When we first pick up the bass guitar, most us of want to progress from the beginner level as soon as possible. However, the line between beginner, intermediate and advanced can be hard to pin down.
When we practice bass by ourselves, the goal is to move on to an intermediate level. The issue is that we usually don’t know what this level looks like, nor when we will reach it.
This type of mindset hindered my progress as a bassist when I first started out. I have long since become an intermediate bass player, but it took a lot longer than it needed to. This is because I became obsessed with progressing to the next level, rather than focusing on the basics that were necessary to get there.
Therefore, I’ve written this article so you can learn from my mistakes. You will learn what it means to be an intermediate bass player and how to tell when you are one. I will also show you how long it takes to become an intermediate bassist depending on your musical experience.
What is an intermediate bassist?
An intermediate bassist has knowledge of all the aspects of playing the bass guitar at a basic level and is able to apply these skills when playing with other musicians. This includes knowledge of basic music theory, their fretboard, basic rhythms and scales, and how to jam and compose with a band.
To play in your own band or as a session musician, you need a firm knowledge of the basics of playing the bass. An intermediate bassist thus has a firm grasp on all of the following:
- Fretboard – Understand the fretboard and have basic knowledge of scales.
- Time – Know basic rhythms and common time signatures.
- Composing – Be able to write their own basslines to original music.
- Rhythm – A sense of rhythm and being able to play basic lines without excessive focus.
- Chords – Have basic knowledge of what notes make up common chords.
- Ear – Listen to other musicians when playing and adapt accordingly.
- Articulation – Playing and switching between legato and staccato.
- Gear – Be able to set their own tone accordingly and tune the bass.
- Notation – Read some form of notation and have a basic understanding of music theory.
An intermediate bassist might not be great at all of these areas. However, they will have a good enough understanding of all these skills to apply them when playing with others.
Furthermore, intermediate bassists are knowledgeable enough to notice their own lacks. A beginner-level bassist might not even realize that they are out of tune, out of time, or that their articulation is off.
A bassist that is close to taking the step to becoming intermediate will notice their flaws and know what to improve on.
How long does it take to become an intermediate bassist?
Depending on previous musical knowledge, amount of daily practice, and natural ability, it will take between 6-24 months to become an intermediate bassist. Bass Lessons, previous knowledge of music theory, and playing a different instrument can all greatly reduce the time required.
If you have little or no musical experience, but practice bass methodically and consistently, you can expect to become an intermediate bassist within 1-2 years.
However, it can take longer if you leave gaps in your practice schedule and skip some of the basics. Thus, bass lessons are a good idea if you want to become an intermediate bassist as fast as possible. If you don’t take lessons, it is helpful to learn what the basics are and how to practice them. I showcase what these are in this article:
Related reading: This Is How Long You Should Practice Bass Each Day
The bass guitar is a unique instrument that requires a specific skill set. However, knowledge of music theory and experience with playing with other musicians is a skill that can be applied across multiple instruments. Experience with theory or playing with a band will thus greatly reduce the time required to reach the intermediate level.
Your progress also depends on your natural ability and how easy it is to find people to play with. If you live in a rural area it can be harder to find people who share your musical interests. As a result, it can take longer to get band experience, which is a necessity to become an intermediate bassist.
Thus, my advice is to not dwell too much on the exact timeframe it takes to become intermediate. It varies on several factors that are out of your control. Instead, focus on learning the basics, practice consistently, and look for opportunities to play with other people when you feel ready.
How to tell if you are an intermediate bassist?
You can tell whether you are an intermediate bassist when you have played and composed music with other musicians. You also need to have a clear idea of what constitutes playing the bass well, and be able to evaluate your own playing in an informed and objective way.
Anyone can pick up some instruments, play whatever comes to mind, and then call it a song. However, doing this well, and knowing whether what you are doing actually sounds good is vastly different.
When you are able to tell what you are doing right and wrong, you will have practiced the bass on your own for a while. Then, you have played enough with others to know what your strengths and weaknesses are in a band setting. Lastly, you have worked enough on those weaknesses for them to no longer be detrimental.
Related reading: 5 useful tips for jamming as a bassist that no one uses
This is why playing well with a band is the perfect benchmark for telling whether you are an intermediate bassist or not. You cannot do it well without having practiced the basics on your own for a while. You also cannot assess how good your playing is without proper experience.
Look at the list of necessary basic skills above. Have you practiced all of them, and can you tell whether you have any clear lacks in your knowledge and your playing? When you have basic knowledge of all of these skills above, it is time to apply these skills when playing with other musicians.
When you are consistently able to do so, congratulations, you are an intermediate bass player.
If you are to become an intermediate bass player, you will need to practice a lot on your own. I`ve heard countless bassists claim that this is boring, and that bass is only fun when playing with others. Nothing beats playing with a band, but does this mean that playing alone has to be boring? I answer this question here: Is bass fun to play alone? (Is it worth it without a band?)