How to Learn Bass as a Guitarist (Exercises and Tips)

Learning bass as a guitarist can be easy to do and is a lot of fun. If you already know how to play guitar, many of the skills you know will transfer easily to bass.

This guide will explain step-by-step how to learn bass as a guitarist and why you might want to do it.

If you want to learn bass as a guitarist, here are the steps to get started:

  1. Learn the differences between guitar and bass
  2. Practice some basic bass exercises
  3. Learn the bass parts for any songs you already know on guitar
  4. Learn some walking bass lines
  5. Practice with a drummer or drum machine

Let’s go through all of these steps so you can start learning bass straight away.

After reading this guide, check out these handy bass guides and resources:

Step 1: Learn the Differences Between Guitar and Bass

Before you dive into trying to play bass, it’s a good idea to take some time to properly understand the differences between guitar and bass.

The obvious difference between bass and guitar is the number of strings, but the differences don’t stop there.

Watch a few videos of bassists playing and you’ll start to notice the different techniques they use and the different ways of playing compared to guitar.

Learn to play bass

Take the above photo as an example. Look at the bassist’s right hand and how it is positioned above the strings.

This hand position allows the bassist to comfortably use his fingers to pluck the strings. Guitarists are used to holding their hand directly above the strings for fingerpicking, so learning to play bass using your fingers takes some adjustment in position and technique.

Spend an afternoon watching bass lesson videos on YouTube and it will give you a good general idea of how you need to shift your thinking when playing bass. You’ll gradually learn the main differences between bass and guitar while you play, but watching some videos beforehand can make the transition much easier.

Should You Play Bass With a Pick or Fingers?

One of the important decisions you will need to make when playing bass is whether you will use a pick or use your fingers.

Playing bass with a pick or fingers plays an important role in the tone you get. A pick will give your bass a very plucky sound (no surprise there!) and fingers will create a more rounded or softer attack on the strings.

Many guitarists immediately start playing bass with a pick because all the picking skills you have learned on guitar can transfer to bass.

Playing bass with fingers takes some time to learn as you have to learn new techniques as well as build up strength in your fingers.

You don’t need to decide right now whether you will use a pick or fingers, but keep both of these options in mind as you start to learn bass.

Play around with both options to figure out which may suit you best. The style of music you play and the tone you want will help you decide between the two options.

Step 2: Practice Basic Bass Exercises

The fret and string spacing on a bass is much wider than what you are used to with a guitar.

This means you will need to stretch your fingers further than normal as well as learn to feel comfortable jumping back and forth between the wider spacing between the strings.

Working on some basic bass exercises before you go to learn some songs will help build your confidence as well as avoid injury.

It may take your hand some time to feel comfortable with fretting notes on a bass, so don’t rush. If your hand starts to feel sore, take a break.

You may also notice that your fingertips become sore as your fingers aren’t used to thick bass strings. Just like playing guitar, your fingers will toughen up and get used to the strings.

Check out this lesson for 6 daily bass exercises you should work on.

For example, you might recognize this common 1-2-3-4 finger exercise for guitar:

Guitar speed exercise 5

This is a great exercise on guitar to help develop finger independence and picking control.

You can do the same exercise on bass to work on the same techniques and control:

Bass 1234 finger exercise

If you try the above exercise on bass, you’ll immediately notice how much harder it is to properly stretch your fingers across the frets on a bass.

This is why working on some bass exercises before you try to play some songs is important. These exercises will help you feel comfortable with the bass fingerboard before you move on to songs.

Work through these 6 bass exercises before you continue to the next step.

Step 3: Learn the Bass Parts From Songs You Know on Guitar

The first songs you should try to learn on bass are songs you already know how to play on guitar.

There are a lot of songs where the guitar parts and the bass parts are almost identical. So if you already know how to play the riffs on guitar, you’ll find it quick and easy to learn how to play the same riffs on bass.

You will find that the bass parts in a lot of riff-based songs are either identical to the guitar parts or very similar. Have a look through the songs you know and start with any songs where the bass parts are similar or identical to the guitar parts.

As an example, here is a section of the song Through the Never by Metallica with the guitar part on top and bass on bottom:

Metallica Through the Never guitar and bass TAB

As you can see, both parts are identical. So if you already know how to play the guitar part, you’ll find it easy to learn the bass part.

You may notice that the only slight difference between the two parts is the power chord at the very end. The guitar plays a power chord while the bass plays the root note. This is very common and you’ll see bass parts focus on the root note of guitar chords all the time.

Because you already know what notes to play and the rhythm, it frees up your mind to focus on other things. You can focus on your fretting and picking/plucking technique or you can focus on positioning your fretting hand.

Go through all of the songs you know as start with the songs where the bass parts match the guitar parts.

Then you can gradually work your way to the songs where the guitar parts and the bass parts don’t match. Working on these songs will get you used to the different ways some bassists write music.

Step 4: Learn Some Walking Bass Lines

Once you feel comfortable with playing bass parts from songs you already know on guitar, it’s a good idea to start exploring the ways bassists think about music.

A good introduction to how bassists write and think differently from guitarists is by learning some walking bass lines.

Depending on the style of music you want to play, bassists may or may not use walking bass lines. But even if the style of music you play doesn’t make use of walking bass lines, they’re a good way to get a better understanding of bass.

The basics of a walking bass line is that you play one note per beat and constantly move up and down while paying close attention to the backing chords.

When done properly, the bass line can create a powerful driving force in a song.

Here is a basic example of a walking bass line:

Walking bass line 1

Notice how the notes played on bass relate to the chords shown above the TAB. You might also notice some chromatic notes added in, which is very common with walking bass lines.

If you have a looper pedal, record a loop of your guitar strumming the chords shown (ideally with a drum machine to keep a steady beat), then try playing the above walking bass line.

Learning music theory can help you understand how to create great-sounding walking bass lines. Just practicing walking bass lines like the above example can do wonders for your timing and bass technique.

Focus on your timing and consistency when plucking each note.

Here is another example of how you can take the above walking bass line and create simple variations:

Walking bass line 2

Play around with both examples and think about which sections you like the sound of and which sections you don’t like. Try to make changes to figure out what makes a good walking bass line and what makes it fall apart.

Playing around with walking bass lines is a fantastic way to learn bass and once you get the basic ideas, it’s a lot of fun.

Step 5: Practice With a Drummer or Drum Machine

A good bassist knows how to lock in a rhythm with a drummer for some tight and punchy bass lines.

While you may have spent some time working on your rhythm and timing skills on guitar, it’s worth spending extra time working on them when learning bass.

If you know any drummers, spend some time jamming and playing with them. Focus on the bass drum and snare patterns and try to lock in your timing with each hit.

If you don’t know any drummers, you can spend time practicing along with drum loops or drum machines. You’ll learn the most when you practice with a real drummer, but a drum machine can be a valuable practice tool.

I personally use Guitar Pro 7 to work on my bass skills. I’ll write a drum pattern, loop it, then practice coming up with bass parts that fit with that pattern.

Or you can write drum parts in a DAW (learn about DAWs here) and create real-sounding drum backing tracks using a drum plugin.

Creating drum tracks in a DAW

The big advantage to writing your own drum patterns is that you’ll learn what type of patterns are easy to play along with and which aren’t. You’ll be able to easily change a drum pattern and learn how to adjust your playing on bass to match the rhythm.

Out of all of the steps covered in this guide, this is the one that can have the biggest impact on your bass skills.

Check out this lesson to learn how to write and record drum parts.

Tips For Learning Bass Guitar

Here are some extra tips to help you learn bass as a guitarist:

Use a metronome: while a drummer or drum machine is better, practicing with a metronome can help you develop your rhythm and timing skills on bass. A metronome can be very handy as you learn how to play walking bass lines.

Learn to slap: after you learn the basics on bass, you might enjoy learning how to slap and pop. Slapping can give you a completely new perspective on bass and can help you come up with some interesting ideas.

Practice scales: if you enjoy playing walking bass lines, it’s worth spending some time developing your scales knowledge. Being able to effortlessly switch between scales and find chord tones can help you come up with better walking bass lines. Read this guide to learn how to practice scales for guitar or bass.

Learn a lot of songs: every new song you learn on bass will help you develop a better understanding of bass. Try to learn songs from a variety of music styles so you can see how different bassists write music.

Work on ear training: ear training can have a huge impact on your bass abilities (just like guitar). Spend time every day working through some simple ear training exercises and you’ll gradually notice how it positively impacts your bass skills. Learn more about ear training here.

Try plucking: most guitarists tend to use a pick when learning how to play bass because it’s an easy transition. That’s completely fine and many great bassists only play with a pick. But it’s worth trying to learn basic plucking techniques so you can hear how it changes your bass tone.

Learning Bass FAQ

Here are some common questions you might have about learning bass as a guitarist.

Is Bass Easier to Learn Than Guitar?

In many ways, bass is easier to learn than guitar and simpler in terms of the range of techniques to learn. Whether bass will be easier for you to learn than guitar depends on the style of music you want to learn.

In some styles of music, the bass parts are as simple as playing single notes at a constant rhythm behind more complex guitar parts. In other styles of music, the bass parts are furious and technically challenging.

Take a closer look at the typical bass and guitar parts played in the styles of music you want to learn to get a better idea on which instrument is easier to play.

Should a Guitar Player Own a Bass?

Guitarists who want to write songs, improve their rhythm skills, or grow as a musician should own a bass. Owning a bass and learning to play it well can have a significant positive impact on your guitar playing.

Owning a bass will teach you to think about music in new ways and can give you song ideas that you may have never thought of on guitar.

Find out if you can play a bass through a guitar amp in this guide.

Is It Hard to Go From Guitar to Bass?

It isn’t hard to go from guitar to bass because many of the techniques and skills you know apply to bass as well. There are new techniques and skills you need to learn when going from guitar to bass, but most guitarists find it an easy transition.

To become a good bass player, you need to think about music in a different way compared to guitar. But it isn’t hard to go from guitar to bass.

Is Bass Fun to Play Alone?

Bass can be a lot of fun to play alone. Being able to jam with songs you like or improvise with a backing track is a lot of fun. Playing bass alone is just as fun as playing guitar alone.

Playing with other musicians in a band will usually be far more fun than playing alone, but bass is still plenty of fun to play on your own.

As a guitarist, one of the fun things about playing bass alone is the way you feel the rumble of bass in your chest as you play. The thumping and pounding bass tone of a cranked bass amp gives you a feeling that you don’t get when playing guitar. You feel the music you play in a way you don’t feel when playing guitar.

Is It Better to Learn Bass or Guitar First?

You should learn the instrument you are most interested in first. If you are really excited to learn bass, then learn bass first. If you are really excited to learn guitar, learn guitar first.

Every musician is different, so even if some people say you should learn guitar first or bass first, you should make your own mind up on which instrument you are more interested in learning.

 

Check out these other handy bass guides and resources: