So you want to jam with some friends, or even join a band, but you’re a bit unsure about your skills. You’ve spent your time practicing, put in hundreds of hours in your bedroom, and you can sweep and string skip and arpeggiate until the cows come home.
Only, you don’t know how to improvise, because basically, improvisation isn’t a skill that was taught to you. Unfortunately, improvisation is one of the single techniques that can’t be taught.
But before you stomp off and throw your bass guitar to the curb, take a moment to read what can be taught; tips on how to improvise on bass guitar.
The first big tip regarding bass guitar improvisation is to learn your scales. Improvisation, believe it or not, isn’t actually what it sounds like. Improvisation is the ability to draw on preexisting patterns in different keys and positions.
It is physically, and mentally, impossible to actually make things up at a normal speed. Everything that will be drawn upon will be preexisting, whether it is something you have heard, or something you once played.
Sounds crazy, but it is true; the brain cannot create a new pattern at a high speed, and even if it could, it would be lost in translation by the time it reached your fingers. Everything in an improvisation is planned, whether it is three seconds ahead, or a millisecond. When you look down at the fret board to see where to go next, you are planning.
All this pertains to scales because, in order to plan properly, you need to know your boundaries. While chromatic scales are great, they don’t necessarily work in every given context. That being said, you should take the time learn your basic major and minor scales. This is important because it also gives the ability of key recognition, which is crucial to a proper improvisation.
Simply put, in order to sound nice, you need to be in key.
In order to stay in key, you need to know your keys.
The second most important tip we can give on how to improvise on bass guitar is to practice. As stated earlier, everything you will draw upon in an improvisational piece will be something that is preexisting in your mind. This means that if all of your techniques are sloppy, they will translate sloppily into your improvisation.
Take your time to hone your picking techniques, as well as your legato, staccato, and all basic techniques. Don’t think a technique is simply ‘good enough;’ work at it until you are fluent. If you don’t, you may wind up throwing off the other musicians in your improvisation with your sloppy playing.
All in all, beyond practicing techniques, the only way you can master bass guitar soloing and improvisation is by trying. Use an online backing track, and let loose. Record yourself, and see what comes out. You may notice most, or even all of your licks. That’s okay; if you find them repetitive, it is time to learn more. Remember, keep an open mind, and above all have fun and practice hard.
JamPlay gives you the best of both worlds by offering highly structured curricula and a variety of teachers each covering various musical styles for you to learn from. Their video lesson quality is phenomenal and showcases more than 5 different camera angles!
With lessons taught by renowned players like Billy Sheehan, you can now see the exact finger placements and mimic techniques used by the legends themselves.