This little essay on how to play bass guitar is aimed at the guitar player who needs to enter some kind of witness protection program but still maintain a tenuous connection with the world of music. This has proven to be a great way to keep your anonymity while staying in the public eye. The bass guitar player in a rock band maintains the rhythm of the song while the lead guitarist is checking out the chicks in the audience, and the drummer is recalling what decade he is in. To change to this subservient but useful role in a musical group requires a little understanding of the difference between a bass guitar and a real guitar together with some idea of bass guitar playing technique.
Theoretically any guitar player can switch from lead to bass although only one guitarist of note – Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake And Palmer – made a career out of it. It was rumored that he thought it would be a good way to stop attracting women. Actually he constantly switched between lead and bass while maintaining his position as lead singer. Clearly a guy with issues.
Anyway let us get onto the main features of a bass guitar. The standard tuning of a four string bass guitar is E A D G. The tunings are similar on the five string bass except for a low B string, and on a six string except for a high C string. So on a 6 string bass the tuning is B E A D G C. There are also seven string basses with a high F string.
There are several ways you can tune a bass guitar but as they are the same as those used to tune a regular guitar, I will not mention them. As with other guitars you tune the bass guitar by loosening the string and tuning up to the note you are aiming for. Tune each string separately being careful to match the sound of the string to your bass guitar tuner. While we are on the subject of tuning, be sure to do a search for a free online bass guitar tuner.
On the electric bass guitar, the music is made by plucking with the index and middle fingers or with a pick. Early Fender basses had a “thumbrest” attached to the pickguard, below the strings. This was to rest the fingers while the thumb plucked the strings. The common perception is that the pick is used by rock bass players but players of all styles have their own individual techniques, sometimes using thumb, fingers or pick according to the sound they want. The guitar can sound different if all upstrokes, all downstrokes or alternating strokes of the pick are employed.
Some bass players such as Les Claypool and John Entwistle played using their fingernails similar to a classical acoustic guitarist. There is controversy among musical historians over whether bass guitarists who pluck with their fingers are innovators who have explored new horizons or they simply were not told about plectrums.
Playing the bass guitar needs a certain amount of speed and dexterity, and bass guitar music will demand that you develop your own style. For inspiration listen to the most popular and influential bass players of past generations such as Paul McCartney, Pino Palladino – the replacement bass player for John Entwistle in The Who, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jaco Pastorius – called by many musicians the most innovative bass player ever, Mark King – a very fast English bass player, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.