How to Play Bass Guitar Major Scales and Pentatonic Scales

bass guitar major scales

Knowledge of bass scales is vital for creating riffs that fit seamlessly with the key of any song. Scales are comprised of intervals – distances between notes.

A major scale comprises an octave of notes and five distinct shapes that move around the fretboard. By learning these shapes, major scales in any key can be played effectively.


Bass music often centers on the major scale as an essential starting point. This element acts as a basis upon which to construct other musical ideas and elements such as chords, melodies and bass lines; therefore mastery of this key scale should be an essential first step for any bass guitarist.

The major scale is composed of seven notes in an ascending pattern of whole and half steps; where one whole step equals two frets and one half step is one fret. To learn this scale on bass guitar, the best way is using tablature (also known as bass fretboard diagram), a chart which displays all frets on your instrument and suggests fingerings for each note of the scale.

Major bass scales all follow similar basic patterns. Therefore, practicing each scale to ensure you can play it accurately and consistently is critical.

Let’s use the C Major scale on bass guitar as an example to show this process in action. This scale consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G and A and can easily be identified on its fretboard with its pattern of whole steps and half steps; just keep in mind that one fret represents two half steps and vice versa!

This particular scale offers another benefit, in that it contains a natural minor scale which begins on its tonic note but is played an octave higher. Like diatonic scales, this natural minor version also uses whole and half steps but differs by leaving out 2nd and 7th notes from diatonic diatonic diatonic diatonic diatonic diatonic diatonic diatonic diatonic notes; this makes chord playing easier because there are fewer clashing notes between chord notes.

Once you’ve learned to play C major and natural minor scales, you can move on to other major scales such as pentatonic and whole tone scales derived from them that will add flavor and emotion to any bass line.


Major scale fingerings you may already know begin on the second finger, while minor scale patterns starting on your first finger can help make playing minor scales on bass easier. Below you’ll find examples of both patterns; find one that best suits your hand size and comfort level for best results.

Once you’ve mastered fingering one of these scales, try moving it up and down the fretboard. Practice is essential before becoming proficient enough at muscle memory: practicing scales with a metronome will speed up this process significantly.

Pentatonic patterns provide another effective means of playing minor scales, similar to major pentatonic scales but omitting two notes — 4th and 7th — for soloing over minor key progressions. Bassists who want to solo over them will especially find this approach beneficial, since it allows them to choose notes that won’t clash with the harmony.

Reduced scale is another ideal starting point when learning bass as its easy steps make it simple and convenient to learn anywhere on the fretboard, without becoming boring too quickly.

Other minor scales can be more challenging, but once understood they can add greatly to your bass playing. Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygian, Locrian and Melodic minor scales all make excellent additions to your music; knowing them all provides something new and different to work with when creating unique sounds of your own! Good luck in mastering any skill; remember it takes hard work!


Pentatonic scales, an adapted version of the major scale, offer bassists an excellent way to explore chord tones. Each five scale shape contains the root note (R), major 3rd intervals (3rd) and 5th intervals which form major triads (Root-fifth-sixth). By using chord tones as starting points for melodies you may discover new phrasing ideas while giving your basslines an appealing unique sound which fits easily with most chord progressions.

Your ears will often detect basslines composed solely of pentatonic patterns. This is because pentatonic scale is easy to learn and provides a useful starting point for building melodies with chord structures layered underneath.

Understanding both major and minor pentatonic scales is vital for any bassist. Both share similar fingering on the fretboard but each have their own sound, as well as understanding their relationships between positions will enable you to move freely around it and link shapes together into chords more efficiently.

Major Pentatonic Scale for Bass The most frequently employed pentatonic scale for bass is the major pentatonic scale, as it is easily learned and can be played across any key on the fretboard due to its pattern across all octaves. When practicing major pentatonics make sure that each note starts and ends on the root note of each position – this will reinforce tonal centering while simultaneously covering all notes within it.

Once you have the five major pentatonic scale patterns under your fingers, it is helpful to connect these shapes diagonally across the fretboard. This will enable you to play all the notes for each pentatonic shape simultaneously and can help break out of any habitual repetition of playing individual shapes of the major pentatonic scale individually.

Pentatonic scale shapes can be linked together using several strategies. One way is by viewing each note pattern as a series of 1-3s and 1-4s that all share similar notes, making for easy reference when learning the order that they appear in and practicing your licks all at once without needing to refer back to your diagram.

Whole Tone

In order to create incredible bass lines, it’s essential that you understand all major scales and their relationship between themselves. On this page you will find various movable patterns which allow you to play any major scale starting on any tonic note* all over the fretboard.

Major scales are an accessible choice that spans numerous musical genres and possess an energetic sound, ideal for songs that require positive energy or require physical expression.

Pentatonic scales are excellent tools for creating melodies, as their five-note structure makes them easy to learn and remember. Pentatonics also make great tools for improvising over dominant 7th chords as their notes match those found there; furthermore they’re commonly employed in jazz settings when used over altered chords such as augmented 7th or seventh flat 5 chords (although dominant 7b9 chords should not be played due to lacking natural 2’s as this will make the notes sound off key).

The Whole Tone Scale (WTS) is a captivating scale with six notes separated by one-tone intervals, creating an alluring dreamlike quality to its compositions by composers such as Claude Debussy. Furthermore, this symmetrical scale maintains the same intervallic pattern throughout. You may find WTS used across genres from classical through jazz to experimental rock guitar (Joe Satriani’s for example).

So far, we’ve discussed major and minor scales that are simple to learn and master, although musicians usually take an improvisatory approach when it comes to applying these fundamental elements of musical harmony in new ways.

Once you’re comfortable with the basic major scale shape, experiment by combining it with other shapes that extend its octave over more of the fretboard. Also try learning whole tone scale for added dimension to your playing, it is particularly useful in creating blues-inspired bass lines.