One of the challenges of playing bass alone is to stay motivated. It is much easier to stay motivated when you have some type of external commitment such as a band rehearsal, or an upcoming gig. But, if you are an at-home player, you don’t have this external motivation to prod you forward. However, it is much more enjoyable, in my opinion, to play the bass for your own enjoyment, on your own schedule, and to follow your own internal muse.
So, is playing bass guitar alone enjoyable? Playing bass at home is an effective way to improve your skills. By using drum machines, virtual software for recording and tone production, and virtual jam sessions, you can easily enjoy playing bass guitar alone and stay motivated.
Let’s talk about eleven ways that you can enjoy the bass alone and stay motivated.
#1 Create Your Own Band At Home
For many years, I played in bands and gigged regularly. I learned a lot and enjoyed the camaraderie of making music with friends. However, overtime, the non-musical elements of this situation, and the lack of opportunity to creatively explore music grew to wear on me.
For instance, a typical day, including travel time, equipment set-up and break-down, and the waiting time until the gig would start, would end up being eight to ten hours, with about three hours of actual playing. Now, for me, three hours of playing was about two hours too long! I discovered that what I really enjoyed, that is, playing and being creative, could be accomplished at home in my own little studio. And, you can do this too! Let’s explore your options starting with simple beginning steps and then gradually moving into more expanded options.
#2 Play With A Drum Machine
A great way to practice and inspire your playing is to play with a drum machine. There are many options for drum machines. Drums machines can be found for free online, on your smartphone or tablet (using free or paid Apps), within multi-effects processors, or stand alone units. Using a drum machine is also a good method for practicing and writing songs using your bass. By changing the tempo or groove of the beat, you can experiment and create your own original bass compositions.
#3 Play With Backing Tracks
Another great way to practice alone is to use backing tracks. Create a playlist of your favorite songs and play along with them. You can learn the bass lines note for note, or improvise your version of a bass line that fits with the song. Also, there are many free instrumental backing tracks offered online; play along with these tracks and create your own bass line according to the chord progression of the particular track.
Furthermore, you can purchase karaoke type tracks where the bass part can be removed so that you are only hearing your own bass playing. These work well if you are learning a song note for note and want to be the only bass player in the track; this is very much like playing in a band. Lastly, many internet tab sites offer a play-along-feature along with the notated tabs; additionally, for a nominal monthly subscription, you can access some advanced features such as looping a particular section, and slowing down the playback.
#4 “Tone Chasing”
Playing around with different bass tones is also enjoyable and an important part of practicing. You can use effects pedals, multi-effects units, or software apps. The option that will offer you the most sounds is the software app. route. Amplifiers, speaker cabinets, and effects can all be accessed to explore endless combinations of sounds.
It is important, as well as fun, to dedicate a portion of your practice time to “tone chasing”, where the only goal is to explore bass tones. Furthermore, some apps. will simulate specific tones used on classic songs, so that you can play with the same tone. For more information on this topic see: No Amp? 7 Ways to Play Guitar Without An Amp – Guitar and Bass.
#5 One New Song or Riff A Week
Goal setting and completion is important, not only for progressing on your instrument , but for staying motivated as well. First of all, make sure to set reasonable goals based on your situation. See here for more information on practicing: How Much Pro Guitarists Actually Practice…And Why – Guitar and Bass. Make a list of songs that you would like to learn. Work through your list by selecting one song at a time and setting a completion time for learning that song, e.g. one week, one month, etc. Hold yourself accountable for meeting your goal. Adjust your completion time, if necessary, but don’t allow yourself to quit before you reach the goal.
#6 Record Yourself Playing
When you record yourself playing, you are practicing and creating. This is probably the best and fastest way to get better on your bass. Recording your own bass tracks is highly motivating, because you are engaged in the creative process. It also requires some precision to get the take just right without obvious mistakes. This leads to repetition which is the key to quality practicing.
But, repetitive exercises can be quite monotonous; however, when repetition becomes the necessary means to achieve the goal of a good recording, it doesn’t seem monotonous at all. Also, there is a tangible product at the ending of your practice time, i.e. a recording you can listen to.
A “recording studio” at your home can be as simple as recording yourself on your smartphone or tablet while playing to a backing track. With a small investment, you can use recording software to begin creating your own music. For more information on different options for recording your bass see: No Amp? 7 Ways to Play Guitar Without An Amp – Guitar and Bass.
#7 Create Your Own “Set List”
Create a set list of songs that you have learned, and play through them as you would for a performance. Use backing tracks, try standing up, and play with your “band”. Start with a few songs and build up to five or ten. Play them from start to finish, as you would if you were playing live. This is not only fun, but it is good practice for playing through mistakes. For fun, live stream your performance for some friends or relatives.
#8 Check out Bass Guitar Forums
Forums are a great way to feel connected to a community. You can be a passive or active member. A little “shop” talk now and again, between bass players, is a great way to learn things and stay motivated to play at home. You may even find some players to jam with in a virtual setting.
#9 Virtual Jam Sessions
Just because you are not in a band and play bass alone at home, doesn’t mean that you can’t play with other musicians. The technology now exists for virtual playing. You can play together or listen to each other play. (Research your video chat platform for ways to optimise the audio for playing; usually the default settings are for voice cancellation. By disabling this feature, you will be able to play together without the sound dropping out.)
#10 Listening and Watching Bass Players
It is important to set aside time for listening to and watching bass players. Your goal here is not to try and learn something specific to practice; but rather, to let your ears and brain absorb information. Try just listening for the bass line when listening to songs on your favorite playlist, watch live concerts online, watch video tutorials without the explicit intention of learning what is being taught.
Also, don’t limit yourself to listening or watching music that is in your “wheelhouse”; allow yourself to “surf” all the possibilities. This includes watching “gear” shows, where the basses and equipment professional players use is explained. This will create a catalog of information in your mind that you can draw from later. Also, it’s a great way to motivate yourself to practice, when it is time for practicing.
#11 Online Courses and Website Subscriptions
Online courses and website subscriptions can be a way to energize your at-home playing. Usually, when you pay for something, there is motivation to use it and not let it go to waste. This can give you an added “kick”, so to speak, if you need some external motivation. Also, with premium sites, you will have access to information that is not available on the free side of the site.
Let’s face it, all musicians, whether professional or amateur, play at home by themselves. This is how they improve. The only real difference is that performing musicians take what they are doing in their home studio out-of-doors, so to speak. Most, if not all, of your progress, will come from practicing at home, and there are many ways to simulate the elements of a live performance in your home studio; so that, it is the same as a musician who regularly performs and plays with other musicians.