Learn to play Bass Guitar

Learn About the Bass Guitar

Have you ever been curious about the bass guitar? Maybe you've even thought about taking lessons? This article is for you! Continue reading for an insight into the bass guitar.

Man Playing Bass Guitar

About Bass Guitar

As you’ve become inspired to take bass guitar lessons, you may have seen people play the instrument in different ways. Traditionally, the bass guitar strings are plucked with two of your fingers. This method is taken from the bass guitar's older relative: the double bass. However, different methods of playing the instrument have developed since then too. You may have heard of 'slap bass', a technique that produces a deep percussive timbre which sounds amazing at high speeds. You might have also seen bassists using a pick, much like guitarists do. All three of these methods are valid ways of playing. However, it all depends on the genre! Typically, you wouldn't use a pick in jazz playing, or slap bass in pop, but who's to say you can't mix it up! You can explore this with your teacher in your bass guitar lessons.

Strings on a Bass Guitar

The four strings of a bass guitar are the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar: from low to high E-A-D-G. However, the bass guitar strings are an octave (12 semi-tones) lower, producing a thick deep sound. Also, bass strings are very thick - a lot thicker than Guitar strings. This does mean that they are more expensive to buy, with an average set of strings costing around £20-£25. With this in mind, it's worth taking good care of them so that you don’t need to replace them as often. You can simply wipe them down with a dust cloth, removing any dirt that has got caught between the neck and the strings. This will keep the strings sounding fresh and help them last longer.

It's also worth considering that the width of the strings makes them much more difficult to play than guitar, so it's likely you'll find it tough on your fingers in the beginning. Don’t be discouraged by this - everyone experiences this! Even your favourite virtuoso bass players will have had trouble to begin with. Instead of being afraid of this, accept the challenge! Play for a short amount of time each day - when your fingers start to hurt, take a break and come back to it. By playing for a short time each day, you'll soon build finger strength, and you won't find it tricky at all after a while! If you carry on with this positive mindset, you’ll find the learning process more enjoyable, plus you'll find you're making progress really quickly!

Finding Your Way Around the Fret Board

When we first pick up the bass it can seem daunting: in front of us are what seems like hundreds of frets and an endless stream of notes. But hopefully, we can give you some pointers to get you started. Let’s take the bottom E string. When we play it on its own with no fingers on the fretboard, we call that playing an “open” string. Once we’re ready to play “fretted notes” (notes that sound by putting our left-hand fingers on the fretboard), we need to know which fret is which. This will seem very difficult at first, but it is just a matter of counting.

Our “open” E string we number as Zero.

The first fret is 1.

From there, each fret is a new note that is one semi-tone away from the last.

Just try playing each of the frets, from the first fret going up by one each time so that your hand is moving closer to you.

Once you get to your 12th fret, you're back round to E. This principle also applies for the other three strings.

Tuning Your Bass

Tuning is another obstacle that guitarists and bassists need to learn in the early stages. In fact, we recommend that it is one of the first things you learn. To get you started, you can purchase a tuner which will tell you if the bass notes are sharp or flat. An alternative way is to tune to a Piano. To do this you would play the E-A-D-and G notes on a Piano and then compare the two notes. Spend some time trying to match the open string notes to the piano notes, turning the pegs only a tiny bit each time. This will be harder at the beginning because we are training our ears and trying to understand new and abstract concepts. But mastering this will improve your musical ear from the start.

Maintaining Your Bass

Here are three tips for maintaining and optimizing your bass. These are also things to look out for when buying a new/used bass.

The Neck:

The neck of the bass should curve ever so slightly away from you when holding it in the playing position. It may look straight even though it is correctly set up. This can be adjusted with the truss rod which is a long metal rod positioned inside the neck which can be tightened or loosened in order to relieve tension on the neck. If the neck is too straight, the strings will buzz on the frets and the truss rod should, therefore, be tightened. Seek help from a professional if you do not have any experience in adjusting the neck on your bass. If you tighten or loosen the truss rod too much, it can break the neck.


The distance between the fretboard and the strings (and therefore the amount of pressure required to make a clean sound) is described as the guitar's 'action'. Some players prefer a high action because of the sound it gives the instrument. For beginners, a lower action is recommended. Action can be altered by adjusting screws that determine the height of the strings on the bridge. When the strings are low but do not buzz against the fret, the set-up is correct.

Knowing What to Play

Most bass parts consist of single notes. However, it is possible to play chords, but this technique is not common - the instrument already has a deep sound, so chords can sound too muddy and can be tricky to pair with other chordal instruments like guitar. However, chordal bass parts have been used in some great songs, and can sound really nice, especially in the bass' higher register. Play around with chords, single note parts and some different techniques - have a listen to the bass parts in your favourite songs and discover what you love to play!

Using a Metronome

Playing with good timing is important for any musician, but it's especially important for bassists! Sometimes, this is something people realise after playing for a couple of years, and they have to jump back to basics to work on this. It's best to work on this from the very beginning, that way it's ingrained in your playing for life!

We suggest buying a metronome! This is a device that clicks at an even pace, so each click can represent a beat in the bar. Start off with 4/4 - four beats in a bar. Let the metronome do the counting for you, and aim to play exactly on each click of the metronome. This is a difficult task, and not always the most exciting one, but don’t feel discouraged! Every musician has to learn to do this, and it's so worth the hard work! Having an excellent grasp on the fundamentals is what separates a good player from a great one.

Playing in a Band

Something you can't explore fully within bass guitar lessons or private practise, is playing with a whole band of other people - this is definitely recommended though! In a pop and rock context, the bass takes on a unique role that almost has more in common with the drums than the guitar or vocals. Together, the bass and drums make the 'rhythm section', and they lead the band together. Often, the rhythms in the bass will be similar to the rhythms in the drums - this is called “locking in”. For example, you may play the same rhythm as the bass drum, or you might elaborate that with some of the rhythms from the snare or toms. Although a simple concept to understand, it is difficult to master playing perfectly in time with other insturments. But like everything - we get better with practise! Here’s what we suggest: make friends with a drummer and get together just the two of you - here, you can practise just playing at the exact same time as the bass drum. Once you have this down, you’ll find playing with a full band, where there are other rhythms and melodies going on, everything will sound tighter and more together.

Iconic Bass-Lines

Often the Bass takes the role of sitting behind the guitars and vocals, acting in a role that is halfway between being melodic and percussive. However, there some iconic examples of the Bass being used to supply the riffs and key hooks of a tune. Here are a few examples you could start to look at:

  • Longview - Green Day
  • Money - Pink Floyd
  • She’s Lost Control - Joy Division
  • Another One Bites the Dust - Queen
  • Under Pressure - Queen
  • Around the World - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  • Every Breath You Take - The Police

Relevant Music Education

Do you want to learn how to play the bass guitar? Maybe you already know, but you want to improve your abilities? We have lots of talented, experienced teachers all over the country. Find a teacher in your city today!

Questions About Bass Guitar Lessons?

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