Bass Lesson: Play Faster by Playing Softer

Left handed bass player

This bass lesson helped me improve my speed, stamina, and dexterity. The lesson is simple: when you play softer, your playing is stronger because your effort is reduced. The approach is two-fold. Upgrade your gear and back off!

When I started playing bass I made the mistake of buying the cheapest gear I could get: off-brand pawn shop basses and amps, cheap cables, etc. I needed all the volume I could get but my 200w solid-state amp just couldn’t cut through a 16 piece high school jazz ensemble.

My solution? Play harder to get more volume. Did it work for me? Heck no.

I played hard, and because I was still learning at the time, the habit stuck.  Soon I started playing in rock bands and needed even more volume. Eventually I was forced to upgrade but even then I bought a cheap amp and while it brought me a little more volume, I still had to play pretty hard to be heard.

My playing had improved over the years but I felt like playing should’ve been easier than it was. I never took bass lessons, but I learned scales, modes, and positions and could do some decent licks. Still, though, I knew I should be playing better.

Finally I saw a video of Victor Wooten playing. The speed and control of his playing, it all seemed like it would take so much force and effort but upon watching him he is practically the picture of laid-back effortlessness. Do you think he could get those left hand hammer-ons with such speed if he actually to force it?

How did he get such a nice sound with so little effort? With a boat load of watts. Once I realized this I decided to upgrade my rig with another power amp and the difference was immediate. Plucking the string half as hard I got the same level of sound I did before.

Time passed and I became accustomed to playing with less force. I didn’t need to since the amp could now hold its own with Thor the drummer and two Banshee guitar players. I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly my chops developed.

With half the effort I could get the same amount of volume and this lead to gains in speed, control, dexterity, accuracy, and rhythm. I can’t say exactly why I didn’t realize before but I once I did my playing

As in any other physical activity, putting too much strain on your bass-playing muscles increases tension. Look at the best bass players and it all looks effortless. Call it skill, flow, groove, or just sheer awesomeness, this is a result of good technique and years of experience.

This reduces dexterity, creates fatigue, limits motion, and generally slows you down. Harder does not mean faster. It is the opposite. Ignore this bass lesson at your own peril.

If you’ve already got decent gear, just turn the amp up and play twice as loud as you normally would. Back off. Let the amp to the work.


  • Turn your amp up and let it do the work
  • Reduce the force of your left-hand attack

Photo credit: jsome1

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