So, you have decided to hang up your guns with the guitar for a moment and give the bass a good old go, like you have been meaning to for oh so long now? What’s that you say? You’ve never even picked up a bass before, and are wondering how you might learn the fretboard notes bass?
Well look no further, for this is precisely what we will be exploring together today! If you are coming here today from the guitar, then you already have quite the head start, for there are so many similarities between them as to almost render them identical at points!
Learning the Open Strings
The most simple step to learning the fretboard notes bass would be to begin with the open notes of the bass. This should not prove too difficult, and can even be paired with the tuning of the bass so as to hit two birds with one stone.
In tuning the bass to a standard tuning, you will, if you intend in any way to conform to the standards of western tonality, need to tune with a tuner to set a series of pitches commonly referred to as standard tuning. The tuning of a bass entirely mimics that of its relative, the guitar, though it is most common for basses to come without the addition of the two highest pitched strings that would otherwise be present on a guitar.
Since the most popular alternate tuning for a guitar is E – A – D – G – B – E, then it stands to reason that the standard tuning for a bass would be the same without the two highest pitches, and since the standard tuning for guitar ascends in pitch from the low E to the high E, then we can find out the standard tuning for bass merely by removing the B and E strings, leaving us with E – A – D and G.
If you can, thus, take these open string reference pitches and use them in your learning, you will be well on your way to learning the fretboard notes bass. Try sounding them aloud or having a friend sound them out loud at random while you try to name them as accurately as possible. This is not only a great exercise for learning the notes of the fretboard and the open strings in tow, but also for exercising and stretching out that part of your mind associated with perfect pitch and the like.
Using a Notation Chart
Many of the more experienced bassists and musicians around will tell you that a notation chart will do you a world of good, especially if you are at present trying to learn the fretboard notes bass. Though these very same bassists and musicians have now likely eschewed the same notation chart of which they are major proponents, it was of use to them very much at a certain point in their development, and it most certainly could come in useful for you too.
Try using the notation chart above for your own devices. At this stage, it is far better to learn as much as you can for yourself, intuiting the various different aspects of the fretboard of your own accord. In this way, the mind is far more engaged and thus instills within itself the various items which you seek to learn, all while you are auto piloting and trying to educate yourself.
In this fashion, why don’t you take the above chart and, using the root notes as a reference point, attempt to map out all of the notes on the fretboard. Since the chromatic scale from C to C is C – C# – D – D# – E – F – F# – G – G# – A – A# – B – C, it should not be too difficult for you to map the notes out, so long as you use these root notes as a springboard from which to ascend. As previously mentioned, you will learn these much better in the long term if you instil them within you yourself.
While it is very pleasant and nice to have a notation chart around at most times, you would do best to at least memorise the notes in the chromatic scale which have sharps and flats, so that when the time comes you are prepared to face whatever comes your way in a live musical situation.
Sussing Out the Notes & Learning Patterns
A vital next step is to see just how the various strings on the bass relate to each other. Of course, their primary relation is the fact that they are all in some way or another connected to the very same bass guitar that you will hopefully have had cradled in your lap this whole time, though this is not what we mean.
Just as the various sharps in the chromatic scale above can be reversed into flats (e.g. C – Db – D – Eb – E – F – Gb – G – Ab – A – Bb – B – C), so too can these strings operate and relate to each other on several different levels, the object of our learning today being pitch.
If you already have some idea of the relationship between the strings on a guitar, then it will come as no surprise to you that to pluck the fifth fret of the E string will sound out an A, one that is at precisely the same pitch as the open A string just below. This has served as a handy way for guitarists and bassists to quickly tune their entire set of strings with just one reference pitch, if they do not have their own dedicated tuner.
The same is entirely the case for the bass guitar, too. Try doing the same exercise with the A string, plucking up the ascending notes on the fretboard until you sound out the string below, that being the D string. Spotting such relations is not only a handy way to tune one’s instrument on the fly without a dedicated tuner, but can also serve as a handy way of navigating what can seem like an unruly and uncategorizable length of fretboard notes bass.
Understanding and Processing the Octaves
In the same vein, it can be extremely useful to learn the octaves and where they appear on the fretboard notes bass.
From the bottom E string upwards, once you reach the G# string, almost all notes afterwards will at some point repeat themselves in higher octaves, so you can surely see how it might in some sense be useful to learn the alignment and concept of the octave.
For those not already in the know, an octave is the gap between a pair of notes where each note is the same though separated by such an amount that the relative pitches are different. An octave is not the same as playing the same two notes simultaneously that are at the same pitch, such as in the previous exercise where we found repeated notes on each of the strings in relation to one another.
The concept of an octave can appear deceptively simple, though its importance in the entire musical canon cannot be underestimated. A great first exercise to get your head around the idea of the octaves and whereabouts you might find them on the fretboard notes bass lies on the low E string. Find a note on this string and then playing the note that is two frets up on the D will leave you with a perfect octave, provided you have tuned your bass properly of course.
Try this around the fretboard, choosing a note at random and finding out what that note is and thus the octave. The same logic very much applies to the use of the A string, wherein you can pick any note at random as the root and find its octave by playing the note two frets up on the G string, making in each instance a rather boxy shape with your index finger and pinky finger.
Understanding and Learning Bass Scales
The logical progression from understanding these small segments, the various intervals between the notes in all their forms, is to place these various intervals into various configurations and orders, otherwise known as scales. Learning just about any scale is going to help you to come to know the fretboard notes bass a lot faster.
This is particularly true if you also stop to think about what exactly these scales are configured of. All scales follow some sort of internal pattern, a pattern that is the key to unlocking it. This key, once mastered, means that you can work out the scale in whichever key is thrown your way on the fly, an essential skill for the gigging musician or the musician who wants to collaborate with others in a lubricated way.
The various formulas of the various scales will work much more effectively if you work them out yourself, though this can understandably be rather daunting at first. Thus, we will demonstrate just how this might work with an example, so that you might be able to work out a scale’s formula yourself in future.
Each major scale formula, no matter in what key it is based, is comprised of the same fundamental way perfectly adapted for guitar. Each variation of the scale will have seven degrees, seven individual notes that ascend or descend before you reach the tonic (root) note again.
Thus, the pattern for working out these notes, beginning from the root, will always be, in the case of the major scale: Whole – Whole – Half – Whole – Whole – Whole – Half. Seeing as this is a formula developed for keyboard instruments, we will look at this on a guitar with a whole note as equivalent to a movement of two frets, and a half note as equivalent to a movement of one fret.
Reading Actual Music
At this point, if you are indeed looking to learn other scales and bass modes in this way, you would do well to learn how to read music. For a guitarist, there is thankfully a choice between two major forms of musical notation, those being tablature and the more widespread musical notation of the west and beyond.
This latter choice is by all means a valid route to take, with so much music written within its bounds. It is the primary mode of communication between western oligarchs of music, and is highly revered as an aesthetically superior way to render music.
For those not too fussed with the canonical rendering of western music, particularly in the classical sphere, chances are you will likely just want to get down to learning some scales and arpeggios and some of your favorite tunes, in which case you will benefit very much from tablature, which simplifies western musical notation to a much more digestible form that can be absorbed on the fly.
The central tenets are largely uncomplicated, to the point where even the most uninitiated would still have a reasonably good idea of what to expect and what the notes mean. Where regular old musical notation deals largely in symbols, of which there are many, tablature’s main currency is in numbers, wherein they come to represent the various frets on the fretboard, making this a perfect analogue to learn the fretboard notes bass. The configuration is much like the layout of the strings already, a fact which makes digesting tablature a quick and relatively pain free process.
So, there you have it. Hopefully this brief guide on how best to tackle and memorise the fretboard notes bass has been of some use to you, whether in brushing up on your guitar notes or whether you have only just picked up such a string instrument and are thus relishing in all the help you can get!