A very bassic (hyuck) question

I just noticed today that my roommate has a bass sitting in his room that he apparently just bought last weekend. Having toyed with guitar for a few years, I figured I’d be able to figure out some simple bass lines. So I went into his room (it’s OK, he doesn’t mind if I play his guitars) and started playing a little. I was able to figure out some simple songs (Pink Floyd’s “Money”, The Pixies’ “Gigantic”), but the biggest problem I had was in not being able to reach the frets very easily. The space between each of the frets are considerably larger on a bass than on a guitar.

For example (in tab notation):

That, I think, is the opening line to Money (standard tuning, I guess, whatever that is on a bass, EADG?). After hitting the first note, I was struggling to reach the next two up on the fourth fret. I can usually just barre on those two strings with my ring finger on a guitar. Do bass players simply have larger hands than normal folk? Does it just take some getting used to? Any random advice for a beginner bassist?

Not all of them, not by a long shot. Lots of women play bass, for example, and I’d bet most of them have normal-sized hands.

Pretty much. Sure, it gives you range if you have large hands, but you can do just fine with normal-sized ones.

Here’s one tidbit that may help; unlike when you play ordinary guitars, try not to barre the frets of bass guitars, but play each note individually (a lot of your basslines will be played one note at a time, with no chords). Use the fingers you aren’t using to fret the note to mute the other strings.

I’m just a beginner on the bass myself, but one thing to keep in mind is that you generally don’t leave your notes ringing out as often as you would on a guitar. Once you’re “done” with the first note, you can shift your left hand a bit to reach the second and third notes. Large hands are “handy” for bass playing, but by no means necessary.

Random advice: The Talk Bass forums are an awesome resource.

It’s mostly a question of getting used to it. This is a little extreme, but I knew a bassist in high school who played so much that his left (fretting) hand had a longer reach than his right hand. He’s now a studio musician, I think.

I’ll be a beginner bassist myself in maybe two weeks, although I’ve been a guitar player for about 10 years.

Your hand will stretch a bit. Be sure to use correct technique - for one thing, keep the left thumb in the middle of the back of the neck - don’t let it creep up.

The pattern in Money begins root/octave/fifth (2/4/4 frets in your tab) and is a good one to start with. Yes, you can barre the octave/fifth with your ring finger.

Both hands are responsible for muting strings.

You may be interested to know that upright bass players have an even worse time due to the giant fretboard they have. They are trained to finger the frets using 1/2/4 fingers and some transfer this fingering when they switch to electric bass. I watched a pro and he fingered this way in the moderate tempos, and would switch to “strict” fingering when it got fast and technical. This is because you can minimize position changes when using a 4-finger, 4-fret position.

I’m selfishly bumping this thread in case anybody wants to pass on any bass-playing tips to me. I splurged on Friday, earlier than I planned, and got myself a bass. I’ve been playing guitar for some time, as I said, but I’m feeling my way around a new instrument and I’m interested to hear from people with experience.

It just occurred to me that part of that tab is unnecessarily hard - you can hit the open D string instead of the 5th fret on the A. That will reduce your stretching a little bit.

I’ve been playing bass for 37 years (holy crap! is it that long?). I’ve never had a lesson, just learned by doing it. So a teacher would probably throw up watching my technique. But hey, it works. Since you’re grounded in guitar, maybe you could look into taking some bass lessons. You don’t have to get into theory and how notes and scales and chords relate to one another - you already know that part. Have someone show you how to hold your hands and how to play with your fingers properly, so you get the right technique from an expert, from the beginning. A teacher will show you that, and maybe suggest exercises you can do with your hands to better acclimate them to playing on the larger frets.

After you’ve got a feel for the neck and strings and spacings, you need to play something other than just yourself doing bass riffs. Play along with songs you know by heart and love. I mean, you aren’t going to be playing “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Part III” with Tony Levin on the CD anytime soon, but start with music you know. I put on a Time-Life '60s or '70s compilation CD, or Steely Dan albums or Beatles albums and play along with all or most of the songs. It helps to emulate the best. When you can play note-for-note along with those L.A. studio guys, or Paul McCartney, it makes all the difference, and reminds you why you took it up in the first place. Whoever your favorite bassists are, study their records, and try to learn to do what they do.

Do you want to be a professional bassist? Or just have a good time? That’ll determine the level of work you put into learning the bass. If you want to be the guy who drives the band, it’s a lot of fun.

I’ve found that Aiki is terrific for bass players. The stretches you have to do really loosen up your hands.

I’ve got one of those beginner music books and a CD that goes along with it, so that’ll be a start. The thing I’ll probably need to work on the most is finding what notes I can play along with what chords. I’m actually not that worried about how to hold the thing - the neck on the bass is so big that it seems easier, for example, to keep my left thumb in the proper place than it is on the guitar. I have smallish hands and thin fingers, so if I don’t position them correctly on this thing, I’ll know from the sound.

I haven’t played in a band since high school, but I’m feeling a little bit of that impulse to play in front of a crowd again. It’d be hard, with my job and my schedule, but I understand bass players are always in demand. :wink: In the meantime, playing along with CDs is definitely a good idea.