Learn how to apply your skills as a lead guitar player to the bass!
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I have received a few requests recently to create a series on how to play Bass guitar. Specifically, you have been asking: How can you apply what you have learned about lead and rhythm guitar to playing the Bass.
For rhythm and lead guitarists, learning to play at least the rudiments of bass guitar is an excellent idea and I can promise you that time invested in this will pay off many times over. In addition to being able to play another instrument, you will gain a perspective on music that will further help you develop on lead and rhythm guitar, as well as improving your overall musicianship.
These days, a bass guitar can have almost any number of strings, but we are going to keep things simple and stick with 4 string bass. If you have never played bass before, then I strongly recommend starting with a 4 string as most of what you learn will be relatively easy to carry forward onto instruments with more strings later. Whereas starting out with more strings is likely to be more confusing than helpful.
You can play bass with a plectrum Demo in which case, most of what you will have learned from playing 6-string guitar will apply, with the rather obvious addition that you are likely to need a thicker pick as the strings are thicker and heavier on the bass. But the vast majority of bass players these days play with their fingers. To do this, start with the same basic hand posture that you should use for strumming guitar – hold your hand out straight then simply let the muscles relax so that your hand drops. Shake your hand a couple of times to make sure the wrist is as relaxed as possible. Now transfer your hand to the bass and place the first 2 fingers on the top string.
And use a sort of walking action, allowing the finger to pluck through the string and come to rest on the string below. For the time being avoid using the very tip of the finger but rather, use the fleshy pad just below the tip. This is the first exercise I recommend if you are coming to the bass as a newbie, simply pluck 8 times on each string with a nice steady rhythm and concentrate on getting a clean and consistent sound.
Next, we want to get the other hand going and just like we do on the 6-string, I recommend this exercise to get all 4 fingers into action. Even if you are a fairly experienced guitarist, this is an important step to get used to the increased physical distances involved in transferring from lead guitar to bass. These are the physical fundamentals that are best grooved in just by using those two exercises as warm-ups each time you pick up the instrument.
Normally we tune the bass to the notes E A D and G… exactly one octave lower than the bottom four strings of the guitar. This, of course means that you will be exactly as good at naming the notes on the bass as you are as naming them on the 6-string guitar.
When I teach lead guitar, the first scale I normally get my students to learn is the blues or pentatonic scale. This is because, for lead guitar, this is the scale that covers the notes you are most likely to be playing most of the time in Blues, Rock, Country and Pop music. On the bass, however, I strongly suggest starting with this movable Major scale pattern: this can be used, starting on almost any note on either the bottom E or A string. Here’s the grid diagram & Tab for this pattern, shown in the key of G major starting on the bottom string.
So that is the end of the instant foundation course but to bridge efficiently to the next lesson in this series I am going to make one more suggestion. As soon as you are happy that you can play this major scale pattern in any key, starting on either of the bottom two strings, then drill yourself to learn the notes in this pattern, not by name but by interval number.
To help you get going with this, here is a G major scale with numbers instead of note names. So pick a key at random and then see if you can instantly find the 1st note, then the 3rd, the 7th, the 2nd, the 6th, and so on at random, jumping around the scale until you have a clear mental picture of the interval name of each note in the pattern.
This trick of learning to think in interval names rather than note names will enable you to learn basslines many times faster and also learn them in a way that makes them instantly transposable to any key. A great added bonus to this process is that it will help you learn a great many things on the guitar more intelligently as well. In the next lesson in this series we will start applying this trick to quickly put you in a position where you can play a functional bassline to any chord sequence, effectively turning you into an instant bass-player.