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Get a bass, and start playing! Ok – maybe that was less than useful.
The way I learned is by playing, A LOT. Play along with some CDs that have very simple bass parts. AC/DC is a good one to start with – I don’t know if that’s your kind of music, but it’s as simple as hell, and it’s how I learned.
At first, you need to concentrate on 3 things:
1) Playing “in the pocket” (i.e., with the beat). If you can’t play with the beat, you can’t play bass. Get a metronome if that helps you practice.
2) Getting your hand strength up (it takes more effort to play bass than guitar). You NEED to learn to use all 4 fingers on your fret hand. A lot of beginners just use 3 fingers because they don’t really have the hand strength to use their pinky. That’s a bad habit, and a really tough one to break. Learn it right from the beginning, and bass guitar will be a lot easier for you.
3) Getting your intonation right – you need to get used to fingering properly so the instrument doesn’t “buzz”. You need to finger teh string just behind the fret. Too far behind, and it’ll buzz as the string vibrates against the fret. Not far enough behind, and you’ll muffle the note as your finger will be partly on the vibrating part of the string.
Here’s what NOT to do, at least at first: Don’t worry about playing fast. Don’t worry about ‘slapping’. Leave that for when you get the basics down.
Once you’re feeling confident about your ability to play basic bass, then stretch yourself a little – get a couple of Bass Player magazine, and try to play along with some of the transcriptions they have there.
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