Bass Guitar Scales
What is a Scale? On this Bass Guitar Scales menu page you will find that scales are defined as a group of notes played one at a time. The different scale groups are referred to as “modes.” There are a lot of different scale modes available – to learn every scale in every mode would take a very long time – so to keep it simple, we will only cover the basics of scales and review one of the most popular scales here (more than enough information to help get you started). If you are already familiar with the basic info on this Bass Guitar Scales page then you should check out our “Bass Scales – Advanced” menu page – where we cover more advanced information on scales.
If you are just learning about Bass Guitar Scales, you are in the right place…
Scales / Basic Info:
* Scales are made up of the 7 notes from the musical alphabet A-B-C-D-E-F-G.* Most scales will utilize sharps or flats (depending on the key).* Some scales will have only 5 notes, and some can have up to 12 notes.* Scales will have a “Root” note – a note that will designate which key you are in.
Scales vs. Chords – What’s the Difference?
Chords are defined as two or more notes being played at the same time, and scales are defined as a group of notes played one at a time. Scales (or notes from the scales) are played over chord progressions (songs), and knowing which scales (notes) to play over which chords is very important. Scales (just like chords) can move up and down the fret board to different keys (same scale, but in a different position and key).
Scales and Music Theory
Some bass guitarists never learn music theory, but are still proficient with playing scales. The bottom line is this – if you take the time to learn music theory while you are learning scales – you will learn faster, but most of all it will give you a “head start” with your playing. Do you really have to learn music theory? No, but if you do learn music theory, it will help you improve your playing skills faster, and also help you be more creative with your bass playing. It would be very beneficial to review our Music Theory section before going any further –
Note: The information below will be much easier to understand once you’ve reviewed the music theory section.
Getting Started with a Bass Guitar Scales
Learning about scales can be quite time consuming, so to get started, I am going to start with the easiest scale in the whole wide world to learn. I will not go into modes, or how scales are built for now, I just want to give the reader a basic idea of how a scale works over chords. I feel that if you (as a beginner) learn a basic scale (and how to use it) – it will keep your interest level high, and give you some incentive to learn a little more about scales.
The Basic Rock Scale – Minor Pentatonic Mode
The minor pentatonic scale (mode) is used in all styles of music, but it is mainly used in rock and roll styles. The minor pentatonic is the easiest scale to learn and to start using – so let’s start with this scale in the key of A (the scale will start on the 5th fret of the 4th string). There are 5 main patterns associated with the minor pentatonic scale – we will show pattern #1 here (pattern #1 is the easiest, and most popular scale for beginners to learn).
The “minor-pentatonic” scale – Position #1
Here is a Video Clip and Handout to help you learn the “Minor-Pentatonic” Scale – Position #1 easier…
Practicing the Scale
There’s no other way to practice scales other than with “repetition and lots of practice” – the more time you practice (and practice correctly), the faster you will develop your skills. Start slowly, speed comes with practice. Don’t make the mistake of trying to go too fast too soon, you will only develop bad habits (that will be hard to break later).
* How to practice this scale pattern: Start with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string (top string – fattest string), then your 4th finger on the 8th fret of the 4th string (top string). Then move to the next string with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 3rd string, then your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string. Then move to the next string with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string, then your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 2nd string, then move to the next string with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 1st string, then your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 1st string… Then start at the bottom and play all the strings until you get back to the top string again. To start back up play the notes in reverse. Start with your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 1st string, then your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 1st string. Then move to the next string up with your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 2nd string, then your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string. Then move to the next string up with your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string, then your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 3rd string, then your 4th finger on the 8th fret of the 4th string, and finally your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string…
Always try to get a good sound from each note as you play them. This will help you create a “good habit” during your early stages of learning how to play the bass guitar.
The Picking Sequence
This scale will use a basic “One / Two” picking sequence (which is very easy, but very important to learn). Use the proper picking sequence right from the beginning. Alternate picking by picking the first note with your 1st finger of your picking hand, and then pick the second note with your 2nd finger of your picking hand: The first note (5th fret of the 4th string) is with your first finger, then the second note (8th fret of the 4th string) is picked with the second finger, (just alternate consistently between the first and second fingers of your pick hand) and so on… The One / Two picking sequence is perfect for all 2-note per string scales like the minor pentatonic scales. Don’t neglect using the proper picking sequence!
Note: It is very important to practice this scale pattern until you are comfortable playing it – which means that you are playing the correct notes, you are using the one / two picking sequence, and you are getting a “clean” sound from each of the notes as you play them. If you can at least do this slowly, then go ahead and move on to chord progressions below…
Using Pattern #1 over a Chord Progression
Once you are comfortable with the minor pentatonic scale (pattern #1) it’s time to start using it – try it out over a chord progression. Chord progressions are great for learning to “improvise” (which means make up runs, bass lines, leads, etc). Once you learn a scale, then you have to learn which chord progression (and which Key) to play it over. This may sound like it is pretty difficult, but it’s really not that hard to learn the basics.
How to start using the scale over a chord progression…
In order to start using a scale, you need to hear it played over a chord progression. It is very important to “listen” to the scale when you are playing it over chords – you need to hear which notes sound best, which notes to land on, which notes you can bend, etc. This will take time, but is relatively easy if you will take the time to simply “listen” to the scale. The reason why there are so many scales is because there are tons of chords – and there isn’t one miracle scale that you can play over every chord out there.
NOTE: THE NEXT DEMONSTRATION WILL SHOW A VIDEO CLIP USING A MINOR PENTATONIC GUITAR SCALE OVER A CHORD PROGRESSION WHICH USES THE SAME PRINCIPLES – THE BASS VERSION OF THE VIDEO CLIP WILL BE AVAILABLE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE…
Here is a Video Clip of the Minor Pentatonic Scale Position #1 played slowly over a Chord Progression. Listen to the scale being played very slowly over the progression, you should hear how the notes of the scale fit over the chords…
Now it’s your turn…
Here is the chord progression without any bass playing in it – play the scale slowly at first, then start to experiment, try to go a little faster, etc. You have to start somewhere, don’t worry about speed, speed will come over time. Right now worry about landing on the right notes, practicing walks / runs, and even try a few bends, etc. Have some fun with it!
More Chord Progressions / Drum Tracks
There are a bunch of chord progressions for bass players on this website. Each progression is different, we try to use different keys, and try to use progressions in as many musical “genre’s” as possible. Even if you are a rock bassist, it’s ok to try to practice a scale over a jazz progression, don’t limit yourself to one specific type of music. Each progression will have drums and rhythm guitar so you can practice bass guitar scales and bass lines to them.
Drum tracks are also a good way to increase your improvising skills on the bass. These are just Drum Tracks (over 30 of them) using different styles of music that you can play to. Try the Bass Guitar Scales / Info you have learned on this page.
As with all scale modes – the minor pentatonic scale can easily be moved up and down the fret board to different positions / keys. The “Root Note” is very important to know in order to understand which “Key” you are playing in. The root note for the minor pentatonic scale pattern #1 is indicated by a “square” around a number. Pattern #1 in the Key of “A” (as shown in the video clips) is indicated by the root note being placed on the 5th fret of the 4th string. In order to move a scale it would be very beneficial to know the names of the notes on the “E” string (top, fattest string, 4th string), and the notes on the “A” string (3rd string) before going any further. Once you learn the names of these notes – you will be able to easily move any scale pattern to a different key or position on the fret board (as long as you also know the root note of the scale). All you will need to do is place the root note of the bass guitar scales on a different fret to change keys – as long as you know which note you are starting on, you will know which key you are in.
Here are a couple of Video Clips that will help you learn the notes on the “E” and “A” strings…
Now that you have learned about bass guitar scales, and have used it over a basic chord progression you are on your way to playing bass guitar. Try not to make learning scales more difficult that it has to be. Bass guitar scales can be very complicated at first, but if you learn one mode at a time, you will find that other modes may simply be the same patterns, but are used at different positions.
This is explained in more detail on the “Advanced Bass Scales 1” Menu Page!
Want a quick and easy Bass Guitar Scales reference tool?