How good do I have to be to play in a band?

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What is the skill level you actually need before you can join a band?

It would be amazing to have a fixed answer to this question, but unfortunately there isn’t. The level of playing you need to play in a band depends on many things.

You can compare playing in a band to playing in a basketball team. Even kids who still trip over their own feet are ‘allowed’ to join and play in a basketball team. But the team only works if everyone is around the same skill level. An NBA player would definitely get frustrated very easily playing with people who’s main focus is not dropping the ball. And someone who can barely make a pass will feel terrible when playing with the national all star team.

But fear not! Even though there is not a fixed answer to our question, there are skills you can develop to make you a worthy band member. This article focuses on creating the mindset you need as a bass player in a band and is applicable to players from any level.

Be prepared

Being in a band means to take ownership of your responsibilities as a band member. A big part of this is learning the songs that are on the setlist. This means to put in the effort and learn the parts. And you should do it before the rehearsal. Having trouble figuring a certain bass part out? No problem. Ask someone like a friend, band member or your bass teacher to help you.

The goal of a rehearsal is to make sure every part fits together. Also you use band rehearsal for practicing going from one section of a song to another. Rehearsals are about the details. Deciding tempos, who gets to play the solo, etc. Rehearsals are also about having fun and feeling how awesome it is to play music together.

What rehearsals aren’t for, is for figuring out what note you should play where. This is why you practice at home.

Be able to communicate

Playing together in a band is all about communicating with each other. And to communicate with each other musically you need to learn the language.

The first step you can take is figuring out where all the notes are on the neck of your bass. If the guitar player asks you what note you are playing , it’s important you can answer that question. Visa versa, when the key player asks you to play an F#, you should be able to find it in at least two different spots on the neck.

Depending on the level of the rest of the players in the band (and hopefully also your curiosity about bass playing), it’s a good idea to learn more about music theory. Key players and guitar players think in chords. So it’s a good idea to learn how chords are built. Learn what notes are in a chord, but also what you can play over the different chord types. This will in time help you develop new ideas when improvising or writing your own basslines. And after learning about chords, it might be time to read about scales or the modes of the major scale.

Check out this article if you want to learn music theory but don’t know where to start:
Why learn music theory, and where do I begin?

Make sure your have decent timing

There is a myth among beginning players that the drummer is responsible for making sure the band is in time. Although the drummer occupies a broad range in the audio spectrum (and is usually the loudest band member) all advanced player know this is not true.

If the band wants to be in time, it’s everybody’s duty to make sure they have their timing in order. Train your internal pulse so the drummer doesn’t have to slow you down or drag you along.

Note that your timing doesn’t have to be perfect before you should join a band. Musicians work on their timing during their whole lives. You will always have moments where you feel the beat a bit too early or late. And that’s okay. The most important thing is acquiring the mindset that you should actively keep working on improving your time. Know that it’s your shared responsibility to keep time.

If you want to learn more about how to improve your timing, check out my article:
Complete bass player: Improve your timing on bass.

Develop your ears

When learning songs you can try to rely on transcriptions of the songs that are available on- or offline, but you will soon realize that they aren’t always available.

Every musician should make it one of their priorities to develop their musical hearing. This means being able to transcribe songs by just listening to them. It can also mean being able to respond on the fly to what the other players around you are adding to the music through their instruments.

Having decent musical hearing will help you recognize when something doesn’t sound right and how you can adapt your part to fit the music.

If you want to learn more about developing you ears check out my article Complete Bass Player: Why you should stop using tabs.

Have a good attitude

Just like in any group, people prefer it if you are nice to be around. This means being social, positive and just overall having fun.

Another part of your attitude is being on time. If the rehearsal starts at eight, preferably be there 10 minutes early so you can set up your stuff. This will also allow you to have a nice chat with your band members before the rehearsal starts.

Be okay with you or your band mates making mistakes and when offering critique, make it constructive.

Especially if you are in an amateur band realize that music is about having fun and possibly about taking a break from other things that are already consuming a lot of energy.

Tone is important

Something that is overlooked a lot but should definitely be mentioned is the tone of your bass. Being a bass player doesn’t mean you should dial off all your mids and highs and boost your bass frequencies. A good tone is something that works in the mix for the whole band.

Learn about equalizing your sound, about cutting bass frequencies when the sound is too boomy and adding low mids instead. Pro tip: When another player boosts their bass frequencies too much, they can muddy the mix and should probably dial back.

Also, check your volume. Nobody’s happy when the rehearsals or shows are too loud. In the rehearsal room I always prefer to be a good distance away from my speaker. I also make sure it’s pointed towards me. Bass frequencies need a few meters to develop. This means that you will hear yourself better if you create some distance between yourself and the speaker.

Pro tip: The thing that influences your sound the most is probably not your type of gear but your touch/technique. Put time and effort in developing the sound in your fingers.

The role of the bass player in the band

When you want to function well in a band you have to realize what your role is in the group. As a bass player we outline the harmony and are responsible for the groove and foundation of the music. We lock in with the drummer and make the rest of the band sound good.

This means you shouldn’t overplay constantly and as a result frustrate the singer and the lead guitar player. Being in a band is a team effort. If every player does their part you’ll band sound like a well oiled machine in no time at all.

If you want to read more about your role as a bass player in a band check out:
The role of the bass player in the band

Some closing words

I see a lot of bass players postponing playing in a band because they think they are not good enough. But in reality there is never a perfect time to join/start a band. The most important thing is finding a band that suits you. This is a band that has players which are around your level (or maybe a little bit better so you can learn from them). Or a band that is okay with you still learning and feeding off their knowledge.

A band should be a safe space for you where you can experiment and learn. Surround yourself with people who are like minded and want to play the same music you do. As bass players we usually sound the best when we are part of a band. That is where we thrive as groove builders and as the backbone of the band.

Playing in a band will help you grow as a bass player exponentially. Only when you are confronted with real life situations can you learn what it really means to be the low end of the band.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy Should I quit my band?

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. Awesome site, Dennis! I just discovered it. There is a minor typo on this page: โ€œ Develop you earsโ€. I realize you moderate your comments, so you can (obviously) delete this comment (or edit my comment and remove the mention of the typo). Thanks again for the site! The topics are so pertinent to me.

    1. Hi Steve thank you so much, also for making the content better and letting me know about typos. Hope to see you around! Let me know if there is anything you would like to read more about.

      EDIT: Oh and of course I fixed the typo ๐Ÿ™‚

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