6 Steps to Learn Bass: How to Learn Bass Guitar for Beginners

Bass is an incredibly fun instrument to play and a lot of songs have simple bass parts any beginner can learn.

This guide will walk you through 6 basic steps to learning bass from scratch with links to useful guides and lessons.

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

If you are thinking about learning bass or just getting started, follow these steps to speed up your learning.

Step 1: Learn How to Read Bass TAB

The first step to learning bass is to learn how to read Bass TAB (also known as tablature).

Bass TAB gives you an easy shortcut to start playing songs and exercises.

You can learn the basics of Bass TAB in under 10 minutes by reading this complete guide.

This is an example of Bass TAB:

Bass TAB numbers example

It might not make sense to you now, but it’s an extremely simple way of reading music for bass that doesn’t require you to learn notes on the music staff (known as ‘Standard Notation’).

Bass TAB uses numbers to tell you what frets to place your fingers on and horizontal lines to tell you what strings to play.

So the above example is telling you to play the 1st fret, then the 2nd fret, 3rd fret, then 4th fret all on the bottom string.

See how easy that is?

You don’t need to learn the names of the notes (yet) and can immediately dive into reading music without memorizing note positions on a staff.

Once you learn the basics of Bass TAB, you’ll be able to start trying to play your favorite songs on bass. The TAB for countless songs are easily found online (covered later).

Learn how to Read Bass TAB here.

The above guide includes detailed diagrams to explain all of the important symbols used in Bass TAB.

Once you read through the above guide, you’ll be able to learn all the exercises and songs covered in the next steps.

Do You Need To Learn to Read Music?

There are two ways of reading music for Bass: TAB or Standard Notation.

TAB uses numbers on lines to tell you what frets and strings to play.

Standard Notation uses notes on a staff to tell you what notes to play, then you need to find those notes on the bass fingerboard.

The below riff shows a joint staff that has Standard Notation on the top and TAB on the bottom:

Livin on a prayer bass riff TAB

Some bassists only know how to read TAB, some only know how to read Standard Notation, some know how to read both, and some don’t read any music and play by ear instead.

It’s up to you which ways of reading music you choose to use.

I recommend starting with TAB because it gives you a quick and easy way to start playing music. The above riff example should immediately show you how much easier TAB is to learn. You simply find the fret number and the right string, then play the note. Reading Standard Notation involves more steps and memorization which slows beginners down.

In the future, you can choose to learn the basics of Standard Notation and decide if you want to learn to read it.

Musicians often argue about reading music and you will eventually talk to somebody who says the method you have chosen is the wrong way to do it. Ignore them.

Use whichever method you prefer and just enjoy playing bass!

Step 2: Learn Some Basic Finger Exercises

Once you know how to read Bass TAB, the next step is to start playing some simple exercises.

Basic finger exercises will help you build confidence and get your fingers used to pressing down the bass strings.

The 6 basic finger exercises in this lesson are worth practicing every day and will speed up your learning process.

For example, the below exercise helps you practice jumping back and forth between strings as well as stretching your fretting hand out:

Bass Exercise 5

Practicing exercises like this every day builds up your finger dexterity and independence.

You’ll be surprised by how easy some songs can be after you have spent some time working on exercises like these.

Even practicing these exercises for 5 minutes per day can have a big impact on your abilities.

Check out these 6 basic finger exercises in this lesson and practice them every day.

Step 3: Learn Some Basic Bass Riffs

Now that you can read Bass TAB and have practiced a few finger exercises, you’re ready to start playing some real music.

A ‘riff’ is a short part of a song and while many bass riffs are challenging to play, a lot are easy enough for beginners to start learning on day 1.

The 14 bass riffs in this lesson range from easy to challenging for beginners, but all of them are fun to play.

Every riff will challenge you in different ways. For example, the below example only uses two notes, but the rhythm will give your fingers (or picking technique) a good workout.

Under pressure bass riff TABRiffs are a great way to learn different techniques and new skills. Spend some time every day learning a new riff and you’ll be surprised by how fast you improve your abilities.

Check out these 14 easy bass riffs and start learning some fun bass parts.

Step 4: Start Good Practice Habits

Every beginner has doubts about their abilities and talent. At some point, you may wonder whether you have what it takes to play bass.

As a teacher, I can tell you the number one thing that makes or breaks beginners is their practice habits.

Beginners who develop good practice habits will end up becoming great bassists and be able to enjoy playing the songs they want to play.

Beginners who don’t develop good practice habits will end up frustrated and quit learning bass.

It’s as simple as that.

Here are some simple tips to help you develop a good practice routine:

  • Set up a practice area. Check out this guide for examples of practice areas and why your practice area matters
  • Practice every day. Even if you can only squeeze in five minutes, make sure you don’t finish your day without practicing a few finger exercises or riffs
  • Don’t overdo it. A lot of beginners mistakenly think they should have a marathon two-hour practice session. Long practice sessions don’t work. Have short and regular practice sessions for the best results
  • Have a plan. Don’t sit down to practice without knowing what you will practice. Know what step you’re up to and work on that step. If you don’t have a practice plan, you’ll end up wasting time
  • Don’t give up. The start is always the hardest part when learning bass. Every new technique will feel hard and some may feel impossible. If you stick with your regular practice, you will improve
  • Know your limits. Even if you want to learn really complicated music, take it one step at a time. Learn the basics before you try to play harder techniques. If you ever feel as if something simple like finger exercises are behind you, you’re heading for trouble. You need to build a solid skill foundation before you can tackle harder songs or skills

Find out how long you should practice each day in this guide. The guide looks at the science behind how long to practice so you can learn faster with less time practicing.

Here are three important guides to help you develop good practice habits:

  1. Set up a practice area
  2. How long to practice
  3. How to create a solid practice routine

Step 5: Learn Your First Complete Song

Once you have mastered some basic finger exercises, can play a few riffs, and have set up a good practice routine, it’s time to set yourself a challenge.

The challenge is to learn a full song from start to finish.

This is a big milestone achievement for every beginner bassist. The sooner you can achieve this, the more confident you will be about learning bass.

Being able to play a full song from start to finish proves to yourself and everyone else that you have what it takes to learn bass.

There are a lot of beginner bassists and guitarists out there who can play a few riffs and parts, but not a full song. As soon as they learn their first complete song, they suddenly get a massive confidence boost and their progress speeds up.

While it’s great to be able to play a lot of riffs or parts of songs, it’s a great feeling to be able to hit play on a song and jam along from start to finish.

Use this step-by-step tutorial to learn any song in the best way possible. The tutorial talks about learning guitar parts, but you can follow the exact same steps for bass.

Step 6: Memorize the Notes on the Fretboard

While it’s possible to become a great bassist without knowing any of the note names you play, you’ll learn faster and easier when you know the note names you play.

Imagine jamming with a guitarist and they tell you to jam along with the chord progression: C Am Em G.

What can you play?

If you know the notes on the fretboard, you can simply follow along by playing the root notes for every chord. So you would play the note C over the C chord, A over the Am chord, E over the Em chord, and G over the G chord.

Learning the notes on the fretboard will make your learning process easier and it will open up more options for your playing.

Bass fretboard notes

While it might seem daunting at first, memorizing the notes on the fretboard should only take you a week or two of practice.

Read this guide on Memorizing the Notes on the Fretboard to learn two simple methods.

While the guide was written with guitar in mind, you can follow the same steps for learning the notes on a bass.

Tip: the bottom 4 strings on a guitar are the same as the 4 strings on a bass, so the note names are the same to memorize.

6 Steps to Learn Bass Summary

Here are the 6 steps to learning bass with links to the lessons you should work through in order:

  1. Learn to Read Bass TAB
  2. Practice Some Basic Finger Exercises
  3. Learn 14 Must-Know Bass Riffs for Beginners
  4. Develop Good Practice Habits
  5. Learn Your First Full Song
  6. Memorize the Notes on the Fretboard

Take your time working through the above guides and lessons and you’ll give yourself a great headstart at learning bass on your own.

Once you get through all six steps, you’ll be able to start learning challenging songs, write your own bass riffs, or jam with other musicians.