Beginner’s Bass: The Basics of Learning to Play Bass Guitar

I’ve been playing music since I was around nine or ten, and I have always had a natural inclination toward and a fascination with music – playing it, singing it, listening to it, learning about it. You name it, I’m interested in it.

I started on the clarinet, but I progressed into several other instruments including piano/keyboard, tenor saxophone, guitar, bass guitar, and my favorite – cowbell. (Only joking, you know.)

In all actuality, bass guitar is my favorite instrument, and I wanted to learn how to play it forever. I began several years ago, and let me say, it is incredibly easy to pick up once you get started.

But there are a few things you need to know first before learning to play.

Picks vs Fingers

I hate picks. There, I said it. I don’t like them for guitar or bass, but with bass, many people prefer to use their fingers anyway. There isn’t a lot of four-string strumming on a bass, but it is generally rather played string by string.

Bass picks are also different than guitar picks and if you already play guitar, be warned: bass isn’t like guitar at all.

Either way, whichever way you choose should be the way you are most comfortable with; neither way is wrong.

Your E, A, D, Gs

These are the names of your strings from lowest to highest. For a right-handed player, the E is the string closest to you when looking down on the bass. It is also the thickest.

The G is the highest string in pitch and is the thinnest. It is the equivalent of the lowest string on the guitar.

Tablature – or Tabs, as Us Normal People Call Them

Most people who play guitar or bass read something called tabs rather than sheet music. You will want to learn how to read them. They are fairly simple to read once you know what the signs mean, and you should pick them up fairly quickly.

They will look like four lines for bass, labeled E, A, D, G. (See why you need to know those strings?) There will be different numbers on the lines in the order that you are supposed to play them. For instance, if the first note is a 7 marked on the line that corresponds with the A string, that means you press down the 7th fret and strum the A string once.

If you see a 0 on say the D string, you pluck an open note on the D string.

Of course, there are a lot of other signs and symbols, but those get into a little more complexity than basic bass.


Bass is often tuned to standard. Sometimes all the strings are tuned to be flat, which is marked with a funny-looking symbol that sort of looks like a lowercase b. Your tabs should tell you what tuning you need to be in.

Tuning your bass is simple. You can get a tuner or use an online tuner for free. Turn the pegs on the head of your bass to tighten or loosen your string until it matches the pitch of the tuner.

Once you get good at tuning, you might even be able to do it just by ear.

Start Simple

Of course, you want to play that bass! But here’s the thing. Start simple. Train your fingers. Play something easy in standard tuning. (Lots of really awesome bass is fairly simple.)

Look up the tabs to some of your favorite songs. You should be able to tell by looking at them if they are too complex.

Build up your finger strength. Repetition is key, and once you start to get a feel for it, I recommend picking up a few really fast-paced songs to build up your finger strength.

But most of all, have fun and learn music that you want to play!

Personal Experience