In an effort to push through a plateau in my playing, I've started really digging into method books and even getting lessons (I'm mostly self-taught). Quite a few books, and my instructor have all given me the lesson to practice eighth notes.

The focus is always eighth notes, and, while I get that getting your timing down is important, why is there such a heavy focus on eighth notes in bass guitar? Why not quarter notes or 16th notes?

Most of the songs I play have a mixture of a lot of different note types, so I was wondering if someone could illuminate this for me.

  • 2
    topo's answer regarding the rhythms and tempos used in rock are what makes eighth notes (quavers) so important is spot on. Note that eighth notes are important for all instruments in rock music (and many other genres), especially drums, where the high hats are often played with an eighth note pattern, and most other pieces of the kit are hit on an eighth note more often than not. You really notice when a rhythm is a fast sixteenth note (semiquaver) rhythm or a slower quarter note (crotchet) rhythm. Jun 20, 2016 at 16:04
  • I think there is nothing much particular about quavers with regard to such exercises. They are often used for exercises (on any instrument), yeah – but in most cases, they could perfectly well be substituted with crotchets or semiquavers in a different tempo. Quavers are just a compromise and can be played both pretty slow and pretty fast without requiring an extreme on the tempo scale. Jun 20, 2016 at 20:27
  • 1
    Try doing this with your next homework assignment: take a really rockin' verse or something, maybe 16 bars or so (bonus points for being repeating) and I mean one that's just really grooving. Learn to play it well and make sure you have fun doing it. Then take out of them - turn the first eighth note into a quarter note and get rid of the other one. You're playing the same chord pattern but with quarter notes instead of eighth notes. Tell me if you find it less... cool...
    – corsiKa
    Jun 20, 2016 at 21:31
  • You wouldn't want to upstage the guitarist would you? (I kid). Go watch some Victor Wooten on the YouTube and find some books/teachers that will take you down the funky brick road. Unless you want to be in an alt-rock band... then you better practice those eight notes.. and don't bother yourself with anything beyond the first five frets (I kid). Jun 21, 2016 at 1:17

2 Answers 2


They're a staple of rock, and as bass guitar is often used as a rock instrument, they are seen as one of the basic techniques of bass playing. With many rock rhythms, quarter notes are too slow and make the song feel lethargic, while 16ths are too frantic and hard to play. 8th notes are, for many songs, just the right thing to drive things forward with the right amount of energy.

Of course many basslines have a lot more variation and involve more techniques, but learning to play eighth notes with solid timing and a consistent feel teaches habits that can be applied usefully to those more complex styles too.

There are even quite a few ways to play eighth notes, with two fingers, three fingers, or even just one finger, or of course with a pick. All have advantages and disadvantages in sound, difficulty, and how long you can keep it up for!

  • 5
    +1 for 'three fingers' That's always been my favourite; emphasising the down-beat in 2's & 4's whilst providing slightly different tones in 3's really can add some subtle yet important variation when you're playing just solid root note 8ths. It's also a classic exercise for practising solidity of tempo/feel, getting the feel of 4's against your natural tendency to want to do 3's.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 20, 2016 at 17:28
  • As a bassist myself, I can't agree more with this answer.
    – Kyle
    Jun 21, 2016 at 7:56

When playing crotchets- 4 in a bar - there are few ways to divide up the bar. 4 beats, 3+1 beats, 1+3 beats, or 2+2. With quavers (8ths), the number of variants is much greater. So being able to put in the last quaver of a bar, followed by the first beat of the next, for example is an advantage of being able to use 8s. Popping usually occurs on the 'off beats', so being able to be aware of where they occur in the bar is crucial. Being able to play 8s doesn't mean you need to play 8 notes in a bar - often that's not necessary - but being capable of knowing where to play each of the 8 is.

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