BASSically

Learn to play ukulele bass, by Wm Leler

This information (or a more recent version of it) is online at https://leler.com/bass. ukulele bass

Contents

  1. BASSics
  2. Chords
  3. Variations on a Theme
  4. Changing Chords
  5. Advanced Bass
  6. Resources and Links

Introduction

The ukulele bass, also called a uke bass or a "short-scale bass", was originally introduced by Kala as the "U-Bass". It is a bass that is the size of a baratone ukulele, but is tuned just like an upright bass or a bass guitar.

Playing the bass is a lot of fun. Like the ukulele, you can quickly learn enough to have a great time playing great music. But you can spend the rest of your life learning new things and becoming a better player. It isn't the destination, it's the journey!

Ukulele players tend to gather in groups and learn from each other, but you might often be the only bass player at a jam session. Don't worry, help is at hand!

This document contains links to videos on YouTube. You will want to play video (and audio) files on a device that has decent speakers so you can hear the bass. Your laptop or mobile phone almost certainly won't work, but if you have a bass amp you might be able to plug the audio from these devices into the amp. Or find a set of headphones that have good bass. You will need them.

The best way to learn bass is by playing with other people; this document can only get you started in the right direction. Don't be afraid to join a jam session that already has a bass player. It is a misconception that there can be only one bass player in a group. If you are unsure of yourself, just use your headphones so only you can hear what you are playing.

BASSics

The First Rule of bass

importantIt is more important to hit a note at the right time, than it is to hit the right note.

metronome

You are a metronome. Your job is to be the keeper of the tempo. When a group of ukulele players play together, they often have trouble staying at a uniform tempo. Ironically, they can speed up over time until a tune is too fast for them to play. They will thank you if you are able to keep them at the right tempo.

Be ruthless keeping the tempo, but don't be mean. It is hard for multiple people playing together to keep the same tempo. That's why it is your job. It is easier for them to all hear the tempo set by the bass.

Think like a clock. Things like counting to yourself or tapping your foot can help. Practice counting the beat while listening to music, walking at a steady rhythm, or tapping your foot at a constant speed while watching TV or working. Practice playing with a metronome (find a free metronome app).

Even if a tune has strong syncopation or swing, you can best serve the music by playing like a metronome and not being syncopated. The contrast caused by the time gap between the rhythmic bass notes and the syncopated notes (from the ukuleles or other instruments) is what makes the music really swing (and makes you the keeper of the groove).

Like all rules, the first rule can be broken. But for now, follow the first rule as much as possible. Then, when you get get good enough (which won't take very long) you will sound great when you break it!

Often, once musicians get used to listening to the bass for tempo, the bass player will also become the person who sets (and counts) the starting tempo, so the group starts at the same time. (Later, we will learn how to use a "walk up" to start a tune.) Likewise, the bass player will help the other players end at the same time. In music, starting and (especially) ending together hides a multitude of musical sins.

Good pluck

A typical ukulele bass uses fat, rubbery strings (no more sore fingers and calluses!). The best way to pluck them is to use the soft fleshy part at the end of your fingers. Most people use one finger or alternate between two fingers, usually the index finger and the middle finger. Your fingers do all the work; rest your palm against the body of your bass if you like. Some people use their thumb to pluck or even a soft pick; it is up to you.

I like to pluck by pressing mainly down (toward the body of the bass, rather than sideways) on the string, curling your finger slightly until the string slips off the finger. You can also pluck sideways, or somewhere inbetween. After plucking a string, your finger usually comes to rest on the next string above it.

For the best sound and maximum control, pluck the strings close to the bridge of the bass. Move around until you find the best position for you. I usually pluck within a few inches of the bridge. I've seen other people play up as far as the sound hole (just below where the fingerboard starts, if your bass doesn't have a sound hole). Rubbery strings are rather flexible, so the farther up you pluck, the greater the distance you will need to pull the string to get a good sound.

When to pluck

Ukulele players typically strum once for each beat. For most tunes, bass players pluck a string less often, so you will need to be able to figure out how many beats there are in each measure, and which beat is the downbeat (the first beat of the measure).

For example, for tunes in 4/4 time (the most common time signature), the ukuleles will strum four times in each measure, but the bass will most commonly play twice per measure, which is every other beat, usually on the first and third beats of each measure. For tunes in 3/4 time (like this lovely waltz) there are three beats in each measure, but the bass will usually play only on the first beat of each measure.

The importance of the first rule is that you should hit those notes at the right time, and you should (usually) try to always hit them. This means that even if you don't know the right note to hit, you should hit some note, any note. After all, percussion (drums, tambourines, clapping, or tapping your foot) doesn't even have notes, and a washtub bass rarely hits exactly the right pitch, but still sounds fine.

If a tune is in the key of G, a G will almost always be a good note to hit. For example, here are four measures of a very simple bassline for a tune in 4/4 time:

G G 0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0--- D -------------------------------- A -------------------------------- E -------------------------------- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

This diagram is written using bass tab (tablature). The first line shows the chord (in this case, G), the last line shows the beats in each measure (in 4/4 time each measure has four beats, which is when the ukuleles strum), and the four middle lines correspond to the four strings on your bass, in order of decreasing pitch. The number shows what fret to play on each string. The zeros on the line for the G string (the highest pitched string) indicate an open G string, to be played on the first (the downbeat) and third beats of each measure. Note that you will rarely see bass tab in real life, but while you are memorizing where each note is on your bass, this will help you learn.

There are lots of variations. Even in 4/4 time, the bass may only play once per measure, on the first beat. For a "walking bassline", the bass may play on every beat. But in all cases the bass will almost always play on the downbeat, to keep the tempo.

The downbeat is not always where you expect it to be. For example, listen to "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin: https://youtu.be/0jzqx4Mf4lE. In some ways this is a very simple song, as it has only one chord (C minor). But the downbeat happens a half beat after the third "Chain" in the lyrics "Chain, Chain, Chain". Practice counting the beats as you listen to the song. Hear that the bass is playing on the downbeat, which makes the lyrics syncopated.

Fingering

Your fingering hand should not be at much of an angle with respect to the fingerboard. Try to keep your knuckles parallel to the edge of the fingerboard and your fingers mostly parallel to the frets, as shown in the image to the right.

Unlike the ukulele, guitar and similar instruments, on the bass you don't use the very end tip of your finger to press the strings. Instead, because bass strings are so large, you use the large flat part of the end of your finger. It is ok if your finger touches more than one string; you will only be plucking one string at a time.

Also unlike the ukulele and guitar, where you often use one finger to press on multiple strings at the same time, on the bass you only press one string at a time.

Notes on the bass

The four strings on a bass, from the lowest pitched (and fattest) string to the highest pitched (and skinniest) string, are tuned to the notes E, A, D, G. The ukulele bass (also called a short scale bass) is tuned exactly the same as a standard bass guitar or an upright string bass.

Each string passes over a number of frets. You change the note played by each string by pressing the string gently to the left of the fret so the fret shortens the vibrating length of the string. For example, if you press the A string at the third fret, it will play a C. If you pluck a string without pressing a fret, it is called an open string.

Here is a diagram of the main notes played by each string. The thick vertical line at the left side is the nut of the bass (just before the tuners). The remaining vertical lines are the first five frets (there are more...).

The diagram is written as you would see the strings when you look down at them, but when you hold the bass, the G string will actually be closest to the floor. When I was first learning the bass, I printed out a diagram like this and taped it to the side of my bass so I could see it while playing. It helped!

GGsharp / AflatAAsharp / BflatBC...
DDsharp / EflatEFFsharp / GflatG...
AAsharp / BflatBCCsharp / DflatD...
EFFsharp / GflatGGsharp / AflatA...

These notes correspond to the notes on a piano, starting with E:

piano keyboard
strings:EADG

Note that, unlike ukuleles and guitars, the strings on a bass are evenly spaced in pitch.

Chords

Unlike a ukulele, the bass never plays real chords – you almost never play more than one note at a time. Instead you play some of the notes from the chord, but you play them one after another (this is called an arpeggio).

Ukulele sheet music usually shows the chords to play, using names like C, G7, Bflat, or Am. The chord names have two parts. The first part is the root note of the chord. As we know, musical note names consist of a capital letter A through G, optionally followed by a sharp (sharp) or a flat sign (flat). The root notes for C, G7, Bflat, and Am are C, G, Bflat, and A. Most of the time, you only need to worry about the root notes.

Playing the root

For starters, the simplest bassline is to repeatedly play just the root note of the chord. So if the music says to play "C7flat5" (a C dominant seventh chord with a flat fifth), you just play a C. For Am (A minor) you just play A. For "Bflat+" (B flat augmented) you play a Bflat. Easy peasy!

In fact, there are songs where the bass does just that. Listen to the bassline in The Turtles song "Happy Together": https://youtu.be/LhhcHMkmyF8. Note that in this case, the bass is playing the chord's root note on every beat, instead of every other beat.

Adding the major fifth

The overwhelmingly most common bassline is to alternate between playing the root note and what is called the fifth note. What is this fifth note? To understand that, we need a little music theory. Don't worry, just a little (you probably already know it).

Let's say we are playing a tune in C major. In the key of C, the notes of the major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C again. Counting from C (on the keyboard below), the fifth note of that scale is the note G. Therefore in a C major chord (which is written "Cmaj" or more commonly just "C"), the root note is C and the fifth is G. This interval is called a perfect fifth.

piano keyboard
12345

The fifth is an important interval in music. There are plenty of songs that have only two chords in them: the root and the fifth (for example, "Jambalaya" by Hank Williams, or "Buffalo Gals").

Most significantly to us playing the bass, you can play any chord by just alternating between the root and the fifth notes from the chord (which sounds similar to the "oompah" being played by a tuba in a polka). You may not be playing any of the other notes in the chord, but you don't have to, the ukuleles will take care of that. The root and the fifth are the most important notes in a chord, and make for a simple but strong bassline.

So to play a C chord, you just alternate between C and G. But there is one twist. On the piano above, the G is above (higher in pitch) than the C. But on a bass, we will typically play the G below the C (one octave below the fifth). This is called inverting the chord. This is really easy to do, because the C (third fret on the A string) and the G (third fret on the E string) are right next to each other (see the diagram below). To play a C chord, we just plunk away between the C and G. In this case on every other beat, so we play the C on the first beat of the measure, and the G on the third beat of the measure ("oom – pah!").

GGsharp / AflatAAsharp / BflatB...
DDsharp / EflatEFFsharp / Gflat...
AAsharp / BflatBCCsharp / Dflat...
EFFsharp / GflatGGsharp / Aflat...

Other fifths

What if we are playing a minor chord instead of a major chord? For example, in a C minor scale, the notes are C, D, Eflat, F, G, Aflat, Bflat, and C again. Lucky for us bass players, the fifth is still a G, so to play the bass for a Cm (C minor) chord, we just alternate between C and G, exactly the same as when we played a C major chord.

In fact, for the vast majority of chords we will ever see (unless we play a lot of jazz or other more difficult music), the fifth note will always be the note on the same fret on the next lower pitched string. For example, to play an A7 (A seventh) chord, just alternate between the open A string and the open E string (or alternatively, between the second fret on the G string and the second fret on the D string). To play an E6 (E sixth major) chord play E (the second fret on the D string) and B (the second fret on the A string).

Memorize this pattern! You can play bass for 99% of the chords you will ever see by just alternating between the root note and the same fret on the next lower pitched string.

Exceptional fifths

Of course there are a few, rare exceptions. Don't worry about this for now, but one day you will be happily playing some chord whose root note is C by bouncing between C and G, and the G note will sound bad to you. So you look at the full chord name on the music and you notice something like Caug, C+, or C7+5 (augmented chords) or C°, C7dim, or C7flat5 (diminished or "flat five" chords). What do you do?

The first thing you do is keep playing the G as the fifth (for now). Remember the first rule of bass! Better to play any note, even a wrong one, than no note at all.

But eventually it will really start bothering you. There are several things you can do:

If you really are a glutton for punishment, Wikipedia has a list of pretty much every possible chord you will ever see at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chords. The next to the last column (i.e., the fifth column – how apropos!) lists the semitones between each note in each chord. If this column contains a 7, then the chord has a perfect fifth in it. But any of the other notes can be played as well. Each semitone corresponds to one fret on your bass, counting up from the root note for the chord. This can serve as a guide to help you create good basslines, especially for obscure or difficult chords.

Variations on a Theme

The Second Rule of bass

importantIf it sounds good, use it.

There are two ways to figure out if something will sound good. One way is to try it out and see if it works. Unfortunately, you can only really tell if something sounds good when you are playing with other musicians. Often a note that sounds fine to you when you are noodling by yourself won't sound as good when there are a bunch of ukuleles or guitars playing the full chords.

Another way is to find the tune (video on YouTube is your friend) and either figure out what that bass player is doing (which is easier if you can see the bassist playing). Or you can just noodle along with the video to figure out what sounds good.

Does the second rule of bass contradict the first rule? After all, the first rule said that it doesn't matter which note you play as long as you play it at the right time. One of the wonderful things about playing the bass is that even though people (both the other musicians and any audience) don't seem to notice much when you play the wrong note, they do notice when you play a particularly good note or riff, and they appreciate it. It's a win-win!

The bottom line is that there is not one correct way to play the bass. As you watch bass players, you will notice that every bass player plays differently. This is true even if they are playing the same song. Everyone has their own "inner voice" that lets you know what sounds good and what doesn't. Be comfortable developing your own style.

Incorrect chords

A warning about chords. The song sheets that are passed around at ukulele jam sessions often have the wrong chords written on them. Or even if they are the "right" chords (which can be open to dispute), sometimes it would sound much better if you play other bass notes instead.

One reason for the chords being incorrect on song sheets is that one fingering on a ukulele can correspond to more than one chord name. For example, consider the simplest fingering: playing all strings open. This fingering corresponds to the chord C6, but it also corresponds to Am7 because Am is the relative minor of C (it could also be F9, because a ninth chord has five different notes in it, while a ukulele can only play four notes at a time, but that's much less common). Most ukulele players know one name for each unique fingering, so it doesn't matter to them which name they write down because both result in the same fingering and thus the same notes played.

But it matters to you, the bass player. If it is written C6, then the root note is a C, but if it is written Am7, then the root note is an A. If the wrong chord is written down, then you will be playing the wrong root note, which can actually change the chord. That's right, you the bass player have the ultimate power to change one chord into another, depending on which note you play.

Once I figure out the best note to play for a chord, I write it after the chord name separated by a slash (this is called a "slash chord"). So if the music says Cm7 (C minor seventh) and I decide it sounds better if I play a Bflat instead (yes, that note really is in that chord), then I write "Cm7 / Bflat".

Even worse (and more common), the chords are often written in the wrong position (over the wrong word in the lyrics). Remember, it is more important to hit a note at the right time than to hit the right note. Following the first rule of bass, you will (almost) always change chords on either the first beat of a measure or (to a lesser extent) on third beat, so you can keep the tempo. This is almost always true even if the other instruments don't change chords at exactly the same time. For this reason, I tend to ignore the position of the chord symbols and instead concentrate on the rhythm and what sounds good (this is an example of both the first and second rule!).

High or Low?

For many chords, you have a choice between playing high or low. For example, if you are playing an A chord, you can play the open A string (along with the fifth note on the open E string), or alternatively you could play the second fret on the G string (along with the fifth on the second fret on the D string). Which one sounds best? It mainly depends on the chord progression (in particular, the direction the chords are going). A progression where the chords are rising in pitch has a slightly different feel than a progression where the chords are falling in pitch. When in doubt, try both and see which feels better to you.

Chords on the E string

What do you do if you are playing along and the chords are slowly marching down from C in a really nice chord progression and you suddenly find yourself trying to play a G chord on the third fret of the E string? The fifth would be a D, but you don't have another string below the E string. You are "falling off the bottom of your bass".

GGsharp / AflatAAsharp / BflatBC...
DDsharp / EflatEFFsharp / GflatG...
AAsharp / BflatBCCsharp / DflatD...
EFFsharp / GflatGGsharp / AflatA...

You have several alternatives:

Muting notes

One last very important thing. Strings on a ukulele bass tend to ring. That is, they keep sounding for a while after you pluck them. If you leave notes ringing (especially multiple notes), your rhythm will sound mushy. Because of this, when playing the root and fifth on the first and third beat of each measure, I typically mute the notes on the second and fourth beat. This makes the rhythm stand out more (remember the first rule!).

To mute a string you touch it gently to stop its vibration. Don't press it all the way or you will just play another note and make things even mushier. You can mute a note with either hand, but I tend to use my left hand (the one fingering the notes). If the note I want to mute is on an open string, I just touch the string gently. This is easier if you gently lay multiple fingers across the strings. If the note I want to mute is fingered (not open), I release the fingering just enough that the string stops touching the fret but still touches my finger. It takes practice, but soon you will be doing it without even thinking.

This can make a huge difference in how you sound. Practice playing chords over and over, muting on the second and fourth beat. An "x" in the following bass tab shows where to mute.

A C G -------------------------------- D -------------------------------- A 0-x-----0-x-----3-x-----3-x----- E ----0-x-----0-x-----3-x-----3-x- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

The first line says to play an A chord for two measures (using an open string), followed by a C chord for two measures (using the third fret on the A string). Notice how much better it sounds and how much cleaner and punchier the rhythm is when you don't leave notes ringing. Remember, the lack of sound can be just as powerful as a sound.

Congratulations!

Once you can play the root and fifth for any chord and can keep a good steady clean tempo, you can do that forever. You will be popular at ukulele jam sessions and can perform admirably in public!

Here's a short video lesson, showing you most of the stuff we've learned so far: https://youtu.be/CLfaZyljThU

Changing Chords

When it is time to change chords, you almost always change on the first beat of a measure. The biggest exception to this is when the chords change in the middle of a measure. In that case, you play the new root note in the middle of the measure, instead of the old fifth.

The easiest way to change chords is to just switch abruptly to the new chord. For example, here is the bass tab for four measures of a simple chord progression. This example uses all open strings to keep things simple:

A D G G ------------------------0------- D ----------------0-----------0--- A 0-------0-----------0----------- E ----0-------0------------------- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

The first line says to play an A chord for two measures, followed by a measure of D and then a measure of G. So the first note you play is the root on the open A string on the first beat, followed by the fifth on the open E string on the third beat, and so on.

There are lots of other ways to change chords. A simple variation that sounds good is to play the root again on the fourth beat (the upbeat) just before you change chords (highlighted in red). Like this:

A D G G ------------------------0------- D ----------------0-----0-----0--- A 0-------0-----0-----0----------- E ----0-------0------------------- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

This works expecially well when the fifth of the old chord is the same as the root of the new chord, as it keeps you from playing the same note twice is a row. Let's go back down:

G D A G 0-------0-----0----------------- D ----0-------0---0-----0--------- A --------------------0---0------- E ----------------------------0--- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

You should practice this until it becomes automatic. But don't feel like you should do it every time you change chords. As usual, use it only when it sounds good.

Walks

An even fancier way to change chords is called a walk. Walks are commonly called walk ups and walk downs, probably to avoid confusion with a "walking bassline", which is something else entirely. In some countries (like the UK), walks are called "runs".

When you are about to change chords, instead of just switching notes, you play one measure of the notes of the scale between the root notes of the two chords. Let's say you are playing a song in C major, and you are playing the C chord.

Now we want to change to an F chord by walking up. You do this by playing one measure (4 beats) of C, C, D, E, playing one note for each beat. The last three notes of that measure (C, D, E) are the walk up, highlighted in red. The next measure is the F chord (alternating F and C). Written out using bass tab, it looks like this:

C F G -------------------------------- D ------------0-2-3-------3------- A 3-------3-3---------3-------3--- E ----3--------------------------- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

You do the walk before the chord change, so the first time you play an F (third fret on the D string), that is where the F chord is written in the music and when the ukuleles start playing F. Walks help during jam sessions, because they announce to the ukuleles that they are about to change chords.

Walking back down is exactly the opposite:

F C G -------------------------------- D 3-------3-3-2-0----------------- A ----3-----------3-------3------- E --------------------3-------3--- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

Visualize both of these on your bass:

GGsharp / AflatAAsharp / BflatB...
DDsharp / EflatEFFsharp / Gflat...
AAsharp / BflatBCCsharp / Dflat...
EFFsharp / GflatGGsharp / Aflat...

How did we know to play E and not play Eflat? Because we are in the key of C major, and the third note of a C major scale is E. If we were in C minor, then we would have played an Eflat. Instead of remembering all these rules, it is easier to just follow the second rule of bass – play what sounds good.

Another example, for a walk between a C chord up to a G or G7 chord (on the G string), I do the walk up this way:

C G G ----------------0-------0------- D ------------0-2-----0-------0--- A 3-------3-3--------------------- E ----3--------------------------- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

But I do the walk down a different way:

G C G 0-------0----------------------- D ----0-----3-2-0----------------- A ----------------3-------3------- E --------------------3-------3--- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

When I started doing this, I didn't know why; it just sounded better to me. But I've since learned that these walks contain more of the notes in the C and G (or G7) chords. Leaving out the F note on the walk up sounds better because the F would clash with the E that is part of the C chord we were just playing (and is still being played by the ukuleles). The notes E and F are only a half step apart, which makes them sound dissonant when played at the same time. During the walk down, the ukuleles are playing a G chord, which does not contain the clashing E. In fact, if the ukuleles are playing G7 (which is common), that chord contains an F.

Country-western walks

Pretty much every country-western song has a bunch of walks in it. Watch Johnny Cash play "Walk the Line" (pun intended) at https://youtu.be/jh169rVMveA. This song starts with six walks!

Don't overuse walks!

With great power comes great responsibility. Walks are powerful musical ornaments. Unless you are playing country-western music, it is way too tempting to use too many walks. Use them sparingly, typically when there is a pause in the melody, or a dramatic change in chords. When in doubt, listen to a recording of the song, and be surprised at how rarely walks are used. Save them for when they are most effective.

Starting with a walk

Walks can also be used at the beginning of songs. In a jam session I will often start playing the first chord of the song while people are getting ready to play a new song. This lets everyone know the tempo of the song (and that we are about to start playing). Then when we are all ready, I'll play a walk up to the same chord, like this:

C start G -------------------------------- D -------------------------------- A 3-------3---0-2-3-------3------- E ----3-----3---------3-------3--- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

The song then starts at the end of the walk. With a few exceptions, I would avoid doing this during a public performance.

Amen!

Many ukulele tunes end with what is called an "amen ending", where the ukuleles play the ending chord of the song, and then change to the fifth chord for one beat and then switch back to the ending chord. This is easy to do on bass. For example, if the tune ends on a C chord, an "amen" would look like the last measure of this:

C amen G -------------------------------- D -------------------------------- A 3-------3-------3-------3---3--- E ----3-------3-------3-----3----- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

The "amen" coming from the bass will let everyone know the tune is ending.

Alternatively, the ukuleles will play the "amen" by switching to the fourth chord instead of the fifth chord (this will sometimes be written on the sheet music explicitly as a chord change). Lucky for you, the fourth note is on the string in the opposite direction, higher in pitch, like this:

C amen G -------------------------------- D --------------------------3----- A 3-------3-------3-------3---3--- E ----3-------3-------3----------- 1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|1-2-3-4|

Other ornaments

There are many other ornaments other than walks. One common ornament is to play a "leading note" (or "leading tone") on the fourth beat just before the next chord (the "upbeat"). This note is usually a half step or full step away from the root of the following chord so that it resolves into it, which helps the music flow. For example, I said earlier that for tunes in 3/4 time, it is common to play only on the first beat of each measure. But sometimes it sounds good to also play a leading note on the third beat.

The bass should play like a metronome and not be syncopated, but if you play a leading note a half a beat (an eighth note) before you (also) play the downbeat, it will add a nice bit of syncopation to the bassline. In this case, the leading note can be a fifth (or other) note to give it some emphasis.

As you hear and see people playing the bass, notice these and other ornaments and try them out when they sound good to you. Again, don't overuse them.

Advanced Bass

The Third Rule of bass

importantHave fun!

Believe it or not, one of the most important things you can do to be a better bass player is to have fun. A really good bass player who plays in multiple bands once told me that she receives many compliments, but not about how good she plays. Instead, people always compliment her on how much enjoyable it is to watch her play, because she smiles (even grins), and dances. She is obviously having a great time, and that helpes the audience enjoy themselves.

Riffs and Grooves

The part played by the bass is generally called a bassline. The bassline typically defines the rhythm and harmony of a song. So far, we have looked at basslines that consist of alternating between the root and fifth of the current chord, along with ornaments like leading notes and walks.

Now we are going to look at basslines that contain riffs and grooves. For these basslines, the bass is a melodic instrument – it is playing a secondary melody that harmonizes with the main melody, while still providing rhythm.

There are many songs that are famous for their basslines. Here are a few of them, along with links to bass lessons or cover videos showing how to play them. These videos are almost all on bass guitar, but as mentioned previously, the fingering on a ukulele bass is exactly the same. And playing them is easier, because the space between frets is not so big on a smaller bass.

"Stand by Me" by Ben E King is primarily a bassline with vocals: https://youtu.be/3vn2EmT4tDk

"Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison adds rhythm guitar on top of the bassline, and even has a bass solo in the middle: https://youtu.be/GNgVAI4OGLs

Earlier we mentioned the popular song "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor: https://youtu.be/tzgAtO7tIBs

I always like playing Beatles songs, because Paul McCartney wrote interesting basslines (he was their bass player). Here's Paul playing "Ob La Di, Ob La Da" live, and a lesson: https://youtu.be/fynPPuuHj4g

Here's another Beatles song written by Paul McCartney, "Hello Goodbye", which seems to combine simple root notes, walks, progressions, riffs, and grooves: https://youtu.be/q9J8uO07jps Note that this player plucks with her thumb.

The song "Lost on You" is primarily driven by the bassline along with a fantastic singer, Laura Pergolizzi: https://youtu.be/8aKdcgD6AtQ

There are many many more, too many to list here. The ones listed come from popular music because it is easier to find lessons for them online, but similar techniques apply to folk, old timey, and traditional music.

Many people learning the bass focus too much on memorizing difficult basslines. You don't have to be a virtuoso in order to be a popular bass player. Don't let trying to play difficult basslines all the time get in the way of having fun.

Boogie Woogie

Boogie Woogie is a style of music strongly associated with its distinctive basslines. Here are some examples:
Kansas City - https://youtu.be/MbcY0qtJ1iY & https://youtu.be/mypHZmXdU3o
Rock Around the Clock - https://youtu.be/N-qjc17KEsc & https://youtu.be/86Q08tyaVYM
In The Mood - https://youtu.be/c2aqHGaSxRI & https://youtu.be/ukNgmIeB3N4
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy - https://youtu.be/M6p5XKFl_IY

Creating your own basslines

You can also create your own basslines. Again, the most important rule is to play what sounds good, but here are some hints to get you started.

The notes you use when creating a bassline can be divided into chord tones and nonchord tones. As the names suggest, a chord tone is a note that belongs to the current chord of the song. For example, if a measure is in the key of C major, then possible chord tones to play are C, E, and G. Any other notes would be nonchord tones.

You can start out by trying the chord tones, because they will always sound good. But sometimes you want to throw in a little dissonance, so you can try a nonchord tone. Often, the nonchord tones are played on the offbeat.

For example, consider the popular ukulele song "Sway". The Pussycat Dolls have created a simple bassline for it, which you can hear in their version. And here is an older version with a different bassline.

But I created my own bassline for this song. This is written out here: https://leler.com/bass/music/Sway+Bass.pdf. In addition to the normal ukulele chords (written in black), in the first verse and the chorus I've added additional bass notes (in red) for the bassline. As usual, an X means to not play (breaking the rule that the bass should be constant like a metronome). I also wrote the bassline out using bass tab (tablature), at https://leler.com/bass/music/SwayTab.pdf.

Hammers

When playing riffs and grooves, you will frequently need to play several notes in quick succession on the same string. You can often just pluck the string for the first note, and then change your fingering for the rest. These are called hammer-ons and hammer-offs. Here's a good video showing how to do hammers (he plays as many as four notes for one pluck): https://youtu.be/O_bR10A-QU0. I can get away with playing two or three notes with just one pluck.

You can also play notes without any pluck at all by fingering firmly and quickly, hence the term "hammer". Try it. On any open string "hammer down" on the second fret forcefully and you will hear that note (no pluck needed, although it may not be as loud as a note with a pluck). Then try two frets on the same string, alternating the hammer down between them (be sure to release the previous note just before hammering down on the next note).

There are many makers of ukulele basses and new ones are coming out all the time. Kala started the craze, but other manufacturers include (alphabetically) Amahi, Ashbory, Ashbury, Caramel, Countryman, Eddy Finn, Gold Tone, Hadean, Kelo, Korala, Magic Fluke, Mahalo, Ohana, Ortega, Oscar Schmidt, Stevens, and Thomann. I'm sure there are many more.

Most ukulele basses have strings that feel like rubber and are very stretchy. That's how they get such low notes out of a small instrument. The downside is they aren't very loud, so you typically amplify them.

There are also small basses that have metal wrapped strings, like the four lowest strings on a guitar. They produce more sound, but are somewhat harder on your fingers. They are also typically tuned an octave higher than those with rubber strings.

Ukulele basses are available in either hollow body or solid body. A solid body ukulele bass looks like a small version of an electric bass guitar (but without the magnetic pickup). A hollow body ukulele bass is about the same size and shape as a baritone ukulele, and thus it fits in better if you are mainly playing with ukuleles. The other advantage of a hollow body is that you can hear it even when it is not plugged into an amplifier. Depending on the bass, you might even be able to play along with one or two ukuleles in a jam session without using an amplifier.

Even with a hollow body bass, you will almost certainly need an amplifier. I have three of them, and each one has advantages and disadvantages.

If you use a small or low power amp, you can make it louder by placing it close (but not too close) to the floor and walls, especially if they don't have carpeting or other soft materials on them. Placing your little amp on the floor in a corner can make it sound much more powerful.

You don't actually need an amp specifically made for a bass. I've also used regular (and inexpensive) electric guitar amplifiers, which work as long as they have decent bass (most do). At home I often use my home stereo, which has a subwoofer and sounds great. I connect my bass to it using a line input on a small mixing board. When performing, I often plug directly into a line input on the venue's mixing board, or though a DI (direct input) box, and use the house speakers.

You will also need instrument cables, a tuner that can handle bass notes (some can't), and other standard musician items, like a music stand and music stand light. You will also need a kazoo.

Retailers

First, check out your local music shops. I bought my first ukulele bass from a local music store, and it was cheaper than I could find it online! Plus you get advice and recommendations, can find about about local events and jam sessions, and you get to see and play an instrument before you buy it.

If you can't find something locally, try Sweetwater. They have good prices, and decent customer service. I bought my five-string bass from them. If you want a wider selection of ukulele basses, try Amazon.com too.

Definitely check out Monoprice. They have incredibly low prices with good quality and customer service. They don't carry ukulele basses, but they have excellent tuners (I use their Chromatic Pedal Tuner), instrument cables (I use their cloth covered instrument cables, which have a lifetime guarantee), music stands and lights, mixing boards, amplifiers, subwoofers, microphones, headphones, and many other items. Including kazoos.

Online Bass Links

Play Ubass. A Swedish website, but mostly in English: https://playubass.com

Ubass Appreciation Society. Mostly about the Kala UBass, but good articles. https://ubassappreciation.wordpress.com

StudyBass. In depth lessons. I learned a lot from these! https://www.studybass.com

Stephen Cox Bass. Video lessons on the Ukulele Bass. Also has comparisons between rubber and metal wound strings. https://www.youtube.com/user/stephencoxbass

CyberfretBass. Good beginner lessons: https://www.cyberfretbass.com/beginner-bass-lessons/

Scott's Bass Lessons. On video so you can hear and see. https://www.youtube.com/user/devinebass

Videos

YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/). There are three types of bass-related videos you can use:

Chord finders

One useful utility is a chord finder. For example, https://ukulelehelper.com (although there are many others, and also smartphone apps). For example, you can enter the ukulele fingering from the tablature and the chord finder will show you the valid chord names, so you can try alternate chords (and thus try alternate bass notes).