Different variations exist on how to actually play a bass guitar, and each method is rather well suited to different styles of music. Perhaps the most widely used method is called simply fingerstyle. As its name implies, fingerstyle playing using only the fingers, both for fretting notes on the neck and plucking the strings of the instrument.
Another way to play a bass guitar is with a guitar pick. The strings of the bass are simply struck with a pick, and sound is produced. This pick style of playing is just as popular, if not more so, than the fingerstyle method.
Usage of Modern Bass Guitars
Musically, the bass guitar is not as versatile as a regular guitar. Having two less strings makes less chord tones available, which limits the bass guitar to a more rhythmic role instead of a melodic one. In modern rock, a genre the electric bass guitar is well suited for, the bass guitar usually forms the backbone of a song along with the drums. By playing single notes in a rhythmic fashion, the bass moves the song along from chord to chord and keeps the music going. In more extreme hard rock and metal music, the bass is often distorted much like an electric guitar and played just as quickly as the lead guitar player might play.
Another genre in which the bass guitar has gained much acclaim is jazz. Using swing rhythms, jazz bass guitarists can create exceptionally creative bass lines that push the music forward. The walking bass line, used by nearly all jazz bass players since the days of the upright bass, is a trademark example of jazz bass playing. By playing chord tones on every beat of every measure and swinging the notes ever so slightly, walking bass lines can really propel jazz pieces in a creative way.
Although the bass guitar may seem like an instrument that lacks versatility, looks can be deceiving. The bass guitar can be played in a variety of ways and is used to fill roles in many different musical genres.