Looking down at the fretboard of a bass guitar can be daunting at first. There are so many frets and possibilities that most beginners feel lost and don’t know where to start or wonder if they will remember the right notes to play while they’re jamming along with a band.
Fortunately, though, there is a lot of logic in how the notes are positioned across the fretboard, and once you get a hang of it, it is much easier to understand songs from an objective point of view.
In this article, we will explain the basic theory behind the position of the bass guitar notes, as well as give you a brief revision on musical scales and some tips and tricks that you can use to memorize the fretboard.
Tip: If you’re a beginner looking to buy your first bass guitar, make sure to check out our Best Bass Guitar article.
Special thanks to Guitar Scientist. All of the diagrams in this article were created using their fretboard layout generator tool for better visualization.
Table of Contents
- The Standard Tuning (EADG)
- The Notes on a Bass Guitar
- Bass Guitar Scales
- Summing It Up – How to Memorize Bass Guitar Notes
The Standard Tuning (EADG)
Obviously, the order of the musical notes on a bass guitar will vary according to the tuning of the instrument. In this article, we are going to talk about the standard tuning (EADG), since this is the most basic and widely used one.
The 4th string (from bottom to top) on a bass guitar is E. The E string is the lowest and thickest one, followed by A, D, and G. This pattern was not made by chance: it is arranged so that the player can easily switch between the notes on different scales.
The strings are represented as follows:
E – 4th string
A – 3rd string
D- 2nd string
G – 1st string
If you play the guitar, the order of the strings is exactly the same, except that the bass guitar doesn’t have the extra B and E strings on the bottom.
The Notes on a Bass Guitar
These are the actual notes on the bass guitar fretboard, up to the 12th fret. After the 12th fret, an octave is completed and the pattern is repeated.
The first step is memorizing the open strings: EADG. This isn’t complicated and will give you a great base to keep going. From there, you can memorize the basic sequence of the 8 musical notes: C D E F G A B and its accidentals: C#, D#, F#, G#, A#.
After taking a grasp on this concept, it will be much easier and automatic to know, for example, that the first fret on the E string is F since it comes after E.
Extra: Fretboard Inlays
Use the fretboard inlays to your favor. These little dots on the fretboard of your bass guitar are not there just for embellishment. They help you navigate through the scale much more easily: notice how they are present on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets only.
If you memorize, for example, that the 5th fret on the 3rd string (A) is the note D, it will be much easier to know which notes come before and after.
Bass Guitar Scales
After learning the basic concept of the notes on a bass guitar fretboard and memorizing the four strings (EADG), it is time to take a look at scales. Scales are, basically put, a group of 8 notes that will work together musically. There is a scale for each note.
In this article, we will briefly talk about scales as a way to help you memorize the notes on the bass fretboard. You don’t need to remember each one of them just yet: focus on understanding how the instrument works first.
After you’re done with the basics, we recommend you take a look at our Bass Scales Chart to learn more about the subject.
The picture above depicts the C major scale (C, D, E F, G, A, B). As you can see, this particular scale is made out of all the natural notes: there are no sharps or accidentals.
Memorizing the C major scale will give you lots of benefits. If you know where all of the natural notes are and have in mind that there are 5 accidentals (C# D# F# G# A#), you will easily remember the position of those sharp notes.
Example: if I have a D on the 5th fret of the 3rd string, then the next note must be a D#.
In the layout above, we marked every E note present on the first 12 frets of the fretboard as an example. Notice how after every E note, regardless of its position on the board, the same pattern repeats (E, F, F#, etc).
And, as you play the same note on different strings and positions, you will hear it on different octaves. An octave, as the name implies, consists of 8 notes. An E note played on the 7th fret of the 3rd string, for example, will be one octave higher than one played with an open 4th string.
Summing It Up – How to Memorize Bass Guitar Notes
After understanding the concept behind the fretboard of a bass guitar and seeing that it is not made out of random notes, but rather follows a very defined system, let’s sum up the information and see how you can practice daily to memorize the bass guitar notes.
- Memorize the Open Strings
E – 4th string
A – 3rd string
D- 2nd string
G – 1st string
- Memorize the 8 Musical Notes and Its Accidentals
C (C#) D (D#) E F (F#) G (G#) A (A#) B
- Memorize the Basic C Major Scale – One String at a Time
As we discussed before, memorizing the C major scale before you proceed to memorize others can have a beneficial impact on helping you find yourself on the fretboard of a bass guitar. If you know where each natural note is, you will automatically know where the sharps and flats are.
However, focus on memorizing one string at a time. Try to remember all of the notes on the 4th string (E) before moving to the 3rd string (A), and so on. Dedicate one or two days for each string and you will memorize them in no time.
- Apply it to your Practice
Last but not least, while memorizing the notes on a bass guitar, apply the concept to your playing. As you learn to play your first songs on the bass, be aware of the notes used so you can further understand the concept behind scales and the position of each one.
Related: Beginner Bass Guitar Songs article.
What is a Half Step and a Whole Step in a Musical Scale?
Half-step and whole-step refer to the distance between two notes on a musical scale.
The image above depicts a whole step from C to D, and then a half step from D to D#
. A major scale is made of all of the whole steps except for the distance from the 3rd to the 4th note and the 7th to the 8th note, which are half steps.
A minor scale, on the other hand, will have half steps from the 2nd to the 3rd and from the 5th to the 6th note of the scale.
This subject may sound complex at first, so don’t worry about it for now if you’re a beginner. We cover it more thoroughly in our
Bass Scale Charts article.
What is the Difference Between Sharp (#) and Flat (b)?
They are both used to represent accidental notes in the scale. Take the layout of the piano, for example: you have the white keys (naturals) and the black keys (accidentals). A C# is the black key between C and D, one half step above C. A Db is the same as a C#, but it is represented as one half step below D.
As you can see, they are the same notes represented in different ways. C# D# F# G# A# is the same as Db Eb Gb Ab Bb. In our article, we represented the accidentals as sharps (#), but it is important to keep in mind that you may frequently find them represented as flats (b) as well.
In this article, we covered the basics of the logic behind the positioning of each note on a bass guitar fretboard and how you can remember all of them. Keep in mind that it is important, above all, to understand how your musical instrument works before you start learning to play those ground-shaking riffs.
As we discussed, remember each one of the open strings (E, A, D, G) and focus on learning the notes on one string at a time, with the C major scale as a basis. Don’t forget to also apply it to your playing, being aware of the notes being used on the riffs that you learn.We hope this article was helpful. Don’t forget to check our related articles for bass guitar players: we have posts about scales, tips for practicing, songs for beginners, etc. Remember to practice daily and happy learning!