Moving from Guitar to Bass

Posted: 14 April 2020

Updated: 22 February 2022

Thinking of transitioning from playing guitar to bass? Well, there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

Read time: 5 mins

You’ve got to grips with 6 strings, but bass has always appealed to you. You picked up guitar without too much fuss, and all those skills that you’ve learnt can be transferred over to the bass, so this should be straightforward right?

Well yes. And no. Whilst there are a lot of similarities there’s also a whole bunch of differences, some of which are pretty subtle and can be easily overlooked. Just because you’re a master on 6 strings doesn’t mean you’ll be a master of 4. We wanted to share our top tips to get you busting a groove in no time.

The approach

Bass may share the same tunings as a guitar, but the biggest mistake you can make is approaching them both in the same way. A bass being played like a lead guitar is very rarely effective when placed in the context of a full song. The main purpose of a bass is to support the rhythm of a song. Whilst the harmony is still important, it’s very much secondary.

Often the best approach is a simple one. Just because you can play like Flea doesn’t mean you should. Instead focus on restraint and establishing the groove. That could mean only playing a single note on the first beat of each bar, but your task is to establish the foundation for a track and not the finishing touches. Bass is as much about knowing when not to play as when to play.

The golden rules of playing bass are ‘taste, timing and tone’. If what you’re playing doesn’t tick all three of those boxes, then you should consider simplifying your style.


Lock in with the drummer

Mix up your playing style

They may look similar, but there’s big differences between a guitar and a bass. The larger body size, chunky neck, thicker strings and longer scale length all mean that your usual playing style will have to be modified to get the most out of your bass.

With that in mind you should experiment with playing with your fingers on your right hand, instead of using a plectrum. This also allows you to try out slap bass which, once mastered, is a whole other weapon to add to your arsenal.

When thinking about your left hand you may find that the extra length of the neck coupled with thicker strings means your fingers struggle. Your index finger is usually stronger than your third finger, which can lead to inconsistent pressure on the strings and therefore erratic volume in your playing. You should look to build up extra strength by trying out bass specific practice techniques. The increased size of each fret could even mean that you ignore the ‘1 fret 1 finger’ rule that is prevalent in guitar playing.

Also perfecting your right arm and wrist position is important for bass guitar. Unlike guitar you should try and keep your elbow forwards to keep your wrist in-line. Your wrist shouldn’t be bent/strained, and shouldn’t be resting on the body of your bass. If you get that wrong and play for long periods you could find yourself in pain and even develop tendonitis. It’s much easier to nail your technique when first getting to grips with bass, than trying to fix a dodgy playing style further down the line.


But don’t ignore everything you’ve learnt up to now