Building a solid foundation for your bass playing

January 12, 2012

Whilst it is possible to pick up a bass guitar, or any kind of musical instrument for that matter, and master it without lessons, tuition or instructions of any kind (and there are many bass legends that did it this way), I wouldn’t recommend it. Why? The reason is simple – time. I had no formal training with the bass guitar, of any sort, and there was no internet when I was a learner (although the learning process never really ends with music), so I just sort of meandered around for two decades, without focus, goals or any knowledge of music theory.

Music theory is important. Whereas practicing – whether it is playing along to a record, or noodling away with the rhythms in your head – is about the how of bass playing, music theory is all about the why. You can learn, to a certain degree,  how scales and chords work by copying a Beatles or Rolling Stones record – but music theory is the key that unlocks the secret, underlying language of music.

After twenty years of playing along to records and trying to sound like John Entwistle and Herbie Flowers (and, for the most part, failing miserably), I decided to dig myself out of the deep grooves I had dug my playing into (which were actually ruts) and learn about music theory. My bass playing, and songwriting, came on leaps and bounds in a very short space of time, and I finally “got” the maths behind the licks and riffs I had memorized so many years ago.

Now, I understand everything I need to about pentatonic scales, harmonic function and seventh chords, and it underpins my playing and my compositions. But I will always regret not taking the time to properly learn bass chord progressions and notation much, much earlier. Because it is so important if you want to be a “serious” bass player.

Paul Simenon of the Clash taking out his frustrations on the bass guitar

Paul Simenon of the Clash taking out his frustrations on the bass guitar

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