Just a few tweaks to your bass playing can make all the difference

It may even unleash your bass-playing superpower!

By Jon Liebman
March 31, 2023

Even when all the bass players are playing the same riff, what makes one player stand out from the rest?

The answer’s not as complicated as you may think.

Recently, I had a fun conversation with Yolanda Charles (Sinead O’Connor, Mick Jagger, Hans Zimmer…) published as this week’s FBPO interview.

In addition to being a bass player and songwriter, Yolanda is a passionate educator who pays close attention to what people are playing on the bass – and how they’re playing it.

So naturally, I was eager to ask her what advice she had for someone who wants to learn bass.

The difference is in the details

“Paying attention to detail,” she says. “I think that that is our secret weapon.”

Bass technique is important, of course. But it’s what you do with that technique that makes all the difference in the world.

“The good bass players are the ones who have (an) understanding about the nuance and the subtlety of the small, tiny incremental changes we make to our touch and our sound that changes the shape and the feel of the whole song,” she says.

Let’s get specific

Though the changes are subtle, they can make a huge impact on the music.

“Shorten the notes, something happens,” Yolanda explains. “Lengthen the notes, something else happens. Place them behind the beat, something else happens. All of that stuff. That’s where bass players live.”

When you start thinking about all the little changes you can make to your bass playing, there’s virtually no limit to the ways you can offer something to the music that no one else can.

“When the bass player understands that,” Yolanda says, “the length of a note, the dynamics, which notes should be long or short, which ones should be loud (or) quiet, where it’s placed in the beat, before and after the downbeat,” the difference can be profound.

Your bass-playing superpower

“I think that’s a superpower,” she says, “because if you can have that much control over your time, tone, placement, touch… all of that stuff, you become sought after.”

The funny thing is that people won’t even know why they like your playing; they just do. 

“People are like, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing. It’s the same riff that everyone else played, but when you play it, it sounds really great.’” 

Sometimes even the smallest changes can bring about the biggest results.

“You just did a few tweaks,” Yolanda says, “and suddenly, Bang! The riff just sits like a beautiful thing.”

Next steps

Think about what kinds of subtle changes can you make to your bass playing to make a dramatic improvement to the overall sound of the music. Use Yolanda’s suggestions as a starting point, then take it from there.

Leave a comment below and share your experience. I’d love to know what you come up with.

Looking for a critically acclaimed hands-on experience for learning bass? Check out the Bottom Line Club membership right here at For Bass Players Only. Get all the info right here. 

Let’s play bass!


Comments on Just a few tweaks to your bass playing can make all the difference

  1. Grayden Provis says:

    So refreshing to hear someone talk about this! A single note shuffle line can be a thing of great beauty in the hands of someone who gets the things Yolanda is talking about (eg Black Velvet by Alannah Myles). Thanks Jon – great stuff as always.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Grayden. Great feedback!

  2. Joe Gallion says:

    Ms. Yolanda shared some awesome insight into the inner workings of a bass line. Playing with great attention to detail and focusing on what the song needs is truly the secret to great bass playing. Thanks for posting this excellent interview! She has given me much to work on.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Glad you liked her advice, Joe. Thanks for the comment!

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