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An interview with music marketer and bass guitarist Helena Palmer

In the midst of celebrating the bass guitar all throughout the month of July, we sat down with music marketer for Oxford University Press Helena Palmer. Are four strings really easier than six? What is the most difficult aspect of learning to play the bass guitar? How would you ensemble your dream band? Get all the inside scoop on the bass guitar from an actual player.

  1. When did you first start learning to play the bass guitar?

I first started taking lessons when I was in Year 8 at school, so I was around thirteen years old. My parents arranged lessons with the music teacher at the school where my dad works, and he was the best teacher I ever could have asked for!

  1. What first made you choose the bass?

Being a teenager, and an impatient one at that, I was definitely swayed by the “four strings are easier than six” approach, and that probably influenced me more than I’d like to admit. The bass is definitely less of a party trick, and I can’t just pull it out to play Wonderwall at a moment’s notice, but I don’t regret my decision at all.

  1. Do you play any other instruments? If not, which would you love to learn?

I don’t play any others – weirdly enough, I don’t consider myself to be particularly musical – but I would love to learn the piano. Or the six string guitar – you could say I’m two thirds of the way there already.

  1. Do you play in any ensembles, bands, or orchestras?

Not at the moment, unless you count playing along to songs in my living room when no one else is home! I have however been in a number of bands (some more successful than others) and ensembles in my time.

  1. What was the first piece you learnt on your instrument?

The exceedingly inventive Hitchin’ A Ride by Green Day, which probably uses about four notes in the whole song. The first song I learned and was really proud of was Otherside by the Red Hot Chili Peppers – an amazing song with an actual bass solo! It was my entry into the world of Flea and his exciting and inventive bass lines.

  1. What is your favourite piece to perform?

It’s not the most extravagant or technically challenging piece of music, but the sheer joy I get from playing All My Loving by The Beatles cannot be matched. There’s something about the gentle meandering bassline that is so pure and wonderful – it’s simple enough that I can warble along with it and appreciate the delightfulness of the lyrics without even thinking about the notes.

  1. Who inspires you when playing the bass?

I’m drawn to bands and musicians who make the bass a feature in their music – the main two (although definitely not the only or the best two) for me are Muse and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ve grown up with their music and both Chris Wolstenholme and Flea have inspired and challenged me to push my bass playing further. I am however always open to recommendations for songs with prominent and interesting bass lines!

  1. What is the most challenging thing about playing the bass?

I think for me personally the aspect I struggled with the most was the fingering. The frets on the bass are further apart than on a regular guitar and for a teenage girl with relatively small hands, that posed something of a challenge. Slap bass is also challenging but so satisfying when you finally get it right!

  1. What advice would you give to someone starting to learn the bass?

Keep going! The bass may not be the flashiest of instruments but it is integral – listen to a rock song without the bassline if you disagree. Also: learn your scales. They may seem pointless at the time but if you’re undertaking any grades then they’re essential, but also really helpful for improvisation.

  1. What are your fondest musical memories?

Earning my Grade 8 certification, despite vowing I would never do another grade after Grade 5. My teacher had the faith in me that I could do it, and I still don’t know how I managed it, but I’m really proud to have that piece of paper proving I did.

  1. What would your dream band line-up be?

Me on bass (obviously), Matt Bellamy from Muse on electric guitar, Freddie Mercury on vocals (a girl can dream… failing that I would probably choose Dallas Green from Alexisonfire/City and Colour or Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy), and my sister Liz on drums.

Featured Image: “Bass guitar” by Feliciano Guimarães.  CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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