The Bass Is Not Just A Guitar With Two Less Strings

Guitar players seeking to broaden their musical horizons often discover they are astounded at what bass can offer them. Bass is much more than simply two less strings; its tone, scale length and feel require different approaches both conceptually and technically.

Bass lines are essential components of any great song – whether they come from Paul McCartney’s iconic “Come Together” riff or Bootsy Collins’ minimal beat from James Brown. A great bass line can add life and emotion to a tune!


The bass is the center of any band’s sound, as its rhythm section. Aside from being in sync with its drummer counterpart, its role must also include supporting melodic phrases played by vocalists or higher-range instruments – something only an excellent bass player is able to do effectively. Good bass players create a foundation of rhythmic support without overshadowing other members of their band.

Bass guitar players play an essential part in filling out chord progressions by providing bottom notes and tonalities, from root chord notes, octaves and fifths of specific chords, or inversions that add harmonic interest to songs. Bassists may even use inversions of chords to change how listeners perceive certain notes – something other instruments cannot.

Bass guitar’s unique ability to play single notes means it can be more expressive than guitar when driven by a solid rhythm section. A metronome may help ensure your groove remains consistent; although this might require simplifying bass lines in order to maintain steady beats. Either way, it’s better than losing rhythmic integrity altogether and ending up playing something that doesn’t belong with your song’s overall soundscape.

Expression can be added to bass lines in various ways. From using various fingerings and attack (how hard you hit the strings), to including scales into your rhythm and adding chromatic leading tones (those leading into another chord note) for extra melody – there are numerous methods you can employ when it comes to adding expression to bass lines.

A bass can become very melodic when driven by an amazing vocalist or drummer who knows how to let its bass resonate through. Listening to Jaco Pastorius can be truly moving; you can almost feel his bass singing through your ears!


No instrument is right or wrong; the decision ultimately lies with you and what speaks to your musical goals. That being said, bass can be an ideal choice for guitarists who appreciate rhythmic tracks with backbone. Additionally, playing bass allows guitarists to add flourishes like fills and riffs into a groove for added flavor.

An emotional bass run or riff can add depth and dimension to a song and keep listeners and bandmates interested in what they are listening to, making the experience all the more engaging for everyone involved in making music together. This can especially add life during transitional sections such as between verse and chorus – for instance a fill played between verse and chorus may help bridge this transition and propel it toward its conclusion.

An effective bassist must possess exceptional rhythmic skills. A bassist’s role is essential in providing the song with rhythm to both audience members and members of his/her band; this could involve playing ahead or behind of beat, using techniques such as rakes, palm mutes while picking with thumb, finger slides or even slapping techniques such as those seen during Dionne Warwick’s Deja Vu when session bassist Will Lee performed as part of Dionne Warwick’s band.

As well as knowing their fundamentals, bassists should also have an understanding of musical theory. This knowledge will enable them to layer chords and changes with lead guitar players more efficiently while giving them a basis for creating songs with different sounds. Furthermore, understanding musical theory will also assist with knowing which notes work well together, as well as the role octaves play within chord progressions being played.

Retraining one’s hands to handle the larger frets and thicker strings of a bass requires time and practice, with getting used to its layout as important. Acquiring an understanding of its layout as well as learning proper technique for picking strings using a pick (we suggest getting something like Dunlop Tortex Triangle’s Tortex Triangle with at least 1mm gauge thickness); some bassists prefer using just their fingers instead.


Fills are integral in maintaining audience interest and creating a dynamic playing style, while breaking up monotony of a basic groove and adding color and flavor. As such, having an in-depth understanding of chord tones related to bass fingerboard is critical in order to do this effectively.

Learning triad shapes and practicing them on lower strings is one way of doing this, which will then enable you to apply them to chord root notes or power chords for added melodic possibilities and more engaging sounds. Furthermore, practicing different note durations such as quarter, eighth and 16th notes as rhythm instruments is equally essential; many people start out learning quarter, eighth and 16th notes for rhythm but it is equally crucial to explore whole half quarter-eighth notes as well as triplets and sixteenth note runs as these will all add diversity to your sound palette.

Another effective technique is keeping an arsenal of bass licks handy to use during performances. These could range from simple single-note lines, double-note runs or arpeggios – they provide the ideal opportunity to demonstrate that your toolset encompasses everything necessary to bring life and energy to any groove!

Live, it is critical that the bassist can communicate effectively with both guitarist and drummer in order to provide support that is both complementary and not overbearing. This is particularly pertinent in small trio situations such as guitar/bass/drums combos where maintaining groove is essential to keeping things smooth – the bassist must help maintain rhythm with drummer’s beat and cymbal hits from drummer.

Hand gestures (like palm muting with fretting fingers or raking), slapping, thumb picking of strings with index and middle fingers plucking, finger slides as well as traditional techniques are used to add spice and excitement to the groove – as seen on Dionne Warwick’s Deja Vu where session legend Will Lee used a variety of these techniques for added flare. To hear this in action, check out session legend Will Lee’s work.


Bassists possess an incredible opportunity to add elements of melody and flair that elevate their instrument beyond its more repetitive rhythmic roles. Solos or fills played by bass players can significantly add to the musicality of songs by providing elements like melody or unique licks that set it apart from its more usual role as rhythmic accompaniment. Furthermore, harmonics allow bassists to increase tension or build energy within songs through adding tension by playing notes above or below what chord they’re currently playing – providing tension-building elements within your songs that really pop!

As soon as possible, when trying to become a good soloist it is vitally important that one practice with other musicians so as to gain familiarity with playing in time and with solid rhythm. When no drummer is present the bass guitar often becomes the primary pulse for any piece; to succeed when this occurs you must hear yourself playing, or else it won’t come across on stage.

Rehearsal with a metronome can help improve your timing. Use of software like Guitar Rig or Audacity to slow down recordings so you can work out tempos at a comfortable speed is another effective approach to honing timing skills. Once this becomes part of your routine, then practicing playing alongside other bassists at similar tempos becomes possible, something many bassists must be adept at doing.

Acknowledging timing issues through arpeggios on the bass can also help tremendously with timing issues, and is commonly employed in jazz, motown and neo soul styles of playing bass lines. Arpeggios involve picking individual strings at a time from lowest note to highest note on each string in turn – this often involves rest strokes with your thumb played against ring and pinky fingers to help avoid deadening them altogether – or simply rest strokes to keep things from sounding dead on each string – something commonly employed when creating bass lines with this technique can greatly expand sound while increasing sound synthesis within your lines!

There are various styles of bass playing, from the monstrous tapping extravaganzas of Stu Hamm to Victor Wooten and Billy Sheehan’s fretless virtuosity; yet even these flamboyant musicians understand that good timing and solid bass lines form the cornerstones of music.