What makes a good bass player?

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If you are serious about being a bass player, just being able to play decent bass is not going to cut it. There are numerous skills every bass player needs to get a gig and also to keep it. Some of these skills are not as obvious as you might expect. In this article I will discuss what I think every bass player needs to make sure they can make it in the music scene.


As a member of the rhythm section you are laying the foundation on which the rest of the band should be able to build. Together with the other members in you rhythm section, you should therefor aim to be a well oiled machine. And for that machine to run smoothly, all cogs inside the machine need to run in the same pace. Therefor it’s essential to make sure your timing is on point. There is a reason “timing” is on the top of this list. It should be your number one priority at all times.

If you want to read more about timing, check out the article: Complete bass player: Improve your timing on bass.

Being dependable

A skill that is often not discussed but crucial inside every band or team, is that it’s members need to be dependable. This means showing up on time, being prepared and just overall having your stuff together. No faulty cables, crackling input jacks or any other messed up gear. Next to making sure you have a reliable amp and bass, make sure you have decent transportation to get to your gigs or to the studio.

Mr Nice Guy

When you are on tour, there really is only a short amount of time that you are actually playing your instrument. Most of the time you are waiting for the show to start, loading in, building up, driving to the next venue and so on. This means that you will be spending a lot of time with your band mates and the crew.

People who have toured before know this and therefor make sure they bring people along on tour that they actually enjoy being around. Be a nice guy, be a social guy and overall don’t be a jerk. Part of this is also being communicative. Talk with people, help your bandmates when you’ve finished carrying your own stuff and overall don’t create problems. The best bassists are problem solvers, not people who created problems.

Create great basslines

In some situations you are supposed to play what the arranger has written down for you, but in most situations you have freedom to put in (some of) your own flavor. Bands love to work with bass players that are creative and think of nice bass parts that support their songs. Bass lines don’t always need to be complicated to stand out. Sometimes they stand out because of their simplicity or because one quirky thing that just makes the song better instantly.

Aim to be one of the guys that writes good parts. Also make sure you know your place in the band and that you aren’t guided by your ego 24/7. This means not overplaying, knowing when to play, and when not to play. Be aware of dynamics and think as an arranger instead of a bass player. If you want to learn more about creating nice bass parts, read my article How to write better basslines: The 4 ingredients. You can also check out and learn from some bassline ideas I’ve recorded for my series Groove Backpack.

Musical theory

It’s really hard to communicate inside a group when not everybody speaks the same language. The same goes for the language of music. When you know decent musical theory this really helps to communicate inside the band. It can take a lot of time if there is someone inside the band who needs to play a chord he has never heard of. Make sure you know your scales, modes and also know how chords are constructed. It’s also really helpful to be able to read chord charts and in some cases musical notation.


Some countries or music scenes are big enough that you don’t need to learn more than one style. However, most countries and music scenes aren’t. It’s therefor important to know how to play a number of different styles. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of every style, but If someone asks you to play a bass line with a reggae feel or a walking bass line, you should be able to do it.

Of course this doesn’t mean you need to transcribe the entire Bob Marley discography or that you need to be able to blast walking basslines over Giant Steps in 230 bpm. It just means that you need to have some stylistic awareness.

You should also be versatile in the kind of gigs you can do. Playing in your neighbors living room requires a different approach than playing in a stadium.

Have a good tone

No matter how well you play, when you have a horrible tone you are never going to sound good in the band. Invest time in working on your tone. This means investing in you technique (making sure you make a nice sound with your fingers) as well as investing in proper gear. I recommend you have a few different basses that produce different sounds like a precision bass-type bass and a jazz bass-type bass. You should also make sure you have an amplifier that is gig worthy and has enough power for the shows you are playing.

Good ears

When transcribing songs or improvising on the spot, you are nowhere without good ears. Invest time in working on your ears. As music is a language you should focus on listening just as much as on speaking.

What makes a good bass player?

Bass players should not only aim to be good instrumentalists and invest time in everything that has to with excelling musically, but they should also have a lot of other skills like being dependable and sociable. To have a good sound and be mobile you need to spend money on professional gear and possibly on a car (and driver’s license). To master your instrument you need to spend a lot of time practicing and perfecting your skills. Investing in all areas will pay of in the long run and will make sure everyone wants to work wit you.

You might also enjoy “The role of the bass player in the band“. An article I wrote about how you can make your band sound as amazing as possible.

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. Hi Megan, all content on this website is original and written by me. Seeing as Scott has been a professional for years, I’m not surprised if he mentions similar skills that are essential for a bass player. Thanks for your comment and hope to see you around. Kind regards, Dennis

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