There is something alluring with a bass guitar. You often play away from the limelight, letting the lead guitar take the shine. At the same time, you guide the lead guitar, and your bass lines are indispensable to other musicians.
Many people enjoy and want to pick up bass guitar because of this. The question is, however, how do you start playing bass guitar?
To start playing bass guitar:
- Understand The Journey
- Get A Bass Guitar
- Learn The Parts Of A Bass Guitar
- Learn How To Hold The Bass Guitar
- Learn How To Tune Bass Guitar
- Decide If you Want To Start With A Pick Or Finger
- Pick Up How To Read Bass Tablature
- Play Your First Bass Lines
- Practice And Improve
In this post, we show you a step-by-step guide on how to confidently start playing bass guitar.
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Why Should You Play Bass Guitar?
There are many reasons why people pick up bass guitar, but many love how bass players become the band’s backbone. Bass guitar players also can play many types of music. Finally, bass lines can be very groovy and addictive to play.
Consider these reasons if you are wondering why you should pick up bass guitar. Some may resonate with you:
Be The Backbone Of Your Band
In most musical arrangements, the bass guitar often serves as the band’s foundation or backbone. This is because bass guitar often plays the deep, low-pitched lines that serve as the background of the music.
The other instruments then play within the bass lines, utilizing the rhythmic and harmonic support it creates. Bass lines also work with drummers, who also help to provide a solid groove and rhythm for other instruments.
As a result, bass guitar players can be said to be ‘leading’ the band, although not by shining in the limelight. Instead, bass players stay behind the scenes.
Such a way of performing can be very satisfying to some musicians, which leads them to pick up bass guitar. You may feel the same.
Many types of music require a steady, low-pitched background sound. This background sound provides a steady rhythm and harmonic base to support the lead instruments. This can easily be provided with a bass guitar.
As a result, you can find bass guitar being played in all sorts of music. Rock, jazz, blues, and funk use bass guitars extensively. In some orchestral or traditional music performances, bass guitar may also be used.
This means if you play bass guitar, you can not just play within a small genre of music but a lot more. This gives you a great musical versatility that not many musicians can achieve.
Finally, there’s something special about bass lines. It has a unique groove, and style can be very cool and addictive to play and listen to.
In fact, some songs are known for their unique composition of bass lines, such as Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz or Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. This is something probably no other instruments can do except a bass guitar.
If you play bass guitar, you can compose and play out these addictive bass lines that will surely groove up many listeners.
How to Start Playing Bass Guitar with Confidence
When it comes to starting to play bass guitar, it helps to take things step by step and not rush into it. Sometimes, by taking a slow and steady approach, you ensure a good base before progressing to the next step.
Plus, when you bite off more than you can chew, you risk souring yourself on the experience. You may end up giving up on learning bass guitar altogether.
Here are the 9 steps to start playing bass guitar with confidence. Let’s go and check it out.
Understand The Journey
When you have the idea to play bass guitar, you probably have an image of yourself belting out super groovy bass licks that will make Freddie Mercury himself smile. If not, maybe you want to play bass for some fancy jazz bands.
There is no wrong in dreaming; however, understand that it takes a long time to play, master, and develop a good ability to play bass. It may take you years.
In fact, even the best bassists on the planet today are still learning new things about their instrument despite having dedicated their whole lives to playing it.
If you understand that you will need some time to pick up your bass guitar playing skills, that’s good. This is because you know that you will need consistent effort over time to master the instrument.
Suppose you are thinking about playing bass over the weekend and being able to perform like Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. In that case, you want to readjust your expectations. This prevents you from massive disappointment.
Expecting around 6 months to a year of consistent effort here may make sense. This should help you to progress from a total zero to a comfortable beginner-level bassist.
Get A Bass Guitar
Have your expectations adjusted realistically? Good. Now it’s time to go get an instrument. However, stop now before you rush into a store to pick up your dream bass.
You are new in the space and have no idea what type of music you want to play. You may also not know what bass guitar suits your style and preferences.
As a result, instead of buying the brand-new bass guitar of your dreams, get something cheap. Sometimes, to get you started on the journey. Consider one of the three options here:
Used Bass Guitar: A used bass guitar is affordable and has suffered damages and dings over the years. This means if you are to make mistakes and damage the guitar in some way, it does not hurt too much.
Places like Sweetwater, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist should have many sellers putting their bass guitars up for sale. Go shop for one yourself. If you have someone who knows about bass guitar, bring them along to help.
Cheap Basic Bass Guitar: If buying a used bass guitar sounds too iffy, here is another option: just get a new but basic bass guitar. These are not too expensive and should be able to survive the rough and inexperienced hands of a rookie.
Your local music store and Amazon should have a wide selection of basic bass guitars to get you started.
Rent A Bass Guitar: Another option is to rent one. This may be viable if you are looking to experiment with the experience of learning a bass guitar. If you enjoy the experience and want to continue, you can go shopping for one.
If you do not think learning bass guitar is a good idea, you can always return the guitar and call it quits.
Learn The Parts Of A Bass Guitar
Once you have picked up your bass guitar, it is time to get familiar with it. Granted you stayed in the learning and playing curve long term, you will spend a long time with your bass guitar.
Be sure to be able to identify the parts of your guitar well. These include major parts such as the neck, strings, headstock bridge, and so on. Once you have identified these major ones, work on the smaller, more technical bits.
These include the pickup, the individual strings (the string notes), and your bass guitar’s shape and design.
You could either get the service of a tutor to help you with this, or you can always turn to YouTube and have someone there teach you about the parts of a bass guitar.
Learn How To Hold The Bass Guitar
What’s to be learned about holding a bass guitar? Just sling it over my shoulder like my dream bassist and play, right?
Well, that may be technically right, but you may not always want to play your bass guitar in that position. Sometimes, you want to be a bit more comfortable so you can focus on the technique or play better.
It may be hard to focus on playing your scales properly when your shoulders and hands are tired from holding on to the right of the bass guitar.
Here are some ideas for you to practice the next time you pick up your bass guitar:
Use Your Lap: When playing sitting down, remember to rest the weight of the bass guitar on your lap. Depending on your hand preference, you rest the guitar body on your lap, with the neck of the guitar pointing at an angle towards your preferred fretting hand.
Removing the weight significantly helps to avoid fatigue and helps your hands and fingers to focus better when playing.
Use A Strap, Even If Sitting: Consider keeping the guitar strap slung over your shoulder, even if you are sitting. This is because the strap can help distribute the guitar’s weight to your shoulder instead of letting your lap do all the work.
Point Your Bass Up At An Angle: Bass guitars can be long, especially in the neck. This means you may be unable to have the neck pointed outwards straight, like a regular guitar.
For the bass guitar, point the guitar neck upwards at an angle comfortable to your fretting hand. This should help your fretting hand to reach the further frets easily.
Keep A Straight Back: Another way to make the experience easier on your body is to sit straight. If you sit with your back all hunched up, you will feel pain on your back after some time since human backs are not designed to be arched that way.
Rotate Between Sitting And Standing: Consider switching between sitting and standing while playing. This is because human bodies are designed to move, not to sit or stand still for a long time.
By regularly switching, you also have the chance to test your playing too. Just because you can play something sitting down does not mean you can play the same thing well standing.
Learn How To Tune Bass Guitar
The next thing to learn is to tune your bass guitar. Tuning your bass guitar helps to ensure your strings are in tune and your playing sounds correct. This prevents you from reinforcing your learning with the wrong sounds, too.
Tuning your guitar strings may sound technical, but it is much easier today. As a start, know that there are 4 strings on your bass guitar, each tuned to E, A, D, and G notes. Your job, before playing, is to ensure the strings play out the right note.
You can tune your bass strings by using a guitar tuner. Simply place the tuner close to the guitar string and pluck the strings one by one. The tuner will then show the note. If the tuner shows the same note you need, you are ok.
For example, the first string should show the note E when you play it. If it shows an E Flat or E Sharp, the string is off-tune by half a step. In this case, you will need to adjust the tension on the strings.
You can do this by twisting the tuning pegs. These tuning pegs are on the headstock of your bass guitar. Twist them slowly, and as you twist, pluck the strings until you get the tuning right.
For most bass guitars, twist clockwise to tighten the strings, which increases the pitch. Twisting the other way around will loosen the strings, lowering their pitch.
Repeat the process on all four strings until all strings are playing on the right note. If the strings go out of tune frequently, it may be time to replace them. Strings wear out over time, and frequent tuning may not be the right solution – new strings are.
Decide If you Want To Start With A Pick Or Fingers
Now that you have learned how to hold, care, and tune the bass guitar, you can start to get into the playing part. The first decision you need to make will be…
To play with a pick, or use your fingers. Both options have upsides and downsides, so it will be up to you to choose.
If you use a pick, the best thing is that you will have a consistent sound. This is because the pick is the one that makes contact with your strings, meaning the sounds will be more consistent.
If you use fingers, sometimes you may not pluck the strings correctly, causing differences in sound quality. Plus, if you use a pick, your fingers and nails are spared from damage and injuries from constant contact with the strings.
However, If you use a pick, you lose the ability to play fast. This is because picks only have a single contact surface. Using your fingers, you can learn how to play with two, three, or more fingers.
More fingers mean more contact points, meaning you can play faster and more complicated basslines.
If you go with your fingers, your benefits would be what you lose if you play with picks. You can play fast and more complicated bass grooves. Fingerstyle bass players also seem to develop their own sound better than pick players.
However, your fingers and nails will be rough since the strings may scratch or crack your nails. Your fingers may pick up injuries, too. Expect calluses on your fingers and ugly nails.
Pick Up How To Read Bass Tablature
The next step would be to learn how to read bass tablature. Tablatures are more commonly referred to as ‘Tabs.’ It is a simplified musical notation system developed for string instruments.
Instead of complicated sheet music, tabs have a simpler organization. There are four lines for bass tabs, each representing the string on your bass guitar. On top of the lines are numbers, which represent the fret line you need to press on.
As you press on the tab position, you pluck the strings on the bass guitar to play out the note.
To play bass well, you need to be able to at least read bass tabs. You need to read tabs to start playing scales and basic bass lines.
Fortunately, it is not complicated to learn, and many sources out there, such as YouTube, can teach you how. Put in some effort, and do not be surprised if you can pick up reading tabs in as short as several hours.
Play Your First Bass Lines
Are you able to read bass tabs comfortably now? Let’s get on with the playing. This may be the most exciting part of your journey so far since you can now start to play the bass guitar and actually know what you are doing.
To start playing, learn basic things, such as scales. Many of these scale practices help to develop your rhythm and note recognition. You may also learn concepts such as keys or chords when learning scales.
Some are also designed to help you develop finger strength and agility, which is important to keep you playing and not tire out too fast.
Good finger agility also helps you play complicated notes that require you to jump far between fretlines.
If you feel like it, you can also start looking for easy bass tabs and play them. Some popular songs are known for easy bass lines, such as Smell Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.
Practice And Improve
At this point, you have gone through the whole startup phase of learning how to play bass. You have picked up a bass guitar and learned how to hold and tune it and play it. On top of that, you also picked up the skill of reading bass tabs.
What’s left now is the grind. It would help if you put in the time to practice and get better at playing bass guitar. This is where beginners are separated from good players, hobbyists are separated from professionals, and professionals are separated from legends.
In many cases, expect around 6 months to a year of constant practice to go from complete beginner to a comfortable beginner player.
Expect more time and effort to go further and be able to dish out sick bass lines like Tre Cool from Green Day. Here, your desire and discipline is the difference. Put in some effort to practice every day and see results.