Reading music can be really tough to get into if you approach it from the wrong angle. A lot of people start with reading music at the level of their overall bass playing ability. That’s a sure fire way to lose heart and give in. Start simple and build on a good foundation and everything will fall into place.
The Basics Of Music Notation
The stave, or staff, is made up of five horizontal lines running across the page. When we have about 10-12 rows of these on the page, we call it manuscript and use it to write music notation on.
Music for Bass Guitar is generally written using the bass clef:
Each line and space on the stave corresponds to a specific note on the fretboard. A clef is used to indicate what those notes are. When we use the bass clef, the notes on the stave are as follows:
We can also introduce extra lines and spaces above and below the stave using temporary ledger lines:
The Time Signature indicates the number of beats in a bar. Here we have a time signature of 4/4:
The top number tells us the number of beats per bar and the bottom number tells us the type of beat (don’t worry about that for now).
So with a time signature of 4/4 we are counting a repeating pulse of 1,2,3,4 – 1,2,3,4 etc.
These bars (or measures) are divided on the stave with Bar Lines:
Next all we need is a basic rhythm to get started. The Whole Note is an oval symbol:
The Whole Note lasts for 4 beats. If we place it on the lowest line of the stave (G), we have a simple note of G lasting for 4 beats. This G is at the 3rd fret of the E string:
The following example repeats that same bar four times:
Putting It Together
In this lesson we’re only going to use two notes. The low E and F on the E string of the bass.
E (open E string)
F (1st fret E string)
Using these two notes alone we can embark on our reading journey. Here is a simple 8 bar reading exercise:
Count along as you play and always look ahead to the next note.
The Next Step
As you can see, by approaching music reading in a simple step by step manner it’s easy to make progress relatively quickly. Talkingbass has a comprehensive method for learning to read in the shape of Simple Steps To Sight Reading.