Learning a bass part by ears

Learning a bass part using only your ears … Think about it, have you ever tried it?

Well, maybe if you are a little old, like me, it can also be, but I imagine that those who grew up in the current era, always on  the internet and our beloved Youtube, probably will not even know what we are talking about (or almost).

 Perhaps not many of you know that until a few yars ago, ears were the only way to learning a bass part!

How could we do? How did we live without tabs and tutorials for all that time?

Trust us, we survived very well, and not only, but we have developed the so-called “musical ear”, that is recognizing notes, rhythms, sometimes even chords, simply listening to a certain song, perhaps with our instrument in our hands.

And so? How to do?

Of course, it is not easy to learn a bass part in this way, and unquestionably some practice is needed; and, just like other life-spheres, it takes a bit of “method”.

In this article (and in the video) I will explain to you the method that I have always used, and that still today I believe to be one of the best, even for those who have not yet developed certain skills.

Attention, one thing must be clear: there are no shortcuts anyway, if you want to learn how to play bass using your ear you must still practice a lot, and use a series of exercises called “ear training”, useful to develop the ability to recognize sounds of different pitches and the relationships between them.

Ear training can be done in different ways, on the piano, singing, or trivially, in our case, helping with bass, for example. But  what I suggest doing, as I explain in the video, is to help a lot with the use of your voice. No need to be a singer!

When you can sing a note, it means that you have it in your head, and so, on the instrument, you can look for it simply by trying.

Using this method consistently you will learn to distinguish the various notes, and over time you will become faster and faster. (Prepare yourself: at the beginning this operation can take you a lot of time…)

The advice I give you is to  if you want learning bass part by ears, is try to initially transcribe some songs in which the bass parts are simple and repetitive; even if this can be a double-edged sword: often the bass parts of this kind are “hidden” inside the mix and it will be hard to really perceive what the bass player is playing; but this often happens because the part that performs is dubbed by the guitar (typical situation of rock songs, for example), a decidedly more evident instrument, and that therefore can become for us the reference point to understand which note we will have to play from time to time. 

Once we have been able to perceive all the notes of the song (or the single part of it that interests us) we will not have to do anything but play it repeatedly on the original, both for verify that we are doing the right thing, and to practice and memorizing the new song; more, because doing so, we will acquire greater security and we will be able to grasp any nuances (for example passing notes) that will have escaped the first attempt.

Obviously there are songs in which the bass is more evident in the mix, but this probably also means that the part to play will be more difficult.

Well, are you ready? It’s time to try learning a bass part by ear!

Give us a go and let me know how it goes!

Good listening!