So, you’ve decided to take up bass? In keeping with the theme of this issue I thought I’d discuss some important points when getting started. Some students want to just play for fun, others might want to see how far they can take it professionally and many don’t/won’t know where it will take them. All of these situations are fine and completely normal. I definitely think that some consistent premises still benefit the broad cross section of those wanting to start out on an instrument though.
Get some decent gear
Obviously this is dependent on your budget, and whilst you don’t particularly need anything fancy to start out (great if you can afford it/do have something higher level though) it’s important to get gear that works and won’t hinder your learning. I’d try a buy a brand name instrument from an actual music store for a number of reasons. Firstly a brand name bass (Fender, Yamaha, Ibanez) has some reputation behind it and should be reliable and of a certain quality. Secondly, buying from a store should mean the instrument has been checked (and hopefully setup) to a good playable standard in terms of action and intonation. These factors alone are worth their weight in gold. Beginner bass players need all the help they can get and if your instrument isn’t in tune, won’t stay in tune or has bad action (high or low) this makes starting out all that bit harder!
Get a good teacher
‘I’ve got the internet and a few mates that play, why do I need a teacher?’ With the amount of resources available online this sort of thinking is becoming more and more prevalent. No doubt you could learn plenty of things from the internet and friends but for my thinking you can’t beat the guidance and knowledge of a good teacher. A teacher will be able to see your strengths/weaknesses and adjust accordingly as you go and they will know how much information to give you at any one point. Online learning can be seriously overwhelming – where do you start? Is it sequential? How long do I work on certain topics for? A good teacher will give you appropriate theory/technical work/pieces to work on (e.g., not starting with a ridiculously intricate slap piece on lesson one!) and should inspire, motivate and keep you on track.
Develop a practice routine
It may sound obvious but you wouldn’t believe how many people expect results without putting in any effort! Consistency is the key here. Regular practice is much better than big chunks every so often as it keeps things fresh both mentally and physically. Of course the more time you can commit the quicker you will see improvement, but even smaller practice time allocations at regular intervals will yield results. Within your practice routine make sure you are covering all the topics you need to and spend time on the areas that are giving you trouble. A lot of people just practice the parts that come easy to them and wonder why they aren’t improving.
Anyway, just some thoughts on how to start out on bass (or any instrument). Of course you want it to be interesting and fun. BUT hard work and regular practice is needed to get there AND you’ll then have lots of fun when you can start playing more advanced pieces/licks/techniques. There’s no downside to getting good at playing your instrument.
Check out last month's lesson on playing bass chords.