One of your most important tools to becoming a better bass player is your metronome. Practicing with a metronome or click track will help you develop a strong sense of time. You could practice with a drum machine pattern as well but the issue with that is that a drum pattern can help in finding the time because there are a lot of percussion parts like kick drum, snare and high-hat that make it easier to follow the time. A metronome is just a simple click on certain beats and you have to work on feeling or counting the beats that aren’t there as you play along with the click. I should point out that there is a difference between having good time and being able to groove. You will come across musicians who have good time but it doesn’t groove or feel good. Groove is a post for another day.
Let’s assume you are working on an exercise or bass line in 4/4. The simplest way to use your metronome is to set the click on beat 1, 2, 3 & 4. Deciding what tempo to use can be a bit of trial and error but starting off slowly is ideal. You’ll find out fairly quickly if you have chosen too fast a tempo. If you’re reading a piece of music and the notes are coming up too fast you need to slow down. If you are playing a bass line and you are stumbling over some parts or the tone from your hands is suffering then slow the tempo down to a point that you can play the line without stumbling too much or having your tone suffer. While you are working on the bass line try to count out loud 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +.
Once you are comfortable with playing the bass line with the metronome on all 4 beats it’s time to start playing with where you put the click in the bar. Try setting your metronome so that it only clicks on beat 2 and 4. In words if you were playing the bass line at 100 BPM on all four beats, drop the tempo to 50 BPM. Now you have only two clicks to hear. You might want to sit for a time just counting along with the metronome so that can get a feel for where the 2 and 4 is. It might be somewhat familiar to you since 2 and 4 is where the snare drum is in most most pop music.
The next challenge would be to change your count in to the bass line so that the metronome click is on beat 1 and 3. You may find this doesn’t feel as good initially but it’s all part of developing your internal clock. If you really want to challenge yourself you can drop the metronome BPM so that the click is only on beat 1 of each bar. And after that on beat one of every second bar!
Give it a try and let me know how much mileage you put on your metronome.