lifestyle shot of bass guitar
Learning to play bass can be hard without a band around you 24/7. Here we go into some great ways you can get to grips with bass improvisation.

Improvisation is Liberation

So, what’s bass improvisation (or any kind of improvisation for that matter) and why should you care about it? No matter what music you’re into, whether it’s hard rock, blues or spaced-aged jazz-funk, if you’re a bass player, learning to improvise is one of the most rewarding skills you can acquire.

Not only will learning to jam on the bass improve your learning, but it will also give you the freedom to try out new runs, licks and chops while playing live. Also, it will make your bass playing as cool as the Fonz in a freezer.

But, how do you learn to improvise?

Some people will tell you ‘you’ve just got to feel it, man’. While there may be an element of truth to this, you have to understand a few fundamental things first. Here they are…

1. Learn your bass fundamentals

When it comes to playing the bass, developing your left and right hand equally holds the key to success. You might prefer a plectrum or you might be finger player – either way, make sure you learn how to pluck the strings and finger the frets properly. Put the time in and you’ll stand a far greater chance of improvisational success.

Make sure you understand the rudiments of rhythm as well as the bass’ relationship to the drums. Also, don’t forget to learn your five main bass scales – when it comes to improvising they will seriously spice up your playing and help you form ideas on the fly.

To learn the ‘bassics’ and master your scales, Scott’s Bass Lessons, Study Bass, Fender Play, JamPlay, and Yousician are all excellent resources.

2. Use jam tracks

If you’re looking to sharpening up your improvisational skills, jam tracks are second to none. Now, they may sound a little cheesy, but they prove an excellent resource when it comes to testing out your scales and trying out bold new moves. Not only will jam tracks give you the confidence to step outside your comfort zone but they will also help you to understand what does and doesn’t work while you’re jamming. There are plenty of jam tracks in a variety of styles available online, so check them out (I reckon even Jesse Keeler and Chris Wolstenholme use them from time to time).

3. Listen to live recordings of your bass heroes

More often than not, when playing live, great bass players will add a whole new spin to their basslines for certain songs. By comparing an original studio version to a live version, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the techniques one of your bass heroes uses to improvise, developing your ear in the process.

4. Practice with a Drummer

Once you’ve done your homework, learned your scales, rocked a few online jam tracks, and studied your heroes, your next step towards becoming a bass improv genius is by practising with a drummer.

During a jam, the bass and drums should be as cohesive as Gorilla Glue, and before you add other melodic instruments to the mix, you can test out your new improvisational chops, rhythms, moves and grooves without the risk of clashing tones or playing out of key. Learn to lock in with the drummer, live inside the kick drum and snare, and you’ll be ready to jam with guitarists, keyboardists, harmonica players, and even electric juggists, like a pro.

Learning to improvise on the bass is a journey. By learning the basics, being bold and following these steps, you’ll get to where you want to be in no time.

Need some inspiration?

If you’ve got a spare 20 minutes then indulge in this video of Victor Wooten doing what he does best.

Get in touch

Looking for a new axe to compliment your newfound improv skills? Check out our range of electric bass guitars over at the Dawsons Music website.

If you need any help or advice, then our Customer Service Team are more than happy to help over the phone on 01925 582420. Alternatively, head to your nearest Dawsons store where our in-store specialists are more than happy to help you out.