This instructional bass video, made by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is clear and concise. Although Flea is talking about his own brand of bass guitars, his introduction to this video is something that all beginning bass players can and should pay attention to. He breaks down the composition of bass for us; what a headstock is (the very top of the bass that holds all the tuning pegs), what a pick guard is (a nifty addition to the bass in case a bassist wants to use a pick but doesn’t want to scratch up their bass), what different knobs there are on the bass (tone and volume knobs basically), and more.

He also teaches us that almost all guitarists should learn throughout their musical career: how to string a guitar. Or in this case, a bass guitar. If you’re taking your guitar to a shop to string your guitar or having someone else do it, that’s great and all. But picture this: You’re at a performance. You are so ready to rock the house tonight. It’s about thirty minutes before you’re about to go on and you open up your case to tune up your guitar. But upon opening the guitar case, you see your D string has popped. What are you going to do now? The shop that you take your guitar to is an hour away, the person that usually strings the guitar for you couldn’t make it to the gig and you need that D string… You understand the train of thought here, right? This very thing happened to me. Thankfully, one of the stage managers knew how to string a guitar. But what if they hadn’t? I made sure to go home and learn how to restring my guitar myself should this ever happen again. Flea makes it easy to learn how to do it, so take the time to learn this useful skill.

Flea goes on to teach us about thumping and plucking on the bass. I like his exercise of going up the bass and practicing the thumping and plucking using octave intervals. In watching this video, I decided to try this exercise myself. It really does wonders. Of course, patience is a virtue so don’t get discouraged if you don’t go as fast as you’d like or as fast as Flea does in the video. But with practice, it will start to come naturally.

The pick tutorial is awesome. Just plain awesome. First of all, I had no idea that you could use a quarter as a pick. But apparently, there are some bassists that will use currency to pick their guitars. So Flea uses his quarter to teach the downstroke and the upstroke and then he proceeds to throw the quarter at the camera.  No long explanations and no hemming and hawing. Best pick tutorial ever.

If you’re not a bass player that’s been blessed with particularly large hands, Flea’s suggestion of practicing with the chromatic scale is most helpful. Most instruments we learn depend on our development of muscle memory. And in playing any stringed instruments, the musician will need to pair that muscle memory with flexibility. For guitar players, it could be that you’re having a tough time nailing those bar chords. It’s a struggle for me personally to always get my bar chords just perfect because of my smaller hands. But the repetition of playing them and integrating them in with other regular chords, helps a great deal. The same idea goes for the bass. The chromatic scale is a great way for bassists to stretch their fingers and develop the muscle memory they need in their hands.

When I started to play bass, I relied on tabs quite heavily. They’re very easy to read and you don’t really have to know the scale or how to read sheet music. But you will come across that song that you just will not be able to find the bass tabs for and you will really want to play it. This is where learning your major scales will be a huge asset to you.  In the world of jazz, this is crucial. Learning to play a walking bass line relies on your knowledge of the major scales. Soloing also relies on your knowledge of the major scales. So take the time to learn them. Then after you’ve mastered your major, move to your minor and modal scales. It will give your playing color and character. You will grow in comfortability on the bass and your playing will become more effective and affective. It’ll take a lot of work to memorize all the different scales, but you won’t regret it.

“The bass… is the warm bed that everyone sleeps on.” I love this line. A bass player basically has to be a team player. It requires being involved with singers and the soloists. It requires listening and getting your head out of your sheet music or your tabs. The bass and the drums make up the rhythm section and Flea stresses just how important the bass and drums being in sync are. The rhythm section is the backbone of the entire band. Without them, most music would probably not be as powerful as it is.

Be selfless. As a bass player, it’s your job to make sure everyone else sounds good as much as you can. Sometimes, it can be a thankless job. But if the bass drops out of a song, it’s noticeable and it’s missed. Flea’s mini-lecture on the bass guitar is definitely something to listen to and to heed.

Filed under: Bass Guitar Lessons

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