Beginner Bass Quick-Start

By February 5, 2017Bass, Lessons

This Lutz Academy Quick-Start will have you set up and playing bass in no time at all! Jeremiah will be going over the essentials that you’ll need to start playing. These things may seem easy, but it’s important you get them right because they will build the foundation you need to be a good bassist! You can take the full version of this course on Udemy or SkillShare.

Here’s what we’ll be learning in this Quick-Start…

Part 1:

  • How to get in tune
  • Proper posture and positioning
  • Using a pick
  • Playing finger style

Getting In Tune

Getting your bass in tune for the first time can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to do it by ear. While it is important to develop your pitch recognition skills, it’s not the first thing you want to tackle as a bassist!

Seriously, get a tuner. Trying to play an out of tune instrument (especially if you don’t know it’s out of tune) will make everything you do sound horrid, and you’ll probably give up before you even start.

There are some apps and sites out there that you use your device’s microphone. Make sure whatever you install uses the microphone. If it just plays notes for you, it’ll take forever to try and tune with it (we’ll work on that a little later).

Standard Tuning

Standard Tuning for a four string bass guitar is (thickest string to thinnest string): E-A-D-G. You can remember this with a saying like Eat And Drink Gold where the first letter of each word corresponds to the string note.

Using a Tuner

To raise the pitch of a note, tighten the string. To lower it, loosen the string.

Most tuners will show you the note that the string is closest to. So if you’re playing the E string and it shows as G, you need to loosen the string until E shows up, then fine tune to make sure that it’s perfectly tuned to an E note.

Knowing the musical alphabet will help you get in tune. Here’s a quick look:

A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A

For example, if you’re tuning the A string and a B note is showing up, you need to loosen the string and lower the pitch.

For example, if you’re tuning the G string and an F note is showing up, you need to tighten the string and raise the pitch.

Using The 5th Fret Method (Relative Tuning)

The fifth fret method tunes your bass relative to the E string note. So, if your E string is not perfectly in tune, you will not get into standard tuning! However, tuning the strings relative to each other will allow you to play across the fretboard and sound alright by yourself.

  1. Fret the E string at the fifth fret. Play the open A string and this note in unison, tweaking the A string’s tuning until the pitches match.
  2. Fret the A string at the fifth fret. Play the open D string and this note in unison, tweaking the D string’s tuning until the pitches match.
  3. Fret the D string at the fifth fret. Play the open G string and this note in unison, tweaking the G string’s tuning until the pitches match.
  4. You’re in (relative) tune!

Just remember: if you’re playing with someone else in standard tuning, you will sound out of tune because you are not in standard tuning. Your bass is only tuned relative to whatever note the E string is.

Listening for Pulses

Make sure to play the strings together to help hear when they’re in tune. If you listen closely, there will be “beats” or “pulses” when the strings are out of tune. This wavering sound will allow you to tune by ear.

The pulses are produced by the misaligned frequencies of the out of tune notes. The quicker the pulses, the more out of tune the notes are. As the notes get closer to the same pitch, the pulses will slow down until they disappear. That means the notes are in tune with each other.

Proper Positioning

Whether you choose to sit or stand while practicing, it’s important you learn the proper posture to save you from bad technique and back pain.

If you’re planning on joining a band or gigging in the near future, it’ll be ideal to get into the habit of standing and playing. While you’ll eventually be able to make a smooth transition from sitting to standing, for now, you should practice just like you’re going to be playing (otherwise, it’s not very good practice).

Sitting

Sitting down and playing requires an armless (and possibly backless) chair so that you have plenty of mobility. Rest the bass on the knee of your picking hand, and position it so the neck is slightly elevated. You might want to use a foot stool to raise the leg that the base is resting on.

The bass should be flat up against your body. Sit up straight, and make sure you aren’t constantly leaning over the bass to look at the neck. When you practice, glance at the fretboard when you need to, otherwise look at what you’re playing or just look cool. This is important to develop muscle memory, which will make you a much more accurate player in the long run.

You might choose to use a strap when sitting to keep your bass in the right position. Your hands should not have to support the bass at all. If you find the neck keeps wanting to point towards the floor, use a strap to keep it in place.

Standing

To find the right strap height for your bass, sit down as describe above. Find a comfortable position, hold the bass in place and then stand up. Attach the strap and adjust the positioning slightly if you need. This ensures that you don’t set the strap height too high or too low for your needs.

When you stand up, you’ll notice that you’re looking at the fretboard from a different angle. Whereas when you were sitting you probably leaned forward to see the fretboard, you can’t do that so much when standing. Make sure to stand straight and keep your arms relaxed.

Handy tip: If you’re going to be standing and playing for long periods of time, pay attention to the weight of your bass when buying. Companies have finally realized the discomfort that 10-pound basses can cause after hours of gigging. You can now find weight relieved basses for that use.

Using A Pick

Should I use a pick?

It depends. If you’re opting for a pick because you believe it’s quicker or easier, no you should not! But, if you want to learn with a pick because you prefer the tone of picking over finger style, you definitely should.

Learning both finger style and picking will make you a better, more diverse bassist. Don’t learn picking just because some say it’s easier. You should work to develop whatever techniques will best suit your playing style.

Using a Pick

The first thing you’ve got to do is learn how to hold your pick.

You should grip the pick between your thumb and forefinger. Once your fingers are grasping it, the pointed tip of the pick should be positioned so it comes out of the side of your thumb.

You don’t have to put a death grip on the pick, just hold it with enough tension to keep it in your hand. When you first start playing, you may find yourself dropping your pick a lot. This will stop with practice, and eventually you’ll be able to spin the pick around in your hand while you play!

Alternate Picking

Make sure you get in the habit quick of alternating your picking as down-up-down-up. It essentially doubles your speed!

There are times where you might only down pick, but otherwise you should always default to alternating your picking.

Choosing a Pick

There are many different kinds of picks to choose from. Most are made from celluloid and tear drop shaped. Speciality picks can be made from stone or acrylic, and some players just use coins as picks.

Try a few kinds out and see what you like best. Each one will have a different feel and tone. You can find pick variety packs that include sizes and thicknesses, and some come with special finishes that help you grip the pick better.

Picks should be replaced every few weeks or months, depending on the material and how often you play. Just like strings, picks will start to sound dull after a while and wear thin. When that starts happening, swap it for a new one and repeat!

Playing Finger Style

What Fingers Should I Use?

When you’re first getting started, you’ll likely be alternate picking with your pointer and middle finger. There are times players might use all five of their fingers. Develop whatever feels and sounds best to you. Finger style can give you a broad range of different tones, so play around and see what best fits your style.

What Do I Do About Blisters?

As you play, you’ll build up callouses which will toughen your fingers to avoid blisters. Practice a bit each day and you’ll find your fingers getting tougher and your ability to finger pick getting better and better.

Where Should I Pick?

There’s no rule, play around with where you play to find different tones that you like. You can watch your favorite bassists and study their technique and then go from there. Develop your own style over time to help your playing stand out from the crowd. Always go with what sounds best to you. Music is an art, not a science. Everything should depend on what you like best, not what this person does or that person told you.

Rhythm Work

Your right hand (picking hand) is all about rhythm. It’s more than just alternating your finger picking, you need to work on volume dynamics and timing to give real diversity and uniqueness to your playing. Practice all of these aspects in time with a metronome to improve your control and tone.

Should I Use a Pick?

Whether you pick with your fingers or a traditional bass pick is up to you. Remember: do not just do what’s easier! Practice whatever sounds better and works best for the style of music you want to play.

To become the best bassist possible, it’s good to learn all types of techniques to broaden your abilities. Try picking, finger style, and slap bass to see what works best for you and what you prefer.

Keep Playing!

Your learning doesn’t have to stop here. You now have a good foundation to build on, but there is so much more to learn! Check out the other free lessons and resources we have right here at LutzAcademy.com.

The full version includes…

Part 2:

  • Fretting Notes
  • The Musical Alphabet (w/ printable)
  • Reading TAB

Part 3:

  • The Major Scale (w/ printable)
  • The Minor Scale (w/ printable)
  • Intervals (w/ printable)
  • Constructing Triads

Part 4:

  • Linear Major Scales
  • Linear Minor Scales
  • Tips & Techniques
  • Moving Forward

These additional lessons (and the printables!) are available in the full version of this course. Join at Udemy or SkillShare.

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