Bass Guitar For Beginners: A No B.S. Guide
The No B.S. Guide To Bass Guitar For Beginners is an epic guide by top professional bass player James Eager that helps you get learning the bass super fast by answering the most common questions you'll face.
If you're looking for everything you need to know, this guide is a must.
So you’ve decided you want to learn how to play bass guitar? Great move! The chances are there was a moment when you decided bass was the instrument you we’re going to play.
- Perhaps it was the way those thunderous low notes make you feel?
- Perhaps you’ve always wanted to join a band and experience the rush of performing live on stage?
- Maybe you’re returning to the bass after 25 years off and want to pick up where you left off?
- Or perhaps there were already too many guitarists in the band and ended up being told you were going to be the bass player?
However you got there… you’re in for a great ride! Just keep reading Bass Guitar For Beginners: A No B.S. Guide and we'll get you motoring...
The chances you excited but you've got a ton of questions... That’s why I’ve written ‘The No B.S. Guide To Bass Guitar For Beginners'.
Here you’re going to discover the answers to all of the questions I get asked time and time again… You may even discover a few that you’ve never even thought of but are super useful and will greatly speed up the process of learning the bass guitar.
This guide is largely focused on bass guitar for beginners, however I guarantee there will be plenty of ‘ah ha’ moments if you’re an intermediate bass player too.... (maybe you more advanced guys will also find this a good read too!)
1 - Is a bass player just a ‘guitarist who isn’t good enough’?
There are many musicians who come to the bass guitar via the 6 string electric or acoustic guitar. I came via that road too and it’s perfectly normal for that to be your introduction to the bass.
However there is this notion that a bass player is ‘just a failed guitarist’ or the band had ‘too many guitarists’ so you’ll just have to play bass. Almost like playing bass is second best...
I’m here to tell you that is complete nonsense. Whilst there are many musicians who can ‘double’ on both bass and guitar really well, conceptually they are very, very different.
I’d always ended up playing bass because there so many guitarists at my school. It’s was fine, I didn’t mind… but aged 14 I really wanted to the lead guitarist out front (with all the girls looking on!). However, aged 16 or 17 I played bass with my first ever really good drummer.
That was it… I fell in love with the groove and was totally hooked.
That feeling of being in the engine room, creating the foundation and being responsible for making people move and dance is like no other. It was the I started to discover what it really takes to be a really good bass player. It’s a completely different skill set which takes just the same amount of love and dedication to master properly.
2- How long does it take learn bass guitar?
The Bass Guitar is an awesome instrument because you’ll be able to pick it up and make a great noise straight away. Some instruments like the violin can sound like a strangled cat for first couple of years with no apparent end in sight. The bass is very different.
Many years back I bass player from my home town said ‘The beauty of bass is it can be as simple or complex as you like’. Bass is a foundational instrument and that means it does have to be playing crazy, complicated bass lines to be fulfilling its role in the band perfectly.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not say the Bass Guitar is easy. Far from it… once you get into the nitty gritty, to get good it requires the same amount of love and dedication as any other instrument.
For many it’s a life long study and that’s what keeps me constantly motivated. One of the reasons I love teaching it and students love learning it is because you can get moving super-fast.
3 - What is the role of the bass in the band?
Before playing learning a note on the bass guitar it’s worth really understand the role of the bass in the band. We’re not poor man's guitarist as many less informed people would like to make out. Far from it. In my opinion, the bass is the one instrument a band can’t do without. (I actually think we’re the most important member of the band… but then again I might be a little biased!)
The bass has two very important roles in the band. A ‘rhythmic role’ and a ‘harmonic role’. Both are equally important.
The Rhythmic Role
‘Rhythmic Role’ means we need to lock in with drums. The rhythm, beat, pulse or groove we create is pivotal. The Bass Player / Drummer relationship is one of the most important in contemporary music. When it’s right you’ll noticed people start to nod their heads in time with the music, clap along and dance. Put your favourite song on now and just listen to how the bass and drums work together to lay the foundation for every other instrument above.
The Harmonic Role
‘Harmonic Role’ means we are responsible for pinning down the lowest note of the harmony or chords. If what the bass is playing is wrong, everything else will sound bad above.
In my opinion there’s no one instrument that can have such as drastic effect on the music. As a bass player in the UK I must have played 100s of gigs where the drums were deemed as being too loud… so they just worked with a bass player to the give the pulse and the bottom end of the harmony.
4 - What bass guitar should I buy?
When I first start playing 25+ years ago anything under a $200 was likely to be terrible. Today things are totally different. For $200 you can get a bass guitar which is very, very good. For less that $300 you can get a ‘starter pack’ which has an excellent bass, a small amp and everything else you need to get going.
There are plenty of good brands out there. My advice is to go to a music store and take a look at all the basses. There’s normally an instrument that will just ‘speak to you’. Pick it up, play it and see how it feels. Don’t be scared if the noise you make sounds awful... no-one will be judging you, I promise.
You’re trying a bass out… not making a public performance. If you get an instrument you love you’ll be inspired to pick it up more and more when you're at home (maybe even sleep with it in the bedroom… i might have done that!)
Classic Basses That Always Perform...
However, if you need a little inspiration I would always recommend starting with an instrument which is inspired by a Fender Precision or Fender Jazz Bass. Leo Fender got these instruments so right when he designed them in the late 50s / early 60s. Fender also make a budget range called Fender Squires… these basses are a perfect place to start. Other brands you may wish to consider are Yamaha, Ibanez, Sire, G&L.
5 - Do I need an Amplifier?
The important thing is you can always hear yourself clearly when you practise. You should always plug it in to an amp or use headphones. Never practise ‘acoustically’ or unplugged because the chances are you’ll start to overplay to try and hear yourself.
The small amps that come with a start packs are perfect to get going. The other thing you may wish to consider is a headphone amplifier. Vox make one which is perfect.
Closed back headphones or ‘in ear’ style earbuds are the best choice because they allow you to really hear the low notes.
Great amplifier brands to consider are: MarkBass, Aguilar, Fender, Ampeg, Harkte, GK.
Great brands of headphones to consider are: Sennheiser, AKG, Sony, Audio Technica, Bose
Top brands of 'In Ear' monitors: Ultimate Ears, Shure, 64 Audio, ACS
6 - Should I buy a bass guitar from a music store or online?
I would always recommend buying your first bass guitar from a physical music store. When I was younger I used to cherish a day going to the music stores in London with my Dad. Not only would I get to see an array of beautiful instruments that I could only dream of owning back then... but also I’d get to talk to the really knowledgeable guys who work at the stores.
These guys could save you a very costly mistake or just point you in the direction of something you hadn’t thought of… or something that’s much more cost effective.
Why buy from a music store...
The other big reason to buy from a music store is they will ensure the instrument is properly ‘set up’, This means the will make a bunch of adjustments to the string height, the neck, frets, pick ups to ensure that the bass ‘plays’ perfectly when you get it home.
Often instruments straight out factories just don’t get this love and attention. You’ll find a badly set up bass may have strings that are too high and you can’t press them down… or frets that buzz meaning certain notes don’t work properly. Buying from a music store means you get a rewarding experience the moment the bass gets home.
7 - Are there any other Bass Guitar accessories I need to get going?
There are two accessories that I recommend getting straight out of the gate:
- Good quality cable to connect from the bass guitar to the amplifier.
Often a budget cable will come with a bass guitar starter pack. These cables are more often than not poor quality cables that break quickly. They are often ‘microphonic’ too - this means every time the cables moves you’ll hear it a crackle through the amplifier.
TIP - I recommend spending at least $30 USD to ensure you are getting quality and reliability. Whirlwind are a great brand to get going with.
- A bass guitar tuner.
Before you start practising you should always ensure your bass is in tune. There’s no point in practising with an ‘out of tune’ bass. Believe you me, I’ve seen plenty of people try! Learn to use an electronic tuner before you attempt to tune by ear. TIP - try a Snark Clip On Tuner to begin with. They are super accurate, convenient and very inexpensive. They also work on vibration so you can tune in noisy environments silently.
TIP: You may wish to consider a metronome too. My top tip is to use a smart phone app like ‘Tempo’. This app costs a fraction of a physical tuner and has about 10 times the functionality too.
Everything else (like bass guitar pedals) can come at a later date!
8 - Where is the best place to find bass guitar lessons?
Once you have the perfect instrument you’ll want to get playing your favourite bass lines and fast. There are two routes you can take. The ‘slow route’ and ‘fast route’. The slow route is where choose to teach yourself. Now don’t get me wrong there are many fine musicians that are self taught but there is one commonality with all of their stories… it took a long time to learn.
The fast route is to get bass guitar lessons. There are two routes that achieve great results.
- Seeing a 1:1 teacher
- Take online bass guitar video lessons.
Each way has its pros and cons.
Expensive* (Expect $1600 / Year
You can ask plenty of questions
A teacher needs to be in your area
Weekly commitment to get the most out of it
Teachers can often be guitarists, not specialist bass players
*This figure is conservatively estimated on 40 weekly bass lessons a year at $40 per hour. In reality 1:1 lessons with an experienced, specialist bass teacher could cost anything up to $140/hr.
Watch lessons at your own convenience
Less personal feedback
Study at your own pace
You need an internet connection
Inexpensive ($199 / Year*)
Study anywhere in the world
Rewatch lessons over and over again
Study with specialist bass players (not guitarists!)
Meet & learn with other passionate bass players
*This figure is based on a yearly membership to the The Bass Lab PLUS
There are also a huge amount of excellent bass guitar books too which can provide amazing insights into the world of bass guitar.
My personal preference is advise students to use a blend of online tuition and 1:1 tuition if it is available in your area. It really does provide the best of both worlds.
To get started taking online bass guitar lessons make sure you check my online bass guitar lessons program - The Bass Lab PLUS
9 - Bass guitar for beginners - where should I start?
This might sound obvious but a course entirely focused on bass guitar lessons for beginners is the number one place you should put your focus. Now I know I massively might have stated the obvious there... but I’ve lost count of the amount of students who have relied on random tabs sites or the odd tip bit from a friend to get going and just end up getting more and more confused.
This can be a slow, time consuming process which makes it far harder than it needs to be. With the right instruction it can be one of the most fun and rewarding things you’ll ever do.
The bass guitar is a ‘skills’ based instrument and it’s important to have an introduction to all the most import 'core concepts' right away. Long before I wrote Bass Guitar For Beginners: A No B.S. Guide I wrote the Absolute Beginners Bass Course.
It’s my personal methodology which ensures you start to understand everything from playing your very first notes, to how to fingerboard works… all the way through to creating grooves, fills and playing your very first song from beginning to end.
Click here to find out more about The Absolute Beginners Bass Course.
10 - YouTube V. Bass Guitar Lessons Websites
YouTube can be a challenging place to learn the bass guitar! As a teacher, I love to publish lessons on YouTube… is a great way for me to share my love of bass guitar and some of the fantastic knowledge I’ve been lucky enough to gain over the past 20+ years.
However, it needs to come with a health warning! Here a some of the challenges you’ll face if you rely on YT:
- There are too many distractions.
Just looking in that side bar… any second you could end up clicking on another video and being sucked into a black hole of ‘cat videos’ and seductive ‘online quizzes’.
- There’s no benchmark.
Anyone can publish bass lessons on YouTube. I’ve seen world class bass players and educators sharing mind blowing knowledge… all the way through to people who have probably only being playing a couple of months. As a beginner bass player that can be massively confusing because it’s not always clear who is sharing the best information.
- Lessons are random.
YouTube doesn’t lay things out with the aim of making you a better bass player, it’s aim is to keep you on the website as long as possible and get you watching adverts in return. So it’s hard to find lessons in a well structure and logical way.
When you're starting out the important thing is to be able to move quickly and gain momentum… not waste valuable time. The important thing is to make sure you learning from a dedicated bass guitar lesson website, which has step-by-step lessons and which is run by someone with credibility.
That’s why I set up eBassGuitar. You can check my step-by-step courses over at the Bass Lab PLUS
11 - How do I know if I’ve picked up bad habits?
This is can be a big worry for many folks… especially if you’re picking up the bass again after say taking 25 years off to raise a family.
Back in the day, the only option would be to go and see a teacher for a ‘check up’... and that’s still a very valid way to do it.
Fast forward to today, we have some incredible new opportunities if you want to learn bass guitar using the internet. Now wherever you are in the world, it's possible to connect with a great instructor or bass guitar coach using Skype Bass Guitar Lessons.
I’ve taught using Skype and I can 100% vouch for what effective results it can create.
But we can go one better! The power of online communities is phenomenal.
Basslabgroup.com is a FREE online bass community where you can meet like minded bassists, hang out, socialise, talk bass guitar and improve your bass playing.
If you’ve got a question you want answering, all you need to do is shoot a very quick video and post it in the group. You’ll then get advice from some of the most helpful and passionate guys on the planet. No longer do you need to feel like ‘Island’ when there is a whole world of bass players out-there happy to point you in the right direct.
For eBassGuitar students we even have a Student Coaching Group set up, so you can get personal coaching and feedback directly from me.
12 - Should I play with my fingers or with a pick?
If you’ve played guitar before the chances are you may have used a pick or plectrum. The technique you have developed here can easily be transferred to the bass guitar. The other option you have is playing with your fingers (or ‘finger style’).
Over the years I have heard a certain amount of snobbery regarding the use of the pick… because finger style is apparently the ‘correct way’ to do things. I think that’s bull***T.
(I often tell it how it is!)
The two have very different sounds and suit different styles of music. Pick is more often than no found in Rock, Punk and Metal Music. Finger Style is generally found in Funk, Jazz, Country Soul and Motown music.
For me it’s down to what feels most comfortable and gives ‘that bass sound’ which inspires you to want to pick up the instrument.
I’m a finger style player by trade. There’s one reason I will always recommend starting with finger style is because it ‘blends’ better and is generally a more versatile sound. Pick has a very aggressive sound which isn’t to musician tastes. Ultimately the choice is yours!
To discover how to gain a great technique make sure you check out the Essential Technique Course in The Bass Lab PLUS.
13 - How much should I practise?
This is something I get asked all of the time. I want to share a secret with you… it’s not the amount of time you spend practising, it’s the quality of the practise that really makes the difference.
No joke, I’ve seen people practise for an hour when that work could have been done 10 minutes.
If you want to discover more about how to practise make sure you get my: 5 Steps To Perfect Practise Checklist
However, there is one thing I will add. This is the big one. Pick up the instrument every single day. Even if it’s only for a few minutes.
The key to progress is consistency. A small amount of practise daily will achieve so many more results than a big session once a week.
Progress is incremental. Small daily wins will add up to something massive over 3-6 months.
14 - Do I need to learn Music Theory?
I would recommend learning music theory straight away. So many people get confused by music theory when the in reality it actually isn’t that complicated. The trick is to learn the music theory which is relevant to you as a bass player and also learn it as you go.
When you zoom into the music theory bass guitar players actually need it’s the one thing that will actually enable you to make sense of music and gain a deeper understanding.
There are the 4 core reasons why you should learn music theory:
- IDENTIFY - It will enable you to name and recall music sounds at a later date.
- GROUP - It will allow you to group musical sounds together to you can build relationships between notes and chords.
- COMMUNICATE - It will help you communicate to other musicians more effectively.
- PREDICT - It improves your musical ear so you can start to predict what notes are coming next… on the fly.
I recommend you check out my eBook ‘The Complete Guide To Music Theory For Bass Players’.
This is 50 pages of JUST the music theory bass players need to understand.
You can get your copy by clicking the orange button.
15 - Do I need to be able to read musical notation?
You do not need to be able to read musical notation when you start playing the bass guitar and in practise you can become an excellent bassist without ever reading a dot of manuscript.
However, I do think it’s an amazing skill to gain and it’s one I personally treasure. Being able to sight read has enabled me to enter so many different musical situations and play with an enormously wide variety of musicians. It also dramatically reduces rehearsal time.
If situations like performing on theatre shows, gigging with big bands or recording on sessions interests you it’s something it’s something I’d highly recommend.
BUT… don’t worry, if reading isn’t your thing everything I teach here at eBassGuitar will still work just as well.
16 - How long will it take me to learn a song like Hotel California on the Bass Guitar?
The great thing about the bass guitar is you’ll be playing your first song on the bass guitar before you know. It really will not be long before you’re pulling up Spotify or YouTube and playing jamming long with your favourite songs. You literally could be doing this in a couple of weeks… seriously.
For something more involved like how to play Hotel California on the bass guitar it will take a little longer. 6 months to a year depending on how much you practise. The great thing with many songs like Hotel California is it’s perfectly possible to simplify it and still create a fantastic bass lines that fits really, really well.
I’ve chosen Hotel California as example because whilst it may sounds complex on the first lessons it’s really based on two fundamental grooves. Understanding these is the crux of great Rock & Pop bass guitar playing.
Here’s a lesson where the bass line from the verse apart. We can also send you the Hotel California Cheatsheet by clicking the orange button below.
17 - What are the important styles of music I should learn?
This entirely depends on your taste in music. You should always play music that inspires you and gets you excited…
However, there are two styles of music I encourage all my students to learn especially if they are hitting the intermediate phases of playing the bass.
The style of blues covers so many based. From John Lee Hooker to B.B. King, Eric Clapton to Joe Bonamassa. Even if blues does not initially spark your interest, I encourage to learn it because the chances are you are going to need to play a 12 bar blues at some point in your bass playing career!
But more importantly... with blues you learn how to play over musical structures without thinking about it, learn how to create bass lines, fills, turn around, walk ups, walk downs... all the way through to transposition and playing over different musical feels.
If you’re comfortable with blues you’ll be able to start wrapping your head around most other styles of bass playing very easily.
Walking Bass is direct extension of blues bass playing and will push any intermediate bass player on to the next stage. If you know how to create walking bass lines you’ll be able to create bass lines in virtually any genre of Western Music - Jazz to Funk, Country to Motown, Latin to Hip Hop.
You’ll also start to build a complete command how every note on the neck fits together. If you want to learn how the fingerboard works properly learning walking bass is THE number one way of doing it.
You can learn blues and walking bass inside the Bass Lab PLUS membership
18 - Should I join a band and play with other musicians?
Yes, yes, yes… and at the earliest possible opportunity.
This is something I encourage all of my students to do… even if they feel like they really aren’t ready.
You’ll learn 50% of what you need from studying with a teacher and with websites like eBassGuitar.com... but the other 50% you’ll learn from playing with other musicians and actually DOING IT!
This is something I simply can’t overemphasise the importance of. It takes courage but I promise you will become a better bass player every time you perform or practise with other musicians.
19 - What's The Next Step?
For the past 15 years I've been lucky enough to pay my mortgage entirely from playing and teaching the bass guitar and the double bass, here in the London. My professional career has taken me from working on top West End shows like We Will Rock You, The Lion King, Spamalot, Wicked & Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Fever all the way through to recording at Abbey Road Studios & performing at Wembley Arena.
Over the years I've had some incredible teachers and performed with some world class musicians. I'm now passionate about sharing all of the amazing information I have learned.
That's why I started eBassGuitar - the only online bass guitar lessons platform dedicated to helping beginner to intermediate bassists.
To take the next step and become a better bass player, please request an invitation to become a Bass Lab PLUS student: