Learning and reading notes for the bass guitar is an effective way to get started playing. If you know how to read the notes, with a few scales and scales patterns, you can begin to play popular bass figures for many songs. Perhaps more importantly, you can create bass lines of your own on chord progressions, which is the main function of a bassist in just about any type of group.
Notes on a Bass Guitar Neck
The following printable will explore a few scales to get started. To print, click on the image. If you need help, consult this Guide To Adobe Printables.
Beginning Patterns and Bass Lines
The starting point to use is the open strings of the bass, which are E, A, D, and G from bottom to top. Get comfortable with them first if you aren't already. Example 1 illustrates the C major scale played from the note E to E in standard notation, with the names of the notes and in tablature. The C major scale is equivalent to the seven white keys on the piano. The best way to learn something new in music is to implement it right away into your playing.
Some exercises using the C major scale in Example 1 will help you do just that.
- Play the scale from low to high E slowly, evenly and correctly, saying the names of the notes aloud.
- Play them with long, medium, and short notes.
- Play them to the following common chord progressions:
- | A | D | F | E ||
- | C | G | A | F ||
- | E | D | A | E ||
Getting Chromatic With It
Example 2 demonstrates the chromatic scale, which is equivalent to the seven white keys and the five black keys of the piano keyboard. In other words, it contains all twelve notes that exist in the musical universe. When you have all twelve notes under your fingers as a bassist, there isn't much music you can't play. Perform the same two steps you did with the C major scale, playing slowly, evenly, and correctly and with varied rhythms and add the following bass patterns. Play these with the accompaniment of a metronome to keep you in good time.
- Rock and Roll - | A A C# C# E E F# F# | G G F# F# E E C# C# |
- Jazz - | E F# G A | B A G F# |
- Spanish - | D D C C | A# A# A A |
- Pop - | A G# | F# E | D C# | B E ||
Example 3 is the E natural minor scale. If you compare E minor to C major, you'll see the only difference is one note, F# (F sharp). In music, one note makes all the difference between a bright and happy sound and a sad and mysterious mood. Learn this scale as you did the first two and listen to the difference between all three scales. Developing your ear is an important step towards your ability to create and make your own lines on the bass. Below are some minor bass lines for study.
- | E F# G A | B D E G | E ||
- | E F# G A | B D B A | B ||
- | E D B A | G A G F# | E ||
- | F# G F# E | D B G F# | E ||
The Next Step
The music presented is a great start to reading, understanding, and playing notes on the bass guitar. There are many terrific bass method books available that will take the beginning bassist to the next level. There are many online resources, as well. The bass is an underrated and unsung instrument, but bass players who can play in tune and in time and can make solid bass lines that groove will find themselves with many opportunities to play with others.