The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea Presents a Bass Lesson, and Essential Advice That Every Bass Player Should Know

“What do you call some­one who hangs out with musi­cians?” goes the hoary old musi­cians’ joke. Answer: “a bass play­er.” Haha­ha. Very fun­ny. And just plain untrue. Maybe the bass has few­er strings to mas­ter than the gui­tar, but it requires bet­ter tim­ing, and — most impor­tant­ly — more lis­ten­ing than any oth­er instru­ment in a band set­ting. Or so says Flea of the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, a band I some­times think of as a bunch of guys who hang out with a bass play­er.

All musi­cians need to lis­ten care­ful­ly to oth­er play­ers on stage, but the bass play­er’s role is spe­cial, Flea says in the video above, excerpt­ed from the hour-long bass les­son you can watch in full below. Bassists need to lis­ten to melody play­ers and soloists, sup­port­ing their parts with sub­tle­ty and nuance, with­out (says Flea of all peo­ple) doing the kind of show­boat­ing that pulls focus from the leads. Bass play­ers also need to lock in with the drum­mer, lis­ten­ing so intent­ly they can fit their notes right in the cen­ter of each drum hit.

This hard­ly sounds like unskilled musi­cal labor, even if most bassists can’t — and don’t need to — play with the speed and feroc­i­ty as our instruc­tor above. But Flea as teacher isn’t try­ing to teach oth­ers how to play the way he does, a style inspired by leg­ends like slap bass pio­neer Lar­ry Gra­ham and Motown stal­wart James Jamer­son. He’s giv­ing stu­dents his take on the basics — first learn to walk, then learn to walk real­ly, real­ly well, with lots of prac­tice. These basics include going over the parts of a bass gui­tar, talk­ing about tun­ing, and learn­ing dif­fer­ent ways of hit­ting the strings, from pluck­ing to pick­ing to, yes, slap­ping, with­in rea­son.

Com­ing from a play­er who so com­mands the spot­light with his bass the­atrics, Flea’s advice to aspir­ing play­ers might seem odd­ly con­ser­v­a­tive. But it’s the bass play­er’s job, he says, to make every­one else in the band sound good. And the bet­ter a bassist is at help­ing oth­er play­ers shine, the more they stand out as a great musi­cian in their own right.

See time­stamps for the dif­fer­ent top­ics in Flea’s les­son just below:

0:01 Flea Bass
7:27 Restring and Tun­ing
12:51 Pluck­ing
16:36 Slap­ping
22:53 Pick­ing
23:53 Fin­ger Prac­tice
30:24 Major Scale
44:34 Final Thoughts

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Flea Rocks “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” on the Bass

What Makes Flea Such an Amaz­ing Bass Play­er? A Video Essay Breaks Down His Style

Watch Some of the Most Pow­er­ful Bass Gui­tar Solos Ever: Ged­dy Lee, Flea, Boot­sy Collins, John Dea­con & More

Visu­al­iz­ing the Bass Play­ing Style of Motown’s Icon­ic Bassist James Jamer­son: “Ain’t No Moun­tain High Enough,” “For Once in My Life” & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Steve Sullivan says:

    What is the range of a decent 5 string bass? 🤔

    About 40 yards if your arms and back are in decent shape!🤣

    Love Flea! Mas­ter of his craft, and great advice… not just for the low end too.

  • Earl says:

    I don’t play bass, I play gui­tar, but I have to say he is an excel­lent teacher. Very clear and con­cise. Makes me wan­na play bass! 👍

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