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How Playing Bass Improves Your Guitar Playing and Makes You a More Well-Rounded Musician

by vaughn skow January 30, 2021 4 min read


Howdy guitar gang!  It's January of 2021 as I pen this blog, I thank God for my gig playing bass at a local church.  Shoot, as musicians, ANY gig we get we should be grateful for.  Most clubs are gone, most concerts are gone, well, most live music is gone, so folks take what ya can get!  Shoot, do WHATEVER you can to keep your chops up and keep playing music with other real, flesh-n-blood musicians.  Sorry for my side-trip there, let's get to today's topic: why a guitar player NEEDS to spend some serious time playing ... bass!

So, I've been playing guitar since age 13, and I think I acquired my first bass (a Fender Mustang Bass) at about 16, so playing a LITTLE bass on my own demos and stuff like that is no new thing.  However, getting serious about it IS.  I'm about two years into being the regular bass player at a cool contemporary church in the greater Nashville, TN area.  I took the gig because it was "my" church and they needed a bass player.  What have I learned two years and hundreds of performances later?  Bass is a BIG DEAL, it's soooooo much more than just providing a solid bottom end and grooving with the drummer.  SO MUCH MORE!  Don't believe me?  Consider this:  Edward VanHalen not only played guitar (fairly well, most would agree), but he ALSO played bass on many of VanHalen's recordings, On the VH3 album, Eddie played bass on all of the album except for 2 songs. 

Eddie VanHalen playing bass makes you a better guitar player musician songwriter

Sure, bass IS about providing solid foundation and locking in with a drummer, but it seriously is so much more.  Think about these points:

  1. Nothing can "set the mood" of a particular section of a song like the bass can.  Moving all that air, your choice of what to play and how to play it really changes the FEEL of a piece or section.  Thumping straight-8's, walking, octaves, thumping with your thumb or fingers, plucking gently, picking fiercely ... man, what a difference you make in the feel.  No other instrument even comes close.  It's like the acoustic power of a full drum set, but with PITCH!
  2. The vocalists COUNT on you.  Okay, this is especially true in contemporary Christian music, but it's pretty universal.  While the guitarist may be washed in verb, and modulation effects, the drums are (more or less) pitch-less, the keys are full of "grace notes" and movement ... it's the BASS that a vocalist can count on to provide a reliable pitch reference.
  3. You don't need to be flashy, but you need to be PERFECT.  Seriously gang, as a guitar player, how many times have you really gotten by with being sloppy because you were awash in distortion, reverb, delay, and modulation effects?  Plus, as BB King famously said "if you hit a wrong note, hit again a few times and folks will think you meant to play it".  Dude, you can't get by with ANY of that on bass.  First, those HUGE waves you produce make for an awful train wreck when you land on the wrong note, and second, you almost never get to hide behind distortion and effects.  So, you learn precision playing, something so VERY many guitar players lack.
  4. Yes, you DO learn to more closely listen to what everybody ELSE is playing, especially the drummer, so you can lock in and provide a solid foundation.  This makes you a better team player, again an area where the average guitar player can stand to seriously up their game!
  5. You learn to NOT be a spotlight hog.  Yep, you are often delegated to the rear of the stage ... and that's a GOOD thing for the average ego-maniac guitar player.  As I've stated in so many blogs before, in a pro level road gig, being a "good hang" almost always gets you a gig over having perfect chops; after all, you're spending weeks, or even months together in small aluminum tubes being shot through the air or down the highway.  The hour or so on-stage pales in comparison to the ENDLESS hours hanging together while traveling.  So, the bass gig is a good ego-check.  Nuff said.
  6. You will become more musically well-rounded. You will start listening to and understanding the way in which the bass fills out and completes chord structures, as well as it's MASSIVE contribution to the overall feel of a song.  Why is Sir Paul McCartney in the record books as the worlds most successful songwriter in history ... ever?  Okay, partly because of his amazing God-given talent; but I can't help but feel confident that his many years in the trenches as a BASS PLAYER had a huge contribution to his songwriting virtuosity.
Sir Paul McCartney - How Bass makes you a better guitar player songwriter musician

See ya next week when I talk about how my time behind a DRUMSET has made a better guitar player out of me.  See ya then, it'll be soooo awesome!

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