How does a Guitarist play Bass?

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Apart from answering 'very badly' what are the pitfalls and advantages to a guitarist trying to play Bass? Technique,habits,playing style,scale length of instrument,etc? I've never even picked up a Bass but some say Guitar and Bass are interchangeable and others say it's totally different.
Thoughts please?
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  • TanninTannin Frets: 5722
    Badly, for the most part. :)

    (More thoughts later.)
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  • munckeemunckee Frets: 12674
    I have a bass and can learn bass parts to songs.  When I see a bass player I realise I cannot play bass its a totally different art.

    Don't tell bass players though.
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  • I spent much of the years post-2020 playing bass after 20 years on guitar only, and much of the last 18 months playing bass in a band. A huge amount of Motown later and I'm happy calling myself a bassist as well as guitarist. I'm a flatwounds/P-bass guy so that's where I'm coming from. If you're after "Victor Wooten 101" then I'm not best placed to advise!

    They are closely related but they're also quite different - think viola vs cello. The notes are in the same places but an octave lower. They also (generally) serve different roles in an ensemble, and physically playing the thing is quite a different experience.

    I'd therefore split any guidance between mentality/musicality and the physical action of playing the instrument. 

    For musicality - 
    Roots, octaves, arpeggios, walking lines. These are all fundamental to bass playing in a way that guitarists don't realise when picking up a bass. The good basslines are all about countermelodies that underpin but never get in the way of what the rest of the band is doing. They also usually lock in with the bass drum to provide a groove - that's the thing people dance/bop/pogo/mosh too, whether they realise it or not. It is absolutely critical to getting a song to sound good. 

    For physically playing the thing, the stretches for your left hand are the most obvious thing to get used to. Then it's all about the right hand - I strongly recommend you play bass with your fingers if coming from guitar. If you don't force that on yourself you lose out on a huge part of the tonal options, as well as actually making your life harder as some parts are just plain easy played fingerstyle. Third I'd stress the importance of muting. I'm usually muting as much as possible with both hands because big boomy bass from the wrong strings is horrible. 
    The Assumptions - UAE party band for all your rock & soul desires
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  • NeilybobNeilybob Frets: 867
    Like a guitarist though I keep dropping my jazz III plectrum as it hits the strings lol. 
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  • Many guitarists think they can play bass. They can’t. They play guitar lines on a bass. Bassists lock in with the drummer, understand groove, countermelody, and rhythm in a way that most guitarists don’t. Guitarists listen to other guitarists without really understanding what the low end is doing. It’s far more interesting and disciplined in many ways. 
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  • This is a great topic, so I’ll be following it with interest.
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  • TanninTannin Frets: 5722
    edited November 2023
    Tannin said:
    More thoughts later.
    Cancel that. ^ No need for me to add anything as @stickyfiddle has already provided exactly  what I wanted to say. 

    (I write as a guitarist these days, and career-wise pretty much the opposite of @stickyfiddle. I worked my way through 4 years of university by polishing floors in supermarkets three mornings a week at 6AM for bugger-all money but at least you could rely on it, and playing bass in a wedding band anything between zero and three nights a week for $100 a night, which was bloody good money in those days, if you had a booking that week. Nobody has ever paid me money to play guitar, only bass.)

    One more thing. Bass playing is a state of mind. Your job is to make the singer sound good. Nothing else. Get in so tight with the kick drum that you can't tell which sound is which, and work on making the singer sound good. If you can do that, you can call yourself a proper bass player. 
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  • TheMadMickTheMadMick Frets: 246
    edited November 2023
    Tannin said:
    Badly, for the most part.

    (More thoughts later.)

    Wot he said. I tried to bass and didn't get on with it. I gve it to my mate who was a bass player and you woudn't believe the difference. Sounds like a different instrument.
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  • Tannin said:
    Tannin said:
    More thoughts later.
    Cancel that. ^ No need for me to add anything as @stickyfiddle has already provided exactly  what I wanted to say. 

    (I write as a guitarist these days, and career-wise pretty much the opposite of @stickyfiddle. I worked my way through 4 years of university by polishing floors in supermarkets three mornings a week at 6AM for bugger-all money but at least you could rely on it, and playing bass in a wedding band anything between zero and three nights a week for $100 a night, which was bloody good money in those days, if you had a booking that week. Nobody has ever paid me money to play guitar, only bass.)

    One more thing. Bass playing is a state of mind. Your job is to make the singer sound good. Nothing else. Get in so tight with the kick drum that you can't tell which sound is which, and work on making the singer sound good. If you can do that, you can call yourself a proper bass player. 
    Honestly that's the #1 rule I apply to guitar as well, with occasional 30-60-second forays into twiddly bits. 

    But the general concept of humility is one I subscribe to very muchly in live bands, outside of those 30 second twiddlies, obviously. And is especially true on bass. 
    The Assumptions - UAE party band for all your rock & soul desires
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  • I've doubled on bass since my early 20's and play upright too. 

    The biggest initial challenges are musical and mindset: Avoiding overplaying, mastering simplicity and knowing where to place notes in relation to the drummer. 

    If you love listening to bass players its easier. A great education is learning the Babylon by bus album by ear and practicing with a metronome :)
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  • Open_GOpen_G Frets: 154
    I originally started on bass so may have a slightly different perspective. But I feel like bass is there to guide the band. Be the link that understands both the drummer and guitar perspectives. Is the music piece requiring lift or drive? This is led by bass. 

    One of the bassiest bass lines I can think of is also one of the simplest. It’s the verse of black velvet. I have no idea but genuinely cannot see this as being come up with by a guitarist playing bass. I’m not sure a guitarist would ever say, “I’ll just groove on the low E.” yet this song is all about that bass groove. 

    I probably play guitar a bit more like a bass player playing guitar too. 
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  • BigMonkaBigMonka Frets: 1800
    From my experience of a little segue into bass playing for a few years:
    - Playing rhythm on a guitar is generally quite busy and free flowing. On a bass its a less-is-more approach to stop the low end sounding messy
    - On a guitar you tend to be able to mix up your playing quite a lot whereas on the bass I found that consistency through each section of a song is really important. It can take a lot of concentration and discipline to keep playing the same thing!
    - Locking in with the bass drum is key but isn't something that most guitarists have ever thought about or tried, so its a steep learning curve. It also requires on the drummer being good and consistent in their rhythm - it can make you much more critical of the drummers you're playing with!
    - For me there was a whole journey of learning to listen for bass parts in songs. I naturally listen to the melody and rhythm, so has taken quite a while to develop an ear for what the bass player is playing.
    Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman, in which case always be Batman.
    My boss told me "dress for the job you want, not the job you have"... now I'm sat in a disciplinary meeting dressed as Batman.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 73402
    I play both, but mostly bass these days, and only bass in a band. It’s all about the timing and the groove, more than the notes. You don’t need to play anything complex, simplicity is often more effective.

    For me, I don’t play stretches since my hands are small, but I move around a lot. Contrary to what a lot of guitarists think, it’s not wrong for a bassist to play higher up - the thick strings sound different from the thin ones.

    If you can find the joy in playing the same pattern from one end of a song to the other and putting all the expression into minor nuances of pushing and pulling the accents, then you’re a bass player. After a while, guitar starts to sound too fussy and flowery :).

    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone." - Walt Kowalski

    "Only two things are infinite - the universe, and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the universe." - Albert Einstein

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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 24996
    It's all about the mindset. That is what is different.

    Even with 'just' rhythm guitarists swapping it's a massive change. Often the rhythm of the guitar parts is dictated by the vocal, but the bass is not. 

    Both the bassist and the drummer should look at themselves as part of a unit. Not actually supporting each other, not playing over the top of each other - but a combined entity. Guitarists never look at it that way - they view the rest just as foundation for them to play over, well mostly anyway.

    Good bass players end up being good arrangers too.

    I’m so bored I might as well be listening to Pink Floyd


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  • StuckfastStuckfast Frets: 2440
    Where notes stop is almost as important as where notes start.
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  • It's all about the mindset. That is what is different.

    Even with 'just' rhythm guitarists swapping it's a massive change. Often the rhythm of the guitar parts is dictated by the vocal, but the bass is not. 

    Both the bassist and the drummer should look at themselves as part of a unit. Not actually supporting each other, not playing over the top of each other - but a combined entity. Guitarists never look at it that way - they view the rest just as foundation for them to play over, well mostly anyway.

    Good bass players end up being good arrangers too.
    Yeah I pride myself on not doing this! But Im aware I’m quite rare… 

    I never really care what I’m playing specifically, as long as the whole ensemble sounds as good as it can
    The Assumptions - UAE party band for all your rock & soul desires
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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 24996
    If you ask Marcus Miller, he would say that the very best thing a bassist can do is learn the piano.

    Quickest way to learn what works in an arrangement, all on 1 instrument. Quickest way to learn when the left hand needs to be simple or complex etc etc.

    He never gets any press for it, but he's a hell of a piano player as well. He gets gigs as the Musical Director for big acts just as much as he does for bass sessions.

    I’m so bored I might as well be listening to Pink Floyd


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  • martmart Frets: 5208
    Open_G said:
    ...
    One of the bassiest bass lines I can think of is also one of the simplest. It’s the verse of black velvet. I have no idea but genuinely cannot see this as being come up with by a guitarist playing bass. I’m not sure a guitarist would ever say, “I’ll just groove on the low E.” yet this song is all about that bass groove. 
    ...
    That's one song that really inspired me to get into bass playing. But it's not actually a bass, is it - it's a synth if I'm not mistaken. Still, it's a good lesson in what to play, and what not to play.
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  • GoFishGoFish Frets: 1649
    Timing, timing, timing.
    It's a feel thing much more than strict timekeeping. Small changes can have big effects. This also applies to stray notes, muting etc.

    Locking in with the drummer is crucial, and much tougher in these modern "in-ear, by-the-grid, logic drummer" times imo. With physical drums, you have the vibrations to guide you and are more aware of the power and volume of that E string and the responsibility that comes with that to hold the groove and support the layers on top.

    There is an (apocraphal) African approach that sees music as a family*. The drum is the Patriarch, introducting the feel, the tempo, the rhythm. The bass is then the Matriarch, supporting the choices made by the drummer, complementing the beat and adding tension, syncopation, release and a melodic base to the mix. After that come all the other instruments. Think of them as the children, running around doing whatever they like - none of it really matters, as long as they listen to the parents at the right times. :)
     
    *= please excuse the heteronormative, Male centred, description. This is also a reductive approach and just one approach, but gets the basic perspective across.
    Ten years too late and still getting it wrong
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  • Open_GOpen_G Frets: 154
    mart said:
    Open_G said:
    ...
    One of the bassiest bass lines I can think of is also one of the simplest. It’s the verse of black velvet. I have no idea but genuinely cannot see this as being come up with by a guitarist playing bass. I’m not sure a guitarist would ever say, “I’ll just groove on the low E.” yet this song is all about that bass groove. 
    ...
    That's one song that really inspired me to get into bass playing. But it's not actually a bass, is it - it's a synth if I'm not mistaken. Still, it's a good lesson in what to play, and what not to play.
    Based on nothing but my ears, I thought it had the mwah of a fretless. But genuinely no idea. 
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