How to Play Bass Guitar: Learn to Play Bass in 8 Steps

Posted on August 22, 2022

There is one instrument in every band that doesn’t get its deserved attention and praise:  The bass guitar. Often, the bass guitar is one of those things you only notice when it’s not done right. A skilled bass player contributes to the band’s playing a lot but remains in the background while the vocals and guitar take the spotlight. Still, a skilled bassist can steal the show with a solid bass line or a well-timed solo.

If you’re one of the brave people who have decided to learn how to play bass guitar, we can help you get started on your bass-playing journey. Here are some helpful tips and steps that’ll come in handy when learning to play the bass. Read on and let’s get started!

Steps to playing bass guitar

Breaking things into steps makes things easier to grasp. Don’t try to take everything in at once, but follow these steps instead when starting to play bass guitar. Learn the foundations before moving on to the next step. There’s no need to start learning how to tune your bass before knowing what bass strings are or to start practicing bass lines before you know how to hold the instrument. First, let’s get familiar with your instrument: the electric bass.

1. Get to know the different parts of a bass guitar

As any skilled musician can tell you, once you’re experienced enough at playing an instrument, it becomes almost like an extension of your body — you don’t even think of it as separate from you. The bass guitar is no exception. However, when you’re still starting out and learning how to play bass guitar (or any instrument for that matter), playing is going to feel a bit awkward. That’s why it’s important to get familiar with the different parts of the bass guitar and what functions the different parts serve.

Knowing the parts of the instrument will come in handy, especially when buying your very first beginner bass guitar. Get familiar with at least the following bass parts:

  • Body: This is the largest individual part of the bass guitar. The bass body is the part you hold against your own body. In an acoustic bass, the body is hollow, whereas an electric bass guitar has a solid body.
  • Neck: The bass guitar’s neck is the long part protruding from the body. Right-handed players hold the neck with their left hand. This is also known as their fretting hand. Left-handed bassists can choose to play the same way, flip a regular bass the other way, or look for a left-handed bass.
  • Headstock and tuning pegs: At the end of the bass’s neck, you find the headstock. This is the part the instrument’s tuning pegs are attached to. As the name implies, tuning pegs are used for tuning the bass (more on that later).
  • Fretboard and frets: The fretboard runs across the bass guitar’s neck and has small frets that help navigate the fretboard when playing. When playing the bass guitar, you press the strings against the fretboard. There are also fretless bass guitars, although those aren’t recommended for beginners who are still learning to play.

2. Get a bass guitar for beginners

Are you committed to learning how to play the bass guitar? Good! In that case, you’re going to need an instrument of your own. Buying the right beginner bass guitar can be a daunting task, but there are some things to look for in a beginner instrument.

Things that may influence your decision include the type of bass guitar you want, number of strings, scale length, material, and price just to name a few. Did you know that there are both acoustic and electric bass guitars? If you want to play electric bass, you’re also going to need an amplifier.

If you want to read more about buying a good beginner bass, check out our bass guitar buying guide. There you’ll find some great recommendations as well as tips on what kind of gear and bass accessories you might want to get.

3. Learn how to hold the instrument

“Of course I know how to hold a bass!” you might be thinking. However, don’t underestimate the importance of good ergonomic posture. It’s also a good idea to ensure you’re holding the bass correctly right away. Unlearning bad posture later on is going to be much harder than learning the right way in the first place. Here’s how to hold a bass guitar when sitting down:

  1. First off, it’s good to have a bass strap even if you’re sitting down while playing, not to mention when standing up. This way your hands don’t have to carry so much of the instrument’s weight.
  2. Position the instrument on your lap. The body of the bass should be resting on top of your leg. You can place the instrument either on your left or right leg depending on your own size and what feels most comfortable to you.
  3. Make sure the bass’s neck is pointing upwards at a slight angle. If you hold the bass guitar’s neck horizontally, you’ll need to reach a lot to play the strings closer to the headstock.
  4. Like when sitting at your computer or just standing still, good posture ensures that you don’t develop any back problems. You’ll also look cooler if you’re not slouched over!
  5. If you normally play sitting down, remember to practice playing while standing up too.

4. Learn how to tune a bass guitar

Playing any stringed instrument isn’t fun if the tuning is off. Whenever you pick up your bass guitar to play, remember to check that the instrument is in the correct tuning. Most songs use the standard E-A-D-G tuning (from the lowest string to the highest one). You don’t need to worry about alternate tunings yet since you are just learning to play.

Skilled bass players know how to tune their instrument by ear. However, a reliable bass guitar tuner is a great tool for everyone regardless of their bass-playing skills. Physical tuner devices can be a reliable tool for tuning a bass guitar. Unfortunately, they also tend to be quite expensive, at least if you want an accurate bass tuner. Luckily, there are bass tuner apps you can download completely free without having to settle for lower quality. Check out GuitarTuna, an online tuner app that you can download free of charge for your Android and iOS devices.

5. Choose between playing with a pick or your fingers

Should you use a pick or your fingers to play the bass? The decision is up to you, but the two different playing styles are good for different things. Playing with a pick allows you to play faster, alternating between upstrokes and downstrokes (also known as tremolo picking). Playing with a pick also produces a sharper and punchier sound which makes it a good choice if you want to play more rock, punk, and metal genres. However, playing with a pick may not fit all musical styles and genres that require more versatility.

Playing with your fingers is the most common way to go, and it fits many musical styles and genres. Playing with the fingers of your right hand is sometimes called fingerstyle. You pluck the strings with the index and middle finger of your right hand, although some players use more than just these two fingers to play. With fingerstyle, the sound is rounder, and you’ll have an easier time changing between different strings. More advanced bass guitar players can also incorporate different techniques, such as slapping the strings with their thumb or plucking multiple strings at the same time.

To get familiar with the instrument and gain control over the strings, you can start playing as a beginner by using just your fingers. As you get better and more comfortable playing, you can learn to play with a pick as well. Overall, having the skills to use both playing techniques is a good decision. That way you can change between playing with a pick or your fingers whenever you need to.

6. Get familiar with bass tablature

Knowing how to read sheet music is a useful skill to have but one that takes a lot of time and effort to learn. A simpler and more accessible format of musical notation for the bass guitar is tabs or tablature. The four (or in some cases more) bass guitar strings are represented by horizontal lines and notes by numbers. The numbers in a bass tab show which frets you should be playing. Zeros (0) represent open strings.

In bass tablature, the lowest horizontal line stands for the low E string while the highest line represents the thinnest string (the G string). When playing with Yousician, you can change the notation style to one that fits your preferences the best.

7. Play your first bass line

A bass line is a bit like a riff that is played throughout the song, accompanying the drums, guitars, vocals, and possibly other instruments. As opposed to a guitar riff, bass lines refer to the lower register of the song played by the bass guitar. Bass lines are some of the most important building blocks of a song in a number of musical genres.

A so-called walking bass line “walks” between different chords and connects the roots of these chords. A walking bass line is a way for the bass player to make chord progressions from one chord to another. Good bass lines to practice include the bass line in Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and “Another One Bites the Dust” also by Queen. Make sure to listen to Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers for some bass line inspiration.

8. Practice playing the bass

Once you know how to play and are able to learn an entire song on the bass guitar, it’s just hard work and practice from there. Create a routine that fits your schedule and playing style. If you have very little time to play on some days, don’t worry. Even a short practice session of 10 minutes every day gets you closer to reaching your bass-playing goals.

And don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it. After all, playing a musical instrument should be something you enjoy. That makes learning more effective and motivating as well.

Learn how to play bass guitar with Yousician

Yousician is a fun and motivating way to learn how to play bass, acoustic, or electric guitar, ukulele, piano, and singing. Yousician’s interactive bass lessons teach you the basics of playing bass and beyond. The extensive song library in Yousician includes a variety of styles and musical genres to choose from. Learn bass guitar by downloading Yousician for your Android and iOS device or use your computer to play. With Yousician, you can learn to play bass guitar and improve your bass skills whenever and wherever you want.

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