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Got invited to join a band... but I'm a hack.

Posts: 48
I've been playing on and off for about 9 years, but I'm completely self-taught. I've never even taken a basic music class since grade school. I can't read sheet music, I don't know what scales are, I don't know what keys are, I don't even really try to write bass lines. I just take songs I like, look up the tabs, and try to play them. Now, I've progressed to the point where I can play pretty darn well, all things considered. I can play most Rush songs, my favorite one to play being Malignant Narcissism which I actually can nail to the point where I play it just to warm up. So my basic techniques are there, but I know nothing of music theory.

I've also never been in a band, and have only jammed with a few friends who play guitar, but they were in the same boat as me. We'd agree on a song, look up the tabs, and go from there. I've never jammed with a drummer.

A friend of mine is a drummer and we've talked about jamming, but due to conflicting schedules, it's just never come to fruition.

Last night he sent me a message. He found a good lead guitarist/singer and he wants to start a power trio, with me as the bass player. I excitedly accepted the invitation… but I'm nervous as @$!#. If I go in there and they start talking, scales, keys, time signatures and such, I'm going to be totally lost. Also, I don't really do much as far as improvisational playing. There are a few bass lines I've “written” where I pretty much take a few licks from other songs and try to make them my own. But that's easy to do when I'm playing alone, I'm sure trying to come up with something while jamming, especially with a drummer which I've never done before, is going to be much more difficult.

I feel like a kid who has a week to cram for a big exam. What should my study materials be? Any tabs or articles or videos or just personal advice to help get me prepared? Any help is appreciated.
Posts: 2147
Right, calm down, you're not alone. Loads of bass players start out like this, and there's nothing wrong with being nervous. Got a list of the covers you're gonna be doing and learn about three and get them down to a T, don't try to learn ten of them half arsed, you will get on better as a band if you can get through one song. As for your own basslines, just start with the root note and follow the drummer for the rhythm, as you jam along you'll start to ad little runs and fills, or build riffs. The best way to learn is jamming with other musicians. When Flea joined the Chili's, he'd never played bass, when Phil Lynott joined Thin Lizzy, he'd never played bass, and Paul MacArtney never could, and still can't read music or understand theory, just go there to enjoy yourself and don't worry, it'll all come together if you stick at it. Read the comments in the thread, ‘Scales’ for guidance
Posts: 185
I joined a band this year,guitar player might say “this is in G” & off we go.
so go from there,the common chords in G are often gonna be G C D Eminor I IV V vi of the scale, so if it sounds good it is good.

Most of the time theory and etc never even pops up, if you can play along to tracks already you'll be able to pick out what is needed at the right time, one good thing is to practice with a metronome or a drum machine when playing alone as this is the closest you probably will get to ‘real’ drummer without one being there and is good for getting your timing down.

Go for it & it have fun!
If you don't know the songs key, ask the guitar player to run through it with you or watch his hands.

My own great failing is I am partially deaf in my left ear & don't hear so good out of my right so picking out and isolating bass tracks in songs is very hard I don't often even try anymore.

A lot of the time I hate what I play but the guitar and the drummers like it..
Its easy to be your own worst critic.
Posts: 859
I guess it would depend on what your new band's focus is. Are you just going to play covers, or write original material?

It sounds like you're solid with covers, so long the guitarist doesn't change the key to fit his vocals. But even if he does, bass lines can be adjusted fairly easily to accommodate that. If your new guitarist lives by the CAPO, run.

If it's original music, you're obviously traveling outside your comfort zone. Don't get too anxious over this. Unless your band mates are wanting to be the next progrock superstars and want to blow peoples' minds with weird time signatures and wacky key changes.

You're a bassist. “Less is more”. Groove is king!

I've found when jamming and trying to write original music, guitarists really dig more of a solid, simple groove that they can dazzle around instead of complicated and busy bass lines.
LoudLon [moderator]
Posts: 1473
I've been there. Way back in the ‘90s I had a friend who was in a band, and he asked me if I wanted to be the rhythm guitarist. I was all Hell yes! despite the fact that I’d only dabbled, very, very little, on a guitar in my life. So I gave myself a week-long crash course before our first jam practice, reading a lot of tabs, learning basics, so I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself. Day of, all I did was follow in key because a week's worth of cramming isn't enough to make you a master musician capable of improvising and playing scales like a pro. I got frustrated often with my lack of playing knowledge, but the guys in the band were cool and patient with me, and I got better as I went along.

So try just starting off with the basics. Stay in rhythm, stay in key, chug out root notes – Which is all most bands require of their bassists anyway – and learn more and get better as you go along.
Posts: 253
Stay in rhythm, stay in key, chug out root notes – Which is all most bands require of their bassists anyway – and learn more and get better as you go along.


Get some ear plugs drummers are bloody loud and the guitarist will want to be even louder - its a big leap from bedroom jam sessions volume hurts

Gonna be fun though you will love it

Posts: 18
Dude, I could have wrote this. You sound almost exactly like me.
Posts: 6
I suggest build up your calluses because you're probably not used to playing two hours straight and it will tear up your fingertips. To build them, play steadily as long as you can until your fingertips burn (30 mins?), play as much as you can beyond that, come back the next day and repeat. That should be good enough.

Likewise concentrate on keeping both hands relaxed as you play. If they're tight, they'll cramp up.

I've been in several cover bands and a couple original, and nobody's ever talked scales or time signatures. It's always been by ear. You'll be much more flexible in jam sessions though if you can quickly find the main notes on the fretboard (A-B-C-D-E etc). If they're really organized, they'll have lyrics sheets printed out with the chords printed above. Whether it says A or Am or Am7sus2 you can always just play the root (A) until you get more comfortable. Sometimes though someone will want to play a song they know but won't have a chord sheet. Then just ask what's the chord progression and they'll say something like “A, D, E, then the chorus goes B minor, E, B minor, E.” Lay out where those are on your fretboard, then you can watch the guitarist for when he changes to the next chord. But “when in doubt, sit it out” – if you get lost, it's usually better to not play and wait to catch up, rather than stumble around.

But yea, have fun. Everyone will mess up as much as you might so don't worry about it, it's just a jam session.
Posts: 330
Personally I find scales to just be an aid when I'm “lost”. The best way for me is to imagine a bassline that would fit, sing it in my head and try to figure it out. But experiences may vary. I was never “forced” to use theory or hung out with musicians who “depended” on it
Hey Towelie,
I probably can't add much to the good replies here already, we all have to start somewhere, you don't want to pass up an opportunity to play with other people if it comes along. As said just initially stick to your root notes, keep focused on the drums and as you get more confident, then you can make the Bassline more interesting after the song is more ‘locked into your head’ as this is what I do. The first few times we go through a song I play really ‘bare bones’ Bassline then over time I might change the rhythm or add some cool fills, keep an ear focused on the bass drum and try to lock in with that. Theory principles can come up at rehearsals but out of 5 of us there are only 2 of us that know about Scales, Chord Structure and Keys etc so we don't get too deep into it, online you will find some tutorials regarding this as it will help you write your own cool Basslines over time. Good Luck and enjoy as that is really why we play….to have fun!

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