Read an Excerpt
Bass Guitar For Dummies
By Patrick Pfeiffer Will Lee
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
Patrick Pfeiffer, Will Lee
All right reserved.
Bass Bass-ics: What Is
the Meaning of Bass?
* * *
In This Chapter
* Differentiating between bass guitars and other guitars
* Understanding the function of the bass
* Checking out the parts of a bass guitar
* Getting ready to play bass
* Expanding the bass range
* Experiencing different music styles
* Taking care of bass-iness
* * *
Bass ... the glue of rhythm and harmony ... the heartbeat of the band!
The bass has unique qualities that draw you to play it - perhaps it's the rich,
deep, mellow sound or the hypnotic rhythms. In the right hands, the bass is a
tremendously powerful tool, because it gives a band its feel and attitude. The
bass is at the heart of much of the music you hear today. But what exactly is
the bass? What makes the bass so powerful? And how does it help give music
that irresistible feel? Whether you're a raw bass recruit or a seasoned veteran,
this chapter can help you answer these questions.
Discovering the Difference between Bass
and Its High-Strung Cousins
Bass guitars differ from their high-strungcousins (otherwise known as the
other guitars) in several significant ways:
some bassists started adding strings. Nowadays you find five- and six-string
basses (and beyond), but four-stringers are still the norm.
electric, acoustic, or a combination of the two.
sound of each bass string is tuned an equal distance from the string
above it, making the instrument perfectly symmetrical. So if you play a
scale starting on one string, you can use the same fingering to play that
same scale starting on a different string. This type of tuning makes playing
the bass much easier than playing the guitar, where the second-highest
string is tuned differently from the others.
fill the lower end of the sound spectrum. Think of these notes as the
"bass-ment," or foundation, of music.
longer the string, the lower the pitch; the shorter the string, the higher
the pitch. Think of a Chihuahua and a Saint Bernard: The Chihuahua has
short vocal chords, and a rather high-pitched bark; the Saint Bernard ...
well ... you get the idea.
bore you with the guitarist's job description, but the bass player's makes
for fascinating reading, as the next section shows. (By the way, if you do
happen to want to know more about the guitarist's job description, you
can check out Wiley Publishing's Guitar For Dummies, by Mark Phillips
and Jon Chappell.)
Understanding the Bass Player's
Function in a Band
As a bass player, you play the most crucial role in the band (at least in my
opinion). Everyone in the group depends on your subtle (and sometimes
not-so-subtle) lead. If the guitarist or saxophonist makes a mistake, hardly
anyone will notice, but if the bassist makes a mistake, everyone in the band
and the audience will instantly know that something is wrong.
Making the link between
harmony and rhythm
You're responsible for linking the harmony (chords) of a song with a distinctive
rhythm (groove). This link contributes to the feel, or style, of the music.
Feel or style determines whether a song is rock, jazz, Latin, or anything
else. Chapter 7 tells you exactly what you need to do to establish excellent
grooves, and Part IV discusses the different musical styles you're likely to
play. You want to be able to emulate any bassist in any style and, at the same
time, be creative - using your own notes and ideas!
Moving the song along
Every song is made up of chords that are special to that tune, and all the
notes in the tune relate to the sounds of those chords (see Chapter 5 for
more information about chords). In some songs, all the chords are the same,
and so all the notes relate to that one chord sound, making such songs easy
to play. Most songs, however, have different kinds of chords in them; in these,
the first group of notes in the tune relates to the first chord and has one kind
of sound; the next group of notes relates to another chord sound; and so on
throughout the song.
By playing one note at a time in a rhythmic fashion, you propel the music
along. You set up each chord for the other players in your band by choosing
notes that lead smoothly from one chord sound to the next.
Good music creates a little tension, which then leads to a satisfying release of
that tension (a resolution). For example, you can feel the tension and release
in as simple a tune as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." The tension builds as
you sing the first line: "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." Can you end the song
right there? No, because you want to hear how it ends. That's the tension.
When you get through singing "How I wonder what you are," you feel a resolution
to the tension, a sense of coming home. You can end the song there; in
fact, that's how it does end. The bassist plays an important role in creating
and releasing tension. You're pretty much in the driver's seat!
Keeping a steady rhythm, or a pulse, is one of the bassist's primary functions.
I refer to this function as locking in with the drummer, because you work very
closely with the drummer to establish the rhythm. So be nice to your drummers.
Listen to them carefully and know them well. And while the two of you
are on such cozy terms, you may want to spend some time together reading
what Chapter 3 has to say about rhythm.
Nothing works better than a metronome at helping you develop an unfailing
sense of time. The steady (and sometimes infuriating) click that emanates
from it provides an ideal backdrop for your own note placement, be it on or
off the beat. You can find out more about the metronome in Chapter 3.
As a bassist, you need to have a very clear understanding of exactly how the
rhythm relates to the beat. You need to know where to place the notes for
the groove in relation to the beat. And you want to make your grooves
memorable (see Chapter 7 for more about how to create memorable
grooves). If you can't remember them, no one else will be able to
either - including the listener (who, of course, makes the trip to hear you play).
While the guitarists move through their aerobic exercises, dripping with
sweat and smashing their guitars, you get to be cool. You can join in with
their antics if you want. But have you ever seen footage of The Who? John
Entwistle was cool. And, if you ever get a chance to see U2, check out their
bassist Adam Clayton. He's one cool cucumber, too. Great bassists are just
too busy creating fabulous bass lines to join in the antics of their band mates.
Whew! A bassist has important responsibilities. Good thing you picked up
Dissecting the Anatomy of a Bass Guitar
You can call it a bass guitar, an electric bass, an electric bass guitar, or just a
bass. You hear all these labels when you discuss music and musical instruments - and
you may encounter individuals who believe that only one of
these labels is correct. But it really doesn't matter which term you choose,
because they all refer to the same instrument.
Figure 1-1 shows you a picture of the bass guitar (or whatever you prefer to
call it) with all of its main parts labeled.
You can divide the bass into three sections: The neck, the body, and the
innards. The different parts of the neck and the body are easy to see, while
the innards aren't so obvious. You have to remove the cover (or covers) to
get at the innards, but knowing what they're there for is important.
The neck of the bass guitar falls under the dominion of the fretting hand
(usually the left hand). The following list describes the function of each part.
machines for the strings.
heads) hold the ends of the strings. (The other ends are anchored at the
bridge on the body; see the next section for more info about the body of
the bass.) By turning the individual tuning heads, you can increase or
decrease the tension of the strings (which raises or lowers the pitch).
provides a groove for each string. It forms one end of the vibrating
length of the string.
the strings, that holds the frets.
perpendicular to the strings, along the length of the fingerboard. They
determine the pitch (sound) of the note that's played. Frets are arranged
in half steps (the smallest unit of musical distance from one note to the
next). When a string is pressed against a fret, the string's vibrating
length, and thus its pitch, is changed.
because you remove and replace them periodically. However, your bass
would be absolutely useless without them (except maybe as a "bass-ball"
bat). The strings are connected to the tuning machines at one end
and the bridge at the other. The vibration of the strings produces the
sound of your bass.
neck that the thumb of your fretting hand rests on. The fingerboard is
attached to the front of the neck. The neck and the fingerboard are
usually made up of two separate pieces of wood, but not always.
The body of the bass guitar falls under the dominion of the striking hand
(usually the right hand). The following list describes the function of each part
of the body:
plastic bar that lies underneath and perpendicular to the strings. You
can have two magnets for each string, or one long magnet for all the
strings. The magnets form a magnetic field, and the vibration of the
string disturbs (or modulates) that field. This modulation is then translated
into an electric signal, which in turn is converted into sound by
the amplifier and speaker.
(loudness) and tone (bass and treble) of the pickups. They are located
toward the lower side of your bass (when you have it strapped on).
bridge holds one end of each string and is located at the end of the
body. Modern pickups, such as piezo pickups or lightwave pickups, are
sometimes installed inside the bridge. These pickups read the vibration
of the string at the bridge.
body where you attach one end of your shoulder strap (usually the
body (by the bridge) where you attach the thin end of your shoulder
the cord from your bass to the amplifier (for more on amplifiers,
see Chapter 17).
The innards aren't obvious to the eye (they're hidden in the cavity of the
instrument and covered with plates), but they are essential to the sound and
feel of the bass guitar. The following list describes the innards of the bass
length of your bass guitar's neck. The truss rod controls the curvature of
the neck and fingerboard and keeps them stable. The truss rod is usually
accessed through the top or bottom of the neck if you need to make
electronic capacitors, the round devices connected to the other side of
a volume knob), and other important-looking electronic items that help
convert the vibration of the string into sound. The cavity for the electronics
is usually located under a plate on the back of your bass guitar's
body. It may also be located under the control knobs on the front of your
own power source), you have one or two nine-volt batteries attached
to the electronics (via some wires). These batteries are located in the
same cavity as the electronics or in an adjacent cavity on the back of the
body. If your bass has passive electronics (electronics with no batteries),
you don't have to worry about replacing batteries.
On a Need-to-Know "Basses":
Gearing Up to Play Bass
Getting yourself ready to play both physically (with exercises) and mentally
(with theory) is essential to being a good bass player. You also have to pre-pare
your instrument by tuning it and by playing it correctly. When you play
the bass guitar correctly, your fingers can move with ease from note to note.
Coordinating your right and left hands
Because you play the bass with two hands (one hand striking and the other
fretting; no, it's not worried!), both hands have to be well coordinated with
each other. With the exercises in Chapter 4, you can warm up your hands on
a daily basis (just like an athlete warms up before a sporting event).
Mastering major and minor
Two basic tonalities prevail in music: major and minor. Each tonality has a
Excerpted from Bass Guitar For Dummies
by Patrick Pfeiffer Will Lee
Copyright © 2003 by Patrick Pfeiffer, Will Lee.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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