Bass solos are rare. While this is unfortunate for bass solo enthusiasts, it is great news for you as a bassist. That`s because it`s easier for your bass solos to stand out, and to avoid sounding cliche.
Learning how to solo on a bass guitar takes time. Unfortunately, it is also a skill that many bassists never end up mastering simply because they go about it incorrectly.
Learning how to write good bass solos took me many years. However, it took a lot longer than it needed to, simply because I didn’t know how to go about it. At first, I was trying to sound like a guitar player with 4-strings. Then I tried to do the opposite and reinvent the wheel with every solo I wrote.
Turns out, that neither of those approaches worked very well.
For this reason, I have gathered up 7 underutilized, but insanely useful tips on how to write a bass solo. This way, you won’t have to go through all the trial and error I did. After reading, you will have a good starting point for how to start writing a bass solo, where to take inspiration from, and how to structure your solo within a song.
1. Make use of your entire range
For the most part, guitar solos only consist of high notes. This is because if the solo is too deep, it starts clashing with the other instruments and gets drowned out.
This is less of an issue for bass solos, as the bass is not trying to power over the other instruments anyway. This can be a good thing, as it allows you to use the entire range of your bass.
Want to play an open E and a high G at the 24th fret in the same solo? Go for it. This only makes your solos more interesting and dynamic.
Related Reading: Do You Need 24 Frets On A Bass?
With that said, it helps to use your entire range as a tool, rather than using it all just for the sake of it.
One great way of doing this is to use your range for creating buildup. Start by playing at the middle of your neck and then progress towards the end of it as the solo goes on. When done correctly, this will gradually increase the intensity of your solo and create a crescendo-type effect.
You can also use your range for creating variation. For example, you could have 8-bars of shredding high up on the neck followed by 4 bars of a deep slap groove. When done right this can sound interesting, varied, memorable, and can help tie a song together.
2. Listen to bass solos
Not only is it fun to listen to bass solos, but it will also help you write your own. This will serve as a source of inspiration and help you get a clear idea of what a great bass solo consists of.
I also recommend listening to bassist outside of genres you normally listen to. Whether you play funk, jazz, pop, or metal, bass solos are a great way to incorporate licks from other genres, that would otherwise sound out of place.
Here are some great bass solos to listen to, across a wide selection of genres:
|Band||Song with a bass solo||Genre||Bass solo starts at:|
|Rush||Vital Signs||Progressive rock||3:07|
|Red Hot Chili Peppers||Aeroplane||Funk||3:30|
|Green Day||Welcome to Paradise||Pop-Punk||1:54|
|The Who||My Generation||Rock||0:55|
|Nirvana||Been a Son||Grunge||1:11|
3. Change the tone
During a solo, the bass fills a different role than for the rest of the song. Thus, there is also room to change the tone of your instrument to reflect this.
For example, for heavy, fast, or technical solos, you can add distortion. This will generally sound more fitting in genres like metal, rock, and grunge. It will also help the bass cut through other instruments and make it the center of attention. While you don’t need distortion to play grooves in heavier genres, solos can end up sounding powerless without it.
For ballads, slower, more emotional songs, consider adding reverb or delay. These effects can make your tone more resonant, roomy, and pronounced. Depending on the song, this can make the difference between the bass solo sounding hollow or it filling the room all on its own.
Lastly, changing your EQ when playing a solo can help the solo become more pronounced. When playing a low groove, you generally want to have enough low and mids for the bass to not sound too thin or clanky.
During a solo, there is more room to neglect lower frequencies in favor of a more pronounced high end. Thus, if your solo differs greatly from the grooves within the song, experiment with the knobs on your bass and your amp to reflect this change.
4. Adapt the arrangement
Guitar solos work well while the rest of the band is playing the main riff. However, this is not the case with bass solos for two reasons:
- Frequency range – The bass is a low-frequency instrument. Therefore, it is harder to distinguish it in a mix. As a result, a bass solo will be drowned out by other instruments, as there will be multiple instruments competing to be heard in the same frequency range.
- Lack of low end – Unless you`re in a band with 2 bassists, there will be a severe lack of groove and low end if you play a high bass solo. As a bassist, you will be familiar with how this lack of low end will turn a song hollow and powerless.
Thus, for a bass solo to work midsong, the arrangement of the instruments has to be adapted accordingly.
The easiest way to do this is to just have the drums and bass play. This way, the bass solo will not be drowned out by the other instruments. A bass solo of this kind works well, but it can quickly start to feel overly simple.
Another way is to adapt the other instruments to the bass solo. This can be done in a range of ways. Here are some examples:
- Harmony – Guitars and the piano can play harmonizing parts with the bass guitar. This will make the solo more vibrant and harmonically interesting.
- Single chords– A great way to add more life to a bass solo is to have the other instruments occasionally play single chords. These work best when played staccato. The other instruments thus become less intrusive, while still providing drive and rhythm to the solo.
- Call and response – Call and response is a common technique in most genres of music. It is most commonly utilized by vocalists, but it works wonders for bass solos as well. Have the other instruments play a short lick, then answer with a solo bass lick. It is generally best to use this technique sparingly and to avoid basing entire bass solos around call and response.
5. Use an established melody
A song always works better when the individual parts feel connected. Thus it is important that your bass solo not only sounds good on its own but also works as a meaningful part of a song.
The best way to achieve this is to base your bass solo on an established melody. This can be the vocal line, the guitar riff, or even an extension of the main bassline.
Related Reading: 9 Helpful tips for creating melodic bass lines
In Nirvana, Kurt Cobain`s most famous guitar solos consisted of him playing the vocal line from the verse. A similar approach can be used equally well in a bass solo.
How much of your solo you want to base on an existing melody is up to you. You can base all of it on an existing melody or just a small part of it. Regardless, using another melody is a great starting point for making your solo make sense within a song, and is a severely underutilized technique among bassists.
6. Switch up the rhythm
Every iconic solo ever switches up the rhythm, and a bass solo is no different.
If it is a slow bass solo, throw in a couple of quick notes here and there. If it is a fast solo, make sure to throw in some long sustained notes.
There are several good reasons why this can greatly improve a solo:
- Feel – A great solo awakens feelings. When a bass solo switched up the rhythm well it sounds like it is telling a story. As a listener, this makes it a lot easier to become captivated by it. Switching up the rhythm will make it sound like you know what you are doing and that your solo sounds emotional and expressive.
- Variation – Most genres already have very rigid song structures, with many repeating parts. A bass solo can work well in providing a much-needed break from this. Thus, a great solo should have a good bit of variation in it, rather than just sounding like yet another riff.
- Modesty – If you want to show how technically proficient you are at the bass with a solo, you can. It is when a solo becomes all about showing off that it becomes uninteresting. Switching up the rhythm is a great way to not go overboard and ensures that your solos never consist of solely mindless shredding.
7. Memorize the chord progression
When you play a bass solo, you want to know what chord tones are available to you. For this to work well, you need to know what chords are coming up when you are soloing.
Therefore, memorize the chord progression you are soloing over before you start writing.
It`s perfectly fine if you are not well versed in music theory. At the basic level, you just need to know where to locate the root notes at different spots on the neck. For example: If you are playing over a Cm-Ab-Fm-Gm chord progression, you need to be able to find C, Ab, F, and G at different spots on the neck.
If this doesn`t come naturally, good. Then you know that memorizing the chords and finding their root notes at different spots is the first thing you need to work on before you start soloing. Practice this over different chord progressions before you start writing.
If this comes naturally, start getting comfortable soloing using the root, 3rd, and 5th of the chords. As you progress, you can start experimenting by adding less common chord tones such as #11s or b13s.
You can also add chromatic ascents and descents. These are “technically” dissonant, but if you base your solo on the chord progression and try finding spots where they fit, you will find that they often sound natural despite this.
The tips outlined above will help you get started writing bass solos, and provide you with enough variety to change things up if you get stuck.
With that said, remember that by the end of the day, your bass solos should be a reflection of you. There are a million ways to write a good bass solo, so don`t feel like you have to play solos a certain way. The above tips are merely tips for how to expand on your own creativity, and they have worked well for me through the years.
One last tip: You shouldn’t forget that you are still serving the song when playing a solo. You should make it your own, but it should still feel like a cohesive part of the arrangement.
Regardless of whether it is slow or fast, heavy or atmospheric, consider how well it fits with the parts that come before and after it, and what the solo adds to the song.
If you can do this one thing well, your bass solos are always going to improve the quality of a song.
Oftentimes, the best solos are improvised during jam sessions. If you are more interested in jamming out bass solos rather than spending hours writing them at home check out these 5 useful tips for jamming as a bassist.