Bass Guitar Playing – How to Add Scales and Arpeggios to Your Playing

bass guitar playing

An expert bassist knows how to craft lines that blend in seamlessly with the kick and snare drums of their drummer’s kick drum, creating a seamless soundscape. To do so, however, requires both impeccable technique and rhythm reading skills.

Listening to songs you already know and attempting to identify the bass line will help. Listening to another One Bites the Dust by Queen or Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes should prove helpful in finding its bassline.


Scale playing is an invaluable skill for bassists. It allows them to construct their own lines or improvise more freely, and opens up new avenues when playing alongside other musicians. When given a chord progression in G major for instance, knowing how to approach it using scales saves them the trouble of having to figure out which notes sound best together on their fretboard.

Your choice of scale will depend on the key and mood of the music as well as what tonality you wish to create with your bass line. For example, if you wish to create a triumphant vibe through your bass lines, the Major Pentatonic Scale should be your obvious pick while Minor Diatonic Scale could provide more melancholic or sorrowful sounds.

Melodic Minor Scale is another choice that many bassists implement into their playing, often employed in jazz music for its harmonically rich and sophisticated sound. Although initially unfamiliar, this scale presents players with challenges due to its absence of half-steps; once used to playing bass lines using full, whole step notes it opens up endless new opportunities.

Once you find that most bass scales offer multiple patterns, it’s a good idea to explore all of them to determine which ones fit comfortably under your fingers. Practising these patterns will also give you an understanding of how different positions on the neck sound as you try out various scales and strengthen their sounds.


Chords can add harmonic depth and breadth to your bass lines, and bassists frequently utilize chordal playing techniques when providing rhythmic support for their band members to add melodies and harmony over.

First-time bassists tend to start off learning triads – an arrangement comprising the three basic notes in any scale (root note, third and fifth) – then they can explore movable bass chord shapes; these allow bassists to experiment with chord progressions as well as prepare themselves to potentially play lead bass in future.

Two note chords can be an invaluable asset to bassists, helping to craft specific tones or emotions. You can play these chords either on one string, or stack multiple strings in order to add dimension and texture. Furthermore, using just two notes allows your fingers more room to either add an embellishment or melody that makes basslines even more compelling.

Movable bass chords allow bassists to create an array of chordal sounds, including major and minor chords as well as seventh chords – which are simply triads with an additional seventh note added for more complexity in sound and creating tension or drama within songs or creating modernized sounds.

As with open voicings, bassists should try to space out their chord tones as much as possible on the fretboard. This will provide more tonal options while being easier on their fretting hand – instead of playing a major third above low B on bass guitar, instead try bumping it up an octave for a major tenth chord, which still forms major chord but has more room between its chord tones.

Scale Patterns

Although bassists typically play by ear or follow the chords of a song, understanding scales will make you a better musician and expand your creative expression. Scales also provide you with the foundation needed to craft your own distinctive sound and create memorable bass lines.

Scales are linear sequences of notes that start on an initial tonic note (sometimes known as the root) and progress upward in an ascending order, ending one or more octaves higher than where they started. To effectively learn a scale it can be helpful to develop a pattern which indicates which fret to position your finger for each individual note of the scale. This may involve using numbers and letters as markers on the fretboard for every fret where each finger should rest while playing each note from that scale.

A scale pattern typically features notes a whole step and half step below the tonic note, with whole steps equalling two frets and semitones one fret apart; these intervals can help create different scale shapes across the fretboard.

Once you know a scale pattern, it becomes simple to move it up and down the fretboard for each octave – this is why many bassists prefer learning their scale patterns as moveable “box” shapes rather than individual strings.

Let’s examine a basic pattern from the G major pentatonic scale as an example of its functionality. This scale pattern includes notes that are both whole step and half step lower than its tonic, giving access to open D and A strings, low F and G notes on E strings (see TAB above), as well as accessing any necessary open strings on D or A strings (see TAB above). You could combine more complex scale patterns together for even greater range in your playing!


Add Arpeggios to Your Bass Guitar Playing for More Options… Arpeggios provide another way of changing up the sound of chord progressions on bass guitar. Arpeggios are basically broken up chords played sequentially rather than all at the same time – either ascending or descending; can span more than one octave; use diatonic passing notes that provide transition between chords; Ray Brown often incorporates arpeggios in his walking bass lines as they provide an harmonic outline to his playing…

When learning arpeggios, begin by practicing them separately for each hand. This will allow your fingers to develop dexterity while helping you understand fingering better. After that, combine both hands together – slow at first before increasing speed as your technique improves. It is also essential that when practicing ascending arpeggios you lean your fingertips towards the top of the fretboard or vice versa depending on their direction of travel.

Once you have some basic arpeggios under your belt, it’s time to experiment with them in various musical styles. Try playing them to the beat or metronome to see how they fit into various rhythms and grooves; additionally add licks, pull offs or slides for even more exciting sounds.

Once you have some basic arpeggios under your fingers, try incorporating them into your soloing and chord work for an increase in melody and harmonic depth in your music. Doing this will add melodic elements as well as giving your piece more melodic depth.

Ear Training

Hearing and recognizing musical intervals are the cornerstone of bass guitarist success. Being able to hear and recognize musical intervals allows you to connect the music you hear in your head with fretboard patterns, so notes sound exactly how they should. This skill is indispensable for improvising bass lines or melodies since it allows you to identify which notes work harmoniously together rather than random guessing due to pattern recognition alone.

As an effective method for developing your ear, try this easy exercise: Play one note on your bass guitar (say C on the fifth fret of G string) and sing back that same note a scale degree higher or lower to yourself – this will help to memorize that particular scale degree as well as all others over time. Continue doing this daily until you can accurately sing all scale degrees from start to finish! For extra aural training purposes, visualize its pattern on a fretboard while touching your thumb with whatever finger fretted that note when singing it – training all three memories simultaneously for great retention!

As your hearing matures, picking out bass in recordings will become easier and intuitive – this can come in especially handy when jamming with bands, performing gigs or trying out new songs without sheet music or tabs.

As your understanding of music evolves, you’ll also discover your ability to hear chord progressions, bass lines and melodies more clearly. Even if you don’t play bass yourself, this skill will open up a whole new world of musical experience!