Playing the bass, everyone will have heard at least once say a phrase of this kind, perhaps during a rehearsal or after a concert: “Yes, the notes are right, but wrong intention!”
And so? If the notes are right, the part is right, you would think, or not?
And yet, perhaps, they are right, those musicians “pundits” who want us to believe that they were really listening to note what we played throughout the song; sure, because we have really heard even for the first 10 seconds we know very well be very unlikely (excluding of course our friends drummers, they always listen to us!)
Now: let’s start from the premise that to know exactly what we refer to with certain terms we must first of all have a decent musical preparation. But above all, to be able to master certain concepts on the instrument, then we must have a good technique.
Attention: technique in this context does not mean the execution of a certain scale at high speed (that you will always be in time to reach it with a little “gymnastics” for your fingers), but everything that will allow you to express yourself on the instrument in order to give a different “color” to the notes that you will play from time to time.
One of the wonders of our electric bass is that which, as it is built, really allows us a fair amount of processing to a certain basic idea, prior, of course, the fact of knowing some small “tricks”.
Let’s start with the talk of the right hand: remember well that its task is not only to emit a sound, but also to attribute certain specific qualities to this sound! If we play with our fingers next to the bridge, for example, we will have a totally different timbre compared to the one we will have playing near the neck. If we play a little louder then the sound will change compared to when we play more softly, and even the fact of playing more with the part of your finger next to the nail rather than with the fingertip can greatly change the sound.
Have you seen how many shades can hold your color table? And we have not yet mentioned the left hand, which many also see as the most important, to achieve certain particular effects on the bass.
Now, regardless of the importance, it is obvious that the left can also contribute to the sound, how?
If you remember long ago I already talked about ligatures and ghost notes, 2 tricks that can give something more to our bass part. In addition today I would like to mention the so-called “embellishments”.
To understand exactly what they are, how many they are and what they do all the embellishments I strongly suggest you to open a good book of musical theory and study it for good. Here I will limit myself to describing some of them, those probably more used and more effective on our electric bass.
The first to cite is certainly the acciaccatura, which consists of quickly linking a note to a second, which will be the most important (and will probably fall on the beat).
Widely used in rock, it can take flight to your bass line, if used sparingly and intelligently.
Another embellishment often used on the electric bass is surely the vibrato. So dear to guitarists, you can use for example to finish a solo or semi-solo phrase, but also in accompaniment (always with extreme parsimony), perhaps on long notes. To get a good vibrato practice to keep a note with the third finger and to move the rope up and down, more or less fast (better to watch the video, if you can, at this point).
The last embellishment I would like to suggest is the trill; is to quickly bind 2 notes as many times as you can. Even the trill if used sparingly can have its charm, both in the solo phase and in accompaniment.
Assimilate these techniques, try to experiment, inserting them into simple and repetitive bass parts of tracks that you already know well. Use them and abuse them at the beginning, trying to better understand how they work and what they can bring to your bass line.
It will be at this point that you decide which ones will become part of your style, of your way of playing bass, changing it, probably, forever.