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The Basics of Bass Guitar

Understanding the basics of bass guitar includes understanding what makes a bass a bass and how a bass guitar fits into a band. In the right hands, the bass is a tremendously powerful tool, because it gives a band its feel and attitude.

What is a bass guitar?

Bass guitars differ from their high-strung cousins (otherwise known as the other guitars) in several significant ways:

  • Basses normally have four strings, while guitars have six. Today, you can find five- and six-string basses, but four-stringers are still the norm.

  • Nearly all bass guitars are electric. Other guitars come in all flavors: electric, acoustic, or a combination of the two.

  • The bass strings are an equal distance musically from each other. The sound of each bass string is tuned an equal distance from the string above it, making the instrument perfectly symmetrical.

  • The bass has a lower pitch than the guitar. The deep notes of the bass fill the lower end of the sound spectrum.

  • The bass is longer than the guitar. The longer the string, the lower the pitch; the shorter the string, the higher the pitch.

The bass guitar player’s function in a band

As a bass player, you play a crucial role in the band. Everyone in the group depends on your subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) lead. The following cover some of the ways the bass holds the band together.

  • Making the link between harmony and rhythm: You’re responsible for linking the harmony (chords) of a song with a distinctive rhythm (groove). This link contributes to the feel of the music.

  • Moving the song along: Every song is made up of chords that are special to that tune, and all the notes in the tune relate to the sounds of those chords. Most songs have different kinds of chords in them. By playing one note at a time in a rhythmic fashion, you set up each chord for the other players in your band by choosing notes that lead smoothly from one chord sound to the next.

  • Keeping time: Keeping a steady pulse is one of the bassist’s primary functions. Listen to them carefully and know them well.

    Nothing works better than a metronome at helping you develop an unfailing sense of time. The steady (and sometimes infuriating) click that emanates from it provides an ideal backdrop for your own note placement, be it on or off the beat.

  • Establishing rhythms: As a bassist, you need to have a very clear understanding of exactly how the rhythm relates to the beat and where to place the notes for the groove in relation to the beat.

  • Looking cool: While the guitarists move through aerobic exercises, dripping sweat and smashing guitars, you get to be cool. You can join in with their frolicking if you want, but great bassists are just too busy creating fabulous bass lines to join in the antics of their band mates.

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