Write Now: Guitar And Bass Are Easy To Begin, But Difficult To Master

Since the age of 15, I have been playing bass. I have heard this argument bandied about by musicians. You may have also heard it in the airwaves. The argument is simply that playing bass is essentially playing guitar with two less strings.

You know my answer straight away.

Playing a bass is totally different than playing a guitar.

The guitar and bass share the same first four strings E, A, D, and G, with the bass an octave lower. The neck is longer on a bass, but both use pickups (for electric) or hole for sound production. A six-string guitar has B and E for the fifth and sixth strings respectively. Most electric and acoustic basses are equipped with four strings as mentioned previously. If a player chooses to use a five- or six-string bass, the bass will not be strung the same as a guitar. The low string on a bass is a B, and for a five-stringer, the strings are B, E, A, D, G, and for a six-stringer, the strings are B, E, A, D, G, and C. So, a player could not play a barre chord on a six-string bass the same way a barre chord is played on six-string guitar. Because of the low B, and high C strings, the notes are different on a six-string bass. On a four-string bass, a player can play a barre chord, but it would sound muddy and dull because of the frequency range.

(And still the bass is totally different to play than a guitar.)

Scales on bass and guitar have similar fingerings and both instruments can be played with a pick. Both instruments can be used as solo instruments, but not at the same time because they would get in each other’s way.

That’s where the bass and guitar go their own separate ways.

When beginning bass guitar, one learns about the notes and their relationships to the neck. A bass isn’t strummed where a guitar can be.

A bass provides the bottom, the root, the foundation of music. Bass players learn scales, rhythms, notes, and sometimes play with a pick, but mostly use their fingers unlike the way classical guitarists use their fingers.

Sometimes bassists will play the same note over and over to provide the foundation. Bassists often will play close with a drummer to provide a tight rhythm section. Bassists may called upon to play an ostinato figure to propel the song or piece of music. If a guitarist rests during a song, it may go unnoticed, but when a bass stops playing, it may sound as if the bottom fell out.

Playing bass is only similar to guitar in a few ways.

I don’t think a guitarist would want to make the smaller argument to a classically-trained bassist. A classically-trained or upright bassist as he is sometimes referred to, learns the same scales but maybe with different fingerings that may not transfer seemlessly to an electric bass. The upright bassist uses a bow to elicit sound and sometimes uses his fingers. Jazz bassists, who play uprights, will use their fingers. Simply put an upright bassist uses a totally different technique when playing his instrument.

But because the bass has four strings, guitarists can switch between the two instruments because of the first four strings.

But bassists can’t readily jump to guitar because of the extra two strings, B and E. I mean they can find their ways around the fretboards, but it only may be in an accompanying role — nothing too fancy. But when a guitarist switches to bass, he usually brings his pick, which is fine, because some of best bass players, Paul McCartney of The Beatles and as a solo artist, and Chris Squire of Yes, have played a pick.

My point is the techniques learned for playing guitar and the techniques learned for playing bass are vastly different.

So when someone says to you that a bassist should learn all about guitar before picking up the bass, tell him that a guitarist should learn all about the bass before picking up the bass.

Both instruments are easy to begin, but quite difficult to master.