Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Myths and Facts Behind Playing the Bass Guitar

by Jennifer Hughes

Bass players always seem to be in the background, except for a very few that take the stage front and center. This is why many bass players seem so mysterious, and why some myths abound about them and bass playing in general. Some bassists may have even believed these myths themselves before they picked up the bass, after which they eventually learned the truth.

So what are the most popular myths about learning and playing the bass and what’s the truth behind them?

You should start out on the cheapest bass guitar you can find.

If you’re a beginner, it’s generally not a good idea to go for the lowest-priced model you can buy. Bass guitars on the lowest rung of the price tier tend to be poorly made and can only give you frustration instead of enjoyment when playing. Instead, go for reasonably priced basses that are recommended for beginners. These bass models are of a sturdy build and good sound quality, plus they’re wallet-friendly but not too cheaply priced as to make you doubt their quality.

The bass is easier to play than the guitar.

The bass may only have four strings compared with the electric guitar’s six, but that doesn’t make it any easier to learn to play properly. It’s a different instrument that’s played differently from the electric guitar. Playing the bass requires a different knowledge base and skill set, so to speak. So no, the bass isn’t necessarily easier to play than the electric guitar.

If you can’t play the guitar, then just play bass.

This is somewhat connected to the myth above. While there are some bass players who transitioned from guitar to bass, that doesn’t mean they failed as guitar players. Some guitarists who are used to playing leads may even find it difficult to play bass. Circumstances differ, but in some cases a bassist picked up the bass because it was necessary, or because there was no one else to not only play it, but play it well.

John Deacon, during his pre-Queen years in a band called The Opposition, played the bass notes on his guitar because their bassist wasn’t that good. Eventually, like Paul McCartney some years earlier, he took up the bass full-time. 

Being able to read music is a must for bass players.

Uhm, nope – but it’s a plus, especially if your goals include building a music career that requires you to read music, such as teaching or transcribing your compositions. Being able to read and understand musical notation is definitely useful knowledge in order to comprehend music theory fully, but you can play the bass without reading music.

Bass players get stuck in the background.

This may be the reputation of bass players in rock bands just because the lead vocalist is more active on stage, and frankly many bass players would only be too happy to be out of the spotlight.

The truth of the matter is they may not look that uppity on stage but they’re the reason why you’re bobbing your head and grooving to the music. They’re like the puppet masters behind the curtain, focusing on their craft to make everything move for your enjoyment. They’re not stuck in the background – they chose to be somewhere they can take control and drive the music forward.

We hope those help in putting matters in the right perspective. What other bass myths have you heard and what are the truths that debunk them? Share them with us!

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