As a new bass player, where do you start?

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For new bass players it can be very daunting to determine where to begin. The world of bass playing is huge and there are so many amazing and cool things about it. In this article I hope to give you some insight into what you should focus on when you are just starting out.

Read the safety instructions

When you have the financial means, be sure to take at least a few lessons. A teacher can help you prevent learning bad technique. Bad technique that can cause pain and injury. Whenever you play your instrument, keep wrists straight, shoulders relaxed and don’t forget to breath. Bass playing is all about minimal movement, so don’t raise your fingers off the neck too high.

Your plucking hand fingers should alternate when plucking the strings and you should incorporate rest strokes and raking. The fretting hand stays relaxed and the fingers that don’t fret a note are used to mute unused strings. The thumb on this hand is always anchored at the back of the neck.

Notes are fretted using the phalanx at the tip of the finger. Slightly bend your fingers and place them as close to the fret wire to get the best sounding notes.

It is normal to experience some pain in the pads of your fingers when you are not used to plucking and fretting strings, however pain in muscles and tendons isn’t. By taking some lessons face to face with an experienced instructor, you do not only prevent injury, but also prevent yourself from having to unlearn bad habits.

What songs should I learn?

There is no set repertoire of songs that you should learn to be a good bass player. Anybody that tells you otherwise isn’t being truthful. The way to enjoy bass playing as much as you possibly can, and keep motivated doing it, is by playing songs that you actual enjoy playing.

Someone could recommend you to learn the “Emergency on Planet Earth” album by Jamiroquai because it has awesome funky basslines on it. Although I agree this is true, if you are not into funk, it might be a better idea to learn the songs that your favorite band plays.

No matter if you are an amateur or a professional, if you want to be a life long bass player you should play stuff that excites you. Especially if you are not aiming to be a professional bass player but just want to play bass as a hobby, don’t play stuff you don’t enjoy playing.

If you do want to be a professional bass player, you might sometimes have to play something that isn’t your cup of tea. The trick here is to find something that you do like about it. When I play something I don’t particularly like, I try to focus on things I do like about it. This can be anything like focusing on playing with great timing, focusing on note length, or adding little bits to the bassline that make the song sound better.

Developing your musical hearing

Most bass players start off by learning songs through YouTube and bass tabs. I think it’s a great place to start since it can help you develop a feeling for the instrument. It will also help you develop technique and agility, and it will get some bassline ideas into your head. Unfortunately, when information is so readily available, it can also prevent you to explore on your own.

A skill that is often neglected by new players, is being able to play music by ear. To really connect to your instrument and make music with other musicians, it’s an essential skill to be able to play what you hear. Try to add some ear training to your practice routine as early as possible.

This means listening to music and trying to translate what you hear onto your instrument. The best way to do this, is by singing what you hear and then trying to find it on your instrument. Start with easy songs that have basslines you can hear really well in the mix. You can also try to find the notes of a melody you know.

Figuring out an entire song for the first time can seem like an impossible task. Focus on figuring out one bar at a time. Take it slowly and you will soon progress.

The goal of having great ears is being able to make the connection between your ears and your hands. Tip: There are a lot of great ear trainer apps available for your mobile phone that can help develop your ears.

Check out ‘Complete Bass Player: Why you should stop using tabs‘ to learn more about playing by ear.

Should I learn theory and learn how to read?

Good question! It completely depends on your goals as a bass player. Do you just want to play along with your favorite Metallica songs? Then you can probably get away with not learning theory or learning to read. But if you want to get into writing your own songs, solos and basslines, or have aspirations to become a professional bass player, then you probably should.

Music theory is the grammar behind the language of music. You don’t need to be an expert in English grammar or be able to read to speak and tell amazing stories. However, knowing the grammar behind a language can definitely boost your skills and help you out.

If you want to read more about why you should learn theory, check out my article “Why learn music theory, and where do I begin?“.


Music doesn’t sound quite right if the timing is off. To make even the simplest basslines sound amazing, it needs to be played with great timing. Make it your job to have great timing and people will line up to play with you.

There are many ways to work on your timing. The most important ones are playing along with a drum track or a metronome. It’s hard to spend time doing stuff you don’t enjoy doing. That’s why you should make it fun to work on your timing. There are a lot of great free resources you can use when it comes to drum grooves. One of them is called funklet. You can find it online via

Funklet is a free website that features some famous drum grooves that are great fun to play along to.

A while ago I have written an article that explains many ways you can improve your timing. You can check it out via “Complete bass player: Improve your timing on bass“.

Joining a band

To make music even more fun, consider joining a band. Just like football or basketball, music is a team sport. One of the best feelings as a bass player is locking in with a drummer and laying a solid foundation while the rest of the band builds on your groove.

I recommend you start playing in a band as soon as possible. At first it might seem scary because you feel you barely have control over the instrument. You should however realize there are a lot of players on different instruments who are in the same boat as you. There are always players at your level (or preferably a little higher level) that you can form a band with.

Playing in a band allows you to grow faster because you are doing it together. It also gives you clear goals what you should practice once you and your band members are building a repertoire.

Having fun

Nowadays there are a lot of TV shows about music like “America’s Got Talent”, “The Voice” or others with a similar format. The downside to these programs is that music is being presented as a competition.

It’s easy to forget what the point of music is, especially if you get frustrated. Always remember that you are playing music because you are curious about it. Because it brings you joy. And because working on something and figuring stuff out is fulfilling.

There are a lot of musicians that stop playing music because they compare themselves too much to other players. They get frustrated that there is always someone out there who is better. Music is not a competition and it is a waste of time and energy to focus only on becoming better and not enjoying the process.

When you see someone who is really good at playing bass, be amazed by them and get inspired to try and figure out what they are doing. The only person you should really compare yourself to, is you. Did you learn cool new songs? Are you ears and timing getting better? Then you are well on your way!

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy Get better at bass: Feeling stuck? Do this now!

I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are and if you have any questions or suggestions.


  1. Dennis, looks like I got here pretty quickly. I think this is going to be a very productive and fun journey. Thank you for being here!

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