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Learn To Play Bass Guitar (The Ultimate 2020 Guide)

Cue up your favorite song from your favorite artist, and crank it up. What’s one of the first things that you notice?

That thump. That low-end. That frequency coming out the speakers that can shake your entire body…

Welcome to the bass guitar!

Yeah, a lot of people take up learning how to play the ‘regular’ guitar… and with good reason. The bass, on the other hand, let’s you do things that a guitar simply can’t do.

There’s not much that’s better than a good rhythm section (bass and drums) which are locked in, driving a song with a groove that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Think about it – a song like ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ by Queen just wouldn’t be the same without that iconic bass line, right?

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    Learning to play the bass guitar may seem overwhelming for the average beginner. While it’s true that there are a lot of things to take in to play correctly, it may not be as big of a mountain as you may think.

    Let’s take a look at a few tips (actually, a whole bunch of them) to help you get your bass playing career off the ground.

    Choosing the right bass guitar

    One of the first questions most aspiring bass players will ask is ‘what bass guitar is best for beginners’?

    With so many models and choices, it’s easy to see why that can be such a tough decision.

    My advice here would be to buy the best bass you can for your budget. It may not make a lot of sense to buy a $2,000 bass if you’re just starting out.

    Features such as active pickups and exotic tonewoods really shouldn’t be a concern in the beginning. That being said, you really don’t want to compromise on the basic things that make a good bass guitar.

    Comfort Is King

    Playability is a big factor here – I’d recommend playing every note on the neck to make sure that all of the notes sound properly without ‘fretting out’ (meaning sounding muffled or not sounding at all).

    It has to be comfortable too. Bass guitars can be pretty big, and you should choose one that feels the best for you – and that means sitting down with it as well as standing up and using a good quality strap.

    Pay attention to how naturally your fretting hand feels when it curves around the neck. Believe it or not, different bass guitars have different neck shapes, and what feels great to one person might feel like a baseball bat to someone else!

    Don’t be afraid of budget models though – many of them are great ways to get a good quality bass guitar at the lower end of the price scale, as manufacturers have increased the quality of their instruments by a large amount thanks to better build processes.

    A key here is to go with trusted and respected brand names (such as the Yamaha TRBX304 for example).

    How to tune a bass guitar

    OK…time for a little physics lesson, here. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming, but fear not – it’s actually pretty easy to do.

    Tuning your bass means that each of the strings has the right amount of tension to produce the proper note when you play it (that is, it vibrates with the correct frequency).

    Either your bass strings will be flat (not enough tension, giving a note that’s lower than it needs to be), sharp (just the opposite – a note that’s too high because the string is too tight), or – you guessed it – tuned perfectly spot on.

    The tension is adjusted by turning the tuning machines that you’ll find on the headstock of your bass (that’s the part at the very top of the neck).

    Just so you know, the bass is usually tuned like this:

    • 4th string (thickest): E
    • 3rd String: A
    • 2nd String: D
    • 1st String (thinnest): G

    But how do you know if you’re not tuned right?

    By far the easiest way is to use a tuner, which you can get at pretty much any music store.

    Tuners are neat little devices that can actually sense the frequency of the string as it you play it (typically in an ‘open’ position, meaning you play it without fretting any notes). It will let you know if you are flat, sharp, or tuned just right.

    There are three basic types of tuners:

    • Plug-in units: Where you plug an instrument cable into your bass, then to the input jack on the tuner.
    • Clip-on units: Tuners which clamp onto the headstock to measure the frequency - no cables required!
    • Using Your Smartphone: The third way is to use one of the many apps that are available today - you’ll have your tuner with you at all times!

    Sounds like a lot, I know – but it’s not really that bad once you ‘get it’. Check out this video for more tips and tricks on how to tune a bass guitar.

    Your First Bass Lesson

    Are you ready? Here…we…go!

    I’m going to approach your first lesson as if you were a true beginner, meaning that you have pretty much no experience.

    That’s not something to be ashamed of! Just the opposite is true – you should be excited about all of the things you are going to learn!

    Stand Down, Or Sit In

    The first thing we’d recommend is to make sure that you are in a comfortable playing position.

    Standing players will need to adjust their strap so that the bass is at the right height for your body’s dimensions. Having it either too high or too low will make things uncomfortable, and hitting certain notes may not be as easy as it should be.

    If you choose to sit, make sure that you are holding your bass so the body is pretty much parallel with your chest. Holding it at an angle will make it hard to hold properly, and it also will make proper fretting of notes very awkward.

    Speaking of notes…

    Don't Fret About it!

    One skill that is an absolute must to master for any beginner is how to properly fret a note. There are a few things that you should keep in mind here, with the first being making sure your finger is in the right spot.

    For example, if you are trying to play a note on the 3rd fret (no matter what string you are playing), you are NOT supposed to put your finger right on top of the fret.

    The correct position is actually just behind the fret. A good target is to go roughly halfway between the 2nd and 3rd frets.

    Under Pressure

    Having your finger in the right spot on the neck is one thing, but you need to make sure you are using the right amount of finger pressure.

    Too little will cause your note to be muted or muffled, meaning it won’t ring out like it should. Too much pressure may give you the right note, but it will tire your hands out.

    Over time and with practice, you’ll get to where you’ll know exactly what the right touch is without thinking about it, but at the start you need to keep it in mind.

    That’s it! Pretty cool, right?

    There’s a lot more to check out when you are first starting to play the bass, and this great video has a lot of advice that I just don’t have the space to go into in this article – enjoy!

    How to read bass tabs

    One daunting thought for many beginners to the bass guitar is the idea of learning to read standard notation, or ‘sheet music’.

    Granted, having the ability to do so can certainly advance your ability and flexibility, but there IS an easier way…

    Inevitably you’ll come across something that looks like this:

    Bass Tabs

    Bass Clef

     

    Normally an indicator for the bass hand (left hand) on piano or a bass tuned instrument.

    1 of 4

    Staff

     

    5 horizontal lines and 4 spaces which all represent different musical pitches within a key.

    2 of 4

    Bass Tabs

     

    The four lines represent your bass strings and the numbers represent which fret to play.

    3 of 4

    Musical Notes

     

    Each note indicates both the pitch to play, and the rhythm of where the notes fall in time.

    4 of 4

    This is called bass tablature (or ‘tab’ for short). It’s a great way of showing how to play a song without knowing all of the ins and outs of reading sheet music.

    How it works is pretty simple.

    The four lines on the bottom that are running horizontally (left to right) represent the strings on your bass, with the bottom string being your low E string.

    The numbers show which fret to play to give you the right notes.

    And that stuff on the top?

    That’s actual sheet music! You’ll find that it’s often included with tab as a reference.

    And yeah – I’ve got more info on it for you below.

    How to practice bass guitar effectively

    If you’re like most other people in the universe, then your time is valuable. You should approach your practicing schedule in the same way, looking for how to make the most out of the time you have available.

    Quiet on the set!

    The first thing to do is to find a spot where you can really concentrate without a lot of distractions. Claim a spot in your home where it’s quiet.

    Once you get into practicing you may find that a good amount of time will have gone by without you realizing it, and those are the times where things start to really sink in.

    If you’ve got your dog barking or the TV cranked it may be harder to get into that ‘zone’.

    Break things up to keep it interesting

    Make no mistake – there are going to be times where you will have to work on some relatively boring technique and/or theory stuff.

    The key to making the most out of this is to devote a certain amount of time to the technical end, and the same for learning to play songs that you are just really excited about.

    Bonus points if the songs that you are working on just happen to have the same techniques that you were working on…it brings everything into perspective.

    More ideas for making your practice time more effective can be found in the video below:

    Bass Guitar Teacher vs. Online Bass Lessons

    It’s an age-old question – ‘should I take lessons or just try to learn by myself’?

    In my opinion, the answer isn’t black or white, but a solid shade of gray. I’d recommend taking a little bit of both approaches.

    Why?

    There are things that personal bass lessons can provide that being self-taught can’t, and vice versa, and it’s a good idea to get the best of both worlds.

    Formal Bass Lessons

    Two words pop to mind here: interactivity and accountability.

    With interactivity, it’s like this – having a living, breathing bass guitar teacher in front of you can be worth its weight in guitar picks, as your teacher can quickly guide you and show you how to improve on your skills.

    It’s kinda hard to get that level of interaction, even if you are taking lessons via some sort of webcast – it’s not like the teacher can reach through the screen and show you exactly how to hold your hand or fret a note properly.

    Accountability is a HUGE factor in your development as a bass player.

    One life-lesson I learned a long time ago was when I was a youngster just starting out. My parents were investing their time shuttling me to weekly lessons, and also investing their money by paying for them too.

    I was really, well…lazy.

    I wasn’t practicing what I was supposed to, and at some point my teacher had enough. He let me know in no uncertain terms that I was wasting my time, his time, my parent’s time, AND their money if I wasn’t going to take my lessons seriously.

    That’s stuck with me to this day.

    The point is, they are there to help you stay motivated and keep you on the right path.

    Online Bass Lessons

    I’ve got two more words for you: free/low-cost, and flexibility

    (OK…that’s more than two, but you get the point).

    Free online lessons, blogs, tabs, advice…if you want it, you’ll find it online. There’s no question that you’ll be able to learn things online, and it won’t break your piggy bank too much.

    With formal lessons from a good teacher costing upwards of $50 per hour in some markets, it’s easy to see why putting some extra effort in on your own can help you to save some money for a new bass maybe?!?

    Just like online college courses have changed the entire educational landscape, you’ll find a level of flexibility with online bass lessons that you just can’t get with a teacher. You can log on anytime, pretty much anywhere, and get some learning and practicing time in.

    This may be a better approach for someone with a busy or changing schedule.

    Best Online Bass Lessons and YouTube Channels

    There are a TON of resources available online. Many of them have a cost associated with them, but the information they provide may help you get your bass playin’ groove on faster than some of the free information out there.

    As with anything, though, there are pros and cons that you should consider.

    Let’s take a look at some of the more popular choices and see how they may (or may not) be best for you:

    Fender Play Bass Lessons Review

    Fender Play is truly an excellent online lesson system for true beginners to the bass guitar.

    Fender is one of the most respected names in the music industry, so it’s a safe bet to say that the info and guidance you’ll find here is top-notch.

    The videos are well-structured and professionally produced, and you may find that their approach is easy to understand and learn from.

    They also have a large selection of songs available, so you can put what you have learned into practical use. While the cost is subscription based, it’s relatively low compared to some of the competition.

    Platform Quality
    5/5
    Lessons Quality
    4.5/5
    Community
    4.5/5
    Budget Friendly
    4.5/5
    Fender Play YouTube Screenshot

    Positives

    • Geared towards the beginner
    • Free trial period when starting out

    Negatives

    • Advanced content may be lacking
    • Some songs are not complete

    Truefire Bass Guitar Lessons Review

    Truefire is an online learning platform that has been around for a long time, and it’s easy to understand why.

    Their bass lessons are very comprehensive, and they run the gamut from the most basic topics for beginners all the way through more advanced topics.

    A nice touch is the number of pro bass players (such as Stu Hamm) that have lent their talents to help others become better bass players.

    The monthly price is a little more expensive per month, but there are a ton of extra features that may make the extra investment worth it to you.

    Platform Quality
    4.5/5
    Lessons Quality
    5/5
    Community
    4.3/5
    Budget Friendly
    4/5

    Positives

    • Respected brand with high quality
    • Diverse and extensive learning material

    Negatives

    • Some extra features have additional cost
    • Focus on learning complete songs could be more robust

    Jamplay Review

    Another veteran of the online lesson scene, Jamplay launched their bass-focused lessons just a few years ago.

    You’ll find that they have the same level of quality that Jamplay’s guitar lessons are known for, with a focus on topics at the beginner level.

    Artist lessons are a benefit here also, featuring pro bass players such as Billy Sheehan and Dave Ellefson. Games and other interactive tools are included to help with memorization of key bass playing elements.

    The costs are in line with most of the other programs on the market.

    Platform Quality
    4.2/5
    Lessons Quality
    4.5/5
    Community
    4/5
    Budget Friendly
    4.5/5
    Jamplay Bass Lessons Screenshot

    Positives

    • Interactive tools to help with memorization
    • Focus on beginner topics

    Negatives

    • Some lessons may be too ‘formal’
    • User interface may be overwhelming at first

    BassBuzz Review

    BassBuzz is one of the online platforms that is dedicated solely to the bass guitar.

    The material runs the trap line from beginner to advanced, and it is presented in a manner that is easy to understand.

    With a focus on specific bass-related techniques (such as slapping and syncopation), you may find that BassBuzz is a great resource to help move your playing up to a completely different level.

    BassBuzz is a little different in that there is a flat-fee structure to access their lessons (starting at five monthly payments), and there is a good selection of free lessons available as well to show you what to expect.

    Platform Quality
    4/5
    Lessons Quality
    4.5/5
    Community
    3.5/5
    Budget Friendly
    3.5/5
    BassBuzz Lessons Screenshot

    Positives

    • Material is well organized and presented
    • Free online sample lessons

    Negatives

    • Higher initial cost over other programs
    • Some lessons may progress to quickly

    Scott’s Bass Lessons Review

    Scott’s Bass Lessons are presented in a pretty slick website, and understanding all that you get with a membership can be a little much to take in all at one time.

    Once you see what all is included, it’s pretty impressive – not only do you get excellent video lessons, there is a strong focus on the ‘community’ aspect, with a large forum and the ability to have Scott himself provide feedback.

    The lessons themselves can be a little long-winded with a lot of talking between playing. But, some of the teachers knuckle down on lessons. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

    Several types of live streams are available as well, and you get a 14-day free trial before the cost kicks in.

    Platform Quality
    4.5/5
    Lessons Quality
    4.5/5
    Community
    5/5
    Budget Friendly
    3.5/5
    Scotts bass lessons screenshot

    Positives

    • Large community focus and loads of free lessons on YouTube
    • Wide range of material and a broader range of teachers

    Negatives

    • Website not clear as to the cost after free trial
    • The subscription appears to be a single one off payment per year, which is quite a lot to spend at once

    TalkingBass Review

    Boasting a community of over 60,000 bass players, TalkingBass is a great location for bass players of all experience levels to collaborate and ‘talk bass’.

    The lessons themselves are very comprehensive, ranging from typical beginner topics, proper bass setup and gear, and venturing into reading sheet music.

    TalkingBass has quite a large range of free lessons on YouTube which would be a great starting point for beginners, even without subscribing to a lessons platform.

    There are several free ebook downloads that are part of the free membership, and the paid lessons are delivered in single-priced packs.

    Platform Quality
    4/5
    Lessons Quality
    4.5/5
    Community
    5/5
    Budget Friendly
    3/5

    Positives

    • Free community membership with ebook downloads
    • Extensive range of material to present, covering just about all areas

    Negatives

    • Single lesson packs can be expensive
    • Total cost may exceed similar subscription-based programs

    Bottom Line

    One of the most exciting things that you can do is to learn how to play an instrument, and the bass guitar ranks right up there with the rest of ‘em.

    Imagine going from playing melodic bass lines like Paul McCartney did on ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, or getting your funkadelic groove on by slapping off some of Flea’s licks (oh yeah…)

    We’ll be the first to tell you that it won’t happen overnight, though. You’ve heard it a bajillion times – ‘practice makes perfect’.

    Work to make your practicing fun, build up your skills and finger strength, and you’ll be learning how to slay it on the bass guitar without even realizing it.

    With the tips, tricks, and resources we’ve talked about, you have the bass-playing world at your fingertips (literally).

    Take the journey – trust me, you won’t regret it!

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