The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Learning the Bass Guitar

So, you have decided to pick up one of the greatest yet often unnoticed instruments in music, the bass guitar.

We applaud you for this decision as the bass is central to the sound of most genres.

Whether it’s pop, rock, funk, blues, or R & B, the bass guitar is the force and energy that brings songs to life.

The bass guitar can be regarded as the glue that holds other instruments together.

Bass lines can drive a song forward and its added texture is critical for the success of most tracks. By stepping up to be the bass player, you must be prepared to hold a rhythm.

Alongside the drums, you will keep each song in time and in check. In other words, you may just be the most important member of your group!

But, before you become a master at the bass guitar, you must spend time learning the instrument. The same goes for any musical instrument.

And, don’t be fooled, just because it has two fewer strings than your standard six-stringed electric guitar, it doesn’t mean it takes less time to master.

The bass is an extraordinary instrument that requires feeling, touch, and a spark of attitude.

To get you started on your glorious bass journey, we are going to guide you through the most important factors when learning the bass.

We will be talking you through choosing a bass guitar, practicing your newfound instrument, and much more.

By the end of this article, we hope that you will be confident and ready to become the bassist you have always been destined to become.

Most Important Factors To Consider 

Before you pick up a bass and play a single note, you must consider some important factors. And, while this may seem tedious, remember, every bassist from Jaco Pastorius to Victor Wooten had to start someplace. And that place is where you are at.

That just means you have a truly exciting road ahead of you with boundless opportunities!

But, first, here are some key considerations:

  • Consider your bass guitar budget – Weigh up the quality and price of a bass to find one within your budget. 
  • Four or five strings? – Most bassists begin with four strings as this is the standard model and easiest to play. But, it depends on the music you intend to play and your personal preferences. Just remember that the extra string means more challenges at first.
  • Music genre – What music style will you be playing most? Different types of bass guitars suit different musical genres.
  • Bass guitar body style – Even though it will be your first bass guitar, you should love the look of it. Ask most accomplished bassists and they still own their first-ever bass. More often than not, it’s still their favorite. 
  • Electric bass pickups – You will need to choose what kind of pickups are best for you at first. This will be discussed later on in further detail.
  • Purchase online or in a store? – Shop around before you commit to buying a bass. Browse online and in your local music stores to get an idea of prices and what you like. At least in-store, you can pick the bass up and see if you like the feel of it or not. 

Once you have considered each of these, it’s onto the first step – Choosing your first bass guitar.

Choosing Your Bass Guitar 

Remember to set a budget before you go searching for a bass guitar. You do not need to spend thousands on your first bass, even if you can.

It’s more than fine to just start with an entry-level instrument that is tailored toward beginners. With a consistent practice regime, the higher-end models will be waiting for you as you progress. 

You need to understand the basic components of a bass guitar when you buy one. Below is a list of these parts:

The headstock – This is the wider area located at the head of the bass guitar’s neck. Here, you will find tuning pegs that are used to adjust the tension of each string. By either tightening or loosening these pegs, you can change the pitch of the string to help tune the instrument.

The neck – This is the long piece of wood that is attached to the headstock. Here, you will find the fretboards on which you will place your fingers on to play the bass. Also attached to the neck is the internal truss rod which connects the neck to the guitar’s main body. 

The fretboard – This is on the neck of the guitar in the form of either maple, ebony, or, most often, rosewood. Some fretboards are better than others. Some are smooth and allow your fingers to move seamlessly over each fret while others are harder and more uncomfortable. The fretboard is usually arched slightly on either side.

The frets – These are built into the fretboard in the form of thin metal strips. Each fret acts as half a step in notes (A, A#, B, C, C#, etc). This is where you place your fingers to play a note. Some basses are actually fretless but these should be left alone for advanced or intermediate players or until you have become familiar with where the frets are. 

The truss rod – This is what connects the neck to the body of the bass. In other words, it stops the neck from twisting and being unplayable. This is vital due to the thicker nature of bass strings when compared to guitar strings. Bass strings exert a lot more pressure on the neck so a string truss rod allows for adjustments to string height and how straight the neck is. 

Other things to put on your checklist include:

  • A bass case
  • A suitable amplifier and cable
  • A bass guitar strap

Your bass guitar requires protection, especially if you will transport it here, there, and everywhere. Even if you’re keeping your bass at home for most of the time, we still recommend you purchase one. 

A suitable case will protect the instrument from potential scratches and bumps as well as prevent dust from covering its body. 

You can opt for a hard case for thorough protection or a softer case for easier portability.  Hard cases are heavier but best for traveling with. Soft cases are ideal for storing at home.

When it comes to playing your electric bass, you will need an amp. This is not needed for an acoustic bass but we still recommend an amplifier. 

As with the bass guitar, do not spend lots of money on your first amp. Start off with something small that has around 100 – 200 amps of power. This is more than enough to practice with at home. 

You will also need a cable to plug your bass into the amp. These go from the output of your bass and into the amp’s input jack. These cables vary in sizes and lengths and are easy to buy either online or in your local music store.

Just ensure it is long enough to move around with and has 1/4 -inch jacks on either end. 

A sturdy bass guitar strap will make playing the bass far more comfortable and easier. Even if you’re sitting down, the strap provides more support and limits the chance of the bass dropping to the floor and becoming damaged.

Remember, bass guitars are heavy. Much heavier than standard guitars so a string strap is essential, especially for younger players who may not have the strength to support such an instrument for long periods. 

Once you find a strap (online or in-store), ensure that you adjust it properly to suit your body. The bass should feel comfortable. Don’t have the strap too loose. While the bass may look ‘cool’ when low to the ground, this can bring on back issues and will be a lot harder to learn. 

Types Of Beginner Bass Guitars 

The-Complete-Beginners-Guide-to-Learning-the-Bass-Guitar

When deciding what bass guitar to get, you need to understand the different types available.  There is a range of styles such as hollow body and solid body basses. The electronics can be either passive or active while the pickups can be humbucker or single-coil.

And, then there’s the number of strings. While the standard and most widely played basses have four strings, you can choose five or six-string basses too. As a beginner, however, we encourage you to start with a four-string bass. 

All of these variations have an impact on how the bass sounds such as its tone. However, these are not all so important to the ease of playing the instrument.

You can find beginner bass guitars that have a smaller scale length. These are ideal for smaller and younger hands as they are easier to play than larger-sized models. 

It all comes down to your budget. Once you have this set, you can visit your local music store and peruse the available options. Pick up bass and see if it feels comfortable both sitting down and standing up. This is key to finding a suitable bass for you.

Once you find a bass that feels right for you, it’s time to practice. Find a routine that you can stick to. With commitment, you will soon progress and be able to upgrade to a higher quality bass if desired.

It’s only when you reach this point that you should think deeply about the bass’ electronics and pickup types as these can impact the overall sound. If you are having lessons with a bass teacher (which we highly recommend), then they can help you with your options.

But, as a beginner, just focus on an instrument that falls within your price range and feels comfortable. Play as many as you can and you will come across one that sounds and feels perfect for you. 

Tuning Your Bass Guitar 

Once you have found your beloved first bass, it’s time to learn the instrument. But, before you learn the basics, you must learn to tune the bass. As with any instrument, if it is not tuned correctly, the sound will be off and you will find it much harder to develop your skills. 

While you can tune your bass by ear, it takes some time to become accustomed to the notes this way. Thankfully, there are other methods and tools to help you tune your instrument. 

The bass guitar is one octave lower than a standard guitar. The first four strings of a guitar are tuned the same as a bass – E-A-D-G. An easy way to remember the name of these strings is to say to yourself “Every Animal Does Good.” Or, you can use whatever helps you remember best.

You can tune your bass with the help of another guitar. Play the four bottom strings (E-A-D-G) of the guitar one by one. Once you play the open E string on the guitar, play the open E string of the bass.

Turn your bass’ tuning pegs to match this pitch, repeat this with the next three strings (just make sure the guitar is also in tune).

If you have a piano nearby, you can play the E-A-D-G notes and match your bass’ pitch by turning the tuning pegs. 

You can also use a number of tuning apps on your smartphone or the internet. 

Electronic tuners are probably the easiest and most popular way to tune a guitar and bass guitar. You simply plug your bass into the tuner via a cable and pluck an open string.

You then turn the tuning pegs until the arrow in the center of the tuner’s display lines up with the desired note. Do this for all four strings until each is tuned correctly. You can also use portable tuners that clip onto the headstock of your bass.

Through the vibrations of your bass, you can tune your bass using the same process and matching up the lines to the correct pitch of the tuner. 

If you have no tuner at hand, you can tune your bass using the fifth frets. This should be learned by every bassist as it makes it easy to tune your bass whenever and wherever you are.

Starting with the low E string, you just play the fifth fret. Play the next string up (the A) and match the pitch to this fifth fret. The fifth fret of the E string is an A note matching the open A string. Repeat this on the A string to tune the D string and the D string to tune the G string. 

Once you’re all tuned up, you’re ready to play!

Practicing Bass Guitar 

Once your shiny new bass guitar is all set up and ready to go, it’s time to get down to practice. As with any instrument, you can’t just pick it up and play like a maestro straight away.

Even the most famous bassists such as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Victor Wooten started where you are. They practiced and practiced until they became competent at bass playing. With even more committed practice, they became world-class musicians.

We highly recommend finding a good bass teacher to start with. They can show you the ropes and give you some easy bass lessons to learn the absolute basics of the bass guitar.

While it may be tedious at first, these early lessons are perhaps the most important part of learning the bass guitar. 

When it comes to practice, do it consistently. Be committed! Even if you only have a few minutes a day, practice. 10 minutes of practice a day equates to over one hour a week.

If you can build on this as time goes on, you will progress quickly. We encourage you to try and find 30 minutes out of your day to practice your bass.

When you have no distractions around you, those 30 minutes will fly by. Some days, you may be playing for an hour or so without even noticing.

Also, when you first start practicing, we suggest you use a device to keep in time with. As a bass player, the rest of the band or ensemble is usually relying on you to keep time so you must learn to keep time very well.

A metronome is a great little device to play along to. However, if you don’t have one available, you can find different apps on your smartphone or online instead. 

Do not rush into things. Start slowly. Begin with simple exercises. Learn to pluck the bass with your two fingers, one after the other. Early on, you can just focus on these fingers and not on the fretboard.

Pluck at the strings one by one and find a technique that suits you. Your bass teacher will be able to show you how to do this properly and easily. 

Also, learn the notes of the bass off by heart. As with other instruments, they run in the same sequence – A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E F-F#-G-G#. Once you learn these, practice your chords and scales frequently.

Running scales are hugely important for beginner bassists and help you come to understand the whole neck of the bass in greater detail. Eventually, you’ll be surprised how much muscle memory in your fingers helps you play each note without even thinking. 

After a while, you can move on to learning your favorite songs. Whatever genre you like, there are countless beginner bass guitar songs to learn. 

As well as having bass lessons, you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of bass guitar tutorial videos on YouTube. With channels dedicated to teaching the bass guitar, you will find lessons that are tailored to your level of playing.

Best of all, these lessons are free and will undoubtedly help you improve your bass basics quickly. 

In Summary

Learning a new instrument can be a long process. But, with time and dedication, practice will become a hobby.

Yes, learning the techniques, notes, and styles of bass playing is challenging but once you learn all of these basics, you will always have the gift of being a great bass player. 

 

 

David Williams
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