Updated: May 5
Bass fills for beginners is a tricky subject to teach.
So many beginners see their favorite bass player bust out some mind-bending bass fills and licks, get inspired, and want to learn how to do it.
But their lack of theory knowledge, technical skill and an underdeveloped ear hold them back for learning how to play awesome bass guitar fills.
Bass fills can be learned. It's just a matter of reverse engineering what the pros are doing and putting that knowledge into a system that beginners can use.
So, exactly how do the pros come up with great bass fills? What are the core ingredients to make bass guitar runs and fills? And, once we know what they are, how can we make sure we come up with awesome bass guitar fills more often than not?
The first step on the journey to learning to play bass guitar runs and fills is rhythm.
Take a simple groove that you know. Ideally, it should be one that's simple and that has a lot of space.
100 by Tommy Simms is a good example of this.
So how do we use rhythm in this song to make fills?
In the gaps in the bass line, experiment with playing a simple, strong clear rhythm.
This is a good start but it doesn't yet sound like a fill. It certainly doesn't sound like something that Flea or Sharay Reed would play.
That's correct. Why is that?
Because a good bass fill has three main components and rhythm is just one of those.
So what else do we need besides rhythm?
Pitch is the part of the fill that's concerned with notes.
How do you know which notes to play?
Well, there are two answers here that can make this complicated.
The first answer is you should play notes from the chord or key you're playing over.
For example, the bass groove from 100 is over a G minor chord. And an easy bass fill you could play would be to combine one of the rhythms you came up with in part one with some of the chord tones of G minor or with a scale that fits over G minor like the minor pentatonic scale.
But what if you don't know these scales? What if you don't understand theory?
How can you use pitch to create bass fills?
This is where part two of the answer comes in.
A safe bet would be to use the notes that the bassline already uses. Even if you don't know what they are and why they work, you at least know that they do work so that makes them fair game for bass fills and runs.
Now that we've covered rhythm and pitch, we're making progress. But we've still got one big problem.
Where do we play fills? How do we know where to good spots in a song are?
As it turns out, there's actually a method to this too.
Some bassists mistakenly think that you can just place bass fills wherever you want and it's just a matter of luck if they sound good.
But this is true.
Even simple, beginner bass fills work to decorate parts of a song.
What does this mean? How can you decorate a song?
Here's a quick analogy.
A house needs walls. If they aren't there, the house can't stand up. The walls are totally necessary.
However, some walls look ugly so to make them look better we paint them, hang pictures on them. In short, we decorate them.
But at no point are we able to decorate a wall that isn't there. And if we were to compromise the quality of the walls so we could decorate even more then the house would fall down.
The relationship between bass lines and bass fills is similar. And this relationship is the same whether you're playing with pick technique, slap technique, walking bass or no matter what other technique you're using.
We need the bass line to be established and played without decoration so that we can hear it as a foundation of the song. So if we only use fills at the end of a verse, chorus or a four-bar phrase, then we are using the fill as a way of emphasizing a section of the song.
The fill works with the foundation of the song and both sound stronger.
Try using fills at the end of four-bar phrases, at the end of a section like a verse or chorus, or remember that not playing anything is always a good idea too because just like the house, our song needs solid foundations.
Songs To Practice With
As we saw earlier, it's best to practice bass fills with songs you know.
But what if you can't find any?
Don't worry, I've got you covered.
Check out this post on 5 Beginner Bass Songs which will give you plenty of practice material to work with.
There's also a playlist of these songs I've made on Spotify.