Bass Guitar Basics

Learning bass guitar may initially feel cumbersome and foreign; however, after time it should become second nature. To start out you should familiarize yourself with all its components.

Position your bass guitar neck against your thigh with fretting fingers relaxed, and place your thumb resting comfortably on the back of its neck. This posture provides ideal conditions for bass playing as your fingers can freely traverse it from end to end of its neck.


Scales are an effective way of categorizing and identifying certain sounds you hear in music, so practicing scales on bass will enable you to learn where these particular sounds can be found on the fretboard and enhance your understanding of music.

Start off by studying major and minor scales; these melodic patterns appear frequently across genres of music and will likely come up during your bassist career. Also useful are any genre-specific scales that you find appealing as these will give your playing more character while giving you greater insight into the music that inspires you.

As you learn scales, remember that a scale is composed of notes that move up and down the neck in an orderly manner. Therefore, using a scale diagram that outlines where each note resides on the fretboard can be very helpful – these typically feature strings running vertically with frets separated by thin metal strips known as inlays (as seen below) while red blobs indicate where your fingers should go to play each note; with red at bottom left being lowest note and red on top right being highest note in scale; other blobs indicate an octave further up in scale.

Scales provide more than melodic benefits; they’re also essential components of bassists’ harmonic foundation. Each chord has an accompanying set of scales known as chord-scale theory that helps illuminate these relationships. Practice using chord tones as starting points when developing basslines, and you’ll experience its power to add harmonic depth and richness to your playing.


A bass player’s job is to support and ground the harmony in a song, and having an extensive knowledge of chords is vital in doing this well. Chords are groups of notes that sound together, with quality determined by intervals between their notes. Guitarists and pianists usually employ full chords with all notes simultaneously played while bass players typically focus on root notes of chords as changing notes can become too dissonant or confusing for listeners.

To play different chords on bass, it’s essential to quickly and effortlessly move your fingers up and down the fretboard, making use of fretboard diagrams is indispensable. These charts display where strings run horizontally while frets run vertically with blobs indicating where your fingers should rest when pressing them down; on each string there are numbers which indicate which note should be played (for instance E = G on E string); while at each fret there are black dots which represent chord- or scale-tones which must be hit to achieve desired harmony or chord creation.

Major and minor triads are two of the most frequently employed chord structures in songs, each composed of three notes: root, major third and perfect fifth. Minor triads contain all these notes plus an added minor seventh for an alternative sound; power chords combine major and minor triads with an octave chord shape to add tension to their sound.

Scale Positions

Position is the name given to where a scale begins on the fretboard, as well as an indicator of where your fingers should be placed to play it correctly. In first position, for instance, your index finger corresponds with fret one, middle finger with two frets, and ring finger with three. Newcomers to bass guitar may find positions confusing since on fretted instruments one whole step equals two frets while half steps equal one fret.

Each scale position features its own set of notes that form an identifiable pattern; these patterns are called shapes or modes and provide a useful way of organizing music theory knowledge. Furthermore, shapes can help visualize chord structures which can be built around the scale you’re learning; chords form melodies heard on our favorite songs so knowing which patterns create these chords quickly gets you playing music quickly!

To begin playing scale positions on bass guitar, it’s essential that you know how to play each string and which fret each note resides on. Luckily, bass guitar frets generally follow similar patterns as other fretted instruments so making this transition should be relatively effortless.

Let’s begin with the A major scale in fourth position. Below is a chart displaying its root notes and recommended fingerings; follow along with the tab above to practice this scale. Pay particular attention to intervals between notes; each full-step equals two frets.

Scale Shapes

As soon as you look at a bass guitar fretboard, there will be various scale patterns present around its neck. Some cover two octaves while others only contain one. While these scale patterns may be moved around on their own, others can be moved from place to place depending on where their root note location is; as each string makes each scale sound unique.

Scale shapes on the bass vary slightly from those found on guitar due to its four-stringed nature, necessitating you to learn two strings at a time before combining them to play full shapes. This will allow you to become familiar with playing it quickly when practicing with metronomes or drum machines.

These scale shapes can also be broken down into single octave patterns by starting the scale on any string other than the highest one. For instance, starting a G minor pentatonic scale at seventh fret of fourth string will become an A major scale since that’s where its tonic lies in A minor scale.

Keep in mind that scales and note patterns represent not just finger movements but sound waves as well. This is particularly relevant when playing bass as this stringed instrument requires specific tuning. There are numerous tuning schemes bass players may employ; most frequently used is E-A-D-G tuning.


As a bassist, it is crucial that you are comfortable navigating your fretboard. One way is identifying notes by name and octaves; another method uses chord shapes and scale patterns as visual aids so as to easily move around the fretboard when playing songs.

An octave is the distance between two notes on the fretboard and can be learned quickly once you understand how to identify pitch of each note. For example, open D string and twelfth fret D string sound almost identical; only one differs in pitch – understanding this makes learning the fretboard much faster and simpler.

One way to familiarize yourself with octaves is through playing scales and chords in various keys. This will enable you to see patterns across all strings as you explore patterns within scales or chord shapes in various keys; once comfortable with one shape or scale you can apply that knowledge across the fretboard in other keys and octaves.

There are also certain inlays on the fretboard which will assist with orientation and fret navigation, such as single dots at various frets (the third, fifth, seventh and ninth frets have them), double dots on 12th fret (where an octave occurs) etc. Understanding these inlays is crucial to quickly traversing your fretboard.

As well as these tips, it’s also crucial to practice proper fretting technique. To do this, place your thumb at the back of the neck so it aligns with each fret and perpendicular to its alignment with the guitar neck (not slanted left or right). Next, move your fingers up and down each string while simultaneously plucked them with practice plucks.