1. Not Getting Your Bass Properly Set Up
Getting your guitar set up means bringing it to a professional who will adjust the neck, bridge, and nut, to allow for easier playing.
The action (how high or low the strings are from the fretboard) will be adjusted so that it takes minimal finger pressure to press down on the notes, while making sure there is no fret buzz.
In addition to this the guitar will stay in tune longer and the intonation (how well the strings hold their tuning up and down the neck) will be greatly improved.
Many people will buy a new bass guitar and play it straight out of the box. The problem with this is that usually the factory set up isn’t the best and you’ll have a variety of problems that can cause the guitar to sound and behave worse than it should.
Some of the benefits of properly setting up your bass guitar are:
- Making it easier to play by lowering the action
- Fix neck warping
- Minimize any fret buzz
- Makes sure all frets are level
- Makes the bass sound better
- Allows for bass to stay in tune longer
It’s usually around $50-$75 to get a guitar setup so it won’t break the bank. Finding somebody near you who can help is as easy as searching on yelp or going to your local music store and asking around.
Better yet, you can always learn how to set up a guitar yourself. It will take some time and experience, but the benefit of this is that you can set it up exactly how you like each time and not rely on someone else’s opinion.
A decent setup can be the difference between wanting to play bass and not feeling like it because it’s too much of a pain to play.
2. Practicing Without A Metronome
You’ve probably heard this a million times but you’d be surprised how many students out there refuse to practice with a metronome, and it’s one of the most common mistakes bass players can make.
It can be seen as boring by some, but it’s important to realize just how essential using a metronome is.
Bassists who refuse to use a metronome:
- Are bad at playing in time with others
- Have a harder time processing complex rhythms
- Lose track of their technique progress
Using a metronome TOO much can be a bad thing too. You can get stuck in playing endless cycles of 16th notes and triplets since that’s what you are used to, and your playing can sound stale and predictable.
Utilizing a metronome is better when used as a tool to test how well you have mastered certain skills, and to improve your timing.
It won’t fix bad technique.
To improve your technique you need to practice slowly without a metronome, and then once you feel comfortable with your playing technique you can introduce a metronome at a slow tempo and SLOWLY built it up over time.
Go ahead and grab a simple metronome like this one from Amazon and start slowly utilizing it in your practice sessions. You’ll stop rushing and dragging, and your bandmates will greatly thank you for it.
3. The Left Hand Deathgrip
Do you ever get pain in your left hand when playing bass?
You should NEVER play through the pain if this happens. Take a break, and when you come back to your guitar it’s important to analyze your technique and posture.
One of the most commonly seen mistakes is when bassists have a deathgrip around the neck with their left hand. This can cause stress, muscle fatigue, and it will lead to bigger problems down the road with your hand.
Your hand should never be wrapped all the way around the neck. Instead, your thumb should be very lightly resting against the middle-back of the neck. In-fact, you don’t even need your thumb at all!
Try seeing just how little pressure you need to apply in order to get a note to ring out. You’ll be surprised.
Rather than resting your thumb against the neck, try applying some pressure on the guitar body with your right arm. This should give just enough force in the opposite direction where you can just use your left hand fingers to press the notes with little effort.
It will be tricky at first - like walking on a balancing beam, but in the long run this reduced stress on your muscles will allow you to play faster, with more fluidity, and with greater dynamic range.
A teacher is really the best way to help correct and technique and posture issues, but you can also find some great material on this stuff in some of the online bass lessons out there.
If you are still having trouble playing with just your fingers, make sure your guitar is properly set up and that the action isn’t too high on the strings. If you think you might be better off with a thinner neck it couldn't hurt to check out some of our recommendations for short scale bass guitars.
4. Using Only One Finger To Pluck
Ultimately there are no rules when playing bass guitar, but there are certain things you can do to make playing way easier.
One of these things is using 2 fingers to alternate playing each note.
Think about it - When you play with 2 fingers you are cutting in half the amount of work that each finger needs to do. You can play faster and smoother with less effort, so it’s a technique absolutely worth utilizing at all times.
It will be a little hard at first, like learning how to walk, but over time it will become second nature and part of your core playing technique.
5. Not Knowing The Difference Between Practicing And Playing
Playing licks, riffs, and songs you already know is great fun, but it won’t improve your playing, technique, or knowledge of the bass guitar.
We’ve all been there so it’s completely understandable. You just want to sit down and play so you pull out your playlist of your favorite songs to play on bass.
The problem with this is that it isn’t practice.
Practice is where you challenge yourself to learn new techniques, songs, theory, and licks, or where you try to polish ones you are mediocre at.
The truth of the matter is that you’ll never get better by only playing the stuff that you know now, and it’s an easy trap to fall into when things get frustrating or hard. It’s about having the discipline to push through the hard times and get to that next plateau.
Don’t get me wrong - it’s perfectly fine to play some songs you know, but just make sure you know the difference between playing and practicing, and set aside time for each.
6. Not Listening To The Rest Of The Band
Since the job of the bassist is to support the music, it’s essential to actively listen to and watch the other bandmates.
It’s far too easy to be too focused on your own guitar and your own playing while ignoring some obvious cues that you could use to enhance and serve the music.
This means paying attention to the bass drum, chord changes, the overall feel of the music, and being able to predict what is coming next. Some of this just comes from experience, but starting simple and focusing on the bass drum hits is a great way to lock in with the drummer and develop a solid tune.
7. Not Listening To Different Music Genres
When you only listen to a select few music genres, you might start to develop a stale and predictable playing style.
Take a heavy metal bass player for instance. If they only listen to rock and metal, their playing will likely reflect the kinds of riffs and playing that they hear in the songs they listen to. It’s what they know and are most used to, and they won’t have many ideas to play around with in their head.
On the other hand, if that metal player also listens to classical music, funk, and jazz, suddenly they have a library inside their head of different licks and sounds in those styles. Tastefully incorporating these other styles into their metal playing in small sections will greatly enhance the music while making it more interesting to listen to and more unique to the player.
In essence it’s the combination of these styles that give musicians their own style and flair. So unless you want to just emulate a specific artist 100%, it’s important to branch out and find inspiration elsewhere.
8. Learning Only From Tabs
Learning to read music and playing along to tabs for your favorite songs is a must as a bassist.
It’s important, however, to not neglect ear training.
In essence this is the process of trying to figure things out on your own on guitar after hearing something rather than just relying on tabs.
Doing so allows you to eventually “unlock the fretboard” since you start to make sense of things like notes and intervals on a much grander scale than just trying to memorize them. With enough practice you’ll be able to hear something and figure out how to play it in a relatively short time.
In addition to all this, if you ever hope to improvise on your bass you’ll have to incorporate ear training into your daily routine since tabs will never give you the freedom to play what you are feeling in the moment.
9. Playing Too Many Notes Too Fast
It can be tempting to pull every trick out of the hat when jamming, but it's a very common mistake for beginner bassists and you’ll most likely find that others respond better to a simple supporting bassline instead.
Unless you have a solo, it’s the basic role of the bass player to develop a simple underlying groove that the others can latch onto.
Keep it simple, lock in with the drummer, and you’ll be surprised at how much more praise you get than playing something fast and complex.
When practicing make sure to take things slow as well. Any professional will tell you that it’s far better to take everything extremely slow until you absolutely nail it, and then slowly increase the metronome speed over time to get more comfortable with quicker tempos.