Advice needed: a guitar player learning how to play bass

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by bugo, Oct 11, 2011.

  1. bugo


    Oct 4, 2011
    I've dabbled with the bass a lot but I've never mastered it. I haven't exactly "mastered" the guitar either but I've been playing for 20 years. I want to teach myself how to play the bass as well as I play guitar. What advice would you seasoned bass players give a newbie like me? I'm going to try to learn to play with my fingers, but I might give in and play with a pick. Should I throw my "guitar" thinking completely out the window and approach the bass as a completely different instrument or should I build off my guitar knowledge?
  2. kevteop


    Feb 12, 2008
    York, UK
    It's still basically a guitar, just bigger and tuner an octave lower. Just get one and give it a go.
  3. Silver9692


    Aug 17, 2011
    Just make sure you don't try and play the Bass exactly like its a guitar, learn to play with the drums and lay down a thick groove. And have fun : ppp
  4. 5StringFool


    Jun 10, 2011
    Greenup, KY

    Imo it isn't an either/or situation, it would be to your advantage to do both those things. When I first started I began playing with a pick since I already had picking skills from playing guitar and fretboard knowledge about note location and some basic scales. I began working on fingerstyle and as I became more efficient with it began incorporating it into live performances. Now I have both techniques at my disposal.

    There is most definitely a shift in approach though since your role as a bass player is different from the role of guitar. Lots of good info concerning that at this website:

    Online Bass Lessons at

    Welcome to the "underwolrd". :D
  5. SGS


    Mar 21, 2010
    I moved from guitar to bass. I had played guitar for about 10 years, took 8-9 years off, then started up again for about 6 months before switching to bass. I threw all my picks into the guitar case because, IMO, using a pick on a bass is a completely different world than using one on a guitar. I can use a pick when playing bass, I just choose not to.

    Getting used to fretting heavier strings is a bit of work and will tire your hand out faster for a while until you get used to it. I would strongly suggest not playing your guitar prior to playing bass...your fretting hand will hate you. However, it is kinda fun to pick up a guitar after playing bass for 45-60 minutes and seeing just how fast you can fret strings and move around after clamping down thick strings for a while. I feel like a trash metal god when I pick up a guitar after a good session of bass playing.

    You can throw out some of your guitar thinking, as in less notes is perfectly acceptable.

    Can't think of anything else at the moment, and I'm sure there's others that can expand on what I've said or give better advice.
  6. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Too much hip thrust
    Playing bass well in an ensemble requires a kind of different mindset than playing guitar since you are occupying and working within a very different space rhythmically and tonally. With that said, if you are experienced in guitar you should have no trouble with beginner bass.
  7. grendle


    Mar 4, 2011
    Central FL
  8. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it two octaves lower?
  9. makkE


    Jan 19, 2010
    Normandie, France
    No, it's one octave lower.

    Tips to OP:

    Concentrate more on chord tones (arpeggios) than scales if you make a bassline. The bass' primary job is to outline the chords - after that, you can use your scale knowledge to add nice passing notes if needed or desired. Also, less is often more on the bass. Concentrate on getting a clean, strong tone from that one string first - muting is important for this.

    Playing pick or fingers is a matter of preference, but it's always good if you are proficient in both. Also, learning fingerstyle will help you to automatically approach the bass as a diffrent instrument. Muting is easier with fingerstyle too.

    Take a drum computer, turn on a simple groove, choose one note and make that one groove as good as you can, even if it's only quarter notes. Explore diffrent rythmic patterns with it.
    Additionally, depending on the style of the music, it can be very important not only where the note starts, but where exactly it ends.
  10. echoSE7EN


    Jul 1, 2010
    Balto., MD
    +1. Don't think as a guitar player...think as a bass player. I made the switch to bass, after playing guitar for 20 years. I thought I was hot-stuff at first...then, I realized I was ridiculous and learned to play within a rhythm section, when appropriate, and as a guide instead of as an upfront member.

    My old teacher/mentor gave me great advice, "Wherever you want to squeeze an extra note in, like on the guitar, leave it out on the bass." For the time being, forget all the super awesome scales and modes you used on the guitar, and focus on R, 5, 8, arpeggios, approaches (e.g. walking) and timing.
  11. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    One bit of advice for guitarists starting to learn bass is that while it's physically very similar, the thought process is generally totally opposite. Bass players work on the 1 and 3 of the measure while guitarists work on the 3 and 4. Bassists think of foundational parts of the chords (the root and fifth) while guitarists can happily dispense with those notes and deal with the upper extensions. So, it's a mental change to play bass.

    Now I advise guitarists to totally ignore the pick when first learning bass. Not because fingers are the "right" way to play at all. There's a long history of influential and important bassist who use picks exclusively. Some of my favorite pick players include Joe Osborn (tons of classic American pop music of the '60s), Jerry Peek (the first Steve Morse Band), Anthony Jackson (The OJ's "For The Love Of Money"), and Carol Kaye (tons of TV, movie, and pop hits).

    No, I say ignore the pick to facilitate that mental shift. Because of the physical similarities, it's very easy to grab your bass and with that pick in your right hand you start playing things that come naturally from your years of guitar playing. And those will likely be very guitar-ish things. So, if you totally ignore the pick when you're starting, both hands will be working together to learn something new. Then when you've gotten confident in your bass-player thinking, then the pick technique is another formidable tool in your tool box.

  12. soulman969

    soulman969 Inactive

    Oct 6, 2011
    Englewood, Colorado
    There are some great tips here that I can only repeat or emphasize. One that keeps popping up often is that in ensemble you're filling a very different roll. You have to lock in with the drummer and keep a big wide open but rhythmically sound pocket going throughout the song. No laying out for a few bars anymore.

    The biggest mistake I see from guitarists converting to bass is that they over play. In most cases it's no longer a solo instrument and unless the material calls for it a bass shouldn't be played like one. Fundamentally a good bassist needs to propel the song along it's path playing with and outlining the chord structure of the song. I always looked at more as drums with pitch.
  13. Akami

    Akami Four on the floor

    Mar 6, 2005
    Plenty of input on finger vs. pick, but one thing I haven't seen brought up is the difference in tonality and you should not make the decision between pick and fingers based on ease, coolness or anything other than, what basic tonality do you want to hear.

    If you like the sound of bassists who use a pick, then that may be the best way to go for you, but personally I'm a finger fan because when I play bass, that's the tone I want to hear.
  14. SGS


    Mar 21, 2010
    I like listening to the tone a pick gives, but I prefer my own sound to be with my fingers, at least most of the time. I also play better with my fingers than with a pick. Personal preference on my own sound I guess.

    JTE and soulman969 - great posts, they actually reminded me of things I needed to hear again since I once was a guitar player. I definitely try to do more than necessary with a bass and have to learn to scale it back a little.

    Flea has said that, and I'm paraphrasing, when they went in to record Blood Sugar Sex Magic he had to force himself to cut back on the amount of notes he was playing unless the part called for it. His playing on that album is still phenomenal but if you listen to earlier stuff he did cut out 3/4 of the notes he was playing.
  15. GladToBeBack


    Mar 21, 2011

    I've always dabbled in both but when I started taking playing more seriously I went to guitar first. Then necessity brought me to learning bass and, after focusing primarily on that for a while, I noticed that becoming a better bass player was also making me a better guitarist. The roles are different and understanding how they're different, to me, is the most important part. Any way that you look at it, playing both makes you versatile and ultimately more valuable to any band. It's in anyone's best interest to learn and love both.
  16. soulman969

    soulman969 Inactive

    Oct 6, 2011
    Englewood, Colorado
    Thanks! Sometimes it's like BB King's playing. What you don't play is as important as what you do. Space is still music. :)

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