I am learning a song and need help reading the music sheet. I think the bass clef is for piano? Notes show up one on top of the other. I am assuming a piano player would play both notes with two fingers simultaneously on the left hand. What do I play on bass guitar or do I not follow the bass clef for piano?

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    We probably need a little more context in order to answer your question. Answer some questions for us like: Are you playing as part of a band? what style are you playing, what style is the music. I know we don't like to talk about specific pieces usually, but perhaps even a sample of the music?
    – amalgamate
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:58
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    You could also tell us if the sheet music was written for bass, or for piano?
    – Nachmen
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 15:04
  • Vertical notes (i.e. on top of each other) on the stave are for chords - two or more notes played tigether. So yes, use two or more fingers of the left (or fretting) hand to play them. I suspect you have picked a piece that is too complex though... You may like to search for a beginners guide to reading music first.
    – Andy
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 15:59
  • It is quite common for bass players to play chords by fretting more than one note with their fretting hand and then plucking more than one string with their plucking hand - a lot like playing a guitar. While it is more difficult to hold down multiple notes on the bass than on guitar, once a player has built up the hand strength it is not too complicated. Tool, Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine, and Ned's Atomic Dustbin, to give just a small sampling, all have songs with bass chords. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 18:09

2 Answers 2


It's commonplace for the bass clef (usually left hand) of piano sheet music to contain more than one note. Usually, but not always, the bass guitarist will play single notes for their part in songs, because someone else is playing the other notes which make up the chords that are the backing. On bass guitars, often, playing two or more notes cause a muddiness in the sound - 6 string basses are better, as the top couple of strings are pitched higher, so one is the norm.

When the sheet music shows more than one note, you can of course play both or all of them on bass guitar; it's not difficult, but you'll probably find the sound is not too clear, so maybe stick to the lower of two or three. Otherwise, ignore that and play notes from the chord/s in each bar, singly.

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    That's not necessarily true; there are many examples of bassists playing chords. Stanley Clarke,Jaco Pastorius, Victor Wooten for example. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 16:46
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    @Shevliaskovic - on a percentage basis, it's more usual to pay single notes. Take 1,000 well known songs... but, point taken, that's why 'not always' is there.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 16:51
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    Yup, I agree; but it is a common misconception among amateur (usually rock) musicians that the bass should play only single notes. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 16:53
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    Rock bassists who want to play Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin or Schism by Tool or Bullet in the Head by Rage Against the Machine should get over the one-note misconception very quickly. Rock bassists who don't want to play any those songs should start calling themselves "pop", "folk-rock", or "country" bassists instead. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 18:14
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    @Tim I'd say there are plenty of ways to make larger chords work on electric bass without getting muddy. Complicated chords in lower registers can sound muddy on any instrument, including piano, so if one is playing a left-hand piano part without too thick a tone one has a decent chance of getting away with it, I'd say. Agreed 5-strings are fairly common and five-note left hand chords are rare, just noting that five bass notes could potentially be presented to a four-string player and that would be trickier. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 18:17

One thing you can do is to use both hands and play by tapping the notes. If the song is written for piano, it might not be easy playable at the bass. It has more limitations, so you might find out that the song cannot be played on the bass.

But, try using both of your hands and see if you can press both notes at the same time.

Some examples of bass tapping:

  • Impressive Fur Elise! Would it be playable on a 'normal' 4 or 5 string?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 16:54
  • I doubt that. I think he uses all 7 strings in this song, but it might be playable on a 6 string bass Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 16:56
  • I suppose most 7 stringers have a top F rather than a bottom F#? I used to play with a guy on 8 string - F# - F.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 17:02
  • @Tim I'm not 100% sure; I've seen two 7 strings up close and they both had a low F#. But I would prefer a high F Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:02

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