Bass Guitar Scales: The Ultimate Guide

Bass guitar scales that shake the earth! Here’s our 5 favourite ‘must-know’ bass guitar scales.

In this free guide you will learn:

  • 2 quick and easy tips to learn bass scales at lightning speed.
  • 5 essential bass guitar scales that will make you sound incredible.
  • The #1 top-secret tip that will help you learn scales in ALL keys.

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bass guitar scales

Bass guitarists are champions of the rumble, and for good reason!

An often unsung hero, the bass player is the backbone of any band.

  • The low-end thump of a bass guitar exists in almost every memorable song that you’ve ever heard on the radio.
  • You may not always hear it, but you’ll definitely feel it.
  • Underpinning every great bassist is a series of bass guitar scales and patterns that make up the musical lines they play.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve already got some wear on your fretboard, we’ve got a great lesson in store for you.

bass-guitar-scales

Before we begin, let’s clear up a few words and concepts to avoid confusion:

The scale patterns you are about to learn can be played anywhere on the fretboard, but all examples will be shown in the key of C.

The bass guitar scale patterns that we discuss are the exact same scale patterns that you will see on a guitar.

The only difference is how the scales are formatted, due to the bass only having four strings (or five, if you’re fancy)

It is important to note that the patterns themselves will never change, the only thing that changes is WHERE you begin to play the pattern. The pattern itself is movable.

  • Start them on the 5th fret of the 6th string and you’ll be playing an A scale of some kind.
  • Start them on the 7th fret of the 6th string and you’ll be playing a B scale of some kind.
  • Start them on the 8th fret of the 6th string and you’ll be playing a C scale of some kind.

And so on…

bass-guitar-scales

We will primarily be referring to two different scale types – ‘Diatonic’ and ‘Pentatonic’

  • Diatonic = A scale with seven notes
  • Pentatonic = A scale with five notes

Any of these scales can be played over any genre of music, but we’ve included some suggestions to start you on the right path.

These are by no means the only genres to play these scales in, and you should feel free in your creativity to experiment to your heart’s content!

Okay, now that’s out of the way – Let’s get to some bass guitar scales!!

easy-bass-scales

The Major Diatonic Bass Guitar Scale (aka the Major Scale)

Composed of seven notes, the major diatonic scale carries a positive and uplifting vibe. 

As amazing as it is for writing sappy ballads about your first love, it’s also an incredibly powerful scale to use in genres like soul and funk.

  • The slower you play the major scale, the sweeter it sounds.
  • Pick up speed however, and things can get groovy really fast.
  • In order to play this scale, we’ll need to use all four fingers.

For this example (C Major), let’s position our hand on the fretboard like so:

7th: Index

8th: Middle
9th: Ring

10th: Pinky

C-maj-diatonic-scale

Our root note of the scale begins on the 8th fret, but we move to the 7th fret when we reach the A string.

When we begin this bass guitar scale with our middle finger, we set ourselves up to not have to shift hand positions.

This technique makes learning bass guitar scales a much easier process, and helps avoid the feeling of “jumping around” the fretboard.

bass-guitar-scales

Skill Tip: If you’ve ever seen the movie/play “The Sound of Music,” you should remember this scene here. If you haven’t, set some time aside for it – it’s a great film!

  • In this scene, Fraulein Maria (the main character) sings the names and notes in the Major Diatonic scale (Do – Re – Mi – Fa – Sol – La – Ti – Do) and gives her children a beautiful little song to remember it by.
  • Each name listed above represents one note (or ‘degree’) of the major diatonic scale.

Have a look below to learn about the seven degrees of the major scale and how to play it as a bass guitar scale:

DO (I) RE (II) MI (III) FA (IV) SOL (V) LA (VI) TI (VII) DO (I)

Let’s try playing along to Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’

Under-pressure-bass-tab

Another great song that uses the major diatonic scale is Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ (E Major)

Click Here to jam this scale over a backing track! (C Major Diatonic Scale – 8th fret)

Songs-on-bass-guitar

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Where should we send it?

The Major Pentatonic Bass Guitar Scale

The younger sibling to the major scale, the major pentatonic scale has only five notes. 

Because of its simplicity, this bass guitar scale is excellent for playing straight-ahead rock and roll music as well as blues.

In order to understand this bass guitar scale better, we need to look at the difference in notes between the major diatonic scale and the major pentatonic scale:

  • DIATONIC: DO (I) RE (II) MI (III) FA (IV) SOL (V) LA (VI) TI (VII) DO (I)
  • PENTATONIC: DO (I) MI (III) FA (IV) SOL (V) TI (VII) DO (I)

In the major pentatonic scale, we remove Re ( II ) and La (VI).

This leaves us with a more ‘open’ sounding scale than the one we looked at above.

Skill Tip: If you’re positioning your hand properly, you shouldn’t need to use your ring finger at all for this scale!!

Remember to make use of your pinky finger for those long stretches!

guitar-scales-for-the-bass

C-maj-pentatonic

Let’s try something cool.

Below, we have what we call a “walking bassline”

  • Take your time and work through this one slowly.
  • The goal with this exercise is to play the notes as evenly as you can.

This little bass guitar scale run is a fantastic way to develop a sense of groove and timing. Spend some time with it!

walking-bass

Another great song that uses the major pentatonic scale is Stevie Wonder’s ‘Sir Duke’ (B Major)

Click Here to jam this scale over a backing track! (C Major Pentatonic Scale – 8th fret)

Note: This jam track is the same as the one above it – Try playing a C major pentatonic scale over this progression, then switch to a diatonic scale to hear the differences in action!

bass-scales

The Minor Diatonic Scale (aka the Minor Scale)

The moody cousin of the major family, this bass guitar scale carries a darker attitude with it.

  • Heavily used in rock and metal music, this scale is great to add a sense of darkness to your next melody.
  • The minor scale’s dark character comes from its use of a different arrangement of notes than its cousins above.

Check out the TAB below to see the difference, then try playing the major and minor scales back-to-back to hear it.

c-minor-diatonic-bass

 

Skill Tip: Unlike the major bass guitar scales, you will need to start with your index finger on the root note this time.

See below for the proper hand position:

8th: Index

9th: Middle

10th: Ring

11th: Pinky

A fantastic song that makes use of this bass guitar scale is Feel Good Inc.’ by Gorillaz

Have a look at the TAB below to play along:

Feel-good-inc-bass-tab

Another great song that uses the minor scale is Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Click Here to jam this scale over a backing track! (C minor Diatonic Scale – 8th fret)

bass-guitar-scales

The Minor Pentatonic Bass Guitar Scale

Pentatonic scales of either the major or minor variety sound great over many blues and funk songs.

The minor pentatonic scale however, is a weapon of choice for many bass guitarists due to its versatile and ‘open’ sound.

This scale also removes two notes from its diatonic cousin in order to create a less moody (and more direct) sound.

c-minor-pentatonic-tab

Featured in Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk,’ this bass guitar scale is perfect for the bassist looking to lay down the groove.

It also works exceptionally well in the world of rock and roll!

bass-scales

Skill Tip: The minor pentatonic scale has a very consistent pattern to it, and you won’t need your middle finger at all to play it!

Practicing movement between your index and ring fingers, as well as your index and pinky can help us build speed and proficiency a lot faster.

Now let’s get down to some Uptown Funk:

uptown-funk-bass-tab

Another great song that uses the minor pentatonic scale is Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ – Have a listen!

Click Here to jam this scale over a backing track!

easy-bass-scales

The Blues Bass Guitar Scale

Just like the name implies, this scale is the King of the Blues world.

This bass guitar scale is a great substitute for the minor pentatonic scale, and provides us with a great sense of ‘movement.’

This movement comes from the addition of a sixth note in the minor pentatonic scale (A String – 9th fret in the example) – we call this a ‘b5’ (Flat 5) because it is the note that occurs before the V.

c-blues-bass-guitar-tab

The b5 provides a “pulling” sensation not found in other bass guitar scales because of the “walk up” from the IV note to the V note.

This additional note can provide us with a great sense of groove, and is an excellent note to use in transition.

easy-riffs-on-guitar

Skill Tip: The b5 note should never be “landed on,” only “played through,” meaning that we should always play another note in the scale after it.

Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love has a great bassline that makes use of this b5 note.

You can play along to it using the TAB below:

bass-guitar-scales

Another great song that uses the Blues scale is Vulfpeck’s ‘Dean Town’listen for the bassline at 3:20 to hear a ‘walk-up’ from the IV note to the V note!

Click Here to jam this scale over a backing track! (C Pentatonic Blues Scale – 8th fret)

Note: We attached a jam track with a bass already in it in this section so you can follow along more easily!

Try making use of all three Minor bass guitar scales on this track so you can get a reference for what you like to hear!

The Right Way to Practice Bass Guitar Scales

There is no ‘right way’ in particular to learn music, but there definitely is a right way to practice.

  • Developing good habits in your practice regimen can make learning music infinitely easier, and can help you realize your goals a lot sooner.
  • Practicing your bass guitar scales in both ascending (up) and descending (down) order will help you to memorize note placement as well as finger placement.
  • Practicing scales in this way also helps us to develop better muscle memory.

learn-bass-scales

Muscle memory is exactly what it sounds like – Your muscles’ ability to remember physical movements.

  • Do you always hold your pencil the same way? That’s muscle memory, and it’s the reason that musicians can play some pretty amazing lines of music (like Victor Wooten, here)
  • Singing notes as we play them is another great technique to throw into your practice regimen when rehearsing your bass guitar scales.

Even if you’re just starting out, making an attempt at matching your voice to your instrument is a great way to sharpen both your ears and your playing!

Bonus Skill Tip: Keep a journal near your bass and keep track of what your practice every day. Write down what you played, how long you practiced for, and keep a log of any breakthroughs or reflections you might have had that day.

This is a great way to keep track of both your progress and your growth.

bass-guitar-scales

Avoiding Bad Habits with Bass Guitar Scales

It’s very easy to get comfortable practicing bass guitar scales (or music in general) in our favourite comfy chair or couch, and it’s usually more relaxing to practice this way. 

However, too much ‘comfort’ can lead to bad posture, bad habits and back pain.

Here’s a quick five-point checklist to help you stay productive and avoid long-term issues like wrist and back pain, as well as Tendonitis

  • Sit toward the edge of your chair when practicing, and keep your back straight
  • Always stretch your hands, arms, wrists and fingers before practicing!
  • Take it slow – Over-exerting ourselves during practice can lead to joint and wrist pain.
  • Listen to your body – If you’re starting to experience pain in your hands, wrists and forearms, it’s probably time for a break!
  • Do some Yoga. Seriously, Yoga is fantastic for any musician, regardless of what instrument you play.

bass-guitar-relaxation

How to Have Fun with Bass Guitar Scales

Running up and down a scale over and over again can get quickly get exhausting, not to mention repetitive.

Finding ways to “have fun” with these scales is important to help keep us focused on practicing and improving our skills as bassists.

  • Once you’ve gotten the shapes under-hand, it’s time to bust out of the “scale box.”
  • Try mixing up the order of the notes that you’re playing to create a melody!

This is an excellent way to help you not only memorize your bass guitar scales, but also aid in developing your ear!

Experiment with timing as well to develop a sense of what you like in a bass guitar groove!

Before we finish, give this little groove a spin.

This bass riff starts off in the minor pentatonic scale, and finishes in the blues scale.

See if you can spot where the change happens!

Play all notes with even timing, then try and play with different time values to find a groove that you like!

bass-guitar-riff

Skill Tip: Count out loud whenever possible to help you maintain a good sense of timing.

As the bass player, it’s your job to hold down the groove and rhythm with your drummer, so try to focus on timing as often as you can! Tapping your foot will help with this as well!

bass-guitar-tabs

Where do go from here?

Here are some other great ways to keep improving your skills on bass guitar!

Inspiration. Live music is the best way to get new ideas and be inspired!

learn-guitar-fast

Recommended Resources

If you want to continue developing your skills on bass guitar, check out these other free bass guitar resources from the National Guitar Academy!

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