It’s quite the joke that after slots for the lead singer, guitarist and drummer have been filled, the person leftover (or the one who owns the rehearsal space) gets to be the bass player. Well if that’s how you get to be the one that creates those sublime grooves, so be it! Just how important is bass to a song? Can you imagine The Police’s Every Breath You Take without the spectacular bass line? We rest our case.
- The modern electric bass guitar traces its origins back to the double bass, a large orchestral instrument that was played upright. A classical orchestra used multiple double bass players playing the same part to get a loud bass sound. However, the jazz scene in the 1920s and early 1930s began to feel the need for an amplified bass instrument that could be used by itself. Another factor that contributed to the evolution was that double basses were difficult to transport.
- Around 1935, Paul Tutmarc, a musician and amplifier designer developed a fretted electric bass instrument that was designed to be held and played like a guitar.
- Things really began to take off in the early 1950s when innovator Leo Fender (the same Fender of the electric guitar) developed an electric bass that could compete with increased amplification of other instruments. The Fender Precision Bass was introduced in 1951 following which several companies began putting out their own electric bass guitar models.
- The electric bass not only changed the sound of music but also altered the role of the bass player in the band. Previously when playing the upright bass, players were forced to stay in one place, often in the background. With the lighter, more easily manageable electric bass guitar, players now had more freedom to move around on stage.
ROLE OF THE BASS PLAYER IN THE BAND
The guitarist is the rock star, the lead singer is the one all the girls are screaming for, the drummer sure makes a lot of noise – so what exactly does the bassist do?
Says Bobby Talwar, bassist of popular Mumbai-based band Zero, “People have a lot of different opinions about the role of the bass player, but everyone agrees that he/she is the binder in the band. The bassist, along with the drummer, forms the backbone of the band.”
HOW TO BUY A BASS GUITAR
- The first thing to do before you set out to get yourself a brand new bass guitar is consider for a moment why you want to play the instrument in the first place. Says Bobby, “Figure out whether it is for the long-term or just a passing fancy. Also, try and determine what kind of music you will be playing. Is it classic rock, jazz, blues… you will have to buy a guitar depending on these factors.”
- Buying a less expensive model to begin with is generally advised. This doesn’t automatically mean a compromise on sound quality. Bobby recommends bass guitars by Korean and Chinese makes that are of good quality, found at most music stores. Yamaha also has bass guitars which are good for beginners. Another popular option is to buy a second-hand bass guitar to begin with.
- If budget is not a constraint and you want to start off with a top-end model, Bobby recommends the following:
- Fender Jazz Bass Guitar – considered one of the most versatile bass guitars. Used by a lot of classic rock bassists.
- Fender Precision Bass is another recommended guitar.
- Ibanez – popular with metal guitar players.
- Washburn – popular for those wanting to play jazz.
It is not possible to give you detailed bass lessons in the limited amount of space we have, but here’s an overview of what you will start off with when learning how to play.
1. Tuning the bass
- Using a chromatic tuner: You can tune the guitar using a chromatic tuner, available at all music stores. Plug your bass into the tuner and play a string. The tuner displays the note you just played and whether it is sharp or flat. Tune up to the desired note by adjusting the tension on the strings until the tuner indicates you are in tune. Repeat for each string.
- You can tune your bass online at www.tunemybass.com. Just mouse-over the string on screen, listen to the note that plays and tune your bass accordingly.
- You can also tune the bass using the 5th Fret method and the harmonics method, directions for which are available at www.tunemybass.com or in any beginner’s bass guitar book.
2. Notes on the neck
There’s no way around it, so you might as well get started memorising the notes on the neck with a little help from our diagram.
3. Hand positions
There are several bass guitar playing techniques.
- You can use your fingers to pick the strings. This gives you a softer, warmer sound.
This classically-trained Mumbai-born multi-instrumentalist moved to England in the ‘90s and went on to become an important artist on the UK’s Asian underground scene. Shri is known for his innovative playing on a bass guitar that he built himself.
“People often approach instruments with a prejudice. It’s like either ‘I’m going to play guitar because I’m going to get all the girls’, or ‘I’ll play bass because I’m not good enough to play the guitar and I’m a bit useless but you’re rehearsing in my house so I want to play.’ That is a silly prejudice. What you can learn is that the bass is not necessarily just a groove instrument or just a boring in-the-background type of instrument. You have to approach it with attitude.
There are two ways of being a good bass player – one is being harmonically very good like Paul McCartney or other fantastic pop bass players who really moved the harmony around. Or there is the high, technique-based playing of people like Jaco Pastorius, Jeff Berlin or Les Claypool. You can [learn] both ways too. It really has to be approached with attitude. If you want to learn it, go for it. Don’t waffle around. [Laughs] Just learn it!”
You can read the rest of our special feature Getting Started in the March 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.
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