Practicing bass guitar scales has a lot of benefits.
You learn the notes on the fretboard. Your fingers get used to playing the notes.
You learn the sounds of the scales and how to identify them.
But which scales are best to practice on the bass guitar?
The 5 scales below are a great place to start.
All will help you get more familiar with the fretboard and the locations of the notes.
Most of them are also commonly used in many popular songs. Learning those scales will allow you to play a bunch of great songs, too. So let’s get started.
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Bass Guitar Scales For Beginners
Before we get into the 5 bass guitar scales for beginners, I have a few general tips for practicing scales. These helped me a lot to get better at bass when I first started learning to play the bass (I had already been playing guitar for many years).
Bass Scales 101
Before diving into the bass guitar scales for beginners, I want to highlight a couple of things new bassists might find helpful.
When I started playing bass, I realized that guitar and bass scales have the same notes in them. However, the fret spacing is significantly wider on the bass, so I advise you to start with the first few notes. It’s okay if you can’t reach the end after a couple of tries.
Secondly, I’ll list a few bass scales that are easy for beginners, but it’s important to start with the ones that you don’t find boring. For example, I practically skipped all major scales since I wanted to learn how to play Iron Maiden songs as quickly as possible, so I shifted my focus solely to pentatonic minor scales.
Finally, you may want to learn how notes are called. This will make your scale-learning experience much faster and smoother. When I started, I called notes by numbers (frets), so I struggled to understand the link between them for a while.
With that out of the way, let’s get started with the scales.
Bass Guitar C Major Scale
If you remember the “Do-Re-Mi” lesson from your music class (which most elementary schools teach), you already know the C Major scale. It’s not only the most important, but also the simplest bass scale because you’ve already heard it in at least a dozen of songs.
As its name implies, this scale begins and ends with a ‘C’. The other notes are D, E, F, G, A, and B, respectively.
To make your climb to the higher notes a bit easier, you might want to fret the low C with your middle finger since the E, F, and G are simpler to press if your index finger is free.
The final section features a full semitone gap between A and B notes, so you should use your index, ring, and little finger to complete the scale.
After learning this scale, you’ll be able to play quite a few songs in their entirety. Tunes like Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, and House of the Rising Sun by The Animals are great for practicing it.
Bass Guitar Pentatonic D Minor Scale
Hundreds of bands have made their names using a variation of the infamous Pentatonic Scale. And if you remember that I said that I wanted to learn how to play Iron Maiden tracks quickly, I mastered the Pentatonic D Minor first.
The notes that comprise this scale include D, F, G, A, C, and D, respectively. Unlike C Major, the gap between each note is at least a full semitone, plus it starts off with a step and a half gap.
The simplest way to start this scale is to place your index finger on the D and your little finger on the F. You can complete the scale using your index and ring fingers, or you could practice stretching your middle finger (instead of the ring finger). Either technique works.
This scale is very flexible in its execution. You can use whichever fingers you want since it’s a relatively simple scale, not to mention that it sounds groovy no matter where you move it on the fretboard.
Although Black Sabbath used the Pentatonic E Minor in their iconic Paranoid tune, the same principles apply: you only need to move the scale up a full semitone, follow the tempo, and you’ll practically know how to play it note-for-note.
Bass Guitar Natural A Minor Scale
I’d argue that there are no better warm-up scales than the Natural A Minor. It’s the most straightforward bass scale for which you’ll only need your index and middle fingers.
Its notes feature A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and A, respectively. If you’re wondering why it’s called a “Natural” scale, read the notes out loud again.
One song that perfectly illustrates how easy it is to use the Natural A Minor is Metallica’s The Unforgiven (all three versions of it). Even though the bass lines in The Unforgiven never climb the full scale, learning Natural A Minor will help you tackle all the core riffs in it. Learn Jason Newsted’s easy fills, and you’ll master this tune in no time.
Bass Guitar Pentatonic C Major Scale
Even though the Pentatonic C Major is a bit too “happy” for my taste, I must admit that this scale is very fun to play. It’s almost identical to the C Minor with the only difference being a single semitone spacing between a few notes.
Speaking of which, the notes you’ll be playing in the Pentatonic C Major include C, D, E, G, A, and C, respectively. Five notes are the length of the climb in this bass scale, and after hitting the first two notes right, simply repeating the patterns on the higher strings should be a breeze.
This time around, you can use your index and ring finger from start to finish. Just like all Pentatonic scales, the Pentatonic C Major is flexible enough to allow you to use whichever fingers you like.
After learning this scale, you’ll be able to play dozens of popular songs, like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, John Newton’s Amazing Grace, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, and hundreds of other pop and rock tunes.
Bass Guitar Chromatic A Scale
Is playing all adjacent notes even considered a scale? Yes, and it’s called a “Chromatic” scale. For the purposes of simplicity (and practical application), I’ll show you how to play the Chromatic A scale and teach you how to improve your playstyle with it.
Even though chromatic scales are mostly used for warm-up exercises (and bands like Meshuggah), there’s a hidden benefit to playing them. Since you have to play the full octave, for which you probably don’t have enough fingers, you have to be creative in which fingers to use at a time.
All chromatic scales feature all the notes in the octave of the first note. In the Chromatic A Scale, you start by playing the open A string, and then play every fret until you reach the high A again (meaning A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#).
You won’t get to learn how to play any particular song after tackling this bass scale, but it will inspire you to find innovative means to economize your fretting. Alternatively, you could take the easy way and simply slide your index finger across the fretboard, but you won’t learn anything new this way.
Scales For Bass Guitar: Final Thoughts
If you are a beginner on the bass, the 5 bass guitar scales above are a great way to get started learning the fretboard. Most of them are also common in many songs, so learning the scales will help you quickly learn many popular songs, too. That’s always a nice bonus!
And don’t forget the tips from the top of the article, especially the one about enjoying the scale. If you find it boring and tedious to practice a certain scale, don’t worry about that one. Practice a different one you enjoy more. Playing the bass is supposed to be fun!
Learning some chords is also a good idea. If you would like to do that, but don’t know where to get started, I also have an article that shows you how to play five easy bass guitar chords for beginners. It also has some handy tips and tricks to make things easier.
Of course, you want to make sure your instrument is in tune before you practice any of the scales, chords, or anything else, on it. Our article on tuning a bass guitar can help, if you’ve never done it before.