Should Bassists Be Multi-Instrumentalists?

Q: I’m curious as to your opinion of secondary instruments for bassists. From a well-rounded musician perspective, I can see the value of being a multi-instrumentalist. From a gigging perspective, I would think that a bassist might be more marketable if he or she had show-ready skills on keys, or guitar, or ???…

A: I definitely agree that any musician would do well to explore other instruments. Especially for those that compose parts for other instruments, it really is necessary to get a feel for range, difficulty and just peek under the hood, so to speak, with regard to what it takes to play certain things.

Personally, I’ve always played drums as well as bass (I actually began my studies at Berklee as a drum principal and, later switched to bass). Understanding the drummer from the inside out has really helped me with my pocket, ability to lock in with a drummer and with my ability to foretell what a drummer may be doing rhythmically or what they may be building towards with a certain pattern or fill, etc.

I am also one of the many who wish that I could go back in time and really study the piano. I think playing other harmonic instruments gives one a stronger sense of harmony and bassists especially, could learn a lot getting adept at any other chordal instrument.

From a gigging perspective, I’m not entirely sure how much it helps aside from innately being better at really playing with other instrumentalists because of your insight into their process. Certainly, if you are good enough to take gigs on more than one instrument, that helps!

As musicians, we should explore everything musical! This includes exploring various styles of music, playing different instruments, learning to read the language, learning to sing… The list goes on. Explore it all! It can only make you a stronger musician.

If we always think of what will make us a better musician as opposed to only considering what will make us a better bassist or soloist, we will inevitably become more well-rounded players because of it.

What do you think? Share in the comments below…

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Share your thoughts

  1. Everything that can give you another perspective is a good thing!
    I’m learning piano right now, awesome stuff!

  2. Benton_E

    I think that most of us are. Most Bassists that I know including myself learned guitar and keyboard just by being exposed to it. Do I feel that I’m as good on my second and third instrument? No, but its because I don’t spend as much time on them.

  3. Dhowardx

    All I know is lead guitarists shouldn’t play bass

  4. I’ll second the comments here, including Benton_E’s excellent contribution.

    I’ll add, however, that I do love my Baritone Ukulele. May not be all that useful of a “cross training” instrument, but its a lot of fun. Mine is tuned EADG so its kinda like practicing Bass. I call it my mini piccolo.

  5. Israel Cedeno

    Bassplayers should know at least to play Piano or Guitar to learn Chords and to arrange there own Music, Now know about Drums or play a bit of it would help Bassist to know the connection between Bass & Drums in any given Music and to stablish a Groove, no matter kind of Music…!
    Bass+Drums+Percussion=Groove….! Bass+Guitar+Piano= Music….! Other instruments like Woodwinds or Brass etc is a good second instrument to any Bassist. ( Example Marcus Miller )

  6. Jackie Clark

    I must admit that being a keyboardist first,helped my development on bass tremendously in being able to hear changes and follow when learning something by ear or sitting in without charts.It also gives you an understanding of just how important our role as bassists really is.

  7. Brad

    I think it is best to learn multiple instruments. Bass is only my second of many many many instruments, my main instruments being brass. It helps alot with the theory side of things but not really with playing

  8. Knowing guitar, piano, and drums has helped me a great deal in my overall understanding of music. Guitar has helped me more in terms of fretboard knowledge. Piano has helped me in my understanding of harmony, while drums has helped me understand my role as a bassist even further. Overall other instruments have aided in musical composition. As a gigging bassist I find myself playing just bass but it helps to be able to sing, as that’s a skill that will be a greater plus to the band.

  9. Michael Earnhardt

    I wish I had studied piano also. I DID take a year of guitar lessons and that helped me learn bass on my own when it came to chords, the construction of chords, etc.

  10. It is good to learn another instrument as this will help you get a new perspective in playing. For example drums to learn the rhythm part better, piano and/or guitar for harmony and chord construction and finally instruments like flute or trumpet that plays melody which would help with making countermelody and melodious basslines. My main instrument is bass but I also play other instruments. When I was learning bass, I just learn how to follow music sheet but didn’t completely know how it works or why it works. When I started playing around with guitar, my major issue was chords because some chords have complicated fingering so I wanted to find out what chords are and how to make a different fingering for the chord I want that’s when I got into learning about chords. I suggest learning music theory as well.