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Bass Guitar Notation: The Bass Clef

15 March 2016

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The Basics of Bass Guitar Notation: The Bass Clef

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ESSENTIAL SIGHTREADING STUDIES FOR ELECTRIC BASS
See our Sight Reading category here.

Bass guitar notation -- the written “road map” we follow to know what notes to play – uses the conventional lined staff evolved over centuries of Western musical tradition. Five lines and four spaces in each of two clefs, the treble and the bass, provide the grid on which notes are placed. The pitch of a note, that is, how high or low it sounds (a function of the vibrational frequency of the sound waves that create that note on our ear) determines where on the staff that note is marked: higher up for high notes, lower down for low notes.

What is The Bass Clef?

Bass clef definition: The bass clef is where low notes are marked, notes below middle C on a piano. Deeper-pitched instruments use this clef, such as tuba and trombone, the baritone sax, cello and of course the bass guitar. The low, strong, percussive notes of a bass’s strings play a critical role in music. This instrument provides a foundation, rhythmically as well as harmonically. The rest of the music and the other performers stand on this foundation.

The bass clef is also known as the F clef and is labelled by a swirly figure resembling an advancing storm on a weather map. It’s actually a highly stylized letter F, and is accompanied by two dots that surround the line on the staff corresponding with the note of F. (Historically, clef signs could be placed elsewhere on the staff to change the reference point and thus the set of notes on that staff, but those alternatives have died out, and today, the bass clef is always the F clef – and the treble clef is the G clef.)

How to Read Bass Clef Notes

How to read bass clef: If the bass clef lines and spaces are going to tell us which notes to play on our bass guitar, we have to memorize what notes are shown where. It isn’t particularly difficult, but it does take some time and effort. Little phrases will help you remember. The lines on the bass clef, from bottom to top, represent the notes G, B, D, F and A. Remember “Good Boys Do Fine Always” and you have those notes. The spaces are A, C, E and G, and can be recalled with “All Cows Eat Grass.”

Here are the notes of the bass clef:

BASS CLEF NOTES


To help relate these written notes to specific notes on the bass guitar, a system called tablature, or TAB, illustrates where they fall on the neck of the instrument. It’s like another staff, but here, the lines represent the strings of the bass and numbers tell which fret to finger.

BASS CLEF LINES
BASS CLEF SPACES


Here are all the notes on the bass guitar neck:

NOTES ON BASS NECK


You will notice there are lots of unlabeled spaces on the neck. That’s because our Western musical scale has eight whole steps, or natural notes, in an octave (from one E to the next E, for example). However, there are also some half-steps, or semi-tones, in between. These are indicated as “sharps” (♯) and “flats” (♭), which tell us how to modify one of the adjacent natural notes. Sharp raises a note and flat lowers it. (Think of the SHARP nail that sticks UP and the tire that goes DOWN when it goes FLAT.)

NOTES AND SHARPS ON BASS


NOTES AND FLATS ON BASS


It may seem like a lot to learn at first, but like anything, it comes with time and practice. Some effective learning materials can help tremendously.

Books to Learn Bass Guitar

There is no substitute for practice, but a good instruction book can make a huge difference in how valuable – and enjoyable – that practice time is. Here are some books that BassBooks.com recommends for studying bass guitar notation. They will help beginners learn the fundamentals and also let experienced players hone their music-reading skills.

SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS

by Ron Velosky

This is the definitive work on developing the skills of reading written notation and translating it into music on the bass. Starting from a very basic level, Ron Velosky guides students (and their instructors) through a process of skill building that is particularly effective at developing the ability to read and play bass guitar notation. Highly recommended.

Click here for more details and to order SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS.


SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS
SIGHTREADING 101 FOR BASS

by Mark Michell

Mark Michell's book focuses on learning to read and interpret bass guitar notation. It begins with the simple basics of notes (on the page and on the fretboard) and builds toward recognizing intervals and playing in different rhythms and keys. It ends with a selection of exercises in various styles. An excellent learning tool.

Click here for more details and to order SIGHTREADING 101 FOR BASS.


SIGHTREADING 101 FOR BASS
ESSENTIAL SIGHTREADING STUDIES FOR ELECTRIC BASS

by David Motto

Once you have some of the fundamentals down, here's an excellent book – Volume 1 of a three-volume set – for developing skill at reading and understanding bass guitar notation. David Motto presents basic grooves and rhythms for skill building, and includes a CD of audio tracks so you can hear exactly how the exercises are supposed to sound. Very helpful.

Click here for more details and to order SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS, Volume 1.

This book is also available as an Ebook, in PDF format and including the audio tracks, as a download from BassBooks.com here:

SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS, Volume 1, EBOOK/PDF VERSION.

Order the complete 3-volume set in print form here:

SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS, Complete 3-Volume set, PRINT VERSION.

And the complete set in Ebook form here:

SIGHT READING FOR THE BASS, Complete 3-Volume set, EBOOK/PDF VERSION.

ESSENTIAL SIGHTREADING STUDIES FOR ELECTRIC BASS


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