A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown


I don’t know if this will help anyone, but I hope it does. I was just looking at a sight-reading exercise on Tom Bornemann‘s blog and while checking out the notes on the staff, I played only the ones that were on spaces (A-C-E-G). It turns out that they’re just the open string and the 3rd fret on the bottom two strings on a standard bass.

  • A is open A
  • C is the 3rd fret on the A string
  • E is open E
  • G is the 3rd fret on the E string

That means that 1/2 of the natural notes in the musical alphabet can be played with one finger from one position. I think it helps to take some of the intimidation out of learning notes on the neck, as well as learning to read notation. (see pic 1)


I then tried to find some of the notes on the higher strings, and found something else. If you begin A-C-E-G on the open A and continue to the C on the 3rd fret and then go up strings, the E is on the 2nd fret of the D string and the G is either open G or the 5th fret of the D string.

What does this mean? It means that if you take the 2nd option, with G on the 5th fret of the D string, you’re playing a C major triad and can use that shape. If you’ve been practicing your major scale and chords this really simplifies finding those notes. To play all of the space notes on the bass clef of the musical staff (A-C-E-G) we can play an open A and then play a triad beginning on C. (see pic 2)

This kind of shocked me, and if we alternate with the E & G on the E string (remember, open E and 3rd fret) it also lets us hear what notes above and below the A & C sound like. (see pic 3)

Here’s a recording to illustrate the examples above. Its all one clip. Each example is played twice, and following them, I just played the high and low alternating thing using 4-note groups of quarter notes.


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