How to Learn and Play Bass Guitar Notes

If you recently picked up a bass guitar, you’re more likely to run into confusing bass guitar notes. But don’t fret! We’ve broken down a simple, easy-to-understand, step-by-step guide covering all the essentials and fundamentals.

1. Learn the String Names and Numbers

picture showing a four-string bass standard tuning

The first step is to know what those numbers and string names on chord charts mean. It may seem complicated, but it’s actually easy. Plus, they are essential to learn because they serve as a point of reference.

The bass string names are E-A-D-G. Like an acoustic guitar, the bass strings are from thickest to thinnest. They are also arranged from the lowest to the highest pitch. The E is the fourth string, A for the third string, D for the second string, and D for the first string.

How about a 6-string bass guitar? You’ll add a B string before the E and a C string after the G. This will give you a total progression of B-E-A-D-G-C.

2. Have a Bass Guitar Notes Chart Reference

As a beginner, you’ll have difficulty remembering all the bass guitar notes by heart. But, don’t beat yourself up – it’s totally normal! Instead of browsing through your mobile phone or laptop, you can save time and effort by hanging a bass guitar notes chart poster on your wall.

Bass Note Chart of Scale Chords | Bass Reference Poster for Beginners and Teachers, A Perfect Bass Scale Poster of Acoustic Electric Bass • 2021 Version

This is an optimal way to help quickly reference and reinforce your memorization of the notes of a bass guitar and their corresponding locations on the fretboard. You’ll likely come across designs oriented both vertically and horizontally.

Diagram showing the difference of horizontal and vertical bass guitar note chart.

Choosing between these styles is simply a matter of personal preference. Some players find reading a horizontal bass chord diagram easier than a bass guitar fretboard in a vertical orientation.

On a standard horizontal chart like the one we’ve provided above, you’ll see that the nut is on the left side, and the E (lowest-pitched string) is the first line. As for the vertical counterpart, the first line (from the left) represents the E string. Again, there is no difference between the two.

The positions and letters of the notes are displayed within their corresponding frets, meaning within the open space preceding each fret line. These lines are also known as the crowns of the frets.

On a bass guitar note chart or any other musical chart, you will also encounter # and b symbols next to some of the notes. This means a given note is either sharp or flat, respectively.

Pro Tip: A sharp is one half-step higher than the natural note it shares its name with. On the other hand, a flat note is one half-step lower. This means that a sharp of one note can be the same note as the flat of the next one up, with the two notes referred to as being enharmonic.

3. Familiarize Yourself With Bass Guitar Notes

Now that you know how a bass guitar chord diagram looks, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the notes.

The bass guitar’s note structure consists of twelve segments: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G and G#. Each successive note in this series is a half-step higher in pitch than the previous note. One trick to help you remember is to repeat to yourself, “Yes-no-yes, yes-no-yes, yes” to a 1-2-1/1-2-1/1 sort of rhythm.

Remember, any sharp notes are interchangeable with the flat notes of the next note up in pitch.

4. Identify and Learn the Octaves

You can now begin to build your understanding of bass guitar octaves.

An octave is a twelve-note set that ranges from a given note to the next repetition of that note. You can find the higher octave by counting two strings up and two frets over in the direction of the bridge. The same holds true for locating the lower octave – reverse the pattern and count to the note two strings down and two frets the other way.

5. Master the Bass Scales

Congratulations! You’ve built a solid foundation and reached the final phase of our guide. You’re going to tie everything you’ve learned so far and master the bass scales at this stage.

The best scale to begin learning is the major scale because it is straightforward and perfect for beginners. It is also the most common and essential scale in Western music!

The major scale runs as follows: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C.

If you want to practice playing this bass scale, you should:

  1. Start by practicing where to position your fingers.
  2. Then, try sliding the pattern around on the strings while keeping your fingers locked in position.
  3. Repeat so you can develop comfort playing the pattern at any place on the neck of the guitar.

After you get the hang of the major scale, there are other useful introductory scales you can begin to incorporate as well, such as the major pentatonic scale and the natural minor scale.

A Good Note to End On

As you’ve progressed through this guide, you’ve developed fundamental skills that will serve you well for a lifetime of bass guitar playing! And, remember, you can always refer back to the sections whenever you need a refresher!

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