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I am fairly new to the bass guitar and I'm in a band. So far, I almost always just play the root note of the chord. I sometimes hold it until a new chord and sometimes repeatedly play this same note.

The root notes I commonly play are C, D, B, F#, E, etc. For example, a song may be D G Bm A.

What I am doing is fine, but I feel like it would be great to branch out and play things besides just the root. How should I go about this? What are examples?

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There are many different ways to approach playing bass and depending on what style you are trying to go for it may be all you need to fill the sound. I'll explain a few simple styles and techniques that can spice up a bass line.

Octaves

Rather simple, but effective. Your still playing only the root note, but changing the octave is a very simple and effective way to make the bass line pop a little more as the octave jump will stand out and is used a lot when creating bass lines.

Arpeggiation

A little more movement you can move from the root note of a chord to the other notes of the chord. For example if you start out playing the root note of a G major chord you can play the 3rd (B) or 5th (D) of the chord no problem. As long as you start on the root and play chord tones you should be fine. Even simpler most bassist when they arpeggiate only uses the root, fifth, and octave above. It's simple but it's effective and is used in many different techniques including alberti bass (for piano).

Chromatic/Diatonic Moment

A very effective method utilize non-chord tones as a bassist is to move step wise to move from one chord to another. For example if the harmony was going from a C to Dm, you could play the root note C and then play a C# before you play the root of the Dm chord. Again very simple, but effective. Another example is if you were going from Dm to F, you could play an E while transitioning between the two chords as mentioned above.

Walking Bass

Pretty much a combination of everything mentioned above. It's a very nice technique to learn as a bassist even if you don't play songs that would work with this technique because you learn how to "move" a lot as a bassist. Here is more detail on how to create a walking bass line.


There are other techniques, but try to explore these first. At the end of the day do what sounds good to you.

  • Also consider the bass like a drum/percussion instrument. Experiment with slides or different speeds, and think about syncopation and altering how long you hold each note for - how much space is left between tones. And of course the interplay with the snare drum and how you lock in with the drummer. Consider jumping in on parts of the melody. – MikeiLL Dec 22 '14 at 6:18
  • Inversions are also a solid approach but may not be the best starting point. So maybe after these are tackled you could look into inversions. – Basstickler Feb 6 '15 at 21:55
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The first suggestion I would make is learn some music theory. While not necessary, music theory can help make sense of what your doing. For example, lets say there is a song that rotates through a very basic I-V-vi-IV progression. Music theory will help you understand not only how the notes of each chord relate to each other but also allow you know what notes make up the chord. Ultimately, this knowledge will create a basis for what notes you could play. From there it a matter of deciding what you want add or support in the progression. Keep in mind this is a very general sweeping concept that has very specific components to it.

The second suggestion I would make is listen to bassists that try to take a more dominant roles in the mix. Furthermore, do not exclude genre of music that you dislike. Why shouldn't you avoid bassists that play in bands that you know you don't like? because your not trying like the music your trying to learn. After all one doesn't have to like their school teacher to learn from them. If my general point isn't self-explanatory then let me make it clear. Learn from other bassists and "semi-steal" their ideas.

The third and probably the most important suggestion is take the risk and improvise (music theory can help with improvising). I mean the worst that can happen is you make some dissonance and you learn from you mistake.

To ensure clarity let me further define "semi-steal". Semi-steal is reference to the idea that when you learn a musical phrase from another artist you rebuild or reinvent the phrase in a way that suits the song or your own personal style.

As for the lack examples... I can think of a few but in reality all I am really doing is check out what this bassist is doing in front of x,y,z chords.

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For instance this?

    choord: | D       |         | G       |          | D       |          |
    note:   | D - - - | A - - - | G - - - | - A B C# | D - - A | D E D C# |

    Bm       |          | G ...
    B - - F# | B C# B A | G ... 

Most commonly, the bass would play the root (1st) and the dominant (5th), and less commonly other notes of the appropriate choords. You can as well some bass melodies to connect the choords, and the rhytms need not be plain at all.

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