Many music enthusiasts would say that the bass guitar is the grooviest, coolest, and most versatile instrument you can play. I, for one, love the energy and the nonchalant charisma that bass players ooze. If you agree with me, likely, you have already dabbled in this fantastic hobby.
However, if you are reading this article, you also likely want to take it to the next level. Learning how to read bass guitar sheet music can improve your live playing and your understanding of music theory. As you can imagine, this skill has the potential to make you a better, more well-rounded bass player. So, how to read bass guitar sheet music? Read on to find out.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
To follow this tutorial, you will need a few things. They are:
- A bass guitar.
- A bass guitar pick (optional).
- A practice music sheet.
- Music sheets for your favorite bass guitar songs.
Step by Step Instructions
Learning how to read bass guitar sheet music is not as hard as it may initially seem. In many ways, it’s the same as reading words using the alphabet. In fact, some letters from the alphabet are used to represent different musical notes. However, rhythm and tempo play an important factor as well. Take the following into account:
Step 1: Learn the Basic Symbols of Notation
Before you can read sheet music for bass guitar, you need to understand the symbols on the page. There are three basic elements on any bass music sheet that you should get to know. They are the following:
One of the first things you may notice about sheet music is that all notes are written on (or between) horizontal lines. Collectively, these lines are referred to as the staff. Said staff consists of five lines and the four spaces between them. Each one of these spaces and lines represents a different note on the bass guitar.
The Bass Clef
The bass clef is the backward C written at the beginning of all bass guitar sheet music. The top of the bass clef should touch the staff’s first line (from top to bottom). This symbol also includes two dots vertically placed in the spaces above and below the staff’s second line (again, from top to bottom).
Often the bass clef is referred to as the F clef. It is used to annotate music in lower registries, so you will see this symbol whenever you attempt to read music meant for low-register instruments like cellos, tubas, or bassoons. However, this clef can also be used to write low-register music for other instruments, including the piano and the guitar.
As I previously mentioned, the notes are written either on the staff’s lines or in the spaces between them. Each line and space represent a single, specific note on your instrument. Depending on the symbol used to represent each note, you will know what that note’s value is. As a general rule, take into account that a note can denote a whole duration, half a duration, or a quarter of a duration.
Step 2: Understand the Beat
All music is based on a certain tempo or meter. This tempo is normally marked by the beat, resulting in a specific rhythm and speed. The tempo is marked in beats per minute (BPM). As the name implies, this number lets you know how many beats are asserted during each minute of the piece of music.
In addition to the tempo, all sheet music presents a time signature. Said time signature lets you know how many beats to measure for each bar. Meanwhile, the bottom number under each note lets you know what the note value for a single beat is.
Step 3: Translate the Notes to Your Bass Guitar
Now that you know how to read sheet music for bass guitar in theory, it’s time to move your knowledge to the real world. To do this, you will need to know how to translate the notes on the sheet to the actual strings on your bass guitar.
Notes Written On the Staff Lines
First, let’s go over the notes that are written directly on the staff lines. From bottom to top, the notes are the G, B, D, F, and A. Take a look at the following chart:
Mnemonic device: If you are having trouble memorizing the letters representing the notes written on the staff lines, try using this mnemonic device. Replace G, B, D, F, and A for the words “Grizzly Bears Don’t Fly Airplanes.” Of course, you can always replace these words with any other mnemonic device of your choosing. However, this one is a classic and has been shown to work wonderfully for most people.
Notes Written Between the Staff Lines
Now, let’s go over the notes that are written on the spaces between the staff lines. From bottom to top, they are A, C, E, and G. Take a look at the following chart to get a better idea of how that looks like:
Mnemonic device: Once again, if you are having trouble memorizing these letters, you can use a simple mnemonic device. This time around, you should replace the letters A, C, E, and G with the words “All Cows Eat Grass.” Alternatively, you can try replacing the letters with the words “Ants Can Eat Grapes.” Of course, though, if neither of those phrases is convincing, you can always create your own mnemonic device using any words you want.
Without a doubt, memorizing where each of these notes is located on the sheet can be the biggest challenge when reading music for bass guitar. However, you will find that it gets easier and easier with practice and dedication as time goes. Using certain mnemonic devices can always be of help when it comes to mastering this.
Did you enjoy this tutorial? I certainly hope so. As an amateur bass player who taught himself how to play, I know I would have appreciated a detailed guide back in the day. Remember that once you know the basics, it’s all about practice, determination, and love of music! Leave a comment if you have questions or opinions on this tutorial. If you enjoyed it, please remember to share it with your friends and family.