Have you ever wanted to learn how to play bass guitar?
Then you’re at the right place! No matter if you’re a guitarist who wants to double as a bassist or completely new into music, we have you covered!
In this article we are going to introduce you the basics of guitar playing by teaching you some of the most important note and finger positions, teach you some simple bass songs and beginner bass guitar riffs and offer you an introduction to music theory using bass guitar chords, bass guitar scales and some bass tabs!
We are also going to teach you the right way to practice your bass using our own unique method which is based on famous methods used by countless teachers and musicians all over the world, but which we have modified specifically to cover the needs of bass players!
Before we start, make sure to watch the following videos so that you can make sure how much you already know about playing bass. We are going to explain even the most basic things for absolute beginners and add some videos explaining things in further detail, but we are also going to try to make things more informative for advanced beginners who want to grow musically and transition to being an intermediate player.
Learning to play an instrument is a hard task that will require a lot of physical and mental effort – as such, it is a task that requires a good methodology which allows a student to progress faster giving them the opportunity to track their progress.
Because of that, we have developed a unique method for learning bass guitar – The Perseverance Method.
Our method is based on a few techniques used for other instruments such as the Thompson and the Suzuki method.
One of our main concerns is that you understand that learning bass (or any other instrument for that matter) doesn’t happen in a week or a month – because of that all “wonder” methods or “play any song in a couple of minutes” methods are not part of our methodology. Mastering the bass guitar requires years of dedication and practice.
To progress, it is important to be physically dedicated to the instrument, but the mental dedication is also crucial – and both require motivation and fun.
That is one of the reasons why it is not entirely wrong to play simplified versions of complex songs in the beginning while slowly building up the physical abilities to master complex lines and the theoretical knowledge which will allow you to improvise more complex lines on the go.
A very important part of our method is identifying and fixing common problems right in the beginning so that they don’t become a habit – bad habits are hard to get rid of.
The videos of guitarist Doug Marks also come to mind and can definitely be applied to bass playing.
The Perseverance Method focuses on enduring some hardships during your journey. Being aware of that is going to help you understand that just because you can’t do something right now doesn’t mean that you are a bad musician, that you have no talent or that you should stop having fun with your instrument.
There are two main aspects of the Perseverance Method: physical exercise and music theory. In the beginning, playing bass might be hard as the strings are fairly thick and the neck pretty long.
Developing finger dexterity, finger strength and muscle memory, all of which are very important for a bassist, take some time and a lot of practice to develop correctly.
In the beginning, learning theory is not as important as physical exercise, but you will need some basic theory from the very start. For some reason, many beginners (and even some intermediate players) are afraid of theory.
Music theory can be very fun because it can help you understand compositions on a deeper level and allow you to write your own pieces more efficiently.
The last thing to remember is the following: there was never even one musician who has kept practising and has never gotten better at their instrument!
As you progress you will always find new and challenging things to do on bass, but with time, you can and are surely going to master all of them – and we are here to help you reach your first goals as a bassist!
1) The physical component – you are required to practice your skills, songs, technique and hopefully reach a level where you can play a large variety of songs and styles without it straining your arms, hands and fingers:
a) A daily practice routine: you must try to play every single day without skipping on practice so that you can stay in shape during your whole musical journey. 5 to 15 minutes a day are enough and are still more than nothing.
The day where you don’t have time to pick up your instrument, your hands are hurt or for any other reason you have to skip practice, stretching exercises are recommended.
c) Correct technique, posture and stretching: these things will require you to slow your playing down and can thus be practised at the same time.
b) Longer practice sessions: depending on your needs, you will need longer practice sessions between two and four times a week. The longer practice sessions can last between one hour and two hours depending on your skill level and endurance.
You can also play for longer but make sure not to play longer than two hours without any pause. These sessions are used to build endurance, technique and prepare you to be a professional performer.
d) Speed, endurance, hammer-ons and pull-offs: these components will be crucial for advanced playing and having a high level of tenacity will allow you to play more advanced songs at higher tempos and add speed bursts to your playing.
2) The mental component – during your development you will need to gain the mindset of a real musician and memorize many theoretical terms, as well as learn the musician’s language:
a) Learning note names and finding the notes on the fretboard: you will need to memorise the names of the open strings and the names of the notes that you can play by fingering them on the fretboard. You will also need to be able to find the notes on the fretboard, notice the relations between the notes and to memorise scale and chord shapes.
c) Music theory and the musician’s language: we are starting with theory as soon as we learn the names of the open strings on the bass, but you will also need to learn about the parts of the bass guitar, read about melody and harmony, learn scales and chords and remember names of advanced techniques.
This is an important skill because that way you will be able to communicate with other musicians, but also internalize and analyze the things that you can play physically.
b) Patience and persistence: you will need to accept the fact that progress doesn’t come on its own and that learning and practising are part of becoming better.
Each individual progresses at a different pace so you should be able to keep on practising even if you seem to struggle at certain points in time.
d) Reading music: learning standard notation might take a while but it is a useful skill as you will be able to transpose other instruments on the bass. Another important way to write and read music are bass tabs – a visualization of the strings on the bass and the frets. Learning how to read music will help you learn songs faster.
If you have your instrument in your hands and are ready to tune your strings, then you’re ready to begin learning how to play bass!
One of the most important to learn as a bassist is the position of all important notes on the bass and how to find them on the fretboard. If you know how to tune your bass, you’ve already done a big step in learning where the rest of the notes are!
In case that you don’t know how to tune the strings yourself, you can ask a friend who plays guitar or bass to help you, or you can try to do it with a bass tuner.
The notes of the open strings on the bass are, highest to lowest, G, D, A and E. If you play guitar, you will notice that these are the same as the four lower strings on a guitar, only one additional octave lower. After you have your strings tuned, you should pluck each of them a couple of times, either with fingers or with a pick, to get to know how each of the strings feels like.
Most music styles use something that we call the Chromatic Scale – a group of twelve notes which continuously repeat themselves on the fretboard. This is one of the reasons that the same note can be found in many different places on the fretboard. By putting your finger behind a specific fret on a specific string, you can access all chromatic notes on your bass.
It would be very hard, although not impossible, to remember the position of all notes on the bass by heart. But a better approach is to learn how to orientate yourself on your instrument and find the notes as you need them.
Another great way to learn and memorize where all the notes on the bass are is by learning songs with very simple basslines using bass tabs.
Bass tabs: how to read them and how to find the correct notes:
Bass tablature, or bass tab, is a very simple system of music notation for bass which can be found in music books, bass magazines, and all over the internet. Tabs for bass are most commonly written in four lines where the lines represent the strings visually, with the string on the bottom being the low E string and the string on top being the high G string.
The numbers on those lines represent the fret which needs to be played, while an X most often marks a ghost note – a sound which is not really a note, but just a string that is plucked while the fretting hand rests on it and mutes it without actually pressing it down.
Lastly, most tabs don’t indicate any kind of rhythm; you have to rely on your ears to help you know how fast or short you play the notes.
Learning a song with tabs: You can find bass tabs on the Internet and learn to play a few simple songs using those. Bass tabs are very easy to read as they indicate the number of the fret which you need to hold down to play a certain note.
If you have your bass tuner on, you will be able to see what note are you playing at that time.
Let’s try and learn at least one very simple bass guitar song using a lesson video and a bass tab and also try to memorize the names of the notes that we need to play for that song:
If you find it hard to play each note exactly on time or what you’re playing doesn’t sound completely right – don’t worry! For now, just try to place your fingers on the fretboard and remember the note names.
You can try plucking each note only once every time a note change occurs. We are going to cover the plucking hand technique a little later.
Which finger to use for which note – the fretting hand:
When playing bass, being able to utilize all four fingers of your fretting hand is an essential skill – and this is one of the biggest challenges that you’ll face as a beginner as we are all usually used to using only the index and the middle finger most of the time.
There are two methods of finding which finger should be used for which note and the methods are called the one finger per fret method and the Simandl method.
The one finger per fret method is fairly easy to grasp – if you have multiple notes that you have to play in a short amount of time, you need to place your index finger on the lowest fret on the fretboard (always the lowest note) and assign each other finger to a higher fret.
This technique is usually used on the higher end of the bass guitar, starting with the fifth or seventh fret, for example.
The Simandl method was invented by Franz Simandl and is used on the lower end of the bass.
Using the one finger per fret system on the first five frets is very hard for most people and builds up a lot of tension so you might disregard your ring finger altogether and look at this as a three finger per fret method, but only with the index, middle and pinky fingers.
In the beginning, you may feel like you can’t stretch your fingers far enough for the right fingerings, that your fingers are too weak or that you are doing something wrong.
This is where the perseverance method comes into play: you need to be aware that there are many young people, even children, who can play songs on guitar and bass – and this is not because they were born with different hands from yours, but because of constant practice.
There are many stretching exercises for the bass which you can try, both those utilizing the instrument and those that you can do without your bass.
Again, it is important to remember – there is not a single player who has kept on practicing and hasn’t gotten better with time.
If you feel that a 34-inch bass is too much, you could always try a short scale bass, but do so only after spending enough time with a full-length instrument to be sure that it’s too much for you.
Beginner scales and chord tabs:
Scales and chords are groups of notes that can be used as a reference when composing your own music or when improvising.
Basically, we can think of a chord as of notes that sound well together, and a scale would be a group of notes from which multiple different chords can be constructed.
Later on, we will cover the theoretical part of scales and chords into more detail. For now, we will use them as a way to memorize note positions and as a way to physically practice stretches and fingerings.
The first scale that we will practice is called the E-Minor Pentatonic scale. Don’t let the name bother you too much for now – just try to read the tab and play the notes in a row, from the lowest E to the highest.
Once you have gone from the lowest note to the highest, go back down before starting the next scale.
Another important scale that you will have to learn is the G-Major Pentatonic scale. The scale starts on the third fret of the low E string, that means, on a G note:
In this tab, the scale doesn’t use any open strings and because of that, you can move it around to get other scales like A-Major Pentatonic or B-Major Pentatonic simply by moving all the fingerings two frets higher!
On bass, we usually don’t play full chords, but only single notes in succession.
This is also sometimes called an arpeggio. To play an arpeggio or chord on bass, just chose two or three notes and play them in succession or play two notes at the same time.
G Major Chord – Arpeggio on bass:
Practicing those will be enough for now. We will cover more scales and chord shapes later on after we cover some right-hand techniques and after we cover the theoretical part of scales on the bass.
Until now we have covered only the techniques for the fretting hand. Your other hand, called picking or plucking hand, is equally important because it is your main tool for keeping the rhythm, for playing in time and for actually playing the notes that you are fretting.
It is important to understand that mastering all complicated bass techniques will require mastering the basics first.
There are many ways to play bass and countless advanced techniques but most of them build upon two main techniques: playing with fingers and playing with a guitar pick.
Fingerstyle playing is usually better suited for less aggressive styles of music as it offers a warmer tone and slightly more control over the loudness of the notes. It is similar to pizzicato playing on bowed instruments like the violin or the contrabass, to classical guitar and to other stringed instruments played with fingers.
There are numerous techniques of playing fingerstyle, but using the rest stroke, or Apoyando, in combination with the index and middle finger is the most common way of playing bass fingerstyle although some players prefer using only the index finger or using their thumb.
Usually, the thumb rests either on the pickup, or on one of the strings not being played.
Advanced techniques that can be developed by learning to play fingerstyle include a three-finger technique, four-finger technique, utilizing the thumb, slap bass, tapping and more aggressive fingerstyle for hard rock and metal
Some of the problems you might encounter while playing bass with fingers are solved by finding a good resting place for your thumb or fingers, practicing the two finger alternative picking with fingers and by thinking of your fingers as two drum sticks to which you are assigning the upbeat and the downbeat:
Song for fingerstyle:
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean:
The second important technique for bass playing is the picking technique. It has certain similarities to standard pick playing on the guitar, thumb pick playing on guitar and banjo, the shamisen technique, the advanced double thumb bass technique and playing with a pick on other instruments such as the mandolin.
A pick usually offers a more aggressive, punchy and edgy sound, and because of that it’s usually associated with hard-rock, punk and metal genres, but it is also used in other genres of pop and rock music. A pick usually allows for faster playing in higher tempos.
Advanced techniques that can be developed by using a pick are the double thumb technique, hybrid picking, pick slanting, pick scraping and palm muting.
Finding the right pick for bass playing might be hard and it will surely depend on personal preference but most bassists prefer thicker picks because thin picks can’t punch through the big and strong bass strings.
Picks between 1mm and 2mm are usually ideal for bass playing – as a beginner, you should avoid extreme 3mm picks, but 0.5mm picks normally used on guitar are also bad because it will be hard to pluck the strings.
Playing with a pick might pose some problems which can be solved by changing how you hold the pick (there are different views on what the correct way is), by learning about alternate picking and by mastering the correct picking technique:
Song with picking:
Pink Floyd – Money:
We are now going to cover a few basic exercises and things you need to do to become a better bassist and a better musician in general.
These exercises are generally not going to focus on specific songs or basslines but on general technique and theoretical knowledge – the two main aspects of our method.
Basic Music Theory: The Major and Minor Scales:
In the beginning, we have mentioned that we use something called the chromatic scale – a set of 12 notes that repeat infinitely.
Besides the chromatic scale, there are numerous other scales with less than 12 (sometimes more than 12) notes.
Two of those scales are the Major Scale and the Minor Scale. They are created by leaving some of the 12 notes out and are used in composition and improvising, but for now, we are going to use them as a tool to do some finger exercises:
The Major Scale is one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music. It is sometimes called the “happy” scale and it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note. The simplest major scale to write is C major, the only major scale not to require sharps or flats: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
The Minor Scale is often referred to as the “sad” scale. When a major scale and a natural minor scale have the same key signature, they are relative keys. A natural minor scale has the same notes as its relative major scale, but is built starting from the sixth note of the relative major scale.
That’s why a C Major Scale can be also written as an A Minor scale because A is the sixth note of the C Major Scale. The A minor scale would be written as A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.
From a scale, a lot of chords can be formed. On the bass, you can form simple chords by choosing any note from a scale as a root note, then skipping one and playing the third note from the root, then repeating the same thing and playing the fifth note.
More complex chords can be played by repeating the process once again and playing the seventh note from the root.
On guitar, chords are usually played by playing multiple notes at the same time. On bass, we usually play the chord tones individually or we play two at the same time, while adding other notes in between as to create basslines.
Learning scales in different positions will make you a more competent bassist, but it will also require a lot of practice time, as well as memorizing patterns and notes.
Rhythm And Internal Time – Practicing With A Metronome:
As a bassist, you will sooner or later hear that you need to “lock in with the drummer”. For a beginner, this is a very vague description of what a bass player needs to do, so starting out with a metronome will help you get a better understanding of that phrase.
Pro Tip: you don’t actually need to have a real metronome – there are a lot of online metronomes, smart phone metronome apps and drum loops that can be used instead of a real metronome.
You should practice basslines and simple progressions with a metronome and sometimes even set it higher so that you can feel more comfortable when setting it to a slower tempo again.
Many bassists struggle with rhythm. The solution to this problem is, in terms of technical ability, to continuously practice with a metronome and drums, and also mentally, to count the beat while playing even if you have parts you are not playing anything. You are sure to develop sense for rhythm with time.
Learning songs to progress:
Learning songs from beginning to end is extremely important, especially in the beginning, because you are going to build up a database or useful musical figures that are proven to be successful, but you should not simply try to mimic the players on the recording.
Learning a song should have multiple steps:
Listening – listen to the recording carefully and make notes of things you find interesting; Learning the basic riffs and lines – you can use your ears or tabs to learn the song in the original position;
Moving the notes around – you should be able to play the lines and riffs in different octaves, on different strings or change the octave of only some of the songs.
Learning the chords and melody – you should memorize the guitar parts and the main singing melody. With that you will be able to add more notes to your lines and make your playing more diverse. This last part will be hard for beginners but you should keep in mind that you will need to do this.
You should also try to learn songs as a performer – from beginning to the end. This can also be hard for a beginner but with simple songs, it’s more than possible.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication:
Joe Satriani – Echo:
Deep purple – Smoke On The Water:
Run-D.M.C. – King Of Rock:
Weezer – My Name Is Jonas:
The Vapors – Turning Japanese:
Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love:
Roy Orbison – Pretty Woman:
Queen – Another One Bites The Dust:
Social Distortion – Story Of My Life:
The Bass Guitar is an instrument which can offer years of fun and excitement if you are able to commit to it and to not simply treat it as a simple hobby or a chore, but as a part of your lifestyle and personality.
During your rehearsals, you will find songs that are difficult to play and you will struggle – but overcoming your limits, becoming better and being able to play the hardest riffs after hours of practicing awakens a feeling like no other – those are the moments for which we are all practicing.
We have mentioned that it is extremely important to practice bass on a daily basis but this rule also has an exception: sometimes you really need to get rest, to shut your brain down and to simply relax.
Think of it as an annual leave during which you need to replenish your energy.
The best way for a student to get out of difficulty is to go through it