I am sure that when I start to answer this question, there are going to be people who will disagree with what I have to say. I can only give you the benefit of 60 years of playing bass in a variety of genres, from schoolboy bands to playing and recording with some of the greatest artists and musicians of all time.
So, what’s the easiest way to learn bass guitar? Let me start by asking you a question. Why do you want to learn to play the bass?
- Why The Bass?
- What Do You Want To Get Out Of It?
- Do You Want To Be a Professional Bass Player?
- What Do You Think It Is?
- A Foundation
- What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Bass Guitar?
- Practice Makes Perfect
- Before We Start
- The First Thing?
- Choosing a Bass
- How Do You Learn?
- You Have Your Instrument and Teaching Book… So Now What?
- What Should You Practice?
- Some Great Bass Playing for Listening and Learning from in the Future
- Fingers or Pick
- Tutor or Self Taught
- Back To Basics
- Interested in Bass Guitar?
- What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Bass Guitar? – Conclusion
Why The Bass?
This is an instrument that is not like too many others. It has a very specific job to do in any environment that it is played in. It requires discipline as well as skill. And, it is not an instrument best suited to those with an overload of ego.
What Do You Want To Get Out Of It?
If you want to learn to play to fit a certain style, that’s okay. But, it’s not a clever decision. It is better to learn to play in a way that will allow you to fit various styles. Nothing wrong with being prepared for all eventualities.
Do You Want To Be a Professional Bass Player?
That is possible. There are many thousands of bass guitarists playing all over the place in every genre whose names you will ever hear. They are professional; that is, they make a living from playing bass guitar.
What Do You Think It Is?
By that, I mean, do you think it is for soloing? If so, you are probably learning the wrong instrument. Oh, you will see an endless parade of what we call “speed freaks,” racing up and down the fretboard. The sole object is to show how good, or usually how not good, they are.
That is not what the bass is. And, as I say, if that is what you think it is, you are going to be very disappointed, if you want to be a good bass player, that is.
Yes, there are times when fast playing is necessary. But only in the confines of the song and the performance. Not for personal gratification. I will look further at that a bit later.
The bass is there to create the foundation for the music. Along with the drummer, they set the tempo and create the “backing track” that others play and sing to. Yes, you can have the “floppy hat” guitarists with two hundred effects pedals. There are plenty of those, and you probably know one or two. Take them out of the song, and it just carries on.
Take the bass out and see what happens. You get a train wreck. The bottom falls out, and the foundations are gone. Try building a house without any foundations. It falls over. The bass is the foundation that holds it all together. Never be told anything different.
A lot of bass players start on guitar. There are several reasons why they switch to bass guitar. For me, I didn’t. I was always fascinated by the bass, and I suppose I was lucky in that respect.
My sister was at the Royal Academy of Music in London playing the piano. From a very young age, maybe 7 or 8, she would show me ‘left hand’ notes, the bass notes, to play with her. “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” was the first I learned.
As she practiced her Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt, I would sit with her and listen to the left-hand notes she was playing. So, when I first picked up a bass guitar, I had a feel for it already. But, I still had to go through a process, and that is what we are going to look at here.
What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Bass Guitar?
Well, there isn’t one. Not unless you have a magic wand. The bass is no different from any other instrument. Learning to play the bass guitar is going to take:
- Time – schedule your practice times. Not when you have a few minutes but a set time.
- Effort – be prepared to concentrate and work hard at getting your practice right.
- Intelligence – I don’t mean possessing a degree, but having the intelligence not to try and take too big a step when you are not ready.
- Commitment – commit yourself to your practice and study periods and try not to miss any.
- Obstacles – there will be plenty, be prepared to face some challenges and to work, so you come through them.
- Practice – a whole article on its own, but you get the idea.
Practice Makes Perfect
No, it does not. It never has, and it never will. “Good” practice makes perfect, and you will move forward. “Ordinary” or “bad” practice will probably send you backward. What is good practice? I will look at that later.
Before We Start
What we are going to look at here are just the basics of playing the bass guitar. Simple bass patterns, understanding the fretboard, major and minor scales, and also listening.
Yes, listening. You should be listening to the good bass players. Not the “speed freaks” playing stuff you may never aspire to. That is not going to help. Rather, bass players where you can hear the ‘important’ things.
Remember, this is a rhythm instrument with notes. So, find bass guitar players who:
- Lay down a tight foundation with the drummer.
- Add harmonies to their patterns.
- Create lines that complement the vocals.
- Add to the rhythm with extra notes in time and who leave spaces.
I will come back to ‘listening’ a bit later.
The First Thing?
Have you got your bass guitar yet? I am assuming you are going to be buying one. That first instrument can be quite important. We all have our favorites, of course, often influenced by what is played by the players we admire.
There are some things to consider when buying a bass guitar:
- How old you are and, therefore, the probable size of your hands.
- How many strings?
- With or without frets?
- The weight.
The Size Of Your Hands
This may be relative to how old you are, but not always. Regardless, the size of your hands is important. Bass guitars come in two basic sizes: Long-scale and Short-scale. If your hands are on the small side, it will be worth considering a short-scale neck.
This refers to the distance between the nut and the bridge. It does not refer to the length of the neck. Usually, a Long-scale neck will be about 34 inches and a Short-scale 31 inches. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a difference.
How Many Strings?
Bass guitars used to be just four strings, but you can now get variants that have five or even 6. Stick to four strings when you are learning.
Frets on The Fingerboard
Make sure they are there. Fretless basses are a different thing to play. Markers on the fingerboard are always a help to beginners.
Bass guitars can be heavy, so try a few to get a feel for the weight. You may have to stand for a long time with one over your shoulder.
I have both Long and Short-scale basses. I mainly use a Fender Precision and a Gibson EBO. That choice is based on the sound each makes, which may be better for one in certain circumstances. However, my go-to is the Precision.
Choosing a Bass
You won’t be short of choices, but you need to choose wisely. First of all, remember that Fender guitars are not what they used to be. Don’t get fooled by the “Made in America” sales pitch as if it is something special. It was in 1962 when one of mine was built, but those days are long gone. They are quite good today, but there is better value for money elsewhere.
I also have a 1978 Made in Japan Precision. It is at least equal to the American ones of today I have tried.
Options for entry-level…
Squier is licensed by Fender to make what some would call “copies.” They are very good bass guitars for beginners, and for the money paid, they are great value. Let’s look at a few.
- Squier by Fender Classic Vibe 60’s Precision Bass – a bass guitar that is simply a great buy.
- Fender Squier Affinity Precision Bass Package – Same bass as above but includes an amplifier and accessories.
- Squier by Fender Mini Precision Bass – A scaled-down, lightweight bass guitar with a Short-scale neck. Great for young learners of people with small hands.
How Do You Learn?
We will talk about private tutors a bit later. However, if you get decent books, you can learn some things on your own before you start spending money on lessons. These might help:
You Have Your Instrument and Teaching Book… So Now What?
The first thing to consider is your practice schedule. How long can you practice every day? In the early days, it shouldn’t be too long. Fatigue can set in very quickly. Therefore, shorter but more frequent sessions may work better.
Make sure you try and include something new or that you are going to work towards in your sessions. Also, set a goal to reach, but make it easy to start with. Remember, only “good” practice makes you better. Plan out your time and try to stick to it.
What Should You Practice?
Finger exercises that stretch and strengthen your fingers are top of the list. If you are right-handed, then lay your left-hand flat on the table. Lift each finger as high as you can without it hurting. Make the gaps between your fingers as wide as you can stretch them apart from each other one by one.
If you are going to play finger-style rather than with a pick, doing the same with the right hand will help. There are other exercises to do on the fingerboard once you are familiar with it.
First, you should concentrate on learning the basics. Books can teach you in a variety of ways. They will teach you which fingers to use on the frets and in which order.
There isn’t the space here to go into that. However, focusing on the basics will give you the best answer to our initial question, “What’s the easiest way to learn bass guitar?”
Therefore, the following are some of the most important things to learn on the bass guitar:
- Get used to holding down the strings; it doesn’t matter where at first. Get used to the pressure you need to apply at both ends of the fingerboard.
- The fingerboard and the pitch of each of the strings, E, A, D, and G. The strings are usually tuned one octave below a guitar.
- The notes and where they sit on the fingerboard.
- Three different positions for each note on the fingerboard. Three for A, three for B, three for C, etc.
- Fifths. Take a note of C and play its 5th, that is the fifth note of the scale or G. Alternate playing them, one C followed by one G.
- Triads. The triad is the three most important notes in the scales. They are made from the root note. If we are using C for an example, the first or root note would be C. The second is what we call the third, or F, and the final note is the fifth, or G. Learn the triad for each of the notes on the fingerboard.
- Major Scales.
- Minor Scales.
- Rhythm and Tempo. Start to play in time with a drum machine, keyboard, or metronome. A metronome can be downloaded from the internet.
- A simple song. Learn and play along with a bass line from a recording. Just make sure it is simple.
Let’s return to this subject. If you can listen to great bass players doing the right things, it is going to help you. Remember the basics first. Let’s identify some great bass players doing simple but great things.
All My Loving by The Beatles (Bass by Paul McCartney)
This is a good practice song for beginner bass players. Listen to the way the bass just walks through the song.
Almost in jazz mode. He plays very straight to the beat most of the time and adds a couple of harmony notes. A good song to listen to that demonstrates the important role the bass takes.
The Sweetest Taboo by Sade (Bass by Paul Denman)
Here is a lesson in discipline and playing for the song, not for yourself. Paul is quite capable of taking off, as some might do. The song is then ruined.
He gets into the ‘groove’ and stays there, only playing two notes all the way through. Doing what he is supposed to, laying the foundation with the drums.
Black Velvet by Alannah Myles (Bass by David Tyson)
Let’s change genre and go down a bit of a blues riff road. You will hear that bass player, David Tyson, sits on top of the blues riff driving it along. But, he allows himself a few fills. They always work in the context of the song. Again, great discipline. This is bass playing at its very best.
Some Great Bass Playing for Listening and Learning from in the Future
As you improve, you will want to try things like these. Bass lines that suddenly explode. I have included these just so you can get a feel for how a bass can help to change the context of the songs.
Ramble On by Led Zeppelin (Bass by John Paul Jones)
The best there has even been for that is John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. A masterclass, subtle, harmonic, “picture bass” playing in the verses. All hell breaks loose in the chorus, but always in context.
Playing quickly is sometimes not all ego. Sometimes, it just goes with what the band is playing. This is one of the quickest players I have ever heard. Quick, but always in context. Mohini Dey from India.
Of course, there are hundreds of great examples. There are even times when “the bass becomes the song.” A couple of these are:
- Another One Bites The Dust by Queen (Bass By John Deacon).
- Come Together by The Beatles (Bass by Paul McCartney).
In this bass listening section, I have missed out on many that could have been represented. Bass players like Chris Squire from Yes and Geddy Lee from Rush. Both are exceptional, but those are for another day.
Fingers or Pick
This is a decision that many bass players have to make. My advice would be to play with both. They both have a place in all genres of music.
Learning how to play the bass guitar with fingers and a pick can only be to your advantage. You will probably find your preference but never forget the other technique.
Tutor or Self Taught
Will you need a tutor? Some do; others choose not to. I think it is a good idea to ensure your playing techniques are correct. By that, I mean finger placements, wrist shape, having a relaxed arm, etc. A tutor can advise and help in those areas.
Tutors aren’t cheap, though. So maybe use one occasionally if you find learning on your own might be best. Myself, I never had a lesson. But, in my early days, there were no bass guitar tutors. However, the best advice I was ever given is still relevant today.
I was told, “Learn when and where to leave the spaces. Sometimes it’s the notes you don’t play that are the best ones.”
Back To Basics
I have spoken about discipline, playing with a drummer, and not playing for yourself. I am going to close with a bass player who seems to contradict me. On this track, he is “away with the fairies” for much of it.
It’s not that he is “speed-freaking.” He is just doing something very, very different, especially for its time. But, I also talked about context. It fits the song beautifully and works so well with the drummer.
- Big by Free (Bass by Andy Fraser)
I suppose you could say, “…and now for something completely different.” He played differently from everyone else at the time. But it all still fits. A very clever young bass player.
Interested in Bass Guitar?
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Also, have a look at our comprehensive Fender American Professional Precision Bass Review, our Ibanez GSR200 Review, our Cordoba Guitars 4 String Acoustic-Electric Bass Guitar Review, and our Sterling by Music Man StingRay Ray4 Review for more great items currently on the market.
And, don’t miss our handy guides on Bass Guitar Buyer’s Guide, How to Play Bass Guitar, and Differences Between 4 & 5 String Bass Explained for more useful information.
What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Bass Guitar? – Conclusion
So there we are. You have picked the greatest instrument to learn. I can only say one thing to finish. Take your time to learn it, and love and truly enjoy every minute of your bass playing.
Until next time, let your music play.