Reading Music On The Bass Guitar: The Very Basics – Note Names And Locations

Forget the fact that you can get more work as a pro if you read, there are so many great reasons to learn. If you play with a band that has sheet music/charts, you can slot right in without a rehearsal. You can learn from books that contain music (even non bass guitar books). You can jot down ideas easily or make charts for other musicians. You can play in theatre bands, jazz bands and easily learn new styles. It can broaden your horizon and your understanding of music. It’s actually not difficult at all if you learn some basics…

The basics involve:

  1. Finding the notes on the bass (Refer to the sheet from the Fretboard Knowledge section ‘How To Find Notes On The Bass’)
  2. Identifying the names of the notes on the stave
  3. Identifying where that note is located on the fretboard
  4. Recognising some simple rhythms

Just a few things to go through before that stuff. Those 5 lines and 4 spaces in music is called the ‘staff’ or ‘stave’. Here are a few other terms to note:

* In the UK this is called ‘bar’, in the US it is a ‘measure’. As I’m from England I will call it a bar!

Identifying the names of the notes on the stave

Use these mnemonics to learn the note names on the stave.

Notes on the lines:

PRO TIP: The bass clef symbol looks a little like how the letter ‘F’ used to be written
down in time gone by. Those two dots intersect the note F so use that to remember where F is. The bass clef is actually sometimes called the F Clef for this reason.

Notes on the spaces:

All the notes together

If you didn’t know, the musical alphabet goes ABCDEFG and then starts at A again.

As you alternate between a line and a space all you are doing is going up or down the musical alphabet. You can find ANY note
using this rule.

There are notes above and below the highest and lowest lines on the stave. You can find those notes using the same rule you just read.

Identifying where that note is located on the fretboard

The way to do this is to memorise a few places on the bass and associate where those notes are on the stave.

The open strings are a great place to start.

If you learn this then you can learn every other note relative to the open strings. Going in this direction ↑ on the stave, the notes get higher in pitch. Lower down the stave ↓, the notes get lower in pitch.

Before moving on to some symbols you need to know, let’s find a few more notes. Remember, you need to know the notes on the bass fretboard before you do this! There is a certain amount of memorisation at this point but you will get it in no time.

Notes up to the 4th fret

Have a look at how these notes are positioned relative to those open strings that you have learnt. Notice how the lower sounding F is lower down the stave relative to the higher F. It’s all about the relative positions and once that clicks for you it will become easy to identify notes quickly then, eventually, instantly.

Next we need to move onto the various common symbols you come across. Don’t worry if it looks like gibberish to you now, it is a slightly strange system! Once you get familiar with it you will feel very comfortable.

 

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Related Lessons

Reading Music On The Bass Guitar: The Very Basics – Counting

Reading Music On The Bass Guitar: The Very Basics – Rhythms And Rests

Reading Music On The Bass Guitar: The Very Basics – Reading Exercises