by Matt Day

Many beginners want to know how hard it is to learn an instrument before they start, and the bass guitar is no different.  Keeping in mind that all instruments take an immense amount of effort to master, let’s take a look at how easy it is to learn the bass guitar.

Is it easy to learn the bass guitar?  The bass guitar is an easy instrument for beginners to learn since the instrument is not physically demanding and many entry level bass songs are not overly challenging to play.  Beginning bass players should focus on mastering tempo and timing while maintaining a consistent, quality tone.

Let’s dive in deeper into how easy it is to learn the bass guitar, and what you can do to get up to speed on the bass as soon as possible.

What Makes The Bass Guitar Easy to Learn

Before bass players out there get bent out of shape because I said that the bass is easy to learn, hear me out.  The bass guitar is certainly easier to play than fretless instruments like the violin and wind instruments like the trumpet.  Simply because of the design of those instruments, they require much more discipline to create a quality tone. Just thinking about what is required of them seems challenging.  But the bass has several qualities that will make it easier for the beginner to learn the instrument. Here are a few examples:

Example #1: Strings won’t hurt your fingers like the guitar.  Any beginner who has started to play the guitar has experienced the pain of the guitar strings against their fingertips before they are able to form calluses. Bass guitar can be considered somewhat easier then the standard guitar in this respect since the strings on a bass guitar do not cause the same type of discomfort or pain that you would experience on the guitar. This is because of the larger gauge of the strings on the bass guitar that tend to not cut into your fingertips quite as much.

Example #2:  Fewer strings means less notes to learn and manage.  Bass players won’t like to hear that the bass guitar is easier because it has fewer strings, but fewer strings does make things easier for those trying to learn the instrument because they are less notes to learn, and therefore less notes to consider when playing.

Example #3:  Bass doesn’t have the B string offset like guitar.   A challenge of the standard guitar that bass players don’t have to deal with is the offset of the B string on the guitar.  What this means for bass players is that the patterns for just about everything, including arpeggios, scales, triads and bass lines can be replicated on any string set across the entire bass guitar, even if the bass is a five or six string bass.

Example #4:  Bass does not require as much physical dexterity.  The larger strings and larger fret distances, as well as the larger distances between strings combine to make a playing experience on the bass guitar that requires less physical accuracy and dexterity in comparison to the standard guitar.  Keep in mind that we’re not saying that the musicality of the bass is easier, but that physically the bass is less demanding on the dexterity of your hands, which make it easier to learn for beginners.

Example #5:  Less is required of bass players in many songs.  Many rock, pop, and blues songs and progressions require less from the bass player than a lead instrument, such as the guitar or keyboard.  While this doesn’t apply to all genres of music, especially more complex forms like jazz, the lack of complexity of bass parts for many songs plays in the favor of new bass players.  This can make the bass guitar easier to learn.

What Makes The Bass Guitar Hard To Learn

Now that we’ve covered many of the factors that make the bass guitar an easier instrument to learn than most, we should still clarify that learning the bass guitar does require effort, and much of that effort is related to the musicality of the instrument.  Let’s discuss what we mean by that below, by outlining things that most beginning bass players will find challenging.

Challenge #1:  Bass players must know their music theory.  Serious bass guitar players that want to gig, especially in a variety of settings and musical genres, really need to know their music theory, and probably even more so than guitar players.  Since the bassist must fill the role of tying the drums and melody together, and provide support for the guitar players, especially during leads, the bassist must have a strong working knowledge of theory to pull from, and be able to improvise from that knowledge quickly.  The bassist really needs to know the notes on the neck of the bass and how they relate, and how they relate to the song and the key the song is in. Musical theory knowledge is important with any instrument, but the bassist must know what’s going on with the song at a more fundamental level.

Challenge #2:  New bass players must master tempo and timing.  The bass is such an intrical part of the rhythm section, that is it critical that as a new bassist you are comfortable being in, and staying in the grove.  Keeping accurate timing with the drummer is critical, and this often takes new bass players a little while to learn to listen to what the drummer in particular is doing.

Challenge #3:  New bass players need to learn to create consistent tone.  Tone seems to be a thing that bass players will work to find and then settle on, while guitar players seem to be much more obsessed with it.  As a new bass player however, it’s important, and a little challenging to learn to be able to create a consistent tone on the bass, regardless of which finger is playing the note.  Learning to play with the first two fingers of the right hand picking the strings, and making them both sound the same can take a little bit of practice.

Tips to Make Learning the Bass Easier

Let’s now turn our attention to ways you as a new bass player, can make learning the bass easier and more enjoyable.

Tip #1:  Focus on listening.  Be sure that you are listening carefully to what you’re playing and how it sounds.  Pay attention to whether your notes sound consistent in timing and tone. Work hard to focus on what you’re hearing.

Tip #2:  Practice a little every day.  When learning just about anything, it’s far more effective to practice a little bit each day than to have one monster cram session at the end of the week. Make an effort to carve out at least 20 – 30 minutes each day to practice your bass guitar.

Tip #3:  Record your playing.  Use a recording app on your smartphone to record your playing, and then listen back to the recording to see how your playing sounded.  Did it sound different to you than when you were playing it? How does your tone sound? Is your timing in time? Listening back to the recording is a great way to hear where you need to improve more objectively, since you’re not focusing on also playing the instrument at that time.

Tip #4:  Play to a metronome or backing track.  Backing tracks are everywhere on YouTube, and they are a great resource to learn to play along with other instruments and play in time.  A metronome is a great tool because you can adjust the tempo faster or slower to practice a variety of feels and tempos. Download a metronome app on your phone, and use YouTube a little during each practice session to accelerate your ability to play along with a band and play in time.

Tip #5:  Practice standing up.  Standing while playing the bass, versus sitting during a practice session, is a subtle but useful technique to get a better feel for the timing of the song.  By standing while playing, your body is in a better position to tap your foot or move slightly with the rhythm of the song, which will help you reinforce your ability to keep in time.  In other words, standing enables you to “feel” the music much better.

Related Questions

Should I buy a 4 string bass guitar or a 5 string bass guitar if I’m a beginner?  When buying an instrument for a beginner, it is usually a good idea to do some online research and talk to a trusted music store staff person or a bass guitar instructor.  Most will advise that for a beginner, they start with a 4 string bass guitar unless they have substantial musical background.

Do strings for a 5 string bass cost more than a 4 string bass guitar?  A set of comparable strings for any bass will cost more when you’re purchasing more strings.  Keep in mind that with any set of bass guitar strings, you are including all of the strings of the lower model, plus one more string, which equates to more cost.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day has been playing the guitar for over twenty-five years, and also plays the bass guitar and mandolin.