Everything About a Bass: How to Play, Pick Out, and Have Fun With an Electric Bass

Introduction: Everything About a Bass: How to Play, Pick Out, and Have Fun With an Electric Bass

So deterring from my usually computer type insructable, I decided to make an "artsy" one. I am not a master bass player, but I've been playing for 3 years and know a little about what I am talking about.

Step 1: Picking Out a Bass

If you have a bass already, just skip this step and buy an amp if you don't have one.

The first step of picking out a bass is NOT deciding the budget, however if you truly never have played a stringed instrument before a bass you get a Walmart with the amp should be sufficient.

If you have played guitar before, or don't ever plan on buying a new bass, or just have played before, go to a music store. Ask to try out the basses, and they will try to talk you into a bass. Just ignore it, and try out any bass that looks good to you. What you should look for in a bass is whether you will be playing only rock, only jazz, or a little of each. If you only plan on playing rock, I suggest a precision bass, they have a deeper tone. A jazz bass is the opposite, it has a brighter tone. Personally, even though i play mostly rock I love my Jazz bass, it seems more... well... customizable. You will be able to tell the difference even if it is not in the name like Fender. A jazz bass has a narrow neck towards the tuning parts, but it gets wider towards the body of the bass, therefore the strings spread apart. A precision bass is different in that the strings stay more or less the same length apart down the whole neck.

When you are looking at basses, don't look at the price tag, that comes next. If you fell in love with a bass, tell the workers there why and they might have a cheaper version. Also, ask for someone who can play the bass, people who don't will not know much about a bass.

Fretted over Fretless: For a first bass, get a fretted. They are easier and you can slap them and such. For a secondary bass get a fretless if you want. That does not mean don't try a fretless out, they are really fun to play.

Full sized over 3/4: Get a full size, even if you are young. You will grow into it. It will also get your fingers used to reaching.

4 String over 5 or 6 string: For your first bass, get a 4 string. Until you feel you need another string (most of the time the string is lower) stay with a 4 string bass.

24 Fret over 21 Fret: Actually don't worry about that. Any of the two will do. The 24th fret is just another octave.

Active over Passive: Active electronics means you get better sound quality from your bass, mostly more bass. It also takes a battery. However, you can usually shut it off so you can play it like its passive if you want that sound.

Solid over Semi-Hollow/Hollow: GET A SOLID! Although the hollow ones may look cool, once you crank up the volume the air inside will resonate giving it a muddy tone. Unless you are planning on always playing softly, get a solid bass.

Of course, you can go against all those if you truley fall in love with a bass. Just i suggest you pass the bass with someone who plays the bass. They will hopefully tell you if they like it. Also, before you buy it, go to a different music store if you can and try a few basses there, and compare prices.

Strings: Don't worry, unless you are really good at the bass you probably will not notice the difference.

Some other tips: Unless you think you are good at the bass, I suggest you don't crank up the volume on the amp at the store, it is pretty embarrassing to have no idea what to do and just hit random notes, most people will know that you have no idea what you are doing.
Looks are a lot in a bass, only try the basses out you like the looks of. It is no fun having an ugly bass.
Get a hardcase, they are sturdier than softcases and more protective.
Get an bass amp, not a guitar amp.
Used basses ARE good, they will not lose sound quality. They may even gain it. You can also get a great deal on a used bass, I saved more then $500 on my Fender Jazz Bass, (the first picture in the intro)

My suggested price ranges when you do end up buying a new bass:
100-300-Beginner. Keep this bass for a few years until you get good and decide to stick with the bass
300-500-Intermediate. Keep this bass for a while, until you feel the instrument is holding you back.
Above-Good. The store just made some cash, and you have a bass thats really good. You probably don't need a bass that good until you are good.

My suggested price ranges when you do end up buying a used bass:
This is harder, but I suggest 300-500
I got mine for 400, it's a $900 bass. I also got a really good deal on it though, they were having a sale.

Amps: The bigger the better, don't get a used one. The more watts the more punch you will feel when you hit a note as well. As a beginner, you probably only need 20-30. As you get better, trade it in for a bigger amp. You really shouldn't need anything fancy in an amp, no effects or anything, however they are fun sometimes. You're bass should have enough knobs built in to get the sound you want. You could also look into tube amps, or even build one! Build a Tube Amp

For the case, depending on how good your bass is, any old hardcase will do, they range from 90 to a lot more. I got mine for $90

Strings: Your bass will come with strings! Once you get good enough read the Strings step in this instructable.

Also, get a tuner if your amp does not have one built in, and a cord. Just ask the store workers for one and they will give/sell you one. It really does not matter on the type of cord or tuner, anything will work.

Step 2: Parts of the Bass

The picture says it all

Step 3: Tuning

At the music store, if your bass buzzes, ask if they can fix it for free. Even if they can't, I suggest you pay them too, because it can be very complicated to get everything right.

To fix the buzz of a bass, there is a rod in the neck that can be tightened to improve the curve of the neck, you can look at the neck of your bass, it should only be curved a little bit. If there is no curve at all, look for the manual for your bass. Make sure it is recommended to change that setting, and also where it is located. The rod is called the truss rod

If your bass still buzzes, you will see a place where the strings attach to the body of the bass. There will be a place to put an Allen wrench in. If you turn it, it will change the height of the strings, however that will change the intonation of your bass, which you will have to fix by turning the other movable part. You will realize your intonation is off when you hit the 12th fret at it is off according to your tuner, while your open string is in tune.

After all that, that is why I recommend getting it professionally fixed. It will save you a lot of hassle.

Step 4: Notes and a Link to Bass Clef

The strings go in order, lowest to highest. The notes are E A D G. They also go up by fifths. That means the fifth fret on the E string is also an A, and the tenth is a D. It is like that with all of the strings, an A's fifth is a D...
The twelfth fret on every string is just an octave above the string, so on the E string it is just a higher E. Same as the 24th fret if you have it. They are usually marked with two dots in between the frets instead of one. If you have the 24th fret, between the 12th and 24th is just the same as the open string to the 12th. If you have 21 frets, it is just 3 frets away from that.
Another way to get the octave is two strings over, two frets down. For instance, a G would be played as the third fret on the E string AND the fifth fret on the D string (also the G string)

That instructable was written very well by grimsqueaker

Also, as with treble clef, a hollow oval means 4 beats, an oval with a line through it and a line going up or down means 2 beats, a solid oval with a line going up or down means 1 beat (or a quarter note, 2 beats is a half note, and so on) A quarter note with another line connecting it to another note is half a beat, or an eighth note. An eighth note with the line connecting the two notes being hollow in the center is a 16th note, or 1/4 a beat.

Two dots at the end of a measure means to repeat from the beginning/where a previous two dots facing the other way are.
4 means there are 4 beats in a measure, if it is
4 there are 3 beats in a measure.

C also means 4 beats in a measure. C means common, because 4 beats in a measure is common.

A whole step means another note, for instance a whole step could be from G to A (on the E string). That is two frets in almost every occasion but the notes B C E F. They are only a half step, or 1 fret. For instance, from E to F you would have the open string, and then to get to F that is the first fret on the E string. That is why a G is 3 frets up from an E, there is a note in between. Remembering that, on your A string what is the first whole note you would hit? B. Notes go by the alphebet, A B C D E F G then they start over again. Keeping that in mind, the notes on your E string would b E F G A B C D then it starts over again at the 12th fret. Here is a diagram of the E string, the | are frets.

Sharps and Flats: A sharp and a flat is just in between two notes. For instance the fret between F and G on the E string would be and F sharp AND a G flat. Flats are half steps below a note and sharps a half step above. A G sharp would be the 4th fret on the E string. That would also be an A flat. The only exception is with the B C E F notes. Although, I guess you could call an F an E sharp.

Step 5: Uh Oh... Chords/Scales

This is not how to play a chord on a bass, but the components of a major and minor chord. Consider the numbers as your fingers, 1-4. One being your pointer and 4 being your pinky.

A major chord is:
2 4
1 2 4
1 3 4

For instance, for a G major chord, you would put your middle finger on the G note on your E string, play that, then two frets down (because your ring finger would in theory take up that fret) and put your pinky on that note then play it. Then go up a string, but keep your 2 finger, or your middle finger in that same area. Put your first finger down on the fret above where your middle finger would in theory go. That note is a B. Play that, then put your middle finger down. Then your pinky. Then move over to the next string and instead of your middle finger use your ring finger on the fret down. Here is a diagram, the | are frets., there will be an X in between the frets except for the ones you should do.

A minor chord is different. Here is the fingering for a G minor (for first finger goes on the G this time)
1 3 4
1 3 4
1 3


It is the same fingering for every chord, just a different position.

You can number each note as well, and there are 8 in a chord. The 8th is an octave above the starting note.

That fingering is called a scale.

Step 6: Tabs

I use tabs. Most people like tabs a lot, however some people don't. That is why I included the bass clef.

A tab has the strings written out like this:

The numbers are the frets. That tab is the beginning of the Cream song Sunshine of Your Love. As you can see, tabs are pretty easy to read. The thing they lack, however, is timing. You have to have a good sense of timing to get some songs right, where with sheet music it gives you the timing.

Bass Tab Key:
H-Hit/ While that note is wringing, hit the next note without plucking it.
P- Pull off/The opposite of Hit
/-Slide/Slide up to the next note
\-Slide/Slide down to the next note
S-Slap/This is hard, but you slap the string. I will get into that later.
Sometimes P also means pluck (pluck the string), there is usually a key within the tab but sometimes not.

If there are two notes, one right over the other, it means play them both at the same time... for instance:

A good place to find tabs is www.bassmasta.net, although sometimes the tabs are incorrect. Look at the ratings.

Step 7: Warming Up

It is always good to warm up before you start playing. This little exercise will work on your speed and fingering.

Start on your E string, and put your first finger on the first fret, then play that, then second finger on the second fret etc... once you reach your 4th finger, go the the A string and so the same. Once you have done that with all the strings, move up a fret and come back down the strings. Once you get back to the E string, go up another fret. Try speeding up but still keeping a rhythm, not pausing in between strings. It takes a little while to get the hang of, but it will really help you. While you are doing that, however, make sure when you pluck the string you use your first finger then your second finger, it will really help you in the long run when you start playing fast. A few other things to watch out for is making sure you hit the note almost dead on, so you don't have to slide up. That is also challenging. Also, make sure the tips of your fingers (the padded part) are holding down the string, not the nail or middle of the finger. That goes along with keeping your finger bend above the fret so it does not push down any other strings. That will also improve your speed.

Once you get good, you can make your own warm up that you like doing, or just stick with this one. I suggest you get a metronome, you can always download one for your computer, and see how fast you can play. I was able to improve something like 100 beats per minute in a week. However, don't get let down if you can play that one warm up fast and nothing else fast, just keep practicing what you want to learn.

Step 8: Technique/Choosing Heros

Technique is a very custom thing, everyone plays differently. It is fun to watch some of the better bass players play, and decide if you like their style or not. You can always learn from someone better than you. Here are a few really good bass players:

Flea-Red Hot Chili Peppers
Les Claypool-Primus
Victor Wooten-Not sure
Jaco Pastorius-Not sure
Cliff Burton-Early Metellica

You can look those people up on youtube and be amazed.

My techniques:
Slap: I take my thumb and let it relax. I then twitch my wrist so my thumb bangs against a string
Pluck: I take my pointer finger, put it under a string, and pull up, letting it slide off my finger
Cool sound: I use the edge of the nail of my pointer finger to pluck the string, giving it a metallic jazzy sound.

Some other techniques:
Jaco Growl: turn the treble pickup up high and the other pickup low and play over the treble pickup.
Flea's little slappy thing: I HAVE NO IDEA HOW HE DOES IT!
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Another thing is if you play higher up the neck you will get a brighter sound, but if you play lower it will be much mellower

Step 9: Walking Bass Line/Solos

Yes, I have trouble improvising. The key is don't think, do.

A walking bass line is what you will hear in old music, or boogie music or such. To do a walking bass line in G major, you would play G on every first beat, but you could play anything in quarter notes in the G major scale. You can also flatten the octave above G (In a major scale, there is always the second octave, the 8th note)

A cool walking bass line could be G B D E F E D B... then you could go up an octave: ...C D G A Bflat A G... and back down. Technically that is breaking the rules a little bit, there is no octave or flattened octave, but it is close and it sounds good.

As I said in step 4, you can number each note of the scale. For instance, in the G major scale, going by notes, it would be as follows

f sharp-7

That is also the 2 4 1 2 4 1 3 4 patter I mentioned about chords. Here are the numbers in the form:
Finger Number
2 1
4 2

1 3
2 4
4 5

1 6
3 7
4 8

The most important notes to hit in both a major and a minor walking bass line is the 1, the 3, and the 5. Then you can add in notes.

To solo in a g major scale, you can play any of those notes in any order at any rhythm, and you can even add a few notes here and there. Don't worry if your solo does not sound good, it takes a lot of practice before you can play a nice smooth solo.

Step 10: Strings

There are 3 major types of strings with different sounds. You really don't need to worry about these until you need new strings.

Roundwound-Most likely your bass has these, they look like tightly would springs. They have the brightest tone of the 3
Groundwound-These are flatter then roundwound, and have a mellower tone.
Flatwound-These you will not be able to see lines in, they are the mellowest of the three.

Step 11: How Much and What to Practice

You should practice the bass every day, but since I don't know how busy your schedule is I will just give advice. You should practice for at least 20 minutes a day. It will be boring at first, you will have to practice the same stuff over and over again, but as you get better and better, the bass will become more and more fun. I practice 2 hours a day on average, and I am having a blast! Now, lets say you only have a guitar. USE THAT!! The bottom four strings are just an octave above the four strings of a bass.

Here is a brief schedule that I made to give you an idea of what and how much to practice. The more you practice the faster you will improve. This schedule is for starters, and feel free to do more!

First week-Practice warming up for at least 20 minutes a day. You will start to realize you are playing faster and more steady as you go on. When you feel you are ready, try with a metronome.
Second week-Warm up for about 5 minutes then start practicing your scales, remembering to alternate fingers and keep the fingers you are using to hold down a string arched. Start playing around with the bass, finding all the sounds you can get from it. Remember, there is no right way to play, there is just your way.
Third week-Warm up, practice the scales and walking bass lines, but start learning music. I suggest you start with sheet music and improve your bass clef reading skills. Keep messing around with the sounds. You could also buy a bass sheet music book for beginners. That will be useful.
After that:-Just keep repeating, everything, working out your fingers. Once you feel that you need a greater challenge, start slapping and plucking the strings. Once you feel you can read bass clef very well, move on to tabs. Perhaps start a band! It is always alot more fun to play with a guitarist and drummer!

Like I said before, always practice a lot, your skills will begin to shape into a bass player. Good luck and have fun!

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    30 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, Y'all!
    not sure if I am in the right place but I would really like to have a capability of plugging in my headphones in to my bass and playing quietly when on the road. No middle boxes, not through iPhone, just right straight in my electric bass. I have been all over the net and can't find anything about this. I know they sell electric guitars that you can do that.
    How do you go about doing that, what does it take? I am really handy...except in electronics. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You'd have to either get a bass with active electronics (a built in preamp) or buy a special set of headphones with a built in amp. I'd suggest the Active electronics as you can go straight in with any headphones and you won't get terrible distortion like on most other pocket amplifiers. What I did thought was that I bought an effects pedal. I get freedom of battery power with ac option, hundreds of effects + tuner, and I can plug my headphones into it.

    Trike Lover
    Trike Lover

    7 years ago on Introduction

    have two electric basses - a '62 Gibson EB0 short-scale, and a Peavey Milestone IIII (or is is IV - either way, they're virtually identical)

    The Gibson EB0 was made with a single humbucking pickup right at the neck, which gives a really low, "woofy" growling sound. Jack Bruce of "Cream" played an EB0, among others.

    I got my EB0 in 1973, in lieu of wages owed to me by a music store. It had been modified by a previous owner, who had added a Fender Jazz Bass pickup halfway between the bridge and neck. This pickup gives a whole different tone. Unfortunately, although he did (or had done) an excellent job routing and positioning the 2nd pickup, the wiring is a nightmare - done by a chimpanzee, perhaps. One big problem is that the Gibson pickup has a DC resistance (and corresponding AC impedance) of about 30 kOhms, while the JB pickup is about 7 kOhms. This means if you connect them in parallel, one is completely swamped by the other. I'm currently doing a complete overhaul of this bass, and plan to upgrade the electronics so that both pickups can be used, and the sound blended.

    The Peavey basses are just great.. The first bass I ever had was a Rickenbacker, which had a long, skinny neck - perfect for small hands - and the Peavey Milestones have a similar, really excellent, well-profiled, slim neck. The first bass I bought after giving up the Rickenbacker (which was borrowed) was an 80's Peavey Milestone, and it was rugged and sounded good. It played a lot of gigs, as did the Gibson.

    My more recent Peavey Milestone III is a real beauty (pictures on their web site), I bought mine used; the previous owner had taken excellent care of it so it looked showroom new. It's a real pleasure to play because of the superb neck, nice action, and fits nicely to the body. I would highly recommend one of these, if you can find one in good condition on the used market.

    I'd also agree with an earlier poster about the Fender "student" line, Squier. I have a couple of Squier strat guitars, and one "for-real" Fender strat. A good Squier, properly set up, plays every bit as nicely. They're made with lower cost components, but if you shop around and find a good one, Squier's product is good, especially for the beginner.

    Just my two bits worth from my own experiences. Some other things to remember when looking:
    Forget the name on the head, Check that it has a good, straight, un-warped neck that fits your hand, and that is properly attached to the body. Tune it, and see if the strings stay in tune, or if they loosen up after playing for a few minutes. If they don't stay in tune, walk away. Some ultra-cheap basses are made with plywood, but you can't tell if they're painted. For a student instrument it's not critical.

    Sit down with the bass, see how the neck feels and how the bass tucks into your body. Is it comfortable? Are the strings even and at a good height? Does it need new strings (if yes, factor that into the cost). Do the electrics work? Do you like the way it sounds and feels? Is the price reasonable (a little net research will give you an idea on that). If the answer to all of this is "yes", then you probably can't go too far wrong. I'd rather buy an inexpensive bass with a straight neck, good action, good sound, and comfortable to play than a "high end name" bass with a warped neck, electrics that need work, that someone has "modified" or "butchered", and that's a P.I.T.A. in terms of how easily it plays.

    IMHO only - your mileage may vary.

    Trike Lover
    Trike Lover

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    A P.S. - Beware of the seller who buys an "all-in-one" kit from Wal Mart for, say $99, then turns around and lists it in the used classifieds for twice the price or more. The easiest way to avoid this scam is to check which makes/models are being sold by your local Wal-Mart and make a note of them. If you find the "used" bass you're looking at, or seeing advertized is one of these, caveat emptor. If you really must buy an ultra-low-end Wal Mart starter kit, you may as well buy it there for the original low price, and avoid being scammed.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Also, check out Stevie Wonder's Bass in songs like "I Wish", I love him. Also Michael Jackson in his early years had some REALLY awesome bass like in "I Want You Back" or "ABC"


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I am a very experienced musician, I have been playing for about 6-7 years and I play roughly 5 instruments but I love the Bass it is a great instrument and its just fun to turn your amp up and rumble sometimes but some advice for beginners: Picking a Bass: I was once told by a Bassist who had been playing for several decades that when you are looking in the <$350 (less than 350) range for a Bass, Ibanez makes the best, above that, go with fender. I totally agree with this as I took his advice and bought an Ibanez for about $400 and I love it. Also when you are picking a Bass I would throw all my money towards a Bass and then, next time you have money, get an amp. You will be much better off in the long run, if you are thinking that way and take Bass seriously enough, if you aren't sure, go with a cheap bass and cheap amp.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Jaco Pastorius played with Weather Report & the Jaco Pastorius big band, among others. Victor Wooten plays with Bella Fleck and The Flecktones (his brother, "Future Man" plays an electronic drum machine guitar of his own invention in the same band. Both Wooten and Pastorius have released remarkable solo bass albums.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Do you perfer humbucking or single coil pick ups. I want to build a bass so i'm gathering information.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It depends on your style. I have a humbucker on my current bass... it gives a bit more punch. Better for funk/slapping, whereas single coil pickups are typically jazz (jazz pickups) or blues (the standard Fender P-bass pickups). You can hear demos on youtube. I'll send you my favorite.


    It's not me, I just wish I was that funky. But, you can hear all sorts of different things in basses.

    Are you buying the body for the bass, or are you making it yourself?

    Let me know how it goes!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    do you think the same concept could be used to learn how to play the double bass


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    The P-Bass design is derived from the double bass so yes, but you hold it upright and it has no frets. playing a double bass is very much like playing a fretless and every single one I have ever seen had markings on the fretboard where the 3rd and 5th frets would be for referance.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The 2 are incredibly dissimilar - no way in hell is playing a double bass like playing a fretless. Johnson_steve has clearly never touched a double bass, and the one's he's seen with markings are in the minority.

    Think yourself lucky you didn't say that here - they probably would have hunted you down and killed you.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    NIce Instructables. I just got my first bass for my birthday yesterday. Also, I think Krist Novoselic should be on the good bassist list.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    A black and chrome Dean Edge 4-string.


    11 years ago on Step 4

    I'm afraid i have to disagree...
    The bass guitar, like a double bass (also awesome), is tuned in *fourths*, unlike the violin family, which *is* tuned in fifths.
    The difference is that the tuning is named relative to the position of the note in the scales, a fifth is A-E, or G-D. You were right about the fifth fret though, just nomenclature.