relation to the beat. This is a fascinating topic and one every bass player should be aware of.

Very simply put, playing ahead adds excitement, playing behind gives you a relaxed feel and playing on the beat sounds tight and metronomic.

Ahead: Stewart Copeland’s drumming

On: Electronic music

Behind: Pino’s playing on Voodoo

 

51. Music Theory Can Change Your Life

Many people regard music theory as something that is too difficult or think that it will stifle their creativity and soul. Complete nonsense. It will if you play without feel, groove, and great timing. Blending different musical skills together creates the whole package and music theory is a big part.

Theory In A Nutshell - Scales, triads, arpeggios and chords

 

52. Learn Scales

Scales make up the building blocks of music. All they are are collections of notes with different patterns between the notes. The simple formulae create different sounds, colours and – most importantly – emotions and moods.

Related lesson: 4 Common Scales For Bass Players

 

53. Play In All Keys

Pop and rock friendly keys (due primarily to the open strings that guitarists and bass players enjoy using) are E, A, and a few others. In jazz and many other styles, you will need to know how to play songs in all keys. It also makes composing easier and identifying modes, chords, and harmony in general.

Relative major and minor scales

 

54. Learn Triads

Triads come from scales – the first, third, and fifth notes create them. Loads of basslines are just triads played with some rhythm.

The 4 bass guitar triads

Related lesson: How To Learn And Use Triads On Bass Guitar

 

55. Learn Arpeggios

Arpeggios – or chord tones – add notes to simple triads. Between scales, triads, and arpeggios, bass players have the ingredients they need to create a bassline. Of course, you need tone, rhythm, melody, and other devices to bring it to life but they’re so important and relatively easy to grasp. Arpeggios are used a lot in blues and jazz.

bass guitar arpeggios

Bass Guitar Music Theory: The 7 Arpeggios From C Major

 

56. Bass Chords

Played together at the same time, triads and arpeggios create chords. They’re not played much on bass in band settings but they sound really cool and can help you to come up with songs and basslines.

Related lesson: Fingerstyle (chords, fills, bass lines)

 

57. Harmonise A Scale

A scale gives you a set of triads, arpeggios and chords, all of them closely related. This gives you a set of related musical material which musicians use to make songs. This is hugely important so make sure you learn this.

Related lesson: Guide To Chord Progressions

 

58. Join A Band

People improve when they are accountable to others. If you stand to look stupid in front of others then you’ll do the work. Joining a band will put all your skills to the test and quickly reveal improvements you didn’t know you needed. Don’t think that you’re not ready now. You are. You’ll be slightly rubbish then you’ll get better. Go for it.

 

59. Compose Music

When you think about more than just your role as a bass player,  your musical skills will blossom. You will be forced to think about harmony, melody, rhythm, song form, orchestration, producing, parts, emotion, tempo, and more. This will only ever serve to help your bass playing.

 

60. Play With Better Musicians

This can feel uncomfortable but, ultimately, playing with superior musicians is a joy and a surefire way to improving much quicker than you normally would. The great motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, ‘you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with’. It’s harsh but if those people in your band aren’t great then you won’t improve that much.

 

61. Befriend Great Drummers

Drummers and bass players form the heart of the rhythm section. A good drummer will help your timing, groove and feel and if they get asked to join bands, you might come along for the ride. Tony Levin and Steve Gadd, Flea and Chad Smith, Jaco and Peter Erskine. Study the great rhythm sections to know the importance of our union with drummers. Then find some good ones!

 

62. Understand The Role Of The Bass

In a band setting, the bass is part of the rhythm section and its role is to provide a solid foundation for the rest of the band. Think of it as providing the other musicians with a comfy armchair. It’s a selfless role that requires you to be the heartbeat and pulse of the music. Know that you are the bridge between rhythm, harmony and melody: It’s an incredibly important and powerful position to be in.

 

63. Ask Your Bandmates For Feedback

This could be tough and you’ll need to develop a thick skin but positive criticism will provide you with a wealth of practice material. Never take it personally. If comments are true and weaknesses in our playing are identified then get to work and turn them into strengths.

 

64. Play Through A Setlist

If you’re not in a band yet, make up a setlist list and play through it as you would on a gig. Don’t stop (unless for an interval). You will build stamina and learn tunes and it is the next best thing to playing a gig. In fact, choose a cool setlist and you could be virtually playing your dream gig!

 

65. Absorb Different Styles

The more different genres you know the more rounded a musician you will become. If you want to make a living as a working bass player then you will come across pop, jazz, blues, funk, rock, hip hop, and blues. The more authentically you can play, the better and the more employable you will be. If you don’t want to turn pro then these different styles will all contribute to your unique voice.

 

66. Study Jazz

Jazz is the musical equivalent of vegetables: very good for you (even if you don’t like it). Jazz is a mish-mash of blues, African and South American styles as well as bebop, modal, and more. It is an art form that draws on improvisation and creativity. Learn jazz and you will need to improve your application of theory, your technique, your ears and your all-round musicianship.

 

67. Listen To Latin Music

Latin music comes from South America and is based on the clave; an underling rhythmic ostinato. Bass players use syncopated rhythms that are quite alien to anyone exposed only to western music. It’s a good discipline to practice syncopated rhythms.

Related lesson: The Magic Of Learning From Different Musical Styles & Genres

 

68. Rock Some Riffs

This is a genre that is often looked down upon by some jazz players but those very same players often can’t play rock. Rock teaches you how to play riffs with attitude and flair and how to make music often with very simple harmony. The minor pentatonic and blues scales feature a lot, especially in classic rock.

Related lesson: Learn A Bass Line (Fast Rock)

 

69. Pop Is More Than A Guilty Pleasure

Popular music is designed to appeal to the masses and not all of it is great. However, the best pop music delivers catchy hooks, groove and melody in short format, creating unforgettable gems. There’s a real beauty to pop basslines and it’s not easy to create really memorable ones.

Related lesson: Pop Funk Bass Line In C Natural Minor

 

70. Improvise A 12 Bar Blues

The prototype of modern styles of music including jazz. Every beginner bass player should know how to play a 12 bar blues. It’s a springboard to improvisation and learning other more complex chord progressions. It’s another style of music that sounds simpler than it is. Learning blues will set you up for assimilating other styles of music like soul and RnB.

12 bar blues for bass guitar

Related lesson: How To Play A 12 Bar Blues On The Bass Guitar

 

71. Funk Bass

For timing, groove and pure feel, funk can’t be beaten. It’s a bass-lead style which requires good technique and deep pocket. The slap technique came from funk, leading to an era of music where bass was everything.

Related lesson: The Funkiest 4 Notes Of All Time: Bass Guitar Lesson

 

72. Use Harmonics

These bell-like tones sound amazing on bass. You can use them in basslines or solos and they are especially effective on endings. You can play them as chords or as single lines. Listen to Portrait of Tracy by Jaco Pastorius. It’s the benchmark when it comes to harmonics.

Related lesson: Learn To Improvise A Bassline Using Harmonics

 

73. Palm Muting Rocks

This technique is where you use the side of your hand in a karate chop motion placed at the bridge of the bass. Apply a tiny amount of pressure and you mute the strings slightly (not too much or you’ll completely choke the strings getting a ghost note). This changes the attack, decay, and release of the note. The bass sounds a little more like a double bass and the notes can sit int he mix better. Great for jazz, reggae and hip hop.

 

74. Mute Unwanted Noise

One of the most annoying sounds, when you’re busy tearing it up on the bass, is the ringing of open strings and the clanking of notes you didn’t intend to hit. A very unglamourous technique that all the pros employ is to use different methods to control the strings. It comes from clean technique, and touching strings with various parts of your hands.

Related lesson: Muting Unwanted Noise

 

75. Alter Your Tone With Hand Placement

Pino Palladino once mentioned in a Bass Player interview that there are a hundred ways to play a string. Tone can be wildly changed depending on the area you pluck between the bridge and the neck. How hard you pluck and with what part of your digits also plays a part. Using a bit of nail emphasises the top end, palm muting the low end. The options are endless so explore them.

Related lesson: How To Get Different Tones On A Bass Guitar Using Just Your Hands

 

76. Articulations Are Awesome

There are tons but the most common ones are hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, vibrato, and ghost notes. They bring a certain flair and life to your playing. Try playing a simple minor pentatonic scale and sprinkle articulations in. You will sound like you’re playing real music and not a scale.

Related lesson: Bass Guitar: Hammer-Ons, Pull-Offs, Ghost Notes, String Bends, Slides and Vibrato

 

77. Get Your Bass Setup Properly

An expensive, well-made bass with high action, poor intonation, and buzzes and crackles will lead to a very poor playing experience. Taking a bass to an expert will turn even a cheap bass into a glorious machine that you can express all your ideas through. They will probably change the strings, adjust the truss rod and bridge for your optimum action (the height between the frets and the strings), and make sure the bass is fully in tune across the whole neck (intonation).

 

78. Learn To Make Adjustments To Your Bass

Changing pickups, making a new neck, adding a preamp. These are three things best left to the professionals (unless you want to learn how to do it yourself). You can easily learn to set your own action by adjusting the truss rod and bridge. Setting the intonation is also an easy thing to learn. This will save you money and enable you to keep your bass playing and sounding exactly how you want it to.

Related lesson: How to Set Up Your Bass

 

79. Search For Your Dream Bass

It doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to play well and feel right in your hands. So get yourself to a shop to try a few. If you’re far from a shop, make a day of it and travel to a good one. The correct setup and a few modifications can make a cheap bass play and sound incredibly well. Go on a tone quest to find the bass you want to make music with.

 

80. You Don’t Need A Big Rig

Gone are the days when you need a full Ampeg SVT stack to play bass. Most companies offer powerful amps and cabinets in small sizes. A 2×12 cab with a 500-watt head will save your back, sound amazing and fit into a variety of gigging situations.

Related lesson: Bass Guitar Gear I Take To A Gig

 

81. Load Your Pedalboard With The Classics

If you play a few styles of music then put a board together that covers most of the more common bass effects. These are; compressor, octave pedal, envelope filter, overdrive/distortion, chorus, and maybe a synth pedal.

How To Put Together a Bass Guitar Pedalboard

 

82. Put Your Effects In Loops

Long chains of pedals tend to suck your tone; especially the low end. One way to mitigate any loss is to place your pedals in loops. When you’re not using an effect, it’s as if your signal goes from bass to amp. When engaged, the loop switches that pedal (or pedals) in. It’s a great way of keeping your tone pristine.

Brightonion and The Gig Rig make excellent solutions.

 

83. Use A 5 string

For certain styles and gigs, you need a 5 string (for others you don’t). If you’re playing a covers gigs or musical theatre or metal or gigs where you can only take one bass then a 5 string can be a great tool. Find one with a tight B string. Fitting a 130 gauge for the B can help make it sound less ‘flappy’ which is the main criticism of many 5 string basses. Dingwall make great 5 strings as do MusicMan, Fender and a whole host of other manufacturers.

 

84. Choose Your Strings Wisely

There are all kinds of string gauges and materials which affect tone and playability. Learn about these differences so you can choose the best strings for your style. Victor Wooten uses 40, 60, 80, 100 gauge string which makes it slightly easier to play his super-fast licks. Mark King also uses light gauge strings. Higher gauge flatwound strings have a weighty tone, suitable for hip hop and vintage genres. Bright stainless steel strings offer the right amount of cut and sizzle for heavy rock mixes.

 

85. Don’t Obsess Over Gear

No amount of gear will make up for a lack of musical ability built up through hard work. Spend as much as you can afford and no more on enough gear that you need. Then focus on learning your craft.

As Squarepusher said, “I hate the whole collection of gear thing. To me it’s another hiding to nowhere, thinking ‘if I get the CS80 I can really make beautiful music, but until then I’m not going to do anything’ “.

 

86. Get A Fender Jazz & Precision

Actually, get any bass that speaks to you and creates the sound in your head. If you don’t know what that is yet then these two titans will cover almost all the styles you could ever want to play. Everyone recognises the sound and look and you really can’t go wrong.

Related lessons:

Getting Different Tones From A Fender Precision Bass

Getting Different Tones From A Fender Jazz Bass

 

87. Learn To Read

Reading helps you understand rhythms, harmony and melody, and gives you instant access to new music. If you’re thinking of turning pro it gets you work. Forget that though. It’s such a valuable and useful skill to have and makes self-learning so much easier too.

More Reading Lessons

 

88. The Most Common Rhythms

There are only a few rhythms that you hear and play over and over again. Since bass playing involves nailing these rhythms it makes sense to know them. They are whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes. Learn triplets too but start with these.

Common Bass Guitar Rhythms

 

89. Read Chord Symbols

Chord symbols are letters, sometimes with numbers, you see in music that players read from. Jazz lead sheets are chord heavy and it’s really useful to be able to read these. Bass players convert those chords into arpeggios or chord tones and make basslines from them. It’s the ultimate in creativity and opens so many doors, not to mention making last-minute gigs easier play as you can just read off charts.

Related lesson: Chord Theory For Bass Players – How To Make A Chord (Plus Inversions & Voicings)

 

90. Be Able To Make & Read Charts

Making quick charts makes learning lots of songs easier. If you have a last-minute gig or you’re playing in church or in a rehearsal or for a new band, charts are lifesavers. You can use digital, analogue (paper!), chords, TAB, notation or a combination. I recommend avoiding TAB and learning to notate and read rhythms and notes as well as how to read chord symbols. This makes you a more rounded and skilled musician.

Related lessons: How to Quickly Make Lifesaving Charts for Gigs

 

91. Have Some Go-To Warm-Up Exercises

There are hundreds of exercises you can use to get your fingers warmed up and to use for technique practice. Choose a few that you know off by heart that work on different aspects of your playing (preferably areas you are weak in). It’s much better if these exercises sound musical and are the kind of thing you can use in real-life situations.

Related lessons: Creative Bass Technique Exercises

 

92. Learn The Major Scale Modes

People get confused very easily over modes. They seem to have garnered a mystical reputation. The truth is that they are just scales that become tools you can use to make music. They are important. The major scale modes are the gateway to the modes of the harmonic and melodic minor so learn them first.

Related lesson: How To Memorise The Major Scale Modes

 

93. Know Your Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, And Aeolian

These are the most commonly used modes. Ionian and Aeolian are all over pop and rock. Dorian crops up in funk and jazz, and the Mixolydian in blues (as well as funk and jazz).

Related lesson: Learn A Killer Way To Understand Modes On Bass Guitar

 

94. For Jazz: Learn the Melodic Minor Scale

Jazz music uses many rich and exotic sounds beyond the confines of the major scale. Loads of jazz tunes use the melodic minor scale and its modes (especially the 7th mode). This is because it creates lots of unusual chords (and, therefore, arpeggios and chord tones) and extensions (b9, #9, b5, #5 etc.). The 7th mode is called the super Locrian, altered scale, or diminished whole tone (why not have three names just to confuse things a little more…).

 

95. Get Some Keyboard Skills

The notes on the bass make more sense when you learn the keyboard. That’s where the notes came from originally. Piano players have a vastly greater knowledge of harmony than bass players and theory really becomes easier when you look at it from a keyboard perspective. Also, you can learn to compose and if you’re called on to play synth bass, it’ll be a doddle.

 

96. Play Guitar

The transition from electric bass to the electric or acoustic guitar isn’t that taxing if you’re up for a challenge. It gives you a brilliant understanding of chords and progressions as well as melody. If you’re a bass player who can play a little guitar and/or keys, you are instantly more employable and you can write and produce music more easily. I’ve written a free ebook with all the basics. Download it here:

Basic Guitar Skills

 

97. Study Self Improvement

A musician is often on their own when it comes to learning an instrument. The wisdom of the finest minds in history is stored in books, articles and other media. Books on time management, organisation, habits and creativity can change your life if you act on the best information that works for you. Some of my favourites are Eat That Frog, Atomic Habits, Getting Things Done, and The Four Hour Chef. If you’re organised, have great habits, and can use your time well, the world is your oyster.

 

98. Listen To Podcasts

Use your commute, downtime or lunch break to immerse yourself in music-related podcasts. Interviews with professional musicians (not just bass players) will give you loads of ideas and things to work on and study. A few of my favourites are I’d Hit That, Sodajerker On Songwriting, Broken Record, Pensado’s Place, Sound Of Cinema, The Sessions Panel, and the Tom Huth Podcast.

 

99. Watch Documentaries

Documentaries serve the same purpose as podcasts but the visual and storytelling aspect lend even more potency. Some crackers: Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, The Wrecking Crew, Marcus, Jaco, Back In Brooklyn, Muscle Shoals, Hired Gun, and 20 Feet From Stardom.

Related lesson: 6 Inspiring Documentaries for Bass Players

100. Send Me An Email

What have I forgotten that could make you a better bass player? Email me and let me know.

If you enjoyed or got something from this guide please share it, tweet it, and spread the word! Also, don’t forget to download my free Bass Guitar Resource book. It has loads more juicy goodies in it that you can use in your playing straight away.