A New Kind of Music

A New Kind of Music

Your Go-to Guide for Bass Guitar Beginners

Music is certainly more than the soundtrack to our lives, it’s something which gets us through hard times, helps us remember positive events, and it is also something which passes the time, perhaps when we’re feeling a little on the bored side.

Some people listen to music only, but what if you’re one of the many who have a penchant for learning how to play particular instruments, and then create your own sweet music, or perhaps recreate your favourite songs?

You’re certainly not alone, as learning how to play a new instrument is a very active and popular pastime. Which instrument will you choose? Well, you have plenty of options in front of you, including the drums, the electric guitar, the acoustic guitar, perhaps the violin, or maybe even the harp. Have you ever thought of learning how to play the bass guitar?

What is a Bass Guitar?

Perhaps totally underrated, the bass guitar often gets overlooked for its more flashier and sometimes louder neighbour, the electric guitar, but the bottom line is that if you don’t have a bass in your music, you’re lacking structure and beat.

The bass guitar is a stringed instrument, just like its electric friend, and it is also sometimes called the electric bass. You play the bass guitar using either your fingers or a with a pick, or plectrum.

The bass guitar looks exactly like an electric guitar, but the subtle difference is in the length of its neck (longer) and it instead has either four, six, or eight strings.

We’ll talk a little later on about the differences between how many strings and the sound it makes, but as a beginner, for someone who wants to learn bass guitar from zero, a four string instrument is always better.

The bass guitar has been used throughout history, dating back to the 1930s, but it shot to fame mainly in the 1960s, as it replaced the larger double bass in popular music. Nowadays, all manner of different music genres use a bass, in fact you’ll struggle to find one which doesn’t! The bass sets the structure of the song, and it gives it a beat, a ‘bass’ to work on.

Bass guitar lessons are certainly recommended for beginners who want to know how to play a bass guitar properly, however you only have to head online, perhaps to You Tube, or Blues Bass For Guitar Players, to find advice and videos on where to start, and how to progress.

To help you understand the bass, the anatomy is made up of the following elements:

  • Strap button/holder
  • Input jack
  • Volume or tone control
  • Pickguard
  • Bridge
  • Pick up double cutaway
  • Twelfth fret marker
  • Strings
  • Dot position inlays
  • Frets
  • Neck
  • Machine heads
  • Headstock
  • Tuning keys

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How to Choose a Bass Guitar

In a later section of our chat, we’re going to talk about what to look for in more detail in terms of purchasing a guitar, but for this section, here is the basic advice you need.

You don’t need to be purchasing the flashiest instrument when you are at the bass guitar for beginners stage, you simply need something you can learn on easily, without having to consider too much. As you progress with your musical endeavours, you can upgrade your instrument to something higher quality, but for now, basic is all you need.

  • Choose a fretted guitar – We’ll talk about fretted and fretless guitars shortly, but as a starting point, you should pick a fretted instrument for ease of use.
  • Choose a short-scale – If you have small hands or you’re younger, this is going to be easier for you to hold. If you’re looking for a bass for your child to learn on, again, go for this type.
  • Choose four strings – You can upgrade at a later date, but for now, four strings is going to be easier to learn on.

When you’re shopping around for your first bass guitar, ask for advice in the store and always hold it first. You need the instrument to be ‘at one’ with you, and you need to feel comfortable holding it. Yes, you will find better deals online, but you can’t hold it first, unless you check it out in person and then order it online somewhere else, of course.

What to Look for in a Bass Guitar

There are certain elements to be aware of then purchasing a new bass guitar.

  • The wood it is made of – Basically you can choose between five main groups; ash/alder, agathist, mahogany, basswood, or maple. These all create different sounds.
  • Number of strings – We mentioned earlier that you should go for four strings as a beginner, but as you progress you can move up to five or even six strings. The four string bass guitar actually has an easier to hold aesthetic appeal, because it has a narrower section at the neck. The four string version is also tuned in an E,A,D,G format, which is easier to learn on, because the chords are closer to the natural position of the fingers, and obviously there are four chords instead of more! A five string has five strings and therefore five chords, and a six string? You can guess the rest!
  • Fretted bass guitar or fretless? – As a beginner, always go for fretted. This is basically a guitar which has steel frets which sit along the scale in equal measurements apart. A fretless guitar doesn’t have these, it’s literally just wood, and therefore harder to play – it’s virtually impossible to learn as a beginner on a fretless bass guitar.
  • The type of bass guitar pickups – You can choose between passive or active, and again, as a beginner, it’s best to opt for the passive type at first. These are the oldest type and they give you a traditional bass sound, a warm kind of tone. Active pickups are the new kids on the block, and they are powered by battery. Obviously the downside is that you have to remember to change the battery occasionally, but the sound is considered to be brighter and clearer.

Ways to Play a Bass Guitar

Explaining how to play a bass guitar is difficult unless you can see the actual mechanism behind it. What we can do here is explain a little about the different techniques, because how to play a bass guitar is not just about one movement which is repeated.

This is a personal kind of deal in many ways, and you will learn the most comfortable way that you play the instrument as you go along. Of course, there are set techniques and we’re going to describe them, but in terms of how you hold the instrument and how you play it, this is something that you can make totally bespoke. This is the fun in learning music and a new instrument – you can have fun with it!

In terms of how to hold the instrument, you can either sit or stand, whatever works for you. The mainstream is to stand, with a strap holding the instrument in place, held over the shoulder and across the body in a horizontal position.

If you do want to sit down however, this is fine and you should hold the instrument balanced on your left thigh to begin with. This means you can basically play exactly the same as you would if you were standing, which is easier.

If you balance the instrument on your right thigh, you are in a slightly more difficult to play position, but you will be able to reach the fretboard better, as well as the neck. Play around with both positions, and see which feels more natural to you.

The strings are played with the fingers or sometimes a pick/plectrum; again, this is something you will develop and tweak yourself, to suit your needs and individual playing style. In general however, you pluck the strings with your middle finger and index finger.

Check out Blues Bass For Guitar Players for a little more information, but the mainstream techniques of playing when you learn bass guitar are:

  • Slap & Pop – Often used in funk. This is accomplished by using striking or thumping motions on the strings, using the thumb, or snapping motions with the middle or index fingers.
  • Picking – You can either use your fingers or you can go with the pick/plectrum to create the plucking motion. If you do go for using a pick then you should opt for a heavier one than you would use on an electric guitar, somewhere between 1.14mm to 3.00mm works well.
  • Palm muting – This is a technique which you will certainly use as you get more into playing the bass guitar. For this you use the outside of your picking hand palm to pick and quieten the strings. If you need a point of reference, Paul McCartney uses this technique quite a lot.
  • Fretting – You will have a fretting hand, and if you are left handed this will be your right hand, and vice versa. You use your fretting hand to play different types of notes, by pressing down the strings or plucking. You will use the technique which is widely known as ‘finger per fret’.
  • Two-handed tapping – This is basically what it says on the tin! This technique uses both hands, and you tap fast on the fretboard, to create different notes, at different positions along the board and strings.
  • Strumming – This isn’t something you will do too often on a bass guitar, but you can do it if the song calls for it. This is more commonly associated with electric or acoustic guitars.

When you learn bass guitar for the first time, much of it is going to be about trial and error. Sit in a quiet room and play, see what works for you, experiment. Again, check out Blues Bass For Guitar Players for plenty of videos and advice in real time. How to play a bass guitar is about taking your time and finding pleasure in it, after all!

What are Bass Guitar Chords?

The bass guitar chord chart is basically what creates the music in bass guitar songs!

First things first, you need to know the basics.

Let’s simplify the whole thing and break it down.

Basic chords

There are three chords you need to know in order to be able to play any kind of music whatsoever! These are also the most important notes in the scale of music stat. Root (first chord), third, and fifth. By using these chords you have the basic to any kind of song, give or take!

7th chords

This chord is used in most modern day music, so if you’re wanting to recreate, say, a Coldplay track for example, then you’ll need to master this. A 7th chord has one more note attached to it than the basic chords; this sound is a little more difficult to replicate.

Scales

You will need to know which scale you’re playing in, to replicate a bassline that is reminiscent of anything quality. You cannot play music without being in the right scale. There is a solo scale too, and this is, as the name would suggest, a scale which is played solo, on your own in a group, for example.

Easy Bass Guitar Songs to Learn

There are certain songs that the notes on a bass guitar form to create much easier than others, so if you’re looking for a few easier to learn songs, check these suggestions out:

  • Green Day – Longview
  • Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
  • Pink Floyd – Money
  • Led Zeppelin – Dazed and Confused
  • The White Stripes – 7 Nation Army
  • Queen – Under Pressure
  • Jet – Are You Gonna be my Girl
  • Ben E King – Stand by me
  • Ozzy Osborne – No More Tears
  • Jackson Five – I Want You Back

Avoid Frustration

Start small and work your way up, this is always the best course of action when learning anything new. Remember that this is supposed to be something fun and exciting, not something stressful!

Search the web, check out You Tube, speak to fellow students, or perhaps head to classes and get first hand advice and tuition from a teacher. You can of course learn yourself how to play the bass guitar, this is not something impossible in the slightest.

Can you play the bass guitar wrong?

Yes and no. You can play the chords incorrectly, which will then make the whole song sound different and unrecognisable, maybe even painful to the ears, but in terms of the techniques you use and how you hold the instrument, this is a personal kind of deal.

Again, experiment, find the way that feels comfortable and natural to you. An instrument really does have to feel like an extension of your arm, not something alien in your hand.

This may sound a little ‘out there’, but if you speak to any professional musician they will tell you that any instrument they pick up needs to feel ‘at one’ with them, and that they often reject certain instruments simply because there is something off or unusual about the way they feel.

For this reason, when you’re shopping around, be sure to hold them first, before you decide on your final choice.

Now, when you are beginning to learn, start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself, don’t try and be a professional player from the get-go – try and see it as though you are learning to read again, because in many ways you are learning to read another language, a musical language.

Take baby steps and remember to learn a little every day, or at least every few days. Refresh what you have learnt before moving onto the next step, and don’t move on until you are 100% practised and sure of what you learnt before.

The basics need to be mastered completely, because that is what forms the basis of your musical endeavours in the future, whether you play current songs, old ones, or whether you write your own music in the end. You must start with the very bottom knowledge, and add to it little by little until you are sure.

To Sum it All up

It is very difficult to tell you exactly how to play the bass guitar, because it is something you need to see rather than something you need to read about. Learn the chords and build from there, but before any of that, remember to pick the right bass guitar for your beginner needs.

Always start with a fretted instrument, and go for four strings. Remember to feel the instrument in person, and wherever possible, head for at least a few lessons, to get the expert knowledge of an experienced bass player.

From there, of course you can continue your education yourself, but it’s always a great starting point, plus a great source of support, to consult with a musician who really feels the wonder of the bass guitar.

Remember, you cannot play music with a bassline!

Our Top Pick For Blues Bass Lesson

Learn Perfect Blues Bass Lines Fast!

Learn More