What Makes A Great Bassist? Part 2: Expressing Yourself

What Makes A Great Bassist? Part 2: Expressing Yourself

With all the things to work on to improve ourselves, it’s easy to lose sight of why we play bass. That’s why we’ve been polling famous bassists and the community at large on what they think makes a great bassist. (Be sure to check out What Makes a Great Bassist? Part 1: Playing for the Song).

For part two of our series, we take a look at expression, creativity, and being yourself.

Jack Casady

Jack CasadyWell I think tone is essential. I think tone is your signature as to who you are. Before you get to the notes, and your style and the kind of riffs you like to do or your influences, I think you have to develop and pay attention to the way you make the tone on your instrument and what pleases you. The music builds around the tone. It isn’t just a series of notes or the articulation or the technique. The signature sound of a great musician is his tone and that sets him apart from others, and I think that is essential. That’s the beginning place to start from.

You know, there are many ways to skin a cat. I’ve seen many different people use so many different fingerings and techniques and whatnot on an instrument that work. I don’t think there’s any one way. At the end of the day you want to be able to articulate the ideas that you have in your head, not be a slave to what you’ve already heard by trying to mimic others playing. At some point in your young life as you start learning the instrument, you will want to get into a situation where you start to create your own music. Up until that point, you’re doing a lot of woodshedding, you’re working on your technique and you’re working on making those ideas that you hear, and you want to try to execute them and execute them well and with articulation.


Cobus von Wielligh

Cobus von WiellighA great bassist can express him/herself in any type of groove and make it sound good.


Leonardo Caputo

Leonardo CaputoSimply what makes a great musician, with every instrument. The ability to express one’s soul through his instrument.

Only bassists are much more cool from the beginning…


Pat McCarthy

Pat McCarthyA great bassist is a player that not only keeps time and holds down a solid groove, but also plays with the passion and courage to push boundaries – all while respecting the song and other musicians alike.


Andro Coulton

Andro CoultonFind your own space, think outside the box and find your own way. Do not try to be Billy Sheehan or victor Wooten.



Evan Brewer

Evan BrewerI’d say what really makes a great bassist to me is someone that’s actually contributing to the song no matter what musical context they’re in. I mean, you can put a bass line down that’s going to add low frequencies to the mix and you’re essentially serving your purpose, or you can literally add a new flavor to a song. You can change a song with your bass line.

Listen to a lot of those Paul McCartney bass lines. He’s not reinventing the wheel, but he’s adding a really cool element to the song. He’s changing the song with the bass line and still holding it down the way a bass player should.

So for me, a good bass player is one who has a strong musical voice or personality in their playing and adds something to everything they play on. That’s something I would look for in a bassist.


Dennis Donnelly

Dennis DonnellyIt doesn’t matter what brand name or how expensive your bass is. Nor what kind of wood it is made of or how many notes that you play in a song. The sound you create comes completely from your fingers……your touch…… your individual feel! Play what comes through your heart and mind no matter what style that you choose. And always be yourself! The great ones always sound like themselves! That’s for sure!


Kelly Tellef

Kelly TellefUsing your bass as a way to convey your inner passion into a musical expression makes you great, when people hear and feel YOUR energy when you play, you’re there, whether you’re famous or not.


How about you?

questionPlease add your voice to the conversation! Share your thoughts in the comments.


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  1. Understand the relationship between the melody and chords; lock in with the drummer; find the groove; look for a spot to add your personal touch; be open to suggestions; find the right tone for the style of music you are playing. Remember that you are part of the foundation for the song. If you are asked to solo, make a musical statment that works. Develop your individual style. Asks others (who you respect) to provide feedback on your playing. Practice, Practice, Practice. When you hit your ceiling, find a way to learn something new.

  2. define the groove, support the vocal (or lead ‘voice’), and know you are doing a great job when they don’t notice you until you stop playin’….LOL!

  3. Tone, that’s where it’s at, finding your signature tone :)

  4. A great bassist can and will follow his guitarist till the ends of the earth. To solos and beyond!

  5. Sorry for not saying poetic words or something like that, but… this is a VERY relative question… Sid Vicious was a great punk bass player, Jaco was a great Jazz bassist, as well a Steve Harris is a great Metal bass-hero… and Juvencio Linhares (a friend of mine) is a great “switchblade” bass player that can earn his money and pay his bills playing his gigs, no matter the gig, rock, jazz, bossa nova, pop, etc…

    What makes a bass-hero is basically who’s watching him… who depends on him… My wife depends on my bass playing to pay the rent… and a lot of bangers depends on Tom Araya to bang their heads… Bruce Dickinson would be nothing without Steve Harris, and Weather Report would have just half his famous without Jaco…

    Who’s YOUR bass-hero? Who’s your GREAT bass player? YOU can say.. only..

  6. A great bassplayer is the spine of the band, the glue who holds it all together. You know when to step back to let the others shine and wotk your ass off during the guitar solo;) You know when people say that the band has a groove that you have done a great job (…and are kinda used to that 99% of the audience don’t get what are you doing up there on stage…or even recognize you at all;))).

  7. A great bassist doesn’t break the wall…

  8. Be the backbone of the band. Its not about playing as much as possible, its about knowing to play right tone in the very right moment. Support the band by connecting melody and rhytm, but give it a personal touch – and make people dance.