It’s not uncommon for bands to be on the prowl for bassists, however, there just aren’t as many bassists as there is guitarists. It has become a running joke that bassists are often guitar players that didn’t get the guitar gig. Does that mean the bass guitar must be easier to play and most musicians take on the guitar because it’s cooler and more challenging?
Not necessarily. Another reason why some people believe the bass is easier than the guitar has to do with the number of strings: the bass has 4 and the guitar has 6. So what’s the deal, is the one easier than the other?
The bass guitar is not easier to play than the guitar. No matter what instrument you choose to play, you still have to learn music theory and the fundamentals of how to play it which can take years. It takes just as much time to learn how to play the bass as it does for the guitar.
At first, the bass might seem easier to pick up because when you learn, you can get away with playing only one note per chord of the guitarist’s chord progression. But to become a great bassist, it’s just as hard as becoming a great guitarist. A lot of people think that the guitar is much harder to play mostly due to the prevalence of guitar solos in popular music, whereas a bass solo is practically unheard of in the mainstream culture. However, as some of you may already know, public perception isn’t always an accurate reflection of reality.
by the way, if you’re trying to get a better grasp of guitar chords, scales, tunings, and techniques in the most efficient, practical, and convenient way possible, I couldn’t recommend Guitar Tricks enough. It’s the learning platform I use and you can sign up here for free.
Why The Bass Guitar Is As Difficult As Playing The Guitar
1) The Bass Guitar and Guitar Require Learning the Same Music Theory
No matter what instrument you choose to play, it’s not a bad idea to understand at least basic music theory that way you’ll have an easier time speaking with other players about what you’re doing. Many musicians have an aversion to learning music theory because, like any skill, it takes practice to understand and properly execute. Additionally, music theory is associated with bourgeoise society, so a lot of so-called “regular” people take pride in not knowing it, as if their ignorance of it, or more importantly, their ability to play without it, is a testament to their innate talent.
Truth be told, the anti-music theory crowd are right in the sense that you don’t need music theory to play an instrument, but knowing the proper terminology, concepts, and frames of references that other musicians also know is a great way to communicate. This is one of the reasons why I recommend picking up Mark Sarnecki’s The Complete Elementary Rudiments from Amazon. There is just enough theory in these books (including the answer book which is an absolute must – also on Amazon), to make you a great player to work with.
It’s worth mentioning again that if you do decide to pick up the aforementioned books to get a better understanding of music theory, you absolutely have to get the answer book – I’m not kidding. You need the answer book so you can check your work to see if you’re actually learning things correctly. But anyway, I digress.
No matter what instrument you choose, bass guitar, guitar, flute, or whatever, it’s very useful to know some basics, mostly as a way of speaking with other musicians. It’s very hard to communicate with other players if no one knows what key they’re in or what chords they’re playing. It’s even worse when a player doesn’t even know what note they’re on.
One advantage of playing with a bassist is that at least the fretting system is similar. The bass guitar and guitar have the same string setup, so it is complementary to the guitar and therefore not hard to figure out. You can compare and contrast the finger positionning of the two instruments to get a better idea of what the other is playing. The bass typically comes with only the bottom four strings of the guitar, E A D, and G.
Five-string basses have become very popular over the past couple of decades because it adds a low B string to the bass. Since the guitar has a High B-string, it’s basically the same in theory and just as challenging to learn the extra notes from that string. If the strings are set up the same, then the patterns you use for any scale will also be the same on either the bass guitar or guitar, minus the B string and high E string on a bass.
If you’re a bassist, you typically won’t have to play chords, but because chords and moveable shapes are easy to understand on the guitar, the bassist can use these notes to walk around them or add more movement via a walking bass line. A guitarist can sometimes be limited if they are only playing chords. The bassist can then play the notes associated with that chord to be in key and strengthen the music’s foundation and provide the much-needed low-end frequencies. To learn more, I recommend checking out The Complete Guide to Music Theory for Bassists from Amazon.
2) The Bass Guitar and Guitar Both Require A Lot of the Same Techniques
From hammer-ons to pull-offs, there are so many similarities when playing the bass and the guitar. The main difference is the technique for the picking hand. The guitar traditionally uses a pick, while the bass guitar is usually associated with finger plucking. Of course, either technique can be done on either instrument; it’s a matter of preference in tone and style. It’s worth mentioning that the left-hand techniques are typically more challenging for anyone to play on the bass because the strings are heavier in diameter, and the frets are farther apart.
Techniques like sweeping and arpeggios can still be performed on either the bass guitar or guitar, although, it’s more common for them to be executed on the guitar. Alternate picking is done on both guitar and bass guitar too. Some people argue that alternate picking can be done much faster with the finger plucking technique of playing bass guitar. The fingers can use a 3 or 4 finger gallop technique that is harder to execute on guitar or with a pick.
Some bassists like Victor Wooten, for example, are very good at this, as was Jaco Pastorius when he was alive. The only other difference between techniques in the bass and guitar is the “attack” it requires to play the heavier strings on the bass. The string gauge on the bass are much thicker than guitar strings. You can tell the bass will require a bit more power to play those strings, larger strings just require more force; it’s physics.
3) The Bass Guitar and Guitar Both Require Similar Time Practicing
Repetition is the mother of all skills. If you repeat something enough times at the right speed, your brain will grow accustomed to it and provide you with the necessary mind-muscle connection to put techniques into practice. It is a sponge for information, but too much of the wrong information will cause you to go off track. Learning bass guitar and guitar are the same when it comes to how much practicing you need to play correctly. They both require slow, deliberate, and consistent practice. Not only that, but you have to make sure you’re practicing the right things.
When you practice correctly, (with focus and deliberation), things start to click in your mind, and you’ll match up new ideas with old ones. You begin to understand theory more, and you will be able to find the notes when you look at the fretboard. But all of this takes time. There is a concept called the 10,000-hour rule, and while many people believe this is true, it presupposes that you’ve spent those 10,000 hours even doing the right thing. The missing element is more about retaining the information (and the proper information at that), not the time you put in.
Putting in 10,000 hours of practice on the bass is just as rewarding as 10,000 hours of the guitar. No matter how you learn theory – and hopefully, you have a good instructor that gives you an easy way of understanding it – you’ll be able to apply it on both instruments no matter which one you learned theory on. They coincide with each other because of their string setup.
4) The Bass Guitar and Guitar Have Different Jobs That Are Equally Difficult
The bass guitar and guitar are incredibly similar but they have many differences as well. The guitar’s job in a band is to create the overarching melody or to stylize a pre-existing song structure. Besides the vocals, it makes the song memorable. The bass’s job is to marry the harmony with the rhythm to amplify and strengthen the song’s foundation. The guitar’s job is to create the memorable melodies that make the song unique, the bass can easily marry that melody with the drums, however, as I argued here, the bass can create the main melody as well.
What a rhythm guitarist does in a band may be closer to a bassist’s job, but their focus is still different in a number of ways, like holding down a chord for more fullness on the high end of the frequency range instead of one-note in the lower register like the bass. Great bassists also create their melodies while simultaneously holding down the rhythm with the drums. They are in a great position to balance harmony with rhythm while also playing their own melody. To create more movement in the song, a great bassist can fill in where the drums and guitar are lacking.
5) The Bass Guitar and Guitar Use Very Similar Equipment
One could say that working with a guitar is much easier because bass equipment tends to be much heavier, but this is tangentially related to actually learning the instrument. Still, the guitar usually requires more things like distortion pedals and extra guitars for different tunings as well. However, with the invention of Neo speaker cabinets and hybrid amps, the equipment, fortunately, has gotten lighter over time. For instance, this Laney Bass Combo Amp from ZZounds is a great option.
A great guitarist in any band will have a signature tone, and this tone is fostered, in part, by using different pedals, amp settings, amplifiers, cabinets, along with the guitar itself, of course. The bass has similar needs. However, bassists typically do not use many pedals or any at all. The bass has morphed a lot over the last few decades, but for the most part, bassists prefer to get their tone from analog and not digital sources. Low-end frequencies simply don’t sound great when they have been drenched in effects, when it comes to the bass guitar at least.
Why The Bass Guitar Might Seem Easier To Play Than The Guitar
1) The Bass Guitar Can Be Played One Note at a Time
The bass is an easy instrument to start with due to the reduced number of notes, however, the responsibility that comes with playing the bass is often overlooked and understated. The responsibility of the bass is to harmonically steer the rhythm section enough to make an excellent foundation for the band’s other instruments, including the vocals. This foundation is what makes a song work. Without a good foundation, the song just wouldn’t pack the same punch.
When you first start playing the bass, like the guitar, you typically only use one note at a time. This is because it gives you less to think about while you are building speed and catching up with what is happening around you. A guitarist will learn basic chords or power chords and do practically the same thing. It may seem more difficult because you’re adding more notes to make a chord, but many chords are based on movable shapes so once you learn one, you can play the same thing everywhere at different pitches.
2) The Bass Guitar Has Two Less Strings Than The Guitar
Because the bass guitar has two less strings than the guitar, it definitely looks easier to play. While it might be easier to remember the notes without having to remember all that make up the B string, many modern basses have five strings and that fifth string is a B string. In other words, certain bass guitars can be equally as cumbersome when it comes to learning all of the notes of the fretboard. In fact, there are even six-string basses now like Ibanez’s GSR206 from ZZounds.
Bass is not easier to play than the guitar or any other instrument, for that matter. When you start playing you’ll notice that it’s easy to pick up but difficult to master. With the right tools you’ll be able to play like a novice in no time at all. The key is to learn the way that is easiest for you. One thing all skills have in common, however, is the necessity of a good teacher.
3) Guitar Riffs in Hard Rock and Metal Tend to Use More Notes
As I mentioned in my other article on why bass guitar, like electric guitar, is not hard to learn, another reason why people tend to think that bass is much easier than guitar has to do with the prevalence of hard rock and heavy metal genres among guitarists and bassists. In these genres, the guitar riffs tend to be more complicated and feature more notes than bass lines, so a lot of people have the perception that bass is generally just a lot easier than playing the guitar.
This is compounded by the fact that in many cases the bass guitar is usually tracked by the guitarist on the album anyway. In fact, there are memes all over the internet that make fun of bassists because they’re supposedly the player in the band who couldn’t get hired as the guitarist, so they just put him on bass instead. All of these cultural ideas play a role in how people perceive the bass, but truthfully, the bass is a serious instrument and there are musicians who play it as such.
1) Mark Sarnecki’s The Complete Elementary Rudiments from Amazon
2) Marck Sarnecki’s The Complete Elementary Rudiments Answer Book (A Must) also on Amazon
3) James Eager’s A Complete Guide To Music Theory For Bassists again on Amazon
4) Laney Richter Series RB4 Bass Combo Amplifier from ZZounds
5) Ibanez GSR206 6-String Electric Bass on ZZounds