Bass Guitar Notes
What Are The Bass Guitar Notes Used In Music
Before we talk about bass guitar notes. Let’s talk about musical notes. Notes used on the bass guitar are the same musical notes used on any and all instruments. There are just 12 notes in western music that all instruments use. Just 12! Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
But why do notes on different instruments sound so different?
Let’s fill in some detail…
The Pitch Of Musical Notes
What is Pitch?
Pitch is the characteristic that allows us to judge sounds as “high” and “low.”
Every instrument has a pitch range which is from its lowest note playable to its highest note that’s possible to play on that instrument. Different instruments have different pitch ranges. For example, a bass guitar or a tuba has low-sounding notes. On the other hand, a flute or a violin has high-sounding notes.
So it can be said that a bass guitar has a low pitch range, and a flute has a high pitch range.
What Are The Musical Notes Names
Here is the musical alphabet, which has seven (7) letters…
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, then it starts over and repeats like this:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G etc
But wait, earlier, we mentioned 12 notes – NOT 7!
There are seven letters in the musical alphabet, however, between some of these notes, there are sharps (#) and flats (b). These sharp and flat notes are easily identified on the piano as the black notes.
Here are the 12 musical notes’ names: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, …A, etc
As you can see, there are no gaps (sharps or flats) between B & C and E & F.
It’s easy to see the ‘no gaps’ between the B & C and E & F notes on the piano. ie, there are no black notes between B & C and E & F.
So, let’s get back to the bass, yeah!
Open Strings on the Bass
The most common type of bass is a four (4) string bass. When a string is played without any fingered notes on the fingerboard, these notes are called Open Strings.
Let’s start with the first string, which is the thickest string that is closest to the top of the bass as you hold it. This 1st string is called E. Some may refer to it also as ‘the low E’ on the bass guitar.
Let’s move to the 2nd string, which is slightly thinner, and the next string heading toward the floor. This 2nd string is called A.
Moving to the 3rd string, which is thinner again – this string is called the D string.
Lastly, the 4th string, or the thinnest string, is called the G string.
So from the lowest-sounding open string to the highest-sounding open string, the bass guitar notes are E-A-D-G.
The diagram shows the fretboard, with the nut being represented as the thick black horizontal line at the top of the grid. The four vertical lines represent the E string, A string, D string, and G string (left to right). The horizontal lines from the nut down represent the frets on the fretboard.
Now let’s take a look at how these notes appear in traditional music on a staff (sometimes called a stave), which are the five (5) lines and four (4) spaces upon which music notes are written.
Bass Guitar Notes On The Staff
While it is not necessary, I would consider it essential to learn to read musical notation. Finding out where bass guitar notes ‘live’ on the staff is not really that hard. As a child 10 years of age, I started playing classical guitar, and I learned to read music as I learned the notes of the guitar. It was not hard, even at a young age, and it seemed a very natural process to me. I had a great guitar teacher, and with my jazz drummer father pushing me to practice for 30 minutes a day, I progressed quite quickly.
So, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take on the challenge of learning to read music notation. It’s not as hard as you might think. I can teach you. In fact, in over 30 years of teaching bass students privately, I have always had absolute beginner bass students reading music for the first time during their first-ever bass lesson. I’ve done this time and time again, and you can achieve this too.
If you are an absolute beginner on bass, check out this article on basic music theory to learn about the staff, types of notes, bars, and barlines so this next section makes more sense to you.
Natural Notes on the 1st String of the Bass Guitar: E-string
Here we will look at the notes on the 1st string. (You may see or read that some websites or books refer to the E-string as the 4th string and reverse the numbered strings to name the G-String as the 1st string – While there’s no definitive right & wrong here, just call the E-string the 1st string 🙂
We have already seen above that the E note is the open string on the first string. There are 2 more natural notes on the E-string in the first position. Those two notes are F and G. The F note is on the first fret, and you would play this note with your first finger. The G note is on the third fret, and you could play this note with either your 3rd finger or 4th finger.
A position number, eg first position, relates to the fret number where the left-hand index finger (assuming a right-handed player) is placed on the fretboard as a starting point, and the remaining three left-hand fingers sit on the successive frets up the fretboard towards you.
Natural Notes on the 2nd String of the Bass Guitar: A-string
Now let’s take a look at the 2nd String, which is called the A-string or even the Open A-string. Again, there are two natural notes in the first position. The two notes are B and C. This time, the B note is played at the second fret with the 2nd finger, and the C note is played with either the 3rd or 4th finger at the 3rd fret.
Natural Notes on the 3rd String of the Bass Guitar: D-string
The 3rd string is the D-string or the open D-string or, again simply, open-D. There are some naming variations which is fine. There are 2 natural notes on the D-string, which are the E note and the F note. Keep in mind this is not the same note as the open E-string. This E note is at the second fret on the D-string and is an octave higher than the open E-string. You would play this note with your second finger. The F note is played with either your 3rd or 4th finger at the 3rd fret.
Natural Notes on the 4th String of the Bass Guitar: G-string
The 4th string is the G-string or open-G string. There are 2 natural notes that occur in the first position on the G string. Those 2 notes are the A note and B note. The A note is played at the 2nd fret with your 2nd finger. The B note is played at the 4th fret with your 4th finger.
Notes on the G-String diagram
Sharps and Flats
– This is a sharp sign. (in music, it’s not referred to as a hashtag or a pound sign) A sharp sign after a note raises that note by a semitone. On the bass guitar, you play the sharpened note one fret up on the fretboard from the natural note. Eg: if the C note is played at the 3rd fret on the A-string. C# is played at the 4th fret
– This is a flat sign. A flat sign after a note lowers that note by a semitone. On the bass guitar, you play the flattened note one fret down on the fretboard from the natural note. Eg: if the B note is played at the 2rd fret on the A-string. Bb is played at the 1st fret
There is also a natural sign. A natural sign neutralises a previously sharpened or flattened note and restores it back to it’s original pitch. A natural sign is used more often in key signatures other than C major, which has no sharps or flats.
Note Charts for the Names of the Notes on Bass
I created a fretboard diagram of all of the bass guitar notes on the fretboard. I’ve created an exercise called The Fretboard Building, which is a written exercise and a bass guitar for beginners PDF printout to help you to learn the notes on the fretboard. You can download the Fretboard Building bass guitar for beginners pdf.
… Speak the universal language of music!