The bass guitar can be wrongly be dismissed as the least technical of the traditional rock instruments, but as you progress through the Rockschool grades you’ll soon realise that there’s a lot more to playing the bass than simply playing the root note of each chord! In this blog we’ve broken down some of the key bass guitar techniques you’ll need to master this instrument, and where you can expect to find them in our bass guitar syllabus!

Slapping

Slapping the bass is one of the most eye-catching (and ear-catching!) techniques in the bassist’s arsenal. There are plenty of styles that use this bass technique: Bootsy Collins helped to make slapping ubiquitous in funk with bands like Parliament and Funkadelic; Marcus Miller incorporated slapping into his work with Miles Davis; Flea brought slapping to a rock audience during his time with Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Slapping can almost sound comical at times, and has led to its appearance in a wide range of media in popular culture. The theme tune from the sitcom ‘Seinfeld’ is built around an iconic slap bassline, while it’s even used in the theme tune from ‘Fireman Sam’, the hit children’s TV show.

When it comes to the actual technique, players must use the edge of their thumb knuckle to quickly strike the string against the fretboard. Popping refers to pulling the string away from the fretboard and quickly releasing it so it snaps back against the fretboard. On bass guitar, the player can alternate the two techniques, though they can be used independently!

Check out Do Balanco (Bass Grade 5) and Tommy The Cat (Bass Grade 8 ) for some funky slapping action.

Bass Grad 4 book cover

Grade 4 Bass cover star Bootsy Collins is a master of slapping the bass!

Rockschool graded music exams

Fingering

It’s important to master fingering so that you can create an even feel to even the most complex of basslines.

Make sure to keep your hands relaxed when playing – any tension will make it harder to move smoothly across the instrument. It’s also advisable to alternate the fingers you use to maintain an even attack on the notes you’re playing.

Don’t worry if some of the more technical bass passages you hear sound near impossible when you’re starting out – we’ve all been there! Just know that regular practice where you challenge yourself incrementally over time will help you to master your instrument and make even the most complex bassline sound effortless.

Pizzicato (Finger Picking)

Probably the most common style of playing the bass is with finger picking, or pizzicato. For the perfect example of how to master this just take a look at the playing of John Entwistle from The Who, he’s really got it nailed!

Finger picking on the bass is a little different than from the guitar. Most guitarists just use the fingernail whereas the bassist will use the whole fingertip!

In the beginning it’s worth just getting to grips with picking in one area of the string, but as you get more proficient you can start to explore the different tones that the bass guitar has to offer – from a warmer tone near the neck to a bright sound near the bridge!

Another thing to watch out for is not picking too hard. We certainly don’t want finger injuries, dodgy tuning or buzzy strings, and the reality is that the strings can actually be picked quite gently!

Of course, this is a bass guitar technique that you’re going to carry with you throughout your bass journey, from the very beginning! We’d recommend taking a look at the Rockschool Bass Debut to get your first introduction. Best of luck!

Muting

There really is nothing better than a beautiful, prominent bass line, but as much as we can focus on the sound when playing, we must also focus on getting rid of it! Allow us to explain…

Without being muted, the strings on a bass guitar will keep vibrating for a little longer than we might like them to, and this can lead to a bit of a muddy sound where notes are blurring together. There are a tonne of muting techniques out there, all for different purposes and scenarios that will help you get that clean sound. We’d suggest practising this technique at a slowed down tempo before attempting something fast!

There are so many incredible bassists and basslines in the Rockschool syllabus to get inspired by. Think Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and Weather Report’s Jaco Pastorius. Think iconic lines from Chic’s “Everybody Dance” (Grade 7) and probably just about any James Brown song you’ve ever heard.

You can explore the full Rockschool Bass collection on our online shop now!