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So you want to learn the bass guitar? Great!
The bass guitar is one of the most fun instruments to play and is a foundational instrument in many genres, from funk to metal and almost everything in between.
The most common style of bass guitar is the four-string model (although five and six-string basses are gaining in popularity), which sometimes leads people to assume that the bass guitar is an easier instrument to learn than a traditional six-string electric or acoustic guitar.
However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Just because an instrument has fewer strings doesn’t inherently make it easier to learn.
This leads us to the fundamental question of this article: Is the bass guitar hard to learn?
While the bass guitar may be easier than some instruments to learn, such as the violin, it is not inherently easier to learn compared to its closely related counterpart, the six-string guitar. The bass guitar, like any instrument, will take months and years of dedicated practice to learn and master.
By the end of this article, you will better understand how difficult learning the bass guitar is and some of the factors that contribute to this.
Is the Bass Guitar Hard to Learn?
It is a common misconception that because basses (typically) have fewer strings than electric and acoustic guitars, they are easier to learn. This is simply not true.
While having fewer strings means, in theory, there are fewer notes to learn, it does not mean learning bass will be inherently easier.
To truly learn and master the bass guitar, just like any instrument, you will need to dedicate a significant amount of time (usually months and years).
While, in most cases, you won’t be playing multiple strings at once (although many phenomenal bass players do) or forming chords, there is still a lot to learn. This is by design, as the bass typically has a different role to play sonically than the guitars do.
One of the main jobs of the bass is to provide the low-end sonically and to help keep the groove and rhythm along with the drums. That is not to say that the bass cannot take the lead in certain situations or genres of music.
Take the example below of this amazing bass solo:
One of the most common ways to play bass is to play the root note of whatever the guitar is doing.
Early on, this is a great way to begin, as the novice player can focus on playing one note at a time and essentially doing exactly what the rhythm guitar is doing.
Why Is Bass Guitar Difficult to Learn?
Now that we have established that the bass guitar is similar to other instruments in terms of how difficult it is to learn, let’s dive into some factors that will influence how difficult learning the bass guitar is.
These factors include previous experience with other instruments, knowledge of music theory, the type of bass, the playing style you are learning, and string and neck size, length, and overall weight considerations.
Factor 1: Previous Experience With Other Instruments
Previous experience with other instruments can be a huge factor in how difficult learning the bass guitar will be.
If you are completely new to music, learning the bass will likely be more challenging than if you have had previous experience simply because you have no foundation to stand on. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start anyways. Every great bass player was once a beginner.
On that note, don’t be afraid to pick up a new hobby, like learning the bass guitar, no matter your age. I know of lots of people who have picked up the bass and other instruments late in life and have not only found the experience to be very rewarding but have also become very good at their chosen instrument.
Any previous experience with a musical instrument can give you an advantage when learning the bass guitar, as it will provide you with some foundational concepts regarding music in general, which I will discuss more below.
Of course, some instruments can have a bit more transfer than others to learning the bass guitar as well. The obvious choice here is the guitar.
Now, just because you play the guitar doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to pick up the bass and have instant success, but I do think the basic principles that the instruments share can give you a head start if you are thinking of switching to the bass.
I play both the bass and the guitar and started learning both around the same time. Learning them both simultaneously benefited me, but it is certainly not essential to do so.
This idea leads to the following topics: the key similarity between the bass and the guitar!
Key Similarity Between Bass and Guitar
While there are many differences between the bass and the guitar (such as strings, neck size, and length, which are discussed below), it can make learning the bass a bit easier if you have previous experience with playing the guitar.
Assuming the bass is in standard tuning (EADG), it is the same tuning as the lowest four strings of the guitar (EADGBE), although typically an octave lower. This means that the notes up the fretboard (assuming the fretboard has the same number of frets) will be identical.
This means that if you have learned the notes on the guitar, you will now know the notes on the bass, making the learning process much easier.
Sticking with the theme of similar notes, understanding music theory, or at least being willing to learn it, can make learning the bass easier to accomplish.
Factor 2: Music Theory Knowledge
What is music theory? According to the Britannica online encyclopedia, it is:
“The study of the concepts and compositional methods involved in the creation of music. Music theory examines musical qualities such as timbre, tone, pitch, and texture, as well as compositional elements such as rhythm, dynamics, tempo, and more.”
In other words, it is the foundational concepts that make up most of the current Western musical theory. However, there are many other music theory concepts and ideas beyond Western music theory, which you can always explore.
To keep things relatively simple in this article, anything I speak about music theory will be referring to Western music theory.
So do you need to learn or know music theory to learn the bass? No. Does it help? Yes.
There are many examples of famous musicians who do not have a background in music theory and many more who cannot read music. One benefit of learning the bass is that you do not need to know how to read music because most songs have tab options.
Tabs are simply stating the fret number to press instead of having to read musical notation. One of the most popular sites to access tablature is ultimate-guitar.com.
Learning some music theory can be very helpful, especially when you start playing with other musicians. For example, if you are playing with a new group and they call out something like, “let’s play a jam in the key of G,” you would be able to understand which notes work within that specific key signature to ensure what you are playing works well within the context of that song.
Music theory helps to provide structure and can help explain why many of the songs you like sound good. It is good knowledge to learn, and if you have a background, it can help accelerate the learning process, but again it is not required to learn the bass.
Factor 3: Type of Bass Guitar
The type of bass you plan to play on can also impact the learning process’s difficulty.
The most commonly used in modern music is the electric four-string bass. However, as I said before, five and six-string models are growing in popularity, especially in metal music.
I have both a four and five-string model. While I play my four-string much more often as it is more comfortable for me to play, I enjoy the five-string versions as well, and it opens up a whole new sonic landscape.
There are also acoustic bass options, fretless electric basses, and the upright bass. The latter two options will usually be more challenging to learn than the other models because there are no frets, which makes knowing where to press the strings to get the desired notes much more difficult.
Bass strings are much thicker than guitar strings, which can sometimes mean it is more difficult to press down on the strings; however, that generally has more to do with the action (height of the strings from the fretboard) than due to the actual strings themselves.
Regardless if you are learning the bass or the guitar, it is likely your fingers will hurt early on until you start to develop some callouses on your fingertips.
The neck length and width are generally going to be bigger on a bass guitar than on a standard six-string guitar. The width will further increase as you move from a four-string model to a five or six-string version.
The differences in neck length and size are one of the main features that can make the bass more challenging to learn than the guitar, especially for those who are smaller or have smaller hands.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn the bass, as there are plenty of examples of small children and others learning and playing the bass.
On average, bass guitars will weigh more than your average electric or acoustic guitar; however, some guitars, such as the Gibson Les Paul, can weigh quite a bit as well.
The added weight of the bass guitar can be challenging for any level of player, but beginners might especially be affected by it if they are not used to holding an instrument.
The weight of a bass will be much more noticeable if you are trying to learn standing up instead of seated.
Factor 4: Your Playing Style
One of the last big considerations regarding how difficult the bass is to learn is the type of playing style and genre of music you aim for.
For example, funk music and playing a style known as slap bass are known to be very challenging. That is not to say every genre doesn’t have challenging aspects, and there are ways to continually increase the difficulty level regardless of what genre you are playing.
The take-home message regarding playing style is that you can often make whatever genre or style you are playing infinitely complex or simple.
The bass is a fantastic instrument to learn and play and one of my favorite instruments to play. It is typically responsible for the low end, helping to bring more fullness into the music. Sometimes you might not be able to hear the bass clearly, but more often than not, you can hear it when it is not there.
While the bass is often overlooked, some people also assume that the bass guitar is easy to learn.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you should now have a better understanding of some of the nuances and factors that can contribute to how difficult learning the bass guitar can be.
Until next time, happy playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two rock/folk cover bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.