Creep

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Not included in Paul Wolfe’s Play Bass in 50 Songs – Rock list is this one from Radiohead. It was the second bass-line that I thought I could play – although recently I have discovered that I was playing it slightly wrong!

Kris Rodgers has a tutorial for this one on his Bass Bass Bass You Tube channel here.

Not much else to say about this – the notes are pretty straightforward so you can concentrate on the rhythm.

 

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With or Without You

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The second song in Paul Wolfe’s Play Bass in 50 Songs – Rock list is this one from U2’s Joshua Tree album. Paul says this about it:

One of my favourite U2 songs – simple bass line too, four chords, root notes in a steady 8th note pulse.

This was the first song that I worked out how to play on my own, but if you need a tutorial there’s one here by Dave Marks which shows you how to play the entire line on one string!

Slightly more adventurous – using 2 strings – is this version, which also has a tab. This is similar to the way I worked out to play it – I played the A notes on the 5th fret of the E string rather than with the open A string, meaning that I could almost play the entire song from one hand position.

And, of course, you could play the B-notes on the 7th fret of the E-string instead of the 2nd fret of the A-string.

The choice is yours!

 

Yellow

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The first song on the  Play Bass in 50 Songs – Rock list is Yellow by Coldplay. Paul Wolfe writes:

A nice simple line to get started with.

And so it is. Consisting of only 2 sections and using just 5 notes in total on a straightforward quaver/eighth-note rhythm, this is close to as easy as it gets.

Finbar of finbarbass has a tutorial for Yellow here. However, the way I finger the verse part of the song is shown in the tab that accompanies this play-along by Enrique Cabelo.

The official video for Yellow is here.

And that should be everything you need to master this song’s bass part.

Have fun y’all.

Chunking and Slowing Down

One of the first things I’ve discovered whilst trying to learn new bass lines for songs is that learning them at performance tempo can be really tricky. There are two main reasons for this.

First, there is the issue that it is rare for a bass part for a song to consist of only one line/groove/lick/riff (call it what you will). Stand By Me is a song where that is the case (others include U2’s With or Without You and Bullet the Blue Sky, and Radiohead’s Creep), but most songs have several distinctive sections which together form the bass part. The way to learn these sections is …

… one at a time! Now, the majority of the on-line tutorials I’ve viewed so far do teach song bass-lines in distinct sections, but … and here’s the rub … they usually teach the whole song in one video. Over at  How to Play Bass, Paul Wolfe’s tutorials are an exception to this rule which is why, as a beginner, I’ve found them especially helpful. Paul usually breaks his tutorials into chunks so you can see the intro, verse, chorus, bridge and outro sections for a song in isolation from one another and once you are confident with the various sections, you can link them together.

The second issue with trying to learn at performance tempo is that, for beginners like me, that tempo is too quick. Too often I’ve found myself struggling to keep up with a song that is simply going too fast for me at this stage. What happens then is that I make numerous mistakes, my already poor technique disintegrates further and I find myself tempted to re-enact some of The Who’s infamous instrument smashing exploits. So what to do about that?

The answer is simple and obvious: I need to slow things down. Another feature of Paul Wolfe’s videos is that many of them have the parts played at a slowed-down tempo, as well as at performance tempo. That means that you can play along with Paul while you’re learning – and that’s great.

But what about playing on my own? What can I do to play at a slower, but consistent tempo while I am learning songs? Well, obviously I can play along with a metronome set to whatever tempo I’m comfortable with, but I won’t be doing that on-stage, in Joe’s Garage or wherever. I’ll be playing along with a drummer and some other instruments … and you need to keep time with them, especially the drummer! So how about learning my lines along with a slower-than-performance drum beat? But where might I find such a thing?

Kris Rodgers of Learn Bass has the answer. He’s provided a useful resource for the aspiring bassist (or indeed any other practising instrumentalist): a number of drum rhythms in 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4 time signatures and at a range of tempos from 80 beats per minute upwards. This is where I found them. Thanks Kris.

Naturally, as I get more proficient with the bass-lines that I’m learning, then I move on to a quicker beat until I can play at performance tempo.

 

 

Stand By Me

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Over at How to Play Bass Paul Wolfe has produced two handy lists of 50 songs which are intended to be a step-by-step route for the beginning bassist to develop their skills with their instrument. The lists are Play Bass in 50 Songs – Rock and Play Bass in 50 Songs – Soul. But which to choose, rock or soul?

As it happens, I can already play a few of the songs on the rock list so, rather than start there, I decided to begin working through the soul list as this would expand my repertoire more quickly.

The first song on Paul’s Play Bass in 50 Songs – Soul is Ben E King’s classic, Stand By Me. Paul says of this song:

A nice simple line to start with that repeats throughout the song.

I couldn’t find a free tutorial on Paul’s site, and I haven’t subscribed to his pay e-zine (yet), but I did find a tutorial for this song by Kris Rodgers here. You can also find it in his lesson tree at Learn Bass – it’s song #2.

There are several videos of Stand By Me on YouTube, so finding one to play along to is pretty straightforward. The one I’ve been playing along to is here.

Whilst speaking about YouTube, if you have an account you could gather together versions of the songs on Paul’s lists (and Kris’s, and any other songs you learn to play) into your own playlist. It’s what I’m doing for the songs that I don’t already have available in other formats.

So How Do You Do That?

The traditional way of learning a musical instrument is to find a good tutor in your location and take lessons. I checked online, and the nearest tutor who advertises online is 20 miles away. So I went to our local music shop – our town still has one of those – where I found a flyer for a bass guitar tutor who gives lessons in an arts centre in the town. His prices seem very reasonable …

but there’s a problem. He only teaches on Saturdays and recently free Saturdays have been in short supply in my life, and if lessons are going to be worthwhile, you need them to be regular.

They also need to be enjoyable; something you look forward to week by week. And you really need to get on with your tutor too, which isn’t always a given.

Another approach is to decide on some songs you’d like to be able to play and then search out tabs for them on Ultimate Guitar or Big Bass Tabs or one of the many other internet sites where people post the tabs they have produced and/or copied.

You could do that … and I tried for a while. I learned a few basic riffs, but learning whole songs was more troublesome. And I quickly found out several things:

  1. On-line tabs don’t teach good technique. I know that’s obvious, but it needs to be said. You almost certainly won’t learn good technique from reading tabs.
  2. Most of the tabs I looked at are wrong. Some are badly wrong! Some seem pretty much unplayable, although I suspect that more experienced bassists might disagree with that assessment. Even when I managed to get my fingers round the tab presented, very often when I tried to play along to the original track, the bass-line I’d been learning was simply incompatible with the record/CD/mp3/download. There are exceptions, but that’s what they seem to be … exceptions.
  3. On-line tabs don’t tell you important things like fingering. Many of the ones I’ve seen don’t tell you things like time signature, tempo or note lengths either. And those things matter. As a beginner, I’m not yet used to hearing bass-lines in isolation from the rest of the song. I need more assistance than a tab that assumes that I know the rhythm of the piece I’m attempting will give me. Add to that my limited tab-reading skills – I am new to this after all.
  4. If you want information like tempo, time signature etc, then you need to be using sheet music, not tabs. And that means learning to read music in the bass clef.
  5. My ambition far outstrips my present ability. I won’t embarrass myself by listing songs I thought I could learn this way, but most of them are definitely not suitable for a beginning bassist.

Of course, in this age of the Web, you could also look on-line for bass guitar tutorials for the songs that you want to learn… and there are lots to choose from. But again, the quality is variable.

This approach also doesn’t do anything to correct point 5 above, excessive ambition paired with inadequate ability.

What is needed is a more methodical approach, but probably not one that’s built on learning scales rather than songs. After all, I want to play songs! Does such a thing exist?

Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled across Paul Wolfe’s website, How to Play Bass. As I trawled through the site I came across 2 intriguing blog posts, Play Bass in 50 Songs – Rock and Play Bass in 50 Songs – Soul. Here Paul presents a scheme for the beginning bassist to learn the instrument by playing songs – just what I was looking for. Better yet, Paul has produced video tutorials for many (most/all) of these songs. Some of that material is available free of charge too! The rest is probably in Paul’s e-zine back catalogue, which is subscription only.

A similar scheme can be found in the lesson tree at Kris Rodgers’s site Learn Bass. Again, some of the material is available for no cost, the rest is by subscription.

Having already learned a couple of songs from Paul’s video tutorials, I am planning to use his 50 songs lists as a route to learning to play the bass. I already know that there are lots of songs here that I don’t know – and lots that my teenage self would never have listened to. More fool him. I also expect that there’ll be other songs that I’ll pick up along the way, not least the songs listed on Paul’s website with the tagline Bass For Beginners.

And, when life settles down a bit, I’m planning to  enquire with my local bass tutor as well.

 

PS I have no connection with either Paul Wolfe or Kris Rodgers, not even, at the time of writing, as a paying customer. And I have no objection to them selling subscriptions for access to their material; it all takes time and money to produce, and people have to eat, heat their homes, pay their mortgages, provide for their families etc.

Why Do You Want To …?

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When you are setting out to learn a new skill good questions to ask yourself include, “Why am I doing this? What do I want to achieve?”

The answers that you give to these questions will likely have an influence on how you set about learning.

So why do I want to play the bass? Well …

If I were 30 years younger I’d say that I want to be able to play bass like Geddy Lee (Rush), Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), John Taylor (Duran Duran) and John Deacon (Queen) … amongst many others. And I’d want to be in a band.

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These days my ambitions are somewhat more modest. I’d like to be able to play along to some of my favourite tunes, and I’d like to be able to play bass in a way that supports the music in our church week by week.

And maybe, just maybe, I might find some like-minded individuals to form a band, strictly for the fun of playing music together.

And maybe I won’t …

 

In the beginning …

Years ago I taught myself how to play acoustic 6-string guitar, but I have long harboured thoughts of playing the bass.

In August 2014 a friend of mine left Scotland to live and work in China. As part of his preparations, he decided that it would be more cost-effective for him to sell his bass guitar and amp and then buy replacements in China than to pay to have them shipped.

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So I bought my friend’s bass and amp with thoughts of teaching myself once again. After all, how hard can it be to learn to play the bass guitar?

Well, dear reader, it’s not just as easy as you might think. Firstly, most bassists play across far more of their fretboard than limited guitarists like me are used to exploring. Secondly, bass-playing technique is a bit different to simply pounding out chords and arpeggios on a 6-string, which is what I mostly do. And thirdly, I have quite big hands, so I’ve been able to get away with relatively poor left-hand technique whilst playing 6-string. I found out quite quickly that if I’m ever going to play bass at all well, I won’t be able to get away with that.

However, I did make some rudimentary progress. I’ve even played bass a few times as part of our church music group, but never really progressed much beyond playing the root notes for the chords.

As 2016 closed and 2017 began, I decided that it was time to try learning to play my now somewhat dusty new toy … properly.

This is the beginning of my story …