Bass guitars are one of the most important musical instruments in most genres. From pop to rock and jazz to funk, the bass has been at the heartbeat of countless songs over the last 60 years or so.
While our ears are more adept at hearing higher-pitched sounds such as electric guitars and keyboards, the bass can sometimes be hard to pick out of a song.
But, as soon as you take the bass sound out of a track, you will notice an immediate difference. The bass guitar adds texture and character to any song, whatever the genre. It fills out a sound and makes songs come to life.
However, just because the standard bass guitar only has four strings as opposed to the standard 6 strings on an electric guitar, it doesn’t mean it can be picked up and played easily.
In order for a bassist to successfully perform in different styles of music, they must learn the bass guitar notes found on the neck of the instrument.
Just like any other instrument, the bass requires time and practice to master. To play thumping bass lines and booming notes, you need to learn the basics.
These will be the foundation for whatever you play going forward. This begins with basic music theory. The first step is learning what the natural notes are on the neck of a bass.
From here, everything on the bass becomes a whole lot easier.
In today’s article, we will be guiding you through the notes and the fretboard of a bass guitar. These notes apply to both acoustic and electric bass guitars that have four strings (E-A-D-G).
So, let’s take a look at the names of the notes on the neck of a bass so you can quickly jump on any note required of you the next time you play.
Learning The Notes On A Bass Guitar
If you have ever played guitar before, you will know how important it is to pay close attention to what the notes are on the guitar’s fretboard. The same applies to a bass.
Not only should you learn these notes but you should memorize them off-by-heart.
By remembering the locations of each note on the neck, you will be able to quickly find your desired note and master speedy playing and, with some time, be able to improvise along with recordings or with other musicians.
We understand how frustrating and tedious it can be to start learning the basics of an instrument. But, trust us, it’s certainly worth it. Every famous guitarist, pianist, bassist, and drummer you can think of had to start somewhere.
That ‘somewhere’ was where you may be right now. So, don’t despair. With time and practice, all of your hard work will one day slip into place and you will be flying through the notes on your bass like a master.
Below is a training exercise to help you learn the notes as effectively and as quickly as possible. Everyone is different. Some take longer than others to remember these notes. That is why you can adjust and tweak the routine below to suit your personal needs.
You may become surprised by how quickly you remember the notes on the neck of your bass.
This is often referred to as “muscle memory” where your fingers automatically go to a note even if it seems like you didn’t think of where it was.
While this takes some time to master, we are confident you will be able to reach this state earlier than you believe.
Be committed to your practice routine and you will be mastering the bass guitar in no time at all!
Let’s start by learning what the open strings are called.
Open String Notes
As you probably know, a standard bass has 4 strings. Some types have more but for today’s article, we will be focusing on this standard version of the bass.
The first step on your road to mastering the bass guitar is to learn the name of these four strings. By knowing these, they act as a frame of reference as you go on to play more difficult bass lines. The best part of this step is that you do not need to place your fingers on any strings on the fretboard. You simply leave the strings in an “open position.”
The lowest string is the thickest while the highest is the thinnest. Start by plucking each string, from lowest to highest. But, remember, do not press down on the fretboard at this point.
From low to high, the strings are:
This is the standard tuning of a bass and is the same as the first 4 strings of a standard 6 stringed guitar. Sometimes, a song may require you to tune the strings differently but, most often, this is the tuning you will use.
Play these notes over and over again for around 5 to 10 minutes every day. This will help you memorize them quickly.
Another helpful way to memorize the strings is to come up with names for each one. We find “Every-Animal-Does-Good” helps a lot but you can use whatever sticks in your mind best.
Notation charts are very useful when learning the notes on a bass guitar. You can refer to this chart as you play along helping you find the right note quicker and improve your accuracy.
You can find these charts online or in bass tutorial magazines. The chart will display the neck of a bass with the open string notes to the side of the chart and the nut of the bass at the far left.
If it looks like a foreign language at first, don’t worry! This is completely normal because, well, it is like a foreign language. You’re learning a new skill with new symbols and charts. Some symbols you will come across are ‘#’ and ‘b.’
‘#’ stands for a sharp note such as G# (G Sharp) while ‘b’ means that the note is flat such as Ab (A flat).
Memorizing these sharp and flat notes will make the journey so much easier and quicker. This is more straightforward once you have remembered the 4 open strings (E-A-D-G).
Once you have your notation chart at hand, it’s time to learn each note on the fretboard. This follows the same basic rules as all instruments. These are:
A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#.
This is where it can be a little confusing. All of the ‘#’ notes can be replaced with a ‘b’ note for the next note. For instance, F# is the same as Gb.
One fret on a bass is equal to half a step. So from the A fret, you will go up one fret to A# and so on. As you continue to move up the neck, you will increase the note by half a step.
On a bass guitar, the fifth fret on the neck corresponds to the open note of the next string. So, the fifth fret of the lowest string (E) is A. The second open string is A.
Fifth fret on A is D while the open string of the third string is D. Finally, the fifth fret of the D string is G with the thinnest open string also being G. Playing the fifth fret and the next open string is an easy way to tune your bass without a tuner at hand.
After lots of practice and dedication, you should have mastered the first twelve notes of the bass. Now, you should learn how to play octaves. On the bass, the first 12 notes form the first octave.
Once you reach G#, the 12 notes will repeat but at a higher octave.
One easy way to learn these octave notes quickly is to play a note on the E string. Its next instance will be two frets up on the D string and the two frets down the bass guitar’s neck.
If you play all instances of a note, one at a time on the fretboard, you will find all of the natural notes have a sequence such as this.
Start off by practicing your octave notes with the help of your notation chart. Do this slowly and steadily until you are comfortable with knowing where the location of the notes are on the bass.
And that’s how to learn the notes on a bass guitar’s fretboard. Yes, it will be frustrating to try and learn and remember each note but you will find it will click one day.
Just be patient, be committed to your practice routine, and you will be flying through those notes soon.
Once you have learned the notes and memorized their placements on the fretboard, you should attempt playing bass scales. Once you master these, you are truly on the road to being a great bassist.
Take your time. Learn each note, the octaves, and, eventually, the scales, and you will never look back. Once you have learned it, you will have the gift of playing the bass guitar for life.
Watch out Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, we have a new bass master incoming!