It may not always be center stage, but the bass is arguably the most important instrument on the bandstand. The bass guitar serves as the glue that holds all of the other instruments together, and a solid bass line can make all the difference between a hit song and an average one.
If you’re interested in learning how to play bass, it won’t be long until you can hold down a steady groove and unlock a world of musical collaboration. It’s easy to get down the basics of bass, but make no mistake – mastering this instrument takes just as much work as any other. That’s why it’s important to have a qualified teacher guide you along your journey through the low end of the sonic spectrum.
While there’s no substitute for bass lessons, there are some fundamental aspects to the instrument. These basics include topics such as the anatomy of the bass guitar, how to tune, how to practice, and how to read bass tabs. In this post, we’ll touch upon all of these topics, so you can learn to play bass guitar in the most efficient way possible!
Why Learn Bass Guitar?
Although lead guitarists and singers tend to soak up all of the limelight, the secret weapon of any great band is a great bassist. The power of the bass cannot be overstated – just plug in a bass guitar to an amp, turn up the volume. When you hit the thickest string, you’ll hear what we mean. The bass isn’t just heard, it’s felt.
Even if an audience is unaware of the role that the bass plays in a band, take away the bass; they’ll definitely feel the difference. Together with the drummer, the bassist provides the rhythm and groove of every popular music style. This means that the demand for a good bass player is always high – if you learn to play bass guitar well, you’ll have no trouble finding a gig!
How to Play Bass for Beginners
How to Choose a Bass Guitar
If you’re just getting started with learning bass guitar, there’s no need to shell out thousands of dollars on a vintage instrument. It’s fine to start out with an entry-level bass for beginners, and then graduate to a higher-end model as your skills progress.
When you begin your search, start by setting a budget and gaining an understanding of the basic parts of a bass guitar. Understanding the parts of the bass and how it’s built will help you ask the right questions and make an informed decision.
Here’s a quick overview of the basics:
- Neck: The neck of the bass guitar includes the headstock, fretboard, and an internal truss rod, which is how the neck is connected to the instrument body.
- Headstock: The headstock is the wider part at the end of the neck where the tuning pegs are located. The tuning pegs adjust the string tension and are how you change the pitch to tune the instrument.
- Fretboard: The fretboard is a thin piece of rosewood, ebony, or maple. Fretboards can vary widely in quality. The best fretboards are smooth and easy to move your fingers over. They are usually slightly arched from side to side; this arch is the radius.
- Frets: Embedded in the fretboard are thin metal strips called frets. The frets divide the neck into half step increments and determine where each note is played on the neck. While some basses are fretless, they require greater skill from the player and are best left to intermediate or advanced players. If you’re learning how to play bass guitar for beginners, you will definitely want a fretted bass.
- Truss Rod: The truss rod connects the neck to the body and is used to keep the neck from twisting. Because bass strings are much thicker than guitar strings, they exert a lot of pressure on the neck. Adjusting the truss rod allows the neck to be straightened if it becomes bowed or twisted. It is also used to adjust the string height.
Types of Basses for Beginners
Bass guitars come in several variations including solid body and hollow body basses. Pickups can be either single coil or humbucker, and electronics can be either passive or active. Basses come with four, five, and even six strings.
All of these variations (other than the number of strings) effect the tone of the bass and are not crucial to its playability. Smaller “scale length” basses are available that are perfect for younger players as they are a little smaller than full-sized instruments.
The best option for choosing the right bass is to set your budget and then visit your local music store. Play the available options in your price range and see what feels best for you. The most important factor is making sure the instrument feels comfortable when it’s in your hands. As a beginner, spend as much time as possible playing and practicing.
As you progress in your studies, you may decide to upgrade to a better instrument. At that point, it’s good to have more of an understanding of pickups and electronics as these will help shape your personal sound on the instrument. Your bass teacher can also help you select a new instrument.
For now, just focus on finding an instrument in your price range that feels good under your fingers and comfortable in your lap. Most beginner basses have adequate electronics and four strings. Play a bunch of different instruments and choose the one that feels right for you!
How to Tune a Bass Guitar for Beginners
It’s critical that your bass is in tune when you play. If your bass isn’t tuned correctly, not only will the basslines you play sound off, but the development of your listening skills will be held back. Hearing the differences between notes is an important skill that comes naturally as we practice, and playing in tune is the best way to develop your “ear.”
Tuning your bass can be tricky if you’re a beginner. The good news? The more you do it, the easier it will get. Tuning your instrument is especially crucial if you’re going to be playing with other musicians.
The bass is pitched exactly one octave lower than the guitar. The strings are tuned to the same four notes as the 4 lowest guitar strings: E, A, D, and G. Here are a couple of methods to help you get in tune and ready to play.
If you’re playing with a guitarist and they are in tune, have them play the four bottom strings. Use your ears and turn the tuning pegs on your instrument to match their pitch.
If you have a piano handy, you can ask them to play the tuning notes and match the pitch by turning your tuning pegs. Today, there are also a number of apps for your smartphone that will help you tune your instrument.
Electronic tuners are available and make tuning a snap. Simply plug your instrument into the tuner, and pluck a string, then turn your tuning pegs until the arrow lines up with the correct note on the face of the tuner and you are done. Go through all four strings. There are also portable tuners. They are easy to take along and clip onto the headstock of the bass and help you tune through the vibration of the notes.
One great method to learn that requires no technology and is called the “5th Fret Method.” With this method, you need to get one string in tune (preferably the low E) and then use that string as a reference pitch. Even if you don’t have access to a keyboard or other tuning device, the 5th fret method will let you tune the instrument “to itself.”
Once you’ve tuned the low E string, press your finger on the 5th fret of the E string. This is the note “A”. Pluck the open A string and compare the two. Use the tuning pegs to match the pitch.
Now that the A string is in tune, repeat the process to tune the D string. Fret the 5th fret on that A string, pluck the open D string and adjust the tuning pegs to match the pitch. Using the same process, tune the G string, and you’re ready to go!
How to Read Bass Tabs
Bass tablature, or bass tabs, are a simple system of music notation to help you learn to play bass guitar. Tabs are available through books, bass magazines, and on various websites online. Learning how to play bass using tabs is a great option for beginners, but it’s no substitute for learning how to read music notation or chord charts. This is because tabs only show you where to play a note – they don’t give you any information about the rhythm of the bassline.
Still, it’s much easier to learn how to read tabs than it is to read standard musical notation. Use tabs to learn your favorite basslines quickly, then work on your standard music reading skills so that you’ll become a well-rounded musician.
Bass tab is a system that shows the strings of the bass drawn horizontally, like this:
This is standard bass tab for a four string bass. The lowest (fattest) string is at the bottom.
In tab, notes are indicated as a fret number on a string. Most basses have between 20 and 24 frets so you may see fret numbers between 0 and 24. For example, you may see something that looks like this:
In this example, start by playing the 3rd fret on the E-string followed by the 2nd fret on the A-string, the 5th fret on the A-string, and finally, the 5th fret on the D-string.
Measures are marked as in standard notation with a vertical bar line. Often rhythm is not indicated in bass tablature. All you get is the order and position of the notes. Rhythm may occasionally be marked with the count written under the fret numbers. It’s often best to listen to the song you’re practicing to get the rhythm of the piece.
There’s really not too much to know about reading bass tab. Basically, it’s just fret numbers on string lines. While it’s a great way for a beginner to start playing quickly, the best method is to use tab as you begin to study standard musical notation and memorize the note names on the instrument.
How to Practice Bass for Beginners
Practice is the key to learning how to play bass guitar for beginners. How long should you practice? Practice as often as you can fit into your schedule. However, it’s best to establish a basic regimen in order to progress. Here are some tips to get you started:
• Practice regularly. Preferably practice daily, and from 30 minutes to as long as you can.
• Find a time of day when you can practice without distractions and when you can concentrate. Some players get up early and practice for an hour before work, some practice after dinner.
• Start with technique exercises. Run scales, play arpeggios, and chords to get your fingers moving and your mind focused.
• As a bass player, developing a strong sense of time is important. Always practice with a rhythm device whether it’s a metronome, a drum machine, or a play-along recording.
• Start slowly. Focus on each note and as you gain fluidity and precision.
• Keep track of your progress with a practice log. Keep track of your routines, goals, exercises, and difficult passages you need to work on.
Learning to play any instrument is a challenge that can pay dividends for your lifetime. While it’s possible to teach yourself how to play bass, it’s a good idea to study with a qualified teacher. They can help you avoid bad habits and will offer direction, inspiration, and encouragement to get you through challenges that may arise.
Congratulations, you made a great choice when you decided to learn how to play bass guitar! Best of luck on your musical journey!