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Loud music can cause ear damage, so practicing the bass quietly can be very beneficial for protecting your ears.
However, if you are anything like me, you like your music loud (within reason). Whether it is at a concert, listening in the car, or playing it myself, there is something special about loud music.
In fact, research seems to indicate that loud music has many perceived benefits, and there are reasons why people are sometimes drawn to loud music, as found in a 2017 study by David Welch and Guy Fremaux.
However, the reality is that it is not always possible to play (and practice) music loud. Whether living in an apartment, being mindful of family, roommates, or noise ordinances, there are times when it is not a good idea to practice loudly, which is actually a good thing.
Just because I enjoy listening to and playing loud music doesn’t mean I do it all the time; when I do, I take precautions to protect my hearing. Overly loud music can cause damage to the ear. There are other potential health risks as well, which are laid out in this article by Pranav Trewn that was written for the Behavioral Scientist digital magazine (which also references the Welch and Fremaux study).
When I say I enjoy loud music, I enjoy it within reason, and I take precautions to try and protect my hearing. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), repeated or continuous exposure to sound over 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) can cause hearing loss. As this NIH article states, music through headphones at max volume and concerts can range between 94 and 100 dBA, which is in the danger zone for damage.
So, not only can you practice instruments like the bass quietly, you should practice at lower decibels if you want to protect your hearing.
Now that we’ve laid out why it might not be the best idea always to play loud, you might be wondering how to practice the bass quietly and still get a meaningful practice session.
Consider practicing unplugged. You can connect headphones into your amplifier if you want a louder sound. You can also keep the amp turned down to a very low volume, use a mini amplifier, or run your bass through an audio interface device and hook it directly into your computer.
Below I will explain in detail several ways to practice the bass quietly so that you can get the most out of these practice sessions.
Quiet Practice Method #1: Just Play Unplugged
If you are reading this article, it is likely because you live in an apartment, have roommates or family members, or can only practice late at night, which means you might need to practice quietly often, and playing unplugged is the perfect solution.
If you already own an electric bass, the easiest and most affordable way to play quietly is to practice with your bass unplugged. This method has many benefits and a couple of downsides, but overall, this is my go-to option for practicing quietly, especially if I only have a few minutes to practice.
Sometimes the process of getting set up to play deters me from playing. Taking the time to set up the amp, get my bass set up and plugged into the amp and pedals, and get everything situated is enough to put off practicing for another day.
Yes, I understand it really doesn’t take that much time to set this up, but if I am being honest, it can seriously impede the amount of times I practice. Of course, I try to mitigate this by having my instruments out in the open and my amps, pedals, and cords close by.
Practicing unplugged not only makes for quiet practice, but it is efficient. If I am short on time, I can grab my bass and start practicing. This also allows you to practice anywhere and at any time.
In fact, the bass player in my band says he spends most of his practice time this way. He says he will often practice while sitting on the couch watching TV. Playing unplugged allows him to practice and not disturb those around him.
The video below and the associated article from Mark Smith, at talking bass, lays out some of the pros and cons of practicing the bass without an amp. One of the big pros (and cons) mentioned in the article and video is that you tend to play harder when unplugged.
This can be great for developing strength and speed, but it can also carry over to when you are plugged in, which can cause some clarity issues when playing and even a potential for injury, says Mark Smith.
Quiet Practice Method #2: Plug Your Headphones Into The Amp
If playing unplugged isn’t your thing or you really want to practice with being able to hear the tones from your bass, plugging headphones directly into your amp might be the best way to go.
Most bass amps now come with the ability to plug headphones directly into the amp to facilitate those quiet practice sessions better. Playing with headphones plugged into your amp is great because you can hear all the tones you want, while those around you will only hear what you would be playing if you were practicing unplugged.
Many amps also have an aux-in option, which allows you to plug in your phone or other device and practice along to those songs, again without anyone being able to hear what you are doing, as that sound will go directly into the headphones as well.
The picture below is of my Hartke HD50, which has both of these options and is a great way to practice quietly. This is especially important because the Hartke HD50 packs a serious punch. I don’t think I have ever put it over 4 or 5 on the volume knob when recording or jamming with other people, as it is plenty loud at just that low volume setting.
If you want to hear how the Hartke sounds with some different EQ settings, you can check out this article I wrote about how to choose amp settings for the bass guitar.
Plugging headphones into the amp is excellent for practicing quietly, especially because those low frequencies on the bass can often shake and rumble the house, which tends to upset everyone downstairs while I play.
However, as mentioned in the introduction and stated in this article by the NIH, listening to music through headphones at high volumes can potentially damage your ears, so please be careful when using this practice method and keep that volume low!
Quiet Practice Method #3: Keep the Amp Turned Down Low
If you don’t have headphones, don’t want to practice while listening through headphones, or don’t need to be so quiet that you can’t make any sound, perhaps just simply turning down the amp to a lower volume is all you need to do.
I know this might seem like an obvious recommendation, but nonetheless, it is a solid one. Simply turning down the bass amp to a low volume allows you to play quietly but to still experience a more traditional playing experience, all while not disturbing those around you too much.
If you have a high-output amp, as I do with my Hartke 50-watt, you might only need to turn the volume knob to 1 or 2 to hear it well enough to practice but still do so quietly. You will have to experiment with the volume to find what works best for you and those around you that you are being considerate of.
Many amps, especially the newer models, still sound good when turned down low, so you typically won’t have to worry about losing too much of the quality of your tone when keeping the volume down.
Quiet Practice Method #4: Use A Mini Amplifier
Similar to method three, method four is a great option for the bass player trying to practice quietly. An added benefit of mini amps is that they are portable, with many operating on battery power (or at least with that option).
Larger amps, like my Hartke HD 50, requires plugging into an outlet, but with mini amps, you don’t have to worry about that, so you can bring it wherever you want (within reason) and play in various locations. Using a mini amp to practice bass quietly is essentially just like practicing unplugged, but you get to have some sound.
I own the Orange Crush Mini 3-watt micro amp (shown below), which can be powered by both battery and a DC adapter. While this amp is made primarily for the electric guitar, I have used it as a bass amp, and it works pretty well for that.
Right now, this particular amp sells for USD 75, which is cheaper than many of the other options available, so it is a great option for many budgets.
Another option is the Vox or Blackstar headphone bass amps that plug into your bass and can be connected to headphones. It is also possible to set it up so it plays through an amp. These cost around fifty bucks, so again budget-friendly.
You can check out the video below for a detailed breakdown of the Vox version, including what it sounds like.
Quiet Practice Method #5: Use An Audio Interface And Computer
Another option to practice the bass quietly is to use an audio interface and computer. I use the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 that plugs directly into my computer through a USB cable, and it is what I plug all of my microphones into to conduct all of my recordings via Ableton and frequently use for quiet bass and electric guitar practice.
To practice bass using this method, you simply plug your bass into the audio interface, hook the interface to your computer, and then plug in headphones either directly to the audio interface or your computer and you are good to go!
For clean bass tones, you might not even need to use any type of digital amplifier or pedal software, although the quality might not be as good as with using one.
Quiet Practice Method #6: Use An Acoustic Bass
Method six for practicing the bass quietly is to use an acoustic bass. I have never owned or played an acoustic bass, and from what I have read across forums, they are not worth investing in, but that is a decision you would need to make for yourself.
An acoustic bass will undoubtedly be quieter than an electric bass plugged into an amp at any moderate volume level. Still, it will likely be louder than just playing an electric bass unplugged.
Since I cannot recommend or not since I have no experience with it, check out the video below from the great musicians at Andertons Music. This twenty-minute video details acoustic bass’s pros and cons and provides many opportunities to hear what they actually sound like. Hopefully, that will help you decide whether or not it would be worth you investing in one.
Quiet Practice Method #7: Reduce The Sound In Your Practice Space
The last quiet practice method on our list is to change your practice space to help reduce the sound your bass makes. This method will likely be the most expensive method but could be worth the time and money investment if you plan to do lots of recording at home.
Everything in the room you are practicing in, even down to the flooring, can impact sound quality, as well as how much sound will exit the room.
Soundproofing a room can not only improve recording quality and practice experience but can also drastically reduce how much can be heard from other rooms in the building, which is a bonus if you need to practice quietly. You can check out this article here for a more detailed look at how to get started doing this.
Again, this method might not be feasible for many of us, so using something from methods one through six should do just fine in helping you practice bass quietly.
There you have it! Seven different methods for practicing the bass quietly. I hope you found something in this article that you can use to help you practice quietly so that you and those around you are all happy.
Playing and practicing the bass is a fun and rewarding experience, but sometimes we’ve just got to practice quietly, and that’s okay!
Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.