How To Begin Playing Bass For Guitar Players

How To Begin Playing Bass For Guitar Players

Bass guitar is an amazing, underrated instrument.

For those who play guitar, many know bass is very similar to guitar, but aren’t quite sure how to transition into starting to play bass as well. It’s rather easy to start. Let’s look a how to begin playing bass for guitar players.


First let’s look at the most obvious difference. The bass traditionally has 4 strings.

These are from thickest to thinnest E A D G. The same as the 4 thicker strings on the guitar. So, imagine a guitar without the 2 thinnest strings. Pretty cool! Since the running is the same, but one octave lower we can begin to play basic things we know on guitar on the bass.  

Next you will notice the strings are quite a bit thicker. This is to keep stable tension when tuned so low. This is also why the neck of the bass is much longer and therefore the frets much more spread out across the neck. This will take some getting used to, but understanding how it works is very simple if you are already a guitar player.

Playing The Bass Guitar

Playing the bass guitar does definitely have a lot of differences, but it’s not anywhere near as different as a piano is to a guitar.

The bass isn’t used for chords 99% of the time. So I would avoid playing chords on it for a while. Starting out with simple single note riffs or melodies you already know well on guitar is the easiest place to start. Things like Smoke On The Water is simple enough. On the D string play frets 0 - 3 - 5, then 0 - 3 - 6 - 5, then 0 - 3 - 5, then 0 - 3. You’re done, great job!

You can pick the notes with your fingers or with a pick. If you use a pick, make sure it is thick enough to move the massive bass strings. I would recommend a 1mm or thicker pick. If you use your fingers, then use the index and middle fingers. Just start out with 1 finger, then work up to alternating between them so you can play faster more musically dense patterns. Playing this way is pretty different than how you would play on guitar, so I would start with a pick unless you aren’t used to using a pick on guitar yet.  

If you want to play along with a guitar player or maybe you recorded your guitar playing and want to add some bass, then this will really fill out the sound. If the part is just chords, then find the root note of the chord and play that note only. For example the root of C major is C and the root of A minor is A. Pretty simple.  

Plugging In 

Most likely if you are playing a bass, it is an electric bass and will require you plug it into an amplifier to really get the most out of the experience.

Bass guitars require bass amps, but if you don’t have a bass amp, then you can use a guitar amp, just make sure it is turned down a lot. Guitar amplifiers are not designed to handle the frequencies of a bass, so do this is caution and you should be ok for now. Eventually you will want to use a bass amp. It is a much better combination.

There is much more to playing bass than what is covered here. This is only a very basic introduction to picking up the bass guitar for someone who knows some guitar. 

About The Author:

Ryan Duke is a professional musician, guitar teacher, and owner of Seattle Guitar Mentor providing guitar lessons in Seattle, WA.