So what is the bass guitar all about?
Well, so many things, and as an instrument, it means different things to different people. Are we talking about it as a part of a modern rock or pop music band? If so, it is a part of the core of the band. Take it away, and you are going to miss it.
Someone once said, “if the guitar player went home, things would just carry on. If the bass player went home, you’ve got a train wreck.” As an instrument, it forms the rhythmic foundation of the music alongside the drummer.
Of course, today, it is also used as a solo instrument by some. We aren’t going into that, but we will go through 10 Easy Songs to Learn on Bass…
A big contribution
Good bass players contribute more than just a straight four. They can create rhythms inside rhythms or play across the rhythm. They can harmonize with other instruments and set new patterns underneath what is going on. But all the time keeping the rhythmic integrity of the song.
As we shall see, they can influence the sound of the song just as much as any other instrument in the band. But not with volume, effects pedals, or ‘speed freak’ playing, just by being there and doing what is right.
Feel the music…
To be a good bass player, there are techniques and things you need to learn. To be a great one, you just need to stop thinking about it and feel it.
I have picked out some stuff here that is aimed at making you better. It is not aimed at being particularly entertaining. This isn’t a ‘best of’ compilation. What is the point? If you don’t know some of them, then that’s good. We can all learn something new.
The songs here cover aspects of the bass that you will need to be able to play comfortably. They cover a range of styles and genres and end up with players who have stopped thinking and just feel the music. All of them have been included for a reason. Enjoy.
10 Easy Songs to Learn on Bass
1- Stand By Me by Ben E.King
Key – F
Bass used- various
Let’s start with a well-known bassline phrase. We’ve probably all played this at some time. It sits comfortably with the song but adds to both vocal line and rhythm at the same time. It is impressive and very effective purely for its simplicity.
Most people will recognize the song just by those opening few notes. You don’t get better than that. A good place to start to get timing and finger placement accurate. And listen to how the drums and bass compliment each other perfectly.
2- Black Velvet by Alannah Miles
Key – Eb
Bass Guitar used: James Tyler Fretless
At some point, you are going to have to learn to play a blues shuffle. This is an interesting song because who writes a blues shuffle in a key with a flat? Here’s one. The bass line is solid and forms a vital part of the rhythmic integrity of the song. But every now and then, he deviates and plays a great little progression.
That is one of the most memorable things about the bass on this song. His little pattern introduces her vocal beautifully.
This is best shown as early as the 8th bar. Note that as the song builds, the bass is still holding it all together. A train wreck if he doesn’t. You won’t find too many better examples of a bass doing what it is supposed to do. Bassist- David Tyson
3- Something by The Beatles
Key – Bb
Bass used: 1962 Hofner 500 Violin Bass (The Bassman sticker guitar)
Personally, I have never considered Paul McCartney one of the great rock bass players. But there are very few others who can construct bass lines and contribute to songs like this, as he can. Possibly George’s finest song for the Beatles, it is raised to a higher level by some great bass work.
Listen to how Paul starts his bass lines on the root note of the chord. He then winds through some beautiful harmonic runs to reach the root of the next chord on cue. His sense of creating an alternate melody within a framework is special. To learn how to do that is not easy. But you can hear what it contributes to the song.
4- Eight Days A Week by The Beatles
Key – C
Bass used: Hofner Violin
Staying with the Beatles, this song gives us an opportunity to look at a technique and style you will need to master. The Walking Bass. There were a lot of options of choice to demonstrate this essential style of bass playing.
I chose this firstly because you can hear it so clearly. And secondly, and importantly, because Paul isn’t just playing scales. He is weaving around the notes in the scale but in no set order. That makes it not only interesting to listen to but also contributes so much to the rhythm and the tempo.
Some assume this is the easiest form of bass playing. Just playing one note on each beat. But the question is, what note? That is what makes it interesting.
What does a simple walking bass give to the song?
Take it away, and you will understand. And this wasn’t a one-off. He does the same thing on an earlier Beatles recording, “All My Loving,” albeit in a more structured format. Take a listen to that too.
5- Black Night by Deep Purple
Key (original) – Em
Bass used: Fender Precision
I have chosen this because it is a simple introduction to starting to play riffs with the guitarist. The riff itself is quite easy, but it is interesting to note the space Roger Glover leaves around the sound at the end of each break. He then goes into a deep growling low E to drive the song along, never deviating until the bridge.
A very underrated bass player in some circles. On this track, he demonstrates the importance of first being able to play with a guitar. But secondly, what he contributes to the rhythm of the track. The track is lifted by him playing at times with the guitar and the riff and at other times laying down the rhythm with Ian Paice.
6- My Sharona by The Knack
Key – C
Bass used: unknown
Taking the idea of playing riffs with the guitar, this track takes it to the next level. The song is dominated by the guitar and bass playing together. In the bridge to the chorus, the bass deviates to playing octaves in an alternate way but then returns to the riff. The change adds color to the sound and shows how the bass alone can alter the sound of a track.
For the final solo, the bass returns to a fairly standard format, sitting with the drummer and allowing the solo to dominate. It then returns to the riff to finish. A great riff to learn but also to hear how the bass, without soloing, can alter the sound.
(A footnote: If anyone wants to hear the dream ticket of original Fender guitars and Vox AC30s, then this is it.)
7- Rescue Me by Fontella Bass
The bass played by Louis Satterfield
You could choose any one of a number of great tracks from Chess, Stax, or Motown to highlight the evolving styles of bass playing. I have chosen this one. Fontella Bass was one of those great soul and R&B singers that flew under the radar a bit. But this song was a number one for her. Today it is the bass playing we are listening to.
Satterfield keeps a great tempo and busy pattern over a very basic drum pattern. He starts the song with the riff that persists for most of the way through the song. This was a similar bassline to so many that followed by artists like Sam and Dave and Otis Redding. Here though, it is crystal clear in the mix.
It is not so much the notes he plays. Those are all played around the root chords. It is the way he plays them with great rhythm and feeling. Almost daring the drummer to join in. A great bass line to learn and practice with.
8- Another One Bites the Dust by Queen
Bass used: Fender Precision
This track takes us into the realms of semi-funk bass lines that became popular in the 80s and 90s. I have included this because it is an easy-to-play example of what was happening. John Deacon wrote the song, inspired by Bernard Edwards. But it was not liked at first by other members of the band.
John was a bit of a loner and in a world of his own most of the time. This song was nothing like Queen at that time. However, the bass line carried it, along with Mercury’s brilliant vocal. Michael Jackson was the one who persuaded Queen to release it. He wasn’t wrong; it became Queen’s biggest selling single.
A great example of how a simple, effective bass line can completely carry a song.
9- Dear Prudence by The Beatles
Key – D
Bass used: Hofner Violin
Back to 1968 and a last visit to The Beatles. This is an interesting bass performance and one that can demonstrate how varying bass styles can influence a simple chord structure. Paul’s playing was influenced on this track by a little-known session player and his style.
The emphasis at the beginning of accenting the 3rd beat of the bar was interesting. But then the almost Andy Fraser-Esque picture bass. Including down slides that follow some of the notes that elevate the song. Another example of how a bass can manifest itself, become central but without destroying the integrity of the rhythm.
10- Mr. Big by Free
Key – E
Bass used: Gibson EB3
And speaking of Andy Fraser, we will conclude with him. We do this for three reasons. Firstly because his performance here demonstrates his creativity and letting his playing ‘go with the flow’ of the music. Secondly, it demonstrates his creativity and brilliance to play across the rhythm yet still keep the song in time. Thirdly it shows a bass solo that doesn’t need speed, just taste.
After the 4 bars of drums and Paul Kossoff’s riff, the bass enters on bar 9, playing a basic but effective format. It comprises a root, fifth, and then a root octave. He completes it by sliding down from a high G. Sometimes, he will change it around a bit and use an alternative note for the slide. But then he adds some extras by adding notes to match Paul’s vocal.
What you get is a performance that has the right rhythm but with creative, riff-like playing with extra harmonies on top. The middle break shows his ability to create a bass solo that fits what is going on around him. He plays the solo while following them. That is instead of them following him.
A lesson on bass playing style, creativity, creating harmonics, and response to the musical environment.
10 Easy Songs to Learn on Bass – Do you want to be a good bass player?
That is not a throwaway question, do you? If so, then there are some things you have to learn.
Something that all bass players must have. The ability to turn up gig after gig and still produce it even if you don’t feel like it.
If you think you can go through your whole bass-playing career playing exactly what you like, forget it. You have to be able to turn your hand to different styles. That is why I included some here.
Forget being the hero. Playing in the rhythm section of a band, which is what you do, is teamwork.
Knowing what is right and, importantly, knowing when to play it. Even knowing when to play nothing at all.
Feeling the music
And that is the most important message you can learn once you can play.
If you consider some of the great players, I have not even included, such as John Paul Jones, Chris Squire, John McVie, Geddy Lee, Bert Ruijter, Carol Kaye, Lemmy, and dozens of others. And not forgetting, of course, the force of nature that was John Entwhistle.
The work they produced was excellent, but the majority of it was beyond the beginner. Even trying to learn it is futile.
That is why it isn’t here. But listen to them and learn what you can. As you progress, that is the time to learn what they did and how they did it.
10 Easy Songs to Learn on Bass – Study Guide
If you want to study the bass a little more, then there are some very good books and guides on the market, such as Bass for Beginners: Major and Minor Scales + Exercises.
Looking for a great sounding bass?
Then check out our reviews of the Best Beginner Bass Guitar, the Best Bass Guitars, the Best Short Scale Bass Guitars, the Best 5-string Bass Guitars, the Best Bass Guitar for Kids, the Best Left Handed Bass Guitar, and the Best Acoustic Bass Guitars on the market.
Plus, you’re going to need one of the Best Bass Amps to really get the low end you need!
Happy Bass playing!