One Of The Most Useful Bass Exercises

This week we’re looking at an exercise that helps you to learn all the notes on your bass neck, the cycle of 4ths AND the major scale. All at the same time!! Enjoy!


This exercise involves playing a major scale from every chromatic note through the cycle of fourths starting on one string. We are going to need to know the major scale, the cycle of fourths and the notes on the neck.

For an extra challenge, try doing the exercise with arpeggios, intervals, bass lines or pretty much anything else you can think of.

The Major Scale

Play a C Major scale starting from the 3rd fret of the A string.

Get this fretboard pattern under your fingers and then try playing it through different keys.

The Cycle of Fourths

The cycle of fourths is a sequence of notes that we get by building consecutive perfect fourth intervals. Along with the cycle of fifths, it is an important part of understanding key signatures, chord progressions and harmony in general.

First of all, a perfect fourth is an interval four consecutive notes apart in a diatonic scale.

Now we can move on to the cycle of fourths by beginning with the perfect fourth we just practised. Starting from the C, we count up a fourth to the F and then keep adding fourths to find each next note. Eventually, we will end up back at C.

C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C

A lot of things will be easier once you have this memorised as it is one of the main building blocks of music theory.

The key to memorising this cycle is to remember the word BEAD. We will also add a G on the end to get BEADG. This order of notes is repeated twice in the cycle, the first time with flats and the second time without. The only other thing to remember is that the whole thing starts on a C and F.

C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C

Applying this to the bass

To contextualise the cycle of fourths, first try to play it slowly and one note at a time in a familiar area of the neck. Keep reciting the notes to yourself until you feel confident about the notes in the cycle. Then try these exercises to really get the notes into your head:

Exercise #1 – Play each note of the cycle on any familiar fret

Exercise #2 – Play each note of the cycle on the E string only

Exercise #3 – Play each note of the cycle on the A string only

Exercise #4 – Play each note of the cycle on the D string only

Exercise #5 – Play each note of the cycle on the G string only

Exercise #6 – Play the Major Scale from each note of the Cycle (root note on the E String)

Exercise #7 – Play the Major Scale from each note of the Cycle (root note on the A String)

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  1. Wayne Johnson December 4, 2015 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    You post a link “click here for that lesson” and then there’s no lesson anywhere. I’ve had enough, that is too frustrating. Does anyone ever check your website

    • MarkJSmith December 12, 2015 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      The lesson is here. I’m looking at it and your comment is right below it.

      • Brooke April 7, 2017 at 6:20 am - Reply

        Sir…thanks for all the help…its the first time that i’ve ever seen so much content in a easy way to understand…there hundred webs sites for guitarrist… But now we bass players got talking bass….by the way…big fan of your work on youtube

    • Demir Ateser August 26, 2016 at 11:24 pm - Reply

      The link took me to the PDF immediately. Is your Adobe setup to open a PDF automagically? Is your browser blocking the download of a file? What’s obvious to one, may not be obvious to another.

    • Jon February 27, 2017 at 5:39 pm - Reply

      Bro, Mark’s website and content is awesome! Your computer or internet or SOMETHING, is not.

  2. Steven Doyle Adcock December 5, 2015 at 12:17 am - Reply

    Loving the exercises that involve incorporating more than one musical and technical skill. . . next challenge for me (if I force myself) would be to learn this entire lesson, circle of fourths on each string above the dreaded 12th fret!

  3. Erik Emrick December 5, 2015 at 1:37 am - Reply

    One word – Awesome.

  4. Jeffrey Strough December 5, 2015 at 4:39 am - Reply

    Ty Mark …. you instructionalshould are ALWAYS VERY helpful. I’m jabbing a problem with downloading the material from below your video. The problem is … I can’t find the LINK ?

  5. Paul Rouleau December 5, 2015 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Hi Mark,
    Love the lessons and enjoy getting them in my e-mail.
    So where is the link for this lesson?

  6. Eric Young December 5, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

    I cannot find the link to down the lesson how do i find it

  7. Wayne Johnson December 5, 2015 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    Does the video lessons appear on phones? Maybe I should use my laptop.

  8. Shane Styles December 6, 2015 at 12:35 am - Reply

    It amazes me sometime how much depth one lesson can contain… This is one of them. Cheers mark. It is clear you put a lot of effort into each lesson for beginners and advanced alike.. Thanks again.

    • Mark S B. December 6, 2015 at 1:57 am - Reply

      Thanks Mark for the bass lesson.

  9. Mark S B. December 6, 2015 at 12:41 am - Reply

    Mark the lesson is nice and download material even better , thanks much.

  10. ROBERT DUNOYER December 7, 2015 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Another great lesson that ties in very well with the site reading course which I am really enjoying. Im using this for my regular scale practice now as it can expand a lot. Look forward to the follow up lesson on it. Brilliant. Many thanks Mark.

  11. AndyC December 10, 2015 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    Really good lesson, Mark. You read and hear a lot about how important it is to practise things in all keys but there seems to be precious little about how to actually go about it in a useful way. Thanks.

  12. John Page December 12, 2015 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Thanks, Mark, this is a really great lesson. It seems simple, but isn’t and demands real concentration, but the results are already showing. Db is now firmly embedded in my memory! I do like the way the exercise combines various skills. May I ask a couple of questions:
    1. After finishing learning the circle of 4ths, do you think it’s a good idea to repeat the exercise around the circle in the clockwise direction, so as to learn that progression too and the location of the # notes as well as the flats? (I know they are enharmonic, but I want to avoid having to think – Oh yes, C# is in the same place as Db).
    2. You mention that learning the circle of 4ths is important for example in jazz. Why is that? Can you expand on that, please?
    3. Do you have suggestions for the best way to play E & F major scales in this exercise, because they need alternative fingerings because of the open strings?
    Best wishes, and Happy Christmas!

  13. Mike Hershey December 17, 2015 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    Mark, This is an awesome lesson! Exactly what I needed – thanks so much!

  14. Tak December 19, 2015 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    Great lesson-Great tips. I consider this as a Christmas gift from you. Thanks and be blessed.

  15. Nicholas Ayers September 12, 2016 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    First off, fantastic lesson! As a former high school symphonic/jazz woodwind student I am used to practicing scales utilizing the circle of fifths and have used it to warm up scales on bass since I started playing. I never even thought to change it up by playing them by fourths! I especially like the idea of playing snips of jazz heads and cycling by fourths (and fifths!) thank you so much for making my warm up session more interesting!

  16. Elliott October 18, 2016 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    A simple but valuable lesson, Mark.

    With the substitution of a couple of flats for sharps, and reversing the order I have the C of 5ths down now also

    Much appreciated

  17. Jon Byrd November 16, 2016 at 12:51 am - Reply

    Mark, thanks much! by the way, what bass guitar are you playing with the LEDs in the pickups?? Thanks in advance for your reply?

  18. Greta Rinsma December 3, 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Bedankt beste Mark.
    Heb lang niet meer geoefend op mijn baas wegens herstel na hevige rugpijn.
    Ik was al eerder bij jou.Grace
    Nu probeer ik het weer met jou hulp.
    Groetjes Grace

  19. Grant Pureveen December 13, 2016 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Awesome lesson Mark thanks a million .

  20. Emily Coe December 1, 2017 at 2:07 am - Reply

    The cycle of 4ths and major scale practice lesson video is the most useful 25 minutes I’ve spent after years/hours of face-to-face lessons. I love Mark’s lessons and look forward to progressing through the remaining videos.

  21. Fredric Weber March 14, 2018 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Hi Mark,
    I’m a non traditional learner (and an old guy) and wanted to respond to your comment in this video about how a live teacher is a better motivator than perhaps your YouTube videos. I’ve been looking at bass instruction for 15yrs. including live instructors and I saw very little improvement in my bass playing, until I discovered your online instruction. It’s not just your Bass Guitar knowledge that is amazing, but you have an incredible talent for teaching. You make each lesson understandable to those of us that look at music as we might math. I’m finding that I can relate the new concepts that I’ve been learning in a lesson to the subsequent lessons much more easily. It’s your talent for teaching that makes what you do work so well for so many and THAT’s what has been motivating me.

    Thank you so much!

    • Talkingbass-Mark March 17, 2018 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Thanks very much Fredric!

  22. enzo iannella June 30, 2018 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    Thank you Mark this exercise is essential!
    You are right this is not only about playing the bass, rather it is about understanding music!

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