Flea laying down a solid groove
1) Record Yourself – If you haven’t done this you will most likely be shocked by how you sound. Listening back to a recording of yourself will help you hear your playing objectively and help you determine what you really need to work on.
2) Practice with a metronome – Or better yet, recorded drum grooves. It is of utmost importance to have solid timing as a bass player and there is no better way to develop this than by practicing with an absolute time source.
3) Play at a consistent dynamic – This is something that a lot of bass players neglect. I hear students play inconsistently all of the time, with some notes popping out and others barely audible. Although a lot of bassists will use compression to maintain an even dynamic it is much better to develop this in your fingers than with an electronic device. A good exercise is to practice with a sound meter (or instead of running out and buying one, there are tons of apps for your smart phone that will do the trick). You want to watch the meter level as you are playing to make sure you are staying at a consistent level.
4) Play fewer notes – We are all guilty as bass players of over-playing at one time or another. Musos call it the “Jaco Pastorius syndrome”. What I have realized in my musical maturity is that you can say so much more by playing so much less. Try taking three notes and creating a memorable bass line… how? Come up with a catchy rhythm and repeat some of the notes. You are trying to form rhythmic motifs, not melodies. Which brings us to…
5) Think rhythmically, not melodically – It’s no mistake that all of the best bass players were former drummers. I started on piano, and then guitar, and eventually started playing bass a bit later and for the first year it showed that I was coming from the guitar. No bueno! After a while, I realized that the bass is really a different instrument and you have to approach it that way. Think of yourself as playing drums on the bass guitar. Again, start with maybe three notes and try playing different rhythms on these notes until you form a catchy bass groove.
6) Add cool techniques! – Slides, hammer ons, pull offs, double stops (two notes simultaneously), vibrato… all of these techniques can add a lot of interest to your bass lines. Try throwing these in to spice things up.
If you are in Orange County and would like to improve your bass playing then check out Hamrock Music Instruction.