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scales and modes
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exercise 1
Learn The Notes On Bass Guitar
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Learn The Notes On Bass Guitar

One of the most fundamental lessons that often gets over looked when starting out on the bass guitar is to learn the note names and positions. Many bass players pass by this step and find it harder to understand scales and modes as their practice advances. In this article I will be discussing why memorizing the note names and positions are so important and how it will improve your skills as a bass player when it comes to reading scales, patterns, and chord charts.

Some new to learning bass guitar might look at that long neck with all those frets and think "wow that's a lot of notes I have to learn" well the good news is there's only 12 notes in the western culture music system. A series of 12 pitches each a semitone above or below another. These notes are called flat, natural, and sharp. For example, G flat - G natural - G sharp.

The benefits of being able to play these notes in any position on your fretboard will be very helpful when communicating with other musicians. One night at a club I was asked to fill in on bass right before the band went up to play. I didn't know any of their songs. The keyboard player said "stand by me and I will yell out the chords" He would yell out A and I would play an A. The whole night went like that. It was a little nerve racking but I got through it because I knew my fretboard. Many times a bass player will be given chord charts or progressions like: A - Db - F# - B, on average that would get pretty boring if you were to play that in the same position the entire song but if you knew some other positions higher up on the fretboard you could spice up the bass line a little bit. Eventually you will get to know the major and minor triads and the appropriate time to use them when improvising but for now lets learn the notes.

Exercise 1

Start with the open E and slowly call out the names as you play them moving up one fret at a time until you get to the 11th fret on the E string. Repeat this pattern on the A, D, and G strings. If your ready for the challenge, try this exercise starting at the 12th fret of the E string, these will be the same notes you just played but in a higher pitch and position.

Exercise 2

Start on the open E string call out the note names until you get to the 4th fret then play the open A working your way up a fret at a time to the 6th fret of the A string. The 7th fret of the A string is your first E octave. Experiment playing to your first octave in other keys like F, G, and A.

As you familiarize yourself with the note names and positions you will then be able to move on to playing scales and patterns in all 12 keys. Good luck and remember F sharp (#) = G flat (b).


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