How To Play Bass Guitar – A Beginner’s Guide

How To Play Bass Guitar – Exercise

Let’s re-visit our chord sequence:

G         |         | D       | Am       |

This was the bassline using only roots:

how to play bass guitar lesson 6

Try playing this bassline again, BUT… try replacing one or more of the G root notes with a different note from the G major arpeggio.

Here’s an example:

how to play bass guitar lesson 7

Remember, the above is just an example. Try to make the bass line your own. Experiment.

Ultimately, learning how to play bass guitar is about expression. Don’t be afraid to be creative.

Try a few different ideas, just remember to stay in time and change chord at the right point.

Here’s another video I recorded for you:

Now, let’s see what we can do with that D chord.

Here is the D major arpeggio:

how to play bass guitar lesson 8

You might notice this is the same pattern as the G major arpeggio, but moved to the D position.

Notice that it’s the same pattern, but we’ve just moved the whole thing up a string.

how to play bass guitar

This is an important point!

  • The major arpeggio pattern is a MOVEABLE pattern.
  • We can play it anywhere and it will always be a major arpeggio.
  • What changes the tonality of the arpeggio is simply where we being it.
  • Play the pattern starting on a D note and it will be D major. Play the same pattern starting on a F note and it be F major. And so on…

bass guitar scales

We can do the same with the D major arpeggio as we did with the G, however, in this sequence we only have one bar of D to play with, so don’t get too carried away or you’ll miss the change to Am.

Here’s an example again:

how to play bass guitar lesson 9

As before, this is just an example. Be creative and make the bassline your own.

Have a few goes at this and see what you can come up with.

Here’s another video:

So what about the Am?

Am, as it’s name would suggest, is a minor chord, so we need to use the minor arpeggio which is slightly different to the major one.

To learn how to play bass guitar you must master both the major AND minor arpeggios.

Here is the A minor arpeggio:

how to play bass guitar lesson 10

With this arpeggio we want to start with our index finger on the 5th fret, then reach up to that 8th fret note with the pinky. We can use the ring finger to play the notes at the 7th fret.

As with the previous arpeggios, take your time and have a few goes at it until you feel confident to start improvising with it.

The minor arpeggio is also a MOVEABLE pattern. We can play it anywhere.

A super-important summary

  • If you want to play a bass line over a major chord, notes from that chord’s major arpeggio will always work.
  • If you want to play a bass line over a minor chord, notes from that chord’s minor arpeggio will always work.
  • Regardless of which one you use, the root note will always work.

The bass player’s golden rule:  If In Doubt, Play The Root Note

Once you’re ready, as with the G and the D, we want to try replacing one or more of the Am roots with other notes from the A minor arpeggio.

Roots rule. But they can be a bit boring if that’s all you play.

bass guitar for beginners

As with the D, we only have one bar to play with, so don’t get too carried away else you’ll miss the change back to the G chord.

Here’s an example:

how to play bass guitar lesson 11

As with the major arpeggios, feel free to get creative with the minor arpeggio as well.

And here’s another video for you:

I hope you’re now starting to feel like you have a much better understanding of how to play bass guitar?

What you should find now is that your bass line is starting to sound a bit more varied, but at the same time still has a nice solid root-based feel to it.

Obviously not all songs are going to have the chord sequence G, D, Am, so it’s important to learn how to find your roots using the musical alphabet and to move these arpeggio patterns around the fretboard accordingly.

Here’s all the notes again:

how to play bass guitar notes

How To Play Bass Guitar – 4 Tips For Good Bass Playing

1) If in doubt, keep it SIMPLE.

As stated earlier, it’s better to have a simple bass line of roots that are in time than to have a lot of twiddling and diddling all over the fretboard with little to no regard for the structure of the song.

2) Try playing along with the song when practicing.

There’s no surer way to know if you’re in time and in tune than playing along with an original recording. Make sure you can hear both the record and your bass in equal measure, Don’t let one drown out the other or it defeats the object.

Learning how to play bass guitar requires lots of practice. This is a great technique for getting the most out of your practice time.

learn bass scales

3) When you’re not playing, be LISTENING.

From now on, when you listen to music, try paying extra attention to what the bass guitar is doing.

  • How is it working with the other instruments?
  • Is it always playing the same rhythm they are or is it playing a different but complimentary rhythm?
  • Can you hear any of the things discussed in this article going on eg. root notes and other notes from the arpeggios being added?
  • Do some bassists play busier bass lines than others?
  • Do different styles of music feature different types of bass lines?
  • Is the bass guitar more prominent on some records than others?

Learning how to play bass guitar requires you to develop a musical ear.

Asking yourself these sorts of questions should help you understand the role of the bass guitar better and also help you realise what might be expected of you as you embark on your journey to learn how to play bass guitar.

For inspiration/ideas, check out this list the 10 best bass riffs/solos.

4) Learn to read tab carefully and accurately.

If you’re looking to do a cover version of a song, you can’t go too far wrong by following the tab, so long as it’s an accurate tab.

Check the feedback and ratings of internet tabs to help ensure you’re using a good one. (There’s tons of bad ones!) If something sounds off when you’re playing, check that you’re definitely on the right fret and the right string.


How to play bass guitar: Slapping and popping.

These are difficult techniques and will be beyond the reach of a beginner. I’m going to mention them here so you’re aware of them, but please understand it will take a while before you’ll be able to do these!

Learn how to play bass guitar basics first!

Make sure you’re comfortable with the earlier exercises before you have a go at these and be patient with yourself. These techniques take time to learn.

  • Slapping refers to when we whack the string with the edge of the thumb.
  • Popping refers to when we grip a string from underneath and twang it.

These techniques often go together and are very popular in styles like funk.

The best way to try these is with an octave (the first and last two notes of an arpeggio).

Have a go at this exercise. Slap the lower notes and pop the higher notes.

how to play bass guitar lesson 12

Watch this epic bass solo (at 4mins 10 seconds) for a little inspiration! (The bassist starts off picking, then switches to slapping and popping.)

Don’t feel the need to rush yourself through the exercises in this article. Take your time with them. Bookmark the article so you can revisit at your convenience and work through the exercises at a comfortable pace.

If you want to learn how to play bass guitar you should definitely read our article “Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners” as it contains TONS of stuff that will help you become an awesome bass player.

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