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I know some stuff on guitar. By stuff, I mean scales/chords etc...

I would like to have some knowledge for the bass. Maybe for home recording, enriching my sounds.

The bass is a four stringed instrument. This means that instantly, my technique knowledge is not directly transferable to this instrument.

However, a bass can come out in a six string variation. If I were to get a six string bass, would my technique from guitar be directly transferrable to the base? Once again, I am talking about scales and chords.

Even more basics.. Is the tuning of a six string bass the same as that of a guitar? Or at least, can it be made the same?

Are the intervals of the notes the same as the guitar on the fretboard? As you can tell, I have absolutely no knowledge about the bass.

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    worth considering that thinner strings might be helpful in making your bass chords more distinct as bass chords can be a little dense-sounding. Think that your bass chords might need to have fewer notes than some guitar chords. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 9:02
  • bass shapes are the same as the bottom 4 strings of a guitar. The intervals of the tuning are the same although the pitch is an octave down from the bottom 4 strings of a guitar.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 9:10
  • I have edited to more accurately reflect what you are asking about - nothing to do with music theory and everything to do with technique, as @Graham commented
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 18:49

5 Answers 5

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Guitars and basses are related. A standard 4 string bass is tuned the same way as the lowest 4 strings on a guitar, EADG but one octave lower. If you ignore the two highest strings on the guitar then the theory and playing mechanics are basically the same. Anything you would play on the guitar can be played on the bass but will sound one octave lower.

The bass does come in 6 string variations. The one that has the most direct relationship to a guitar is the Fender Bass VI and its variants. It has been around since the 1960s and is tuned exactly like a guitar one octave lower. It really is more of a guitar like instrument with close string spacing and a short scale. It is not the most common type of six string bass, as a matter of fact they are fairly rare.

The more typical variety of six string bass is tuned differently than a guitar. It takes the standard bass tuning and adds one high and one low string. They are all tuned in fourths, BEADGC. This is different from the guitar because it does not have the major 3rd interval between the second and third strings so the theory and playability do not directly transfer from the guitar. If you were to tune the two high strings on a standard 6 string bass to F# and B instead of G and C it would have the same theory and interval structure as the guitar but would sound an octave and a perfect 4th lower then the guitar.

It is possible to take a typical six string bass and modify it by getting the correct string gauges so that you can tune it like a guitar, EADGBE one octave lower. You might also have to cut a new nut to accommodate the different string thicknesses.

You can also just choose to start with a 4 string bass. It’s not a big leap from guitar, there is nothing new to learn. Most take to it very quickly and I would say 90% or more of all bass playing is done within the range of the 4 strings of a standard bass.

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    Im a beginner bass player. My band mates play on guitar. The one biggest different between them is that guitarists play chords - bass players play single notes. Is that correct? Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:21
  • @vikingsteve yes, you could say that. You can play chords on the bass but I would say the "purpose" of bass is different. Playing single notes are a good way to lay the foundation of a song. If you want to see bass players that use amazing techniques that go out of the scope of traditional basslines (chords, etc), check out Charles Berthoud and David504 on YouTube.
    – C. Crt
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:26
  • @vikingsteve They have differences and similarities but to me the biggest differences between them is the register they play in and the role they play. Both are capable of playing chords and single notes but it is not typical for a bass to play chords. Instead it plays rhythmic lines that use notes related to the chords to provide a solid base (no pun intended) for the rest of the instruments and vocals. The guitar can serve several functions. It can play chords which also provide a foundation or it can play single note lines that are either improvised or are part of the song’s composition. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:38
  • Exactly. Thanks for that comment @JohnBelzaguy. I feel the comment is enough enlightening to be part of your answer. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:40
  • @vikingsteve My pleasure. Some other answers touched more on that aspect but the function of the bass wasn’t part of the question. That’s why I focused more on the physical aspects of both instruments. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:41
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While guitar and bass may look similar, they certainly don't do similar jobs. Guitars are built for chords, amongst other things, whereas it's unusual to play chords on bass - the notes are too low, hence sound muddy.

That's where 6 string basses start to appeal. With the top strings well into guitar territory, chords can sound good - especially triads with a low bass note and two other notes on the top two strings.

Tuning wise, most folk prefer to keep the same 5 fret differences between all strings, which on guitar is deemed non too practical. So, on 5 string basses, BEADG, or more rarely EADGC are the ones that are 'standard'. The 6 string encompasses both those, thus stretching the range - BEADGC - all 5 frets (P4) from each other. That makes playing patterns so much easier, as everything is instantly transferrable, unlike on guitar.

You could, of course, tune any bass to anything you want - one of my 4 strings is BEAD - but with perhaps a change of string gauge, anything goes.

So, please don't think of any bass as a guitar extension - its job is different, and it gets played differently accordingly. Some of the string/fret theory is the same, but we don't generally transfer that theory from guitar to bass.

You may, or may not find the high C much use, depending on what you play, and your style. But the low B is deemed a useful asset by a lot of players, including myself.

You could go the whole hog, as a friend of mine did, and obtain a rare 8 string - F♯BEADGCF - but I think that's taking things a little too far, especially considering the plank that's needed for the neck/fingerboard. And the decent amp/speaker that's required to cope with the wide range of pitch!

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    Agreed on 'different jobs'. I used to hate it if there was a guitarist depping on bass & I was drumming, rather than playing bass. Stupidly too busy. Give it a rest now, it's not a solo. On the ther hand, in a three-piece, I would be 'helping out' on the chords in places - usually under guitar solos when there's only me & a drummer keeping the noise floor up.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 16:03
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    @Tetsujin - absolutely. There were a few times in the early bass playing days when I was asked 'were you a lead guitarist?'
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 16:40
  • +1 for different jobs. I play in a band as a beginnner bass player and I cam see my role is very different to the 2 guitarists in the band. My role (if i understand correctly, im still a beginner) is to play basslines and work closely with the drummer to stay on the beat. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:25
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    @vikingsteve - yes, you're part of the rhythm section, predominantly. Working closely with the drummer will make your band sound nice and tight. With particular regard to the kick and snare.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 8:10
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The six string bass is not tuned like a guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E) but rather extends the bass scordatura (E-A-D-G) by a fourth above and below (B-E-A-D-G-C) (although I like to have the lowest string on C).

This means that while knowledge on the guitar will definitely help you you will have slightly different fingerings for chords due to a) missing a high E string and b) the highest string not being B but C.

It is possible to change the "default" stringing and rather extend by two strings upwards. This would usually then give you a high F, but it would allow you to tune in a guitar tuning (as long as the tension works out). (In fact there is a thing like a classical contrabass guitar that has 6 strings and is like a classical concert guitar, just one octave lower).

Finally I want to point out that usually guitar and bass are played with quite different purpose and thus also with different technique and different musical shapes. A bassline is not the same as a melody or chords on the guitar.

So if you want to dabble into bass: Your guitar knowledge will help you, but you’ll also learn new things. You can safely go for a standard 4 string bass. This one will behave like a guitar with only the four lowest strings and is quite a lot easier to play compared to a 6 string bass. Also much easier to find affordable instruments.

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  • There are tow kinds of six-string bass. The ones you describe and the older kind tuned an octave below the guitar (as described in the other answer).
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:30
  • @PiedPiper AAAAAND there’s THIS beast: youtube.com/watch?v=NasbUWPj-VA
    – Lazy
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:35
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    I’m curious, what is your reasoning behind tuning the low 6th string to a C? Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 23:52
  • @JohnBelzaguy There are multiple reasons. 1) Tension. Even with quite a heavy string a low B feels unnaturally soft, unless you have some 36'' scale instrument. 2) A contrabass instrument rarely has to go under the contra-C (C1), and even five string contrabass rarely tunes to low B, but usually tunes to low C. 3) It gives you an open low C (being arguably more valuable than an open B) and brings the whole instrument in a nice C-major direction, having open strings C-E-A-D-G-C. 4) It allows you to get a double octave simply by barring strings 1 and 6.
    – Lazy
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 9:27
  • @JohnBelzaguy There are also reasons against it: It might be confusing, it can make some chords more stretchy (while of course making other chords easier), and you might want to have the low B if you play guitar centric music that often circles around the key of E given by the lowest guitar string. The nice thing is that since low B does feel quite soft this does not require a change of strings, but simply a little turn of the tuning peg.
    – Lazy
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 9:30
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This means that instantly, the music theory knowledge is not directly transferable to this instrument.

Your real problem here is that you don't understand music theory, so you're asking this question based on a complete misunderstanding. All music theory is directly transferrable to all instruments, with no exceptions at all. All techniques for guitar are directly transferable to bass too.

There may be differences in tuning for the bass; but if you're moderately skilled on guitar then you should have an appreciation of working with different tunings. There will also be differences in how you pick the strings, but again if you know what a "rest stroke" is then you should be good. But these issues simply relate to technique, and not at all to "music theory".

There may be differences between what role the instrument plays in an arrangement too, but as a guitarist you should be familiar with the different places you can position your sound. The guitar is regularly used to provide a bassline (think Johnny Cash and Carter Family picking), strumming, midrange melody/harmony lines, high leads and counter-melodies, and all those good things. All of this is covered again by music theory.

When it comes to actually playing bass, you will need to build some different abilities depending on what you're doing. If there are drums, you need to be listening to the drums to take your timing and also listening to the other instruments to work against the melodies. If there aren't drums, the other instruments will be taking their timing from you, so you need to work on keeping a solid tempo. These techniques are applicable on guitar too, but it's less necessary.

These are all technique things though. The music theory is the music theory, and it doesn't change.

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  • +1 for bassist working closely with the drummer. The bass really has a different role to a guitar, when in a band. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:48
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As a bass player you start to take over other functions. I.e. you literally play the root notes of chords.

Using neighbor notes you aren‘t bound to that. Because you root-note, by a nice bass-line you can guide the audience to the next chord of the progression.

And of course, together with drums or percussion you form (major) parts of the rhythm section. Frequencies may collide with bass drums, so be distinguishable.

One of many ways to do it is using a walking bass, like 1 . 3 . | 1 2 3 4

And think of all the reggay or funky basses, too.

You can read many of these basics in „How to play from a Real Book“.

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