Playing Style

"Playing Style" is a subject I really enjoy, because it is one area of your bass sound that can change quickly, without spending money to change your hardware, pickups, strings, etc. It is the sound that you make on your instrument with your fingers. Every bass player "artist" has a distinctive approach and sound, even if it is a bad one. The sound that your instrument makes is an expression of you and your personality to a large extent. It is your playing style. This is often noted by bass players who have expensive “axes” and gear, but their sound just is not that good, until someone else who is an accomplished artist plays on the same bass and gear. If this is you, this is good indication that there are several small bad habits that you have accumulated and need to over come.

One of the more often and overlooked bad habits is playing all notes in a legato fashion. This means that you are playing each note too long and there is not enough clarity between the notes. Bass playing often requires that you play your phrases more staccato than you would prefer. This is because the bass frequencies tend to get lost in the mix and are not as easily perceived by the human ear as well as mid and high frequencies. Unless the music warrants it, the continued legato phrasing is often the sign of a lazy bass player. Practicing scales and phrases with “acute staccato like” playing is good therapy for a bassist.

Another bad habit is leaving unused strings on the bass to vibrate while playing others. This usually has a very muddy effect, and is often due to not properly muting the strings with either the left hand or right hand. This becomes problematic with 5 and 6 string basses. Four string basses are easier to manage with regard to string muting, since your right hand thumb can mute one or two strings, and the unused fingers on your right hand can mute one or two strings also.  When using a pick, you will need to mute with the palm of the right hand, especially when moving towards the higher sounding strings.  Whether you are using a pick or finger, when moving from the high soundings strings to the lower, you should be using your left hand to mute previously played strings.

Having a knowledge of chords is very important for all bass players and musicians.  At the very minimum you should know the difference between major, minor, suspended, augmented, and diminished chords.  A good resource would be www.kwikchordguitar.com.  Even though this is for guitar, it should still be quite helpful to a bassist, since the bottom four strings of a guitar are tuned the same as a 4 string bass. I learned all of my chords on the piano.  As you learn the chords, you will realize that their is a pattern to them, and that it is not as hard as it appears to be initially.

I recommend that bass players listen to others, especially the pros who do this for living. My recommendation is to find some of their music, and learn to play it exactly as the artist plays it, with no modifications. When you can play these bass lines perfectly as they do, then, you can feel free to embellish the bass lines. So here are some recommendations of players that I admire and who have influenced my playing to some degree.


Artist Band Genre Additional Note
Chris Squire Yes Classic Rock Lots of Treble
Marcus Miller Himself, David Sandborn, Joe Sample, Jazz Distinctive Jazz Bass Sound.
Jimmy Haslip Yellow Jackets, Gino Vanelli, Anita Baker, Jazz/Rock Left Handed and upside down string tuning
Ray Brown Oscar Pedersen Trio and others Jazz Upright & Guitar
Brian Bromberg Various Jazz Upright & Guitar
John Entwistle The Who Rock  
Neil Stubenhaus Various Jazz/Fusion  
Tetsuo Sakari Cassiopea Pop Japanese Bass God
Nathan East Four Play, David Benoit, Joe Sample Jazz Uses 36" Yamaha Bass
Stanley Clark Himself & Various Jazz, Rock, Fusion Movie Composer

Among these artists are various styles of bass playing. Some use picks, others use fingers, some are slap and pop masters, some can slap the bass with both hands and make music. This is not a complete list, but it is a good start.  If you would like to contribute and write your own review of a bass player, fill out the form below and submit your request. If your request is accepted, I will post your review on its own page.


At the following links, you will find the necessary information about various techniques and playing styles like: finger playing, using a pick, slap and pop, tapping, left hand muting, and advanced techniques, and further sources.


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