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Friday, January 8, 2010

Playing Tips

                                                     The Bass Player's Job

The job of the bass player is generally to provide the anchor between the beat of the drums and the melody of the guitar, vocals and the keyboards. Although the bass can get very melodic and very heavy in the beat, it is usually the glue that binds the whole song together.
Playing With Your Drummer

When you play with a drummer, the first thing you need to do is listen. Listen to how the drummer plays and what the drummer plays when you listen to a CD or the radio. Listen to the bass drum.
The bass drum is the big drum on the bottom of the drum set. This is where you will find the band logo a lot of times. It has a low booming sound or low thud sound. The bass drum will give you the clues to the accents or groove of the song.
Listen for the snare. The snare has a crack or slightly distorted grainy sound to it. The snare is often used to provide the back beat.
Listen for the high hat or the ride cymbals . The high hat and the ride will give you the tempo of the song.
Listen to when he hits the cymbals. The cymbals tell you where the accents and stops are.
The other main drum piece you will here are the toms. The toms are usually used to accent the end of a measure or to introduce a measure. You can frequently follow the toms while playing connecting licks.

A-B Parts

A-B parts are where you play a particular groove for the first half of the movement and then play a second variation of the groove for the second half of the movement and then come back to the A part again and basically just go back and forth between the two different variations within the groove. This helps to, while maintaining the basic groove, create a feel that you are not staying on one lick. This can make the piece feel as if it breaths or is going somewhere rather than staying in one place throughout the groove.

Connecting Licks

Connecting licks are used as a transition piece from one part of the song to another. You may be playing only one note against a chord or chord progression that the guitar player is playing and right before you change to your next note in the progression, you can play a small lick that helps to tie the two parts together. This is very useful in maintaining a simple piece so that you don't clutter the song by being too busy and still creating something that is still interesting and not boring and predictable.

Locking in the Root Note

Locking in on the root is simply playing a straight beat like all quarter notes, half notes or whole notes on the root note of each chord in the song. One of the better examples of this is the band AC/DC. The bass player, Cliff Williams, will add subtleties and not always play a straight beat on the root. Usually he will mute a note or not play a note that makes it sound so cool. Playing a straight beat can sound really cool and keep the song simple.


Pedaling is where you use one note, usually the root but it doesn't have to be, and keep a groove going on that note while you bounce or pedal back and forth between other notes.

Take a Breath

Another feel that works well is to think of how your bass line breaths. Can you hear and feel how it rises and subsides in a rhythmic pattern? Make the song feel alive by making it breath. You can breath hard, soft, quickly, deeply whatever. It even helps for yourself to breath with the bass line.

Playing Within a Chord

Once you know what chord you are playing and therefore know what the "legal" notes are, you can play the notes in that chord. What works well is to play arpeggios of the chord against the guitar player. Use the notes of the chord to transition to the next chord. For instance, if you are playing the root, and the guitarist transitions to the 4th interval, you can walk up by playing the 1st interval then then 2nd then the 3rd intervals and end up on the 4th interval at the same time the guitar player transitions.

Less is More!

You don't have to play as fast as you can or put in as many notes as you possibly can to play something that is interesting. Something interesting can be the way you pedal between two notes. It can be the way you stay on a couple of notes or how you stay on only one note. Ask your self if what you are playing is just too busy or takes away from the rest of the song. A sign of a good bass player is one that can really fill the song without sounding like they are the song.

Sliding Up and Down The Neck

Slides usually have the best sustain when moving up the neck. You can use a slide to make a left hand transition smoother but don't go overboard. Too much of anything, no matter how cool, will become boring quickly. When you slide down the neck, your note will fade. The longer you slide down, the more you will lose the note.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Practicing Techniques Start out slow and work on only one exercise the first week. The next week start by playing a new exercise or a new variation of an old exercise. Then play last weeks exercise. The next week you start with another new exercise and play then play the previous two weeks exercises. If you are comfortable learning two or more new exercises a week go ahead but don't do more than three or four. The whole idea is to focus on an exercise and make it second nature. The rotation allows you to keep working on an exercise. You may find that what works for you is to have a certain exercise for each day of the week but at least do one or two every day that week. After a while you will playing a large range of exercises. Using a Metronome When practicing exercises, it is best to use a metronome. Practicing with a metronome helps to build your internal clock so that when you play without one, you can keep a good lock on the tempo of the song without drifting faster or slower. In some cases this is a desired effect. However, in many cases it only detracts from the song making it sound out of sync with all the musicians. Timing is very important for the drummer and bass player. Guitar players and other instruments can many times get away with it, however, not usually the bass and almost never the drums. The other reason to play with a metronome is when you practice scales, exercises or new licks, it is much more effective to play slower at first and speed up only when you have mastered the lick at the slower speed. Using a metronome forces you to stay slow and not cheat and speed up in the middle of the lick. Your fine motor skills develop faster when you play slow. All you are trying to do is to teach your finger muscles what to do. If you are playing at a slower tempo, it is best to use double time or faster so that you hear a click not only on each beat but the beats in-between as well. This is counted as "one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and" and so forth. When you play the following exercises, play with a metronome and play slowly at first. As you get better at playing it, speed up the metronome just a little bit. Wait until you can play it flawlessly before you try to speed up. The whole thing you are doing with exercises from a mechanical point of view is to train the brain how to move your fingers correctly. Allow your brain to get the information at a slower pace and it will lock it in. Before you know it you will be able to play lightning fast. I. Intervals This exercise will teach you two main things. The sound of each interval and how the different intervals look. Starting on the C note on the third fret of the A string, play a second interval in the key of C Major (CM). The notes you are starting with are "C" and "D". The second interval is the note "D". Move straight up the string playing the second interval of each interval in the key of C Major. Remember, only use the "A" and "D" strings. Repeat this exercise by playing thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves. 2nds 3rds 4ths 5ths 6ths 7ths Octaves II. Climbing Intervals. In this exercise, you will start at the 1st interval and then play the 2nd interval then the 3rd interval. Then play the 2nd interval, then the 3rd interval then the 4th interval. And continue up the neck. It looks like so: 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6, 5-6-7, 6-7-8, 7-8-9, and then back down again, 8-7-6, 7-6-5, 6-5-4, 5-4-3, 4-3-2, 3-2-1 You start by playing three note runs, then you will play four note runs, then five note runs then six note runs and so on. III. Arpeggios Arpeggios are simply playing one at a time, each note in a scale or chord. Up the scale or chord then back down again. IV. Chromatic The first part of this exercise is to play a chromatic scale straight up the neck on one string. Learn to get the transition of the left hand smooth. Try not to make any noise. Repeat this with each string. This variation will teach you how to use the open strings to transition up the neck. This is very useful to make smooth ascending and descending runs. Play a chromatic scale moving up the neck on the E string. Instead of fretting the A note on the E string, play the open A. When you pick the open A, let it ring, and then transition your left hand up the neck to A#. Play the next four notes on the E string and when you get to the D note, use the open D string. While the open D rings, make your left hand transition up the E string to D#. When you get to G, use the open G and continue on the E string at G#. After working on going up and getting that sounding clean, try going down the neck instead of up. You want to watch how long you let the open notes ring. As you start to play the next four notes after your transition, use the middle part of your fingers to mute the open strings. You are trying to make a clean transition between the open string and the first fretted note after the transition. Don't let the open note overlap the fretted notes

The Electric Bass


The electric bass was invented by none other than Leo Fender, the same guy that invented the Stratocaster, in the early 1950's. It was developed to be able to compete with more and more amplification for guitars and other instruments. The traditional acoustic bass was not loud enough to be heard above the other instruments.

Using many of the techniques and electronics from building electric guitars, he built the electric bass. The bass Leo built is what all electric basses from then on are based upon. Things like having four strings, 34" between the bridge and nut, the types of pickups, and even the bridge design are standards still in use today.

The more popular basses out there are the Fender Precision and Jazz, Gibson, Alembic, Rickenbacker, Spector, and Carvin just to name but a few. They come in many shapes, sizes, sounds, control knobs, number of strings, electronics and pickups.

Your choice of a bass is going to depend on three main things; sound, feel and budget. And the formula usually works like this, if the budget goes up, the sound and feel go up. If the budget goes down, the sound and feel goes down. Just be realistic and if you are just getting started, there is no reason to invest in an expensive bass.

Selecting a Bass

Hipshot Bass Xtender

I would suggest starting with a fretted four string bass and working your way up to the five and six string basses and even fretless basses. Fretless basses are difficult to learn to play.

If you go with the five or six strings, they have the low "B" string and they will require a real good amplifier and speakers with a good low end response. That "B" string is very low and many amplifiers can't handle it without distorting or just not producing a good volume.

If you need to get lower than "E" try tuning down to "C" or "D". Check out a "Hipshot Bass Xtender ". It is a device that attaches to your "E" string tuning head and allows you to tune down and back up at the flick of a lever.

The electronics on the bass include the pickups, volume controls, tone controls, bass boost or cut, switches and so forth. There are two basic types of electronics on basses. Active electronics or passive electronices.
Passive Electronics
Passive electronics refers to the type of circuitry used to produce a signal from the strings through the pickups and to the output jack. Most basses made before about the early to mid '70s had passive electroncs. Most low-cost basses today use passive electronics.

The way the signal is created is when the strings vibrate above the magnetic field of the pickups, they distrupt that magnetic field. As the strings vibrate at a certain frequency (note), the magnetic field of the pickups start to change at the same frequency of the strings.

This is in essence the "signal" that is then sent to your tone and volume controls and finnaly to your output jack. Passive electronics don't use batteries and they don't amplify the signal. The tone controls don't boost as well, they only cut.

For instance, the treble knob will not increase the treble but allows the full treble at one end and some amount of reduction in treble at the other end of the turn of the knob.

With passive electronics, you don't get as much versatility at the bass in controlling your sound. Typically, you set your bass to one setting and leave it there. The range of tones isn't very large.

You don't get as good of a signal when running it direct into the mixing board for recording and such. You will typically need at least a pre-amp to run direct into a mixing-board or recorder.
Active Electronics
Active electronics require a battery inside the bass to power the electronics. This can be a drag because you usually have to take an access cover off or the pick guard off to get at it. Usually they are activated when you plug the cord into the bass. So, if you leave your cord plugged in overnight, you will probably find that you have a dead battery the next day. Real drag! You can usually tell when the battery is low or dead when your bass distorts easy, you are not getting a loud signal from the bass, or you get no signal at all.

The good news is that under normal usage, the battery will usually last a couple of months at least. Active electronics are very popular now because they give such a hot, higher voltage, output signal and provide a greater range of sounds right at the bass.

This is good for both recording and playing live. It is much easier to process a good clean sound and color it. Playing live, you get more flexibility in your sound with less engineering of your amp and the PA sound.
The pickups are what picks up the vibration of the string and converts that motion into electronic pulses that get amplified. The pickups are electro-magnets that generate a magnetic field.

The strings run through these magnet fields and because the strings are metalic, when they vibrate or move, they disturbe the electro-magnetic field of the pickup. This disturbance creates pulses in electricity and that can be amplified. After all, music is just vibrations.

The pickups are made up of several magnetic posts wrapped by a copper wire. The posts are the metalic round things on top of the pickup.

What you are looking for with the pickups is a good clean sound. Does the sound distort? Use all the switches and make sure they do what they are supposed to do. Listen for scratchy switches and knobs. Often times the switches will select between multiple pickups and make a single output from combinations of those pickups.
Single Coil Pickups
A single coil pickup is a set of magnets with a single wrapping of copper wire around the magnet. Single coil pickups have a good high end response. The price you pay is that single coil pickups tend to hum. If you don't have a good amp the noise can drive you crazy.

Make sure that the bass is shielded. This will help keep the noise down. Shielding the bass simply means lining with copper strips or plates and or using a special coating on the inside cavities of the bass where the pickups and electronics are. If you hear a radio station from your amp, which does happen, it usually means your bass is not shielded very well.
Double Coil and Stacked Pickups
A double coil or stacked pickup is two sets of magnets with each wrapped with their own set of copper wire. Double coil pickups are generally more quite than a single coil pickup.

The noise you experience with single coil picks cancels themselves out on double coil and stacked pickups. Double coil pickups have three packagings or form factors. Double row of poles, two separate offset pieces ( one for two strings, one for the other two strings) or single stacked (looks like a single coil but it's not).

The Neck

The Neck is one of the most important parts of your bass. It has the most effect as to how your bass will play and to a great degree how well it will sound and how long the notes will sustain. They come with different types of wood and finishes for the fretboard. The popular surfaces are rose wood, ebony and finished maple.

The neck is usually made of three or more laminated pieces of wood running the length of the neck. The more layers you have the stronger the neck is.

The Frets

The frets are the metal bars that run across the neck. They are counted from the head stock to the body starting with the first fret next to the nut and the 22nd or 24th frets at the body of the bass.

The neck has almost everything to do with how the bass plays. What you should look for in so far as how the bass plays, is you should try to play each note at every fret on each string to make sure there are no dead spots or areas that buzz. Make sure that you are using good solid fingering.

In other words, make sure you press firmly but not too hard. If you press too lightly, it will buzz or the sound will be very weak. Look at the frets to see if they are worn. Look for grooves or low spots on the top of the frets. Uneven or worn frets will cause a lot of buzzing when fretting the strings.

If the frets look worn, they can be fixed either by replacement or by filing them down to the lowest common height. Fret work can be expensive especially if you have a binding around your neck or have a finished maple neck. But they can be fixed, so if you really want to buy that bass with the worn frets, just figure the cost of the fret job into the price of the bass.
The Nut
The nut separates the fingerboard from the head stock. It is what the strings run across before they reach the tuning heads. Look at the nut. No not the drummer! If it is plastic, you will need to replace it.

Brass nuts are good for a bright open string sound, harmonics and longer sustain, however, they don't have much effect after that, meaning that nut has very little affect on fretted notes.

A bone nut will give you a thicker sound, however, as with the brass nut, it only matters on open strings. Brass nuts tend to wear out faster than bone nuts.

To see if the nut has worn, look at how close the string comes to touching the fretboard at the bass of the nut. If it is almost touching, your action is probably real low and you have a lot of buzzing when you fret notes. Even the open strings may buzz.

You will need to replace or shim the the nut in this case. If the space is too high, your action will be difficult to adjust to a low setting and you will need to file down the string grooves.
The Bridge
The bridge is what anchors the strings to the body of the bass. Some basses will also have the tuning heads at this end as well. When you look at the bridge, make sure that each string has its own saddle so they can be individually adjusted for height and string length. This is important for setting the intonation and the action of the bass.
The Trusrod
The trusrod is a metal rod that is inside your neck and runs from one end of the neck to the other. The trusrod is used to adjust the amount of bow the neck has. There is usually a place to adjust the trusrod located at the headstock of the neck or at the point where the fretboard ends and the body of the bass begins.

To adjust the trusrod, tighten it to decrease the bow. In other words, when you tighten the trusrod, the middle of the neck will move closer towards the strings. So, if the neck is extreemly bowed, the action is too high, or you just changed to lighter guage strings, you will want to tighten the trusrod.

When you losen the trusrod, you will create more of a bow in the neck. Do this if your action is too low or you are changing to a heavier guage of strings.
The Action
Check the action of the bass. The action refers to the distance between the strings and the frets. A lower action makes it easier to press the string down to the fret. This also allows you to play faster because it requires less movement to finger the notes. With low action it is much more critical that the frets are not worn or you will get a lot of buzzing.

A higher action will make it harder to fret notes, however you won't tend to have as much buzzing. What I usually do to check the action is to finger the first fret with your left hand and then finger the last fret with your little finger on your right hand and then the first finger to reach as far up the neck towards the nut as you can.

Usually this is the 12th fret. Use that finger to tap on the string. It should only be just off the fret and when you tap it, the string should buzz very lightly. If the string is way off the neck, your action is very high and usually not desirable. If the string is against the fret, your action is too low and will probably cause a lot of buzzing.

If you play real hard using a pick, you will probably want higher action to reduce the buzzing. If you play much softer, you can get away with real low action. The buzzing, by the way is caused by the string vibrating and touching other frets on the neck. Again, all of this is really personal preference.

Another thing to check is the trueness of the neck. Contrary to what many people think, your neck should not be perfectly straight. It will have a slight bow to it. What you are looking for is to see if it is flat from the first string to the fourth string across the fret board.

Hold the bass so that the head stock is away from you. Face a light source and then look down the neck. Try to line up the frets so that they line up with no shadows or dips. It should look like a railroad track. If the neck has waves or has more than one bow to it or the bow is extreme, you probably wont want to purchase this bass.

The only exception is the depth of the bow. This can usually be fixed by adjusting the truss rod. The truss rod is a metal rod that runs up and down the neck to provide additional strength.

Neck Attachments
There are three ways you can connect the neck to the body; neck through the body, bolt on, or glue on.

Neck Through the Body

A neck through the body means that the neck piece runs from the head stock to the bottom of the bass and the body of the bass is actually the two sides of the body and they are glued onto the neck. This type of bass gives the best sustain and usually the best action and ability to reach the upper frets by the body.

Because there is no bulky junction where the neck meets the body, unlike bolt on and glue on necks, it is easier to play the upper frets. Because of the strength of this type of neck and lack of a neck/body junction they easily accomodate a full two octave (24 frets) fretboard length. Most two octave necks will be neck through the body rather than glue ons necks.

Popular neckthrough the body basses are the Rickenbacker 4001 and 4003, Alembic, and Spector. Neck through the body basses are usually more expensive but worth the extra price. A Steinberger bass is simply a neck through the body bass without the body glued on.

Bolt on Neck
A bolt on neck is what Fender as well as most other low end basses use. This is not to say Fender is a low end bass. It is just very inexpensive for the manufacturer to build this type of bass as compared to a neck through the body or a glue on neck.

The disadvantage to this type of bass is that you don't get as much sustain because of the junction where the neck is bolted to the body. This junction can also make it more difficult to fret the notes towards the body of the bass.

One advantage of the bolt on neck is you can replace the neck if you don't like it and you have more control in regards to adjusting the action.

Glue on Neck

A glue on neck, which Gibson basses use, is kind of a cross between bolt on and glue on and gives you most of the advantages of both of the other types of neck attachments. Like the neck through the body, glue on necks are impossible to replace and can get to a point where short of major work, you are not going to get good and low action on the neck.

Neck Laminates
Another important factor is the number of laminates of the neck. Usually the neck will be made up of three or more pieces of wood glued together. This adds additional strength to the neck. Avoid necks that do not have laminates as they will eventually go out of alignment and are very difficult to fix.

Wood Type
One last factor to the bass is the actual wood it is made from. I won't get into that because there are many nuances each wood gives and is beyond the scope of this document. If you know a good luthier, try to corner them for a few minutes to get their thought on the various woods. Woods most widely used are mahogany, poplar, alder, and maple.

Selecting Strings
There are three basic types of strings. Round wound, Flat wound and Ground wound. All of these come in sets of various gauges.

String Guages
Strings come in several thicknesses. Not only from one string to the next but also for each individual string. The name for this measurement and signification of thickness is guage. The guages used in a particular set of strings is usually defined by the individual string manufacturer.

Sets are usually found in Extra Lite, Lite, Medium, and Heavy. The lighter guage strings are usually easiest to play and bend but may not give as good of a bottom end as the heavier guages. Be careful about what guage you put on your bass. The heavier guages will put more tension on the neck and create more of a bow.

If you are switching from lite to heavy, you will need to adjust the trusrod in your neck. Medium guage strings are a good start unless the manufacturer of your bass specifically indicates you must use a certain guage.

Round Wound Strings

Round wound strings have a center core round piece of wire and it is wrapped with another round wire for the length of the string. These types of strings give you a bright fat sound with lots of sustain.

These types of strings are the most abusive on your fret board, especially if you like to bend your strings or do vibratos. However, if the sound is what you like, then the price is new frets every few years or so.

Flat Wound Strings

The flat wound strings have a round center core wrapped by a flat wire for the length of the string. This type of string is very common in the jazz world and will give you more of a mushy, midrange sound and not much sustain.

Ground Wound Strings

The ground wound strings are basically round wound strings that have had the outer part of the wrap string ground down so that it is flat. As you might suspect this will give you the in between sounds of the round and flat wound strings.

Care and Maintenance
The things you will probably have to do to maintain your bass is replace the battery if you have active electronics, change the strings and keep it clean. How often you change the strings will depend on how bright you want your sound, the quality of the strings, how clean you keep your hands, and the humidity where you live.

As a string gets older and diritier or if the strings are of a low quality, they will lose their brightness sooner and you may have to replace your strings once a month to maintain a bright "live" sound. New strings are critical if you are playing tap. Older strings won't sustain as long as newer, high quality strings.

If you are using flat wound strings, they will last much longer as far as the consistancy of their sound. They will sound pretty much the same when you first put them on as they do when they get older. Round wound strings will sound very different from the first day to when they are a month or two old.

Keeping your hands clean and living in a dry climate will prolong the life of your strings. Some people have tried boiling thier strings after they are old and are able to get a second life out of them. You can try this and it does help to remove any dirt build up. Dirty strings will also wear the frets down faster.

Look at the string and notice how it vibrates. If it vibrates in a round pattern, the string is probably okay. If you notice that it doesn't have an even vibration pattern, or kind of has a wobble to it, the string is old or of poor quality.
Keeping the Fretboard Clean
Keeping the fret board clean will go a long way to keeping the strings clean and prolonging the life of the strings. On finished surfaces, such as are common on Rickenbacker and Fender basses, you can use special cleaners like Tres Amigos, or Martin Guitar Polish, or you can just use your regular furnature polish.

Pay special attention to the sides of the frets where the frets meet the fretboard. Don't let dirt build up there. Clean your frets with Brasso or some other non-abraisive metal cleaner. Again, keeping your frets clean will prolong the life of not only your strings but the frets as well.

On basses with an unfinished fretboard, you can use 000 guage steel wool or a special posish to clean it. Be sure to rub back and forth, up and down the neck which is with the grain of the wood. Don't rub across the grain as this will damage the wood and as well as the look.

It's harder to get the areas where the frets meet the fretboard so use a cotton swab to clean these areas. These types of fretboards are more difficult to keep clean, however, if they provide the sound and feel you like, then that's the price you have to pay.
Keep Your Body Beautiful
Keeping the rest of the bass clean only helps to retain the value and beauty of the bass. If the rest of the bass is clean, you are less likely to get the neck dirty. If you sweat a lot, be sure to wipe down the metalic parts such as the pickups and the bridge, etc. Your sweat will rust and corrode these parts very quickly.
When Frets Aren't Flat
After several years you may have to plane or level the frets. You will find that you play certain areas of the neck more frequently than others and those areas will begin to wear faster than the other areas. You will see grooves or dips in the frets. This will cause buzzing when you try to play.

If you have room, and the grooves are not too deep, you can file the frets down so that they are all level. If the frets are too far gone or you have already planed them down a few times, you will need to replace them. Most likely you will need to take it to a guitar repair shop to have this type of work done. The nut and the saddles on the bridge will also wear down over time and need to be replaced or regrooved.