First of all, we must forget everything we’ve ever thought about how
complicated playing music is. I compare it to ‘math anxiety’
Many people fear music and think that it takes a genius to be a good
musician. To be a master it might take a genius, but to play songs on the
bass guitar, sound good and have a great time is only a lesson or two away! I
have been playing and teaching music professionally for many years and
was a child piano prodigy myself. I play and teach: piano, guitar, bass, flute
I have taught many friends and family members how to get started playing
songs on the guitar practically overnight. When you are dedicated enough
and passionate about learning the bass guitar, it comes a lot easier than you
may think. My fiancee is also excelling at the guitar and the bass guitar since
I’ve shown her a few methods and tricks. I hope this gives you the kick start you need to get started rockin’ and rollin’! Enjoy.
What is a bass guitar?
A bass guitar is like a guitar, but with only the lowest four strings. The
strings are thicker and give you a lower sound than a guitar. The
other difference with a bass is how it's played. The bass player's job
is (usually) to "hold down the bottom end" and provide a "groove".
What's that mean?
Well, first, it means your part in the sound mix is the low range --
you're giving it the deep sounds. Second, you're part of the rhythm
section! That's right, if you play bass you stick with the drummer.
Together with the drummer, you provide a rhythmic base for the other
instruments to play with: a groove. The groove you try to achieve is
going to be much different depending on whether you're playing jazz,
punk, country, pop, heavy metal, or any other style!
If you're left handed, don't worry. You have two options here. The first
option is to buy a right-handed guitar and re-string it, so that the order of
the strings in figure 3 is reversed. The second option you have is to buy a
If you're right handed, you will use your left hand to construct chords.
The left hand fingers are bent and pressing down on the strings on the fret
board. The back of the neck is curved, so that your hand molds into the
shape of the neck. Your thumb is arching aver the top of the neck. This is a
common thumb position for constructing chords.
It is also ok to press your thumb into the back of the neck when playing.
This is the hand that you will use to "pluck" the strings to make the different
sounds/notes. Rest/Lie your right arm over the bass. Your right bicep
should be resting on the top of the body of the bass. Your hand should be
positioned directly above the pickups.
You don't strum a bass like a guitar:
You pluck, pick, pop, tap or slap the strings. Many bassists play strictly with their
fingers, while others use a pick. This is not only a personal preference, but also
affects what kinds of sounds you can get from your bass. For example, most
punkers use a pick, while most jazzers use their fingers.
Plucking with the fingers is probably most common. And if you're looking to get
funky, you're going to want to learn how to slap and pop!
Using a Pick
You should grasp the pick between your thumb and forefinger of your right
hand. A lot of bass players do not use picks. It is more common to play
with your index and middle finger of your right hand (if your righty!)
What is Bass Guitar Tab?
It is an alternative way of reading music. Instead of reading notes on staff
paper which can be quite tricky, it is made up of a number system that is
so easy my grandma can play ‘smoke on the water’ with ease!! NO joke.
The following 4 lines do not represent your typical ‘music staff’ which
actually has 5 lines. These 4 lines represent the 4 strings on your bass
The Top Line represents the thinnest or ‘highest pitched’ string on your
bass. The string that is closest to the floor. The bottom Line represents the
LOWEST SOUNDING String on the bass and this one is the thickest. It
also is the closest to the ceiling.**CHECK OUT THE BASS ANATOMY PICTURE AT THE BOTTOM OF
Low String (Thickest)
This is what blank Bass Tab looks like. Right now all you see are the 4 lines (4
Strings) I know you’re thinking “why is it upside down?” I have no idea. That’s how
Tablature was invented. Just imagine the bottom line as being the top string that’s
closest to you. With that out of the way we can work on our next keyword. “Frets.”
I am sure you have heard this term before: ‘Frets.’ If not, they are the metal strips
that go up and down across the fingerboard of the guitar. They separate the notes
(tones) on the guitar/bass. When you place your finger (form your left hand) in
between two frets and hold down the string you are then prepared to strum or pick
the string with your right hand. Strings aren’t meant to only be played open.
When you hold down a string at a given ‘fret’ what you are actually doing is making
the string shorter, thus making the pitch ‘Higher’ and changing the note (or tone).
There are usually about 20 something frets on a standard bass guitar. It doesn’t
make a big difference if you have 20, 22, or 24 frets on your guitar.
This just means that you can play a couple notes higher on the guitar and those
notes are so high pitched they are pretty annoying to listen to anyway! You will stay
in the lower range of the bass most of the time.
Now let’s get this ‘Higher’ and ‘Lower’ thing straight. In music, the musical notes
(tones, pitches, whatever you call them) are changed by pitch. We all know that
pitch means the frequency of sound so something high pitched would be like an
opera singing lady who breaks a wine glass with a super high note.
A Low pitch is similar to a Bass instrument or a man with a really deep voice. ‘Deep’
is the same as ‘Low’ when talking about pitch. On a slide whistle you blow into it and
move the slide up and down to change the pitch.
The closer you bring the slide to you the higher the pitch gets and vise versa.
On the bass however it is not up and down. It is left to right. When you play a string
open, that is the lowest (deepest) sound you will hear produced from that string. As
soon as you place your finger on the First ‘Fret’ and then strike the same string
again the pitch will be slightly higher. The more you move to the right the higher the
pitch will get. (Because the string is getting shorter!).
There are usually dots on the fingerboard of your bass guitar to act as a guide when
moving around and holding down different frets. Normally they are on the 3rd, 5th, 7th,
9th and 12th frets.
You don’t want to put your finger on the metal fret itself…but just slightly to the left
of it produces the best sound.
Let’s Play Already!!!
Ok, Ok. Now that we know what frets are. We know how to play a note (playing
either an open string, or pressing down a fret on that string and then plucking it)
And we know what ‘Blank’ TAB music looks like. Let’s learn how to read TAB and
how it will help you.
The Lines represent the strings.
The NUMBERS represent the Frets.
Music (and TAB) is read from left to right like English.
The ‘TAB’ above tells you to play on the Low string only (the thickest string)
You know this because the numbers are only written on that string (the bottom line)
The number ‘0’ means to play the string open. Then the number ‘3’ means place
your index finger of your left hand and hold down the 3rd fret on the low string (same
string you played open). and then followed by the 5th fret and so on.
This is the main riff to the popular song ‘Smoke on the Water.’ If you are unfamiliar
with this song you can see it and view at on Youtube. Type in ‘Smoke on the Water.’
this way you will know what it sounds like before you attempt to play it by reading it
above. So if you play the string open (just pluck the string without touching it with
your left hand) and then the 3rd fret and then the 5th and then open again, and then
the 3rd fret 6th fret and 5th fret…you have you have just played smoke on the water!
Try this next song…EVERYBODY Knows the tune from ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ so
you shouldn’t have any trouble with it.
‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’
_4_2_0_2__4_4_4__2_2_2__4__________________________ LOW String
The first 4 notes (4,2,0,2) sound like “ma-ry had a”
and then the three 4’s (444) sounds like “lit-tle lamb”
and then again with three 2’s (222) is again “lit-tle lamb”
and then the 4 on the low string and the two 2’s on the next string sound like
the final “lit-tle lamb”
Notice how the last two notes are on the next string. This would be the second
string from the closest string to you. It is also the second thickest string on the
REMEMBER: With ‘TAB’ you must already be familiar with the melody and rhythm
of the song because even though the TAB shows you which notes to play to make
the song, it does not show you how ‘long’ to hold each note in order to make the
song sound right. For example, reading the above song ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ by
just playing all the notes in a row without giving the proper time for each note would
not sound very much like that song at all! You know to put a pause in between ‘little
lamb’ and the next ‘little lamb’. Also, you know that the last ‘lamb’ is held for a
slightly longer amount of time than the rest.
Here is a scale study for the bass guitar. This will sound like (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-
Ti-Do) It is know as the ‘Major Scale’ and plays a HUGE part in music in general.
It is also a great finger strengthening exercise for the guitar player. This requires
you to play on three strings.
Frets # 3 and 5 on the LOW string. Followed by Frets # 2, 3 and 5 on the very next
string. Lastly, frets # 2, 4, 5 on the 3rd string. Executed correctly it should sound like
Boogie Woogie Bass Line!:
_0_4______________4____0_4______________4__________ LOW String
As stated in the beginning of this report, it is not intended for you to become a
master overnight. But, with this information and the fabulous world of the internet
and countless resources available you can take this as far as you want. Many
famous musicians to this day do not know how to read music and 99% of them
know TAB and can learn a song or solo quickly by reading the TAB.
There are SO many FREE websites that have the TAB to almost every song!
Go to google and type in Guitar Tab for (song you want to learn) and it will surely
pop right up. Remember that the bottom line is the string closest to you…
DON’T let that fool you. The TOP Line is the guitar string closest to the floor.