This lesson is an introduction to bass guitar for complete beginners and deals with the absolute basics of holding the bass, tuning the bass and playing notes on the fretboard.

Anatomy Of The Bass Guitar

First of all, let’s have a look at the basic anatomy of the bass. The following diagram gives an overview of the three main parts of the bass guitar. The body, the neck and the headstock:

Holding The Bass

You can sit the bass on either leg. The right leg is fine but I tend to hold the bass on the left leg (classical style) in order to facilitate a wider stretch in the hand and fingers.

The left hand grips the neck with the thumb around the back while the right arm comes over the body allowing the fingers to pluck the strings.

Bass Hardware

Beyond the basic body, neck and headstock we also have several additional pieces of hardware attached to the instrument that we need to cover. The following diagrams display the standard parts found on most regular bass guitar bodies:

  • Strap Button – Used to attach the strap to the bass
  • Bridge – Secures strings to the body of the bass
  • Pickup – ‘Picks up’ the sound of the bass strings
  • Output – Connect lead here for sending signal to the amplifier
  • Volume – Adjusts the bass volume
  • Tone – Adjusts the bass tone (bass/treble)

  • Nut – Sets the height and spacing of the strings
  • Tuning Keys – Adjusts the tension and pitch of each string

  • Frets – Divide the neck into notes. Each fret corresponds to a different note.
  • Fret Markers – Used for easier navigation of the fretboard.

The Strap

If we’re going to stand with the bass, we need to attach a bass strap. These are really easy to fit to the instrument. We just push the strap buttons through the holes on the strap.

Important Tip: Aim to set the strap height so that the bass is at the same position whether you are stood or sat. Also be sure to avoid any positioning that forces you into bending too much at the wrist. You don’t want to be adding unnecessary pressure to the tendons.

Strings Of The Bass Guitar

The strings of the bass guitar are named according to the standard tuning of each open string. They are (from thickest to thinnest): The E String, A String, D String and G String:

Tuning The Bass

To tune the bass we need to turn our Tuning Pegs at the headstock up or down until each string is at the correct tension and pitch.

To do this we need a reference tone. I’ve provided audio files of the open strings below. Just play the file for each string round and round while you alter the tension using the tuning pegs. Try to determine whether the note is too low or too high. Eventually you should hear the wavering of the note disappear as the recorded tone and the open string sound the same.

E string:

A string:

D string:

G string:

Fret Numbers and Markers

The frets of the bass guitar neck are numbered in ascending order from the headstock to the body as follows:

It’s important to know the fret and marker numbering so we can start learning the location of all the notes. It’s also essential when starting to read tablature.

Playing A Note

In this lesson we’ll just look at simply pressing down a few notes and plucking with the thumb. Remember, we place the finger just behind the fret. DON’T place the finger ON the fret. The note will be muted and you’ll create a terrible rattling noise.

  • First try the 1st fret on the E string (this is the note F)
  • Next we have the 3rd fret on the E string (the note G)
  • Finally we can try the 3rd fret on the A string (the note C)

Press down quite firmly to avoid any buzz and watch the plucking hand to ensure you pluck the note cleanly. Be sure to pluck only one string. It needs to be a clean pluck with the thumb.

Plucking Exercise

To finish, we can play a simple rhythm moving between two notes:

  • C note (3rd fret of the A string) x4
  • G note (3rd fret of the E string) x4
  • Hold each note for a count of 2. So we count 1, 2, 3, 4 and play the notes on beats 1 and 3.

This exercise is a good introduction to plucking in time and moving from one string to another.

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