How to handle a four-string as a six-stringer...
Many guitar players will end up purchasing a bass and some might even moonlight with a band that needs them to pick-up bass guitar duty. So, if playing bass is a little foreign to you, this article should help you to get going on 4-strings from your current comfort zone of six....
Playing with a pick or playing with your fingers - let the style decide!
Generally, guitar players will always use a pick. And, for some bass styles like hardcore punk rock, or some Heavy Metal the pick may be the only way to play fast enough.
However, you will get a softer sound and lighter note attack when you play with your fingers, but everything comes down to being appropriate for the kind of music that you're playing.
Blues, Jazz and Soul, R and B music will generally sound better played with fingers. Ever certain rock songs really need those fingers involved.
We must learn to compensate when things need a softer, rounder sound. This can be where a guitarists exposure to classical guitar or finger-plucking will really come in handy. But, on the flip-side, we also need to be able to have some skill for playing bass with a pick as well.
The song and the style ultimately needs to make the "finger or pick" call.
Don't get too busy
Bass parts are generally fairly straight-forward. They connect well to the underlying harmony and focus a lot on the chord tones. So, keep those bass ideas really simple. remember, you're not playing a solo! And, above all - play for the song. Bass parts need to connect with the percussion and not fly all over the place.
If there is a strong melody or vocal part, the bass needs to underpin that melody or vocal line. This is what makes the song compelling and what makes the bass anchor a firm platform within the piece.
Try to come in on the bass with more of an understated approach. Learn what the chord tones are, and remember that when it comes to bass - less is more!
Gear's not everything - but it is important
Don't get too bummed out if you haven't got a nice P-Bass and a killer 1000 watt bass-rig. Many practicing bassists end up playing very simple gear set-ups for many years. Over time, you can invest and build your set-up upon the style of music you generally play the most.
In rock music, you'll want something that's going to create a solid tone at high volume. And, most times, the instrument is less important than the amplifier, (generally speaking).
So, get the type of bass that's comfortable and within your financial budget, and save your cash for the power you'll require in the amp and speaker cab.
Keep in mind that the Bass requires a lot of power to push those lows. So, a min. 450 watt amp, and at least a 2x10 cab will be what's needed for most music styles. You need to push through, and the amp, (more than your bass), will be what does the job.
Play with as many drummers as possible
The most important relationship a bassist has is with the drummer. An experienced bass player learns the difference [between drummers] - this also keeps a bassist on their feet.
Some drummers are like a force of nature. Others are really opinionated about their drum feel and how the bass needs to interact. As a practicing bassist, learning to work around different drummers is a real eye opener. Learn to produce a feel with different players and pay a lot of close attention to what each drummer does differently.
Some of your best learning experiences will be from working with drummers who alter what they are playing on the drums. Changes to the meter, and to the beat can help the bassist to produce really strong ideas, and vice-versa. This is why playing with different drummers is so valuable.