How to Play Bass Guitar for a Beginner

By Carl Hose
Play Bass Guitar for a Beginner

Bass guitar is one of the fundamental instruments in music. Along with drums, bass comprises the rhythm section of most bands. Many people believe the bass, having only four strings as opposed to the six strings on a guitar, is easier to play and somehow less important. This couldn't be further from the truth. Learning to play simple bass lines is easy, but learning to play more advanced bass lines can be as challenging as learning to play any other instrument. This article provides the basic tools you'll need before tackling more advanced bass guitar playing.

Choose your bass guitar. It doesn't have to be expensive. Make sure the bass you choose feels comfortable in your hands and has a good balance. Try playing it before you buy it. Make sure it feels comfortable when you're standing and sitting down. Appearance should not be your primary concern at this point. You're looking for comfort and ease of play. Press your fingers down on each string and move all the way up the neck, making sure the strings aren't too hard to fret. Look down the neck of the bass and make sure the neck is not warped. There should be only a very slight dip.

The first twelve frets (notes) on a bass guitar.

Familiarize yourself with your bass guitar. It doesn't matter whether it's electric or acoustic, the strings on your bass guitar are the same. Learn the name of each string. A bass guitar has four strings.The first string (thinnest) is G, the second string is D, the third string is A, and the fourth string is E. Try the phrase "Good Dogs Are Exceptional" to help you remember. These four strings are the same as the bottom four strings on a regular guitar but sound an octave lower.

Practice scales on a regular basis. This may not be the the most fun part of playing bass guitar, but it will not only teach you the notes on your bass, it will strengthen your fingers too. Strong fingers are important to a bass player. Start with a C scale. This means you will be playing notes in the musical key of C. This key contains no sharps or flats. The notes you will play are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. You can purchase a chart that will show you the major and minor keys and a chart that will show you where those notes correspond on your bass. Your fingers are numbered one through four, starting with your index finger. Use one finger per note when you play a scale, stretching when you need to. You'll notice that all scales are the same pattern and the key you are playing in depends upon your starting note.

Focus on fingering and picking. These two elements work in conjunction. Where you place your fingers on the neck of the bass guitar dictate the sound the guitar makes. The way you pick or pluck the strings of your bass guitar dictates rhythm. Strive to master both elements until they come together naturally. As you practice your scales, vary the way you pluck or pick the strings. Alternate between up strokes and down strokes. Vary your "attack" (how hard or soft you hit the strings). Alternate between plucking the strings with your fingers and using a pick. Each method produces a different quality tone.

Use your ear. Reading music is an important part of playing music, but you should train your ear as well. Play along with your CDs and try to emulate what you're hearing. Don't get discouraged if you play out of key with the recording. It takes time to develop your ear. The more you play along with recordings, the more developed your ear will become.

Be patient and persistent. It takes time to become proficient on bass guitar. You won't be a rock star overnight, but if you stick with it, you'll soon find yourself playing games like a pro.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.