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How To Read Bass Tabs – A Guide For Beginners




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If you’re new to playing bass guitar, learning how to read bass tabs is a must. Tabs provide a visual guide for players, making it easy to follow along with the musical notation.

In this tutorial, we’ll walk you through the basics of reading bass tabs (the logic behind the system is the same for electric guitar and electric bass), there will be some examples with free bass guitar tabs, we’ll make sure your reading is of decent quality by the time we’re done and show you how they can help improve your playing skills.

Let’s get started!

Bass Tabs For Beginners: An Overview

Bass tab is a form of musical notation that indicates which fret on the bass guitar to play in order to produce a particular note. The notation also includes timing information, so that the musician knows how long to hold each note.

To read bass tab, the musician must first identify the fretboard, which is divided into four sections called strings. Each string is represented by a line on the staff, with the lowest-pitched string (the bottom string) being represented by the lowest line.

The notes are then written on these lines, with the numbers indicating which fret to press down. For instance, a “3” on the lowest string would indicate that the bassist should press down on the third fret of that string. By reading bass tab, bassists can learn to play both simple and complex bass lines.

What’s the use bass tabs play in learning? Think of them as being a stepping stone towards learning notation.

So is the best option for learning always bass tab? It really depends on the student learning.

But it can be good to use bass tab? It can be. Basetabs can be good for things notation can’t do. For example, they can specify which area of the neck to play in. Notation can’t do that.

If, for example, you wanted to notate to have the verse played in a certain area of the neck (such as the Ruby bass line by Kaiser chiefs or a groove from a mac miller song) then TAB is a great way to write that down.

The TAB system is easy to learn

Bass tab is a great way for beginners to learn how to play the bass guitar. Unlike traditional notation, bass tab uses numbers instead of notes to indicate which strings should be played.

This makes it much easier to read, and it also allows beginners to quickly learn some of the basic bass lines. Additionally, most basslines are relatively simple, so bass tab can be a great way to get started with learning the bass.

While it is possible to find bass tab for more complex pieces, it is usually best to start with simpler songs. This will help you get a feel for the instrument and how to read the tablature before moving on to more challenging material.

Different types of Bass TAB

There are two main types of bass TAB that you should familiarise yourself with.

The first is just known as TAB and simply shows which notes on the bass neck should be played by placing the relevant numbers on the TAB staff.

This system is incredibly useful for beginners because it’s very easy to pick up quickly.

However, as move forward with this first TAB system, and as you become a more advanced player, you’ll start to encounter the big problem with this way of writing TAB.

It doesn’t give you any information about rhythm.

Enter TAB system number two: rhythmic TAB.

This is more of a hybrid between conventional notation and the first TAB system described above.

Why? Because it still uses numbers to show which notes to play but it uses the stem system from conventional notation to show what rhythmic value these notes have.

As you’ll see later in this article, many other systems from conventional notation such as grace notes, slides and slurs have also been borrowed from conventional notation and woven into TAB.

What do Symbols Mean on Bass TAB?

Bass guitar TAB is a system of notation that allows musicians to easily read and write bass guitar music. The foundation of bass guitar TAB is the staff, which consists of five horizontal lines.

The top line represents the highest-pitched string on the bass, while the bottom line represents the lowest-pitched string. Notes are then added to the staff to indicate which strings are to be played and at what pitch.

However, unlike conventional notation which uses various dots to symbolise the notes, TAB uses numbers on each line of the staff which represent the fret numbers on the neck that should be played.

Rests are also used in bass guitar TAB to indicate when a string should not be played.

The bass has its own tablature staff. Typically, this staff has one line for each string off the bass. A four-string bass staff has four lines, a five-string bass staff has five lines and so on.

The use of symbols and the entire TAB system though, is the same no matter how many lines the staff has.

What does parentheses () mean in Bass TAB?

If you’re new to reading bass tablature, or “bass tab,” you may be wondering what those parentheses are all about.

In bass tab, parentheses indicate that a grace note is to be played. A grace note is a very short, quick note that’s usually played before the main note.

The purpose of a grace note is to add a bit of flavor or flair to the main note. In most cases, the grace note is played with a quite different articulation than the main note.

For example, the grace note might be played with a staccato articulation while the main note is played legato.

However, it’s worth noting that grace notes can be played in all sorts of ways. Some are slides into the main note, some are legato and some are plucked quickly.

This contrast between articulations can create a very interesting sound.

What does b mean in Bass TAB?

In bass TAB, the symbol b means to bend a note. To do this, you’ll need to place your finger behind the fret you’re currently on and then push forward while plucking the string.

This will create a higher pitch than the note you were originally playing. The amount that you bend the note will depend on how far you push your finger forward. For a half-step bend, you would push your finger about a quarter of an inch forward.

For a whole step bend, you would push it halfway between the two frets. Bends can also be expressed as a fraction, such as 1/4 or 1/2, which tells you how far to push your finger forward.

Experiment with different bends to find the sound you’re looking for.

However, it’s worth saying that bends in bass parts are incredibly rare so you’ll likely never encounter this symbol.

The reason is that the strings on a bass are much bigger and therefore, much harder to bend.

If you do attempt bending bass strings then be careful not to damage your hands in the process!

What does / or mean in Bass TAB?

When reading bass tablature, or “bass TAB,” you’ll often see the symbol / between two notes. This symbol indicates that you should slide between the two notes. For example, if the bass TAB looks like this:





You would play the note on the third fret of the low E string, then slide up to the fifth fret and stop. The speed at which you slide is up to you, but it should be a smooth, even slide without any pauses.

Slides can add a lot of expression to your playing, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques. With a little practice, you’ll be sliding between notes like a pro in no time.

What does t mean in Bass TAB?

When you’re looking at a bass tab, the symbol “t” represents a tapped note. This means that instead of plucking the string with your finger, you use your index finger to tap the string at a specific fret.

For example, if you see a “t” at the third fret of the E string, you would place your index finger on the third fret and then tap the string with your middle finger. Tapped notes are indicated by a small dot above or below the “t” symbol.

The number of dots tells you how many times to tap the string before plucking it. For example, if there’s one dot above or below the “t,” you would tap the string once before plucking it. If there are two dots, you would tap it twice, and so on.

Tapped notes can add a lot of interest to your playing, so experiment with them and see what sounds you can come up with.

Bass TAB layout explained

If you’re new to reading bass guitar tablature, or “bass tab,” it can look like a confusing jumble of numbers, symbols, and lines. However, once you understand the basics of how it’s formatted, you’ll be able to read bass tab with ease. Here’s a quick rundown of the most important elements of bass tab:

The horizontal lines represent the strings of the bass, with the lowest-pitched string at the bottom and the highest-pitched string at the top.

The numbers on the lines indicate which fret to play. For example, a “3” on the lowest string would mean you would play the third fret on that string. If there is no number, that means you should play an open string (a string that is not fretted).

The vertical lines represent measures or divisions of time in music. In most cases, each measure will contain four beats.

What Do Numbers Mean on Bass TAB?

The numbers on a tab staff represent the fret numbers that should be played. For example, if the number 3 is written on the first string, that means you should play the third fret on that string.

If there is the number 0 written on a string, that means you should play an open string. In standard notation, the numbers on the staff correspond to which fret should be played.

The bottom line represents the first fret, and each subsequent line represents the next higher fret. So, if a note is written on the third line from the bottom, that would correspond to playing the third fret.

Tablature is a great way for beginners to get started reading music, and it can also be used by more experienced players to quickly get down a melody or riff.

Numbers on top of each other

When you see numbers stacked on top of each other in a bass tab, it means those notes should be played together as a chord. The numbers represent the fretboard positions of the different notes in the chord, and the vertical alignment indicates that those notes should be played simultaneously.

There are a few things to keep in mind when playing chords in a bass tab. First, you’ll need to determine which fingers to use for each note. Second, you’ll need to make sure that all of the notes are sounding clean and clear.

And finally, you’ll want to practice moving from one chord to the next so that you can play them smoothly and efficiently. With a little practice, you’ll be playing chords like a pro in no time!

Numbers are written from left to right

When reading bass tab, it is important to remember that the music is written from left to right in order to mimic the way conventional notation is written. This allows the reader to see the passage of time in a piece of music and to understand how the notes are related to one another.

In addition, the numbers on the lines represent the fret numbers that should be played. For example, if the number “3” is written on the third fret of the fourth string, the player would pluck the string with their left hand and place their finger on the third fret with their right hand.

By reading bass tab, musicians can learn how to play their favorite songs without having to read traditional notation.

Rhythm In tab

Bass tab uses a system of rhythmic stems which is borrowed from conventional notation to show how notes should be played. These stems indicate the length of each note.

This makes it much easier to see the overall rhythm of a piece, and to play it correctly.

Additionally, bass tab can be used as a way of transcribing existing pieces of music. By using the rhythmic stems, you can create an accurate representation of the original work. Especially if you’re a beginner, bass tab can be an invaluable tool for understanding and playing rhythm.

Tablatures vs sheet music (standard notation)

When learning to play the bass, you have a few different options for notation. The most common form is sheet music, which uses musical symbols to indicate pitch, rhythm, and other aspects of the performance.

However, many bassists also use tablature (or “tab”), which uses numbers and letters to indicate where fingers should be placed on the fretboard. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Standard Notation Pros & Cons

Sheet music is the standard notation for most instruments, and it offers a precise way to communicate musical ideas. It can be useful for learning new songs, as well as for transcribing your own bass lines.

It’s also the best (and only) way to communicate ideas to other instrumentalists that don’t use TAB.

However, reading sheet music can be challenging for beginners, and it can be difficult to learn complex pieces from notation alone.

Bass TAB Pros & Cons

Tablature, on the other hand, is much easier to read, and it provides a clear visual guide for finger placement. This makes it ideal for beginners, or for learning simpler pieces. However, tablature does not provide any information about rhythm or timing, so it can be more difficult to use for complex pieces of music.

Tab can also provide information on which area of the neck to play a piece of music which conventional notation doesn’t.

Ultimately, there’s no harm in learning to use both methods.

But it’s worth noting that all serious bass players, whether they want to take a high-level course, go to music school or even become professionals, will be expected to learn to read standard notation.

And you should also consider that many extra practices that are part of TAB, such as using rehearsal marks and double bar lines to mark out sections like a bridge or chorus, or using dynamics, repeat marks and the like are borrowed from standard notation anyway.

So even if you have downloaded a great version of the what once was bass TAB, or the bad religion bass TABS, in the long run, you might well be better off just putting in the hard yards and learning bad religion, for example, in notation anyway.

Bass Songs To Learn With TAB

There are many songs you can learn with tab and, in fact, these songs, bass riffs can serve as a great vehicle for learning bass tab and improving your bass playing.

Here are a few suggestions ofr bass riffs to learn.

Seven Nation Army

Seven Nation Army is the most famous track from The White Stripes self titled debut album.

The bass riff is one of the most iconic and fun bass tabs you can learn.

This is a very easy song to grasp so get stuck in and enjoy learning it.

Let It Be

Let It Be bass tabs are some of the easiest to find and learn.

The song is very easy for beginners to learn and it’s also really satisfying to play.

What You Know

The what you know bass tab is a little trickier to master.

The rhythms can be quite complicated for beginners but if you want a track to really push yourself then this is a great song to learn.

Other popular bass tabs

If you want some other popular songs to learn you could look at, black no 1 bass tab, bass masta
africa bass tab, around the fur bass tabs or looking for base guitar notes and TABS for some more unusual things such as a transcription of a keyboard solo, piano solo or a bassless backing track to play along to.

Try looking for something simple with a nice groove at first (something like Africa, or some the other Toto songs with lines by David Hungate) and then go into more difficult tunes from there.

How to read Bass Tab Conclusion

Bass tab is a great way for beginner bass players to learn how to play their favorite songs. It uses a system of rhythmic stems which shows how notes should be played, and it can also be used as a way of transcribing existing pieces of music.

Sheet music is the standard notation for most instruments, but tablature has its own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, there’s no harm in learning to use both methods. But it’s worth noting that all serious bass players will be expected to learn to read standard notation.

If you want bass tabs free of charge then you can always look around the internet. Just be wary of free bass tabs you find online because anyone can publish them and they aren’t quality checked. It’s much better to buy them as part of a book.

If you’re new to TAB then it can be a good idea to start learning easy songs first to get used to TAB such as a Mac Miller song or an easy rock song that would sound great on an arrow bass.

Whether you choose to get easy bass tabs off the internet, work through some bass tabs for beginners’ books or learn standard notation is up to you but don’t be too quick to write off the value of each system.

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