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The Beginner's Guide To Playing Bass

Last Updated: May 14, 2022 / by Helen Baker

Have you been thinking of learning to play the bass guitar? Bass guitar is a popular instrument that is essential to every band. Bass players provide the rhythm and solid foundation every good song requires. Without the drums and the bass guitar a song will have no groove.

Although the most common bass guitars have four strings, some of them can have up to eight strings and the neck is a lot longer than a traditional guitar. Whether it’s the sound or size, playing the bass guitar is an extremely enjoyable pastime and an easy instrument to fall in love with.

Learning the bass guitar, just like learning any other instrument, takes time, practice, and dedication.  Here is a guideline of what you need to start focusing on when you want to start playing the bass. 

1. Choosing a Guitar

There is a wonderfully wide range of bass guitars to choose from. This is great news as it much easier to find a suitable instrument in your price range when there are so many options.

The most sensible guitar to get as a beginner would be a four-string bass guitar. There are bass guitars that have more strings, but the more strings there are, the more notes you will have to learn. A four string is generally recommended for beginners. 

2. Know Your Guitar

If you are going to play an instrument, no matter if it’s a guitar, piano or drums, you should make an effort to learn what part it's made up of. Do you know the anatomy of a guitar?

Learn where the neck is, what a fretboard is, and what frets are. Read up on what the bridge is for and why bass guitars especially need a reinforcement rod.

The better you understand your instrument, the better you can care for it and, in turn, learn to play it correctly.

3. Learn How To Tune a Guitar

Tuning is something almost every musician needs to learn, no matter what instrument they choose to play. Unfortunately, tuning a guitar is one of the trickier skills that you will need to learn. The more you practice, the easier it will become.

Tuning is always easier with a little help.  If you play with friends or your coach you can use their instruments to help you get your tuning right. You can always use the piano or have a fellow guitarist help out.

If you happen to end up tuning while practicing alone, don’t despair! Thanks to the 21st-century technology, there are electric tuners that you can plug into your guitar as well as various smartphone Apps available to help you get the correct notes in no time at all!

4. Bass Tabs

Bass tablature is how you read and write music for bass. There are a number of books, websites and magazines available dedicated to help you learn.

Take the time to learn the bass and treble clefs as well. They will always be a helpful tool in learning new music or if you want to write your own songs.

5. Harmonic Symbols

Harmonic symbols for a bass player is like the periodic table for a scientist. It’s something that needs to be learned eventually.  If you don’t, you will be blind to more than half the bass music in the world. Learning what Cm7 means is a must if you wish to advance as a bass guitar player.

6. Practice Practice

One of the most useful ways to make sure that you progress steadily is to set small goals for yourself to enable you to reach your bigger goals. Set practice times and days for yourself, squeeze a practice in before dinner.... and whenever you can, just play, play, play…

Practicing all the time familiarizes you with your own guitar as well as the notes and reading the music. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Also, don’t be afraid to try scales and exercises.

They are a great help in improving your rhythm and technical skills. It's also important to NOT overdo it. Many musicians learn more when they impliment interleaved practice

7. Learn New Material

Challenge yourself with new music books, songs and magazines. There is such a vast amount of free music available on the web that it’s almost impossible to say that you have run out of music to learn.

If you are unsure of where to begin looking, then start at the beginning. Find yourself a book for bass guitar that is for beginners (or higher) and use it as a guideline on how quickly (or slowly) you should be progressing; as well as what kind of music you should be focussing on.

8. Take Some Lessons

Although there are many musicians out there that can say they ‘taught themselves’, it’s a very difficult path to follow. Enroll for some guitar lessons if you can, and if you are truly serious about learning to play bass, then find yourself a suitable teacher - even if it’s just to start out with in order to point you in the right direction.

Trying to learn alone when you haven’t had proper instruction is an easy way to learn bad habits fast, and bad form equals bad sound. A qualified teacher can instruct you in the correct playing techniques and finger positions a lot more effectively than any book or video.

The Cool Factor

I think we can all agree that there are not many things as cool as a good guitarist slapping the bass.

Also, one of the coolest things about the bass guitar is that it can be plugged into a sound amplifier.

Whether you are playing to jam alone or in a band, the bass guitar is one of the most popular and useful instruments out there. 

About the Author: Helen Baker

I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.

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