The Basics of Music Theory for Bass

Understanding bass music theory will help bring your playing and bass line writing to a whole new level. We’ll show you the basics to get started.

Some people think that learning theory is unnecessary, and all you have to do is feel the music to be a great bass player.

They’re not completely wrong — there are a lot of famous musicians who didn’t take the time to learn theory. However, understanding the theory behind music will help you with everything from improvisation to writing unforgettable bass lines. It’s important for bass guitar players of all skill levels.

To get started, here are some of the basics you should know.


Before we get to anything else, you need to understand intervals. Intervals are just the distance between two notes. Think of them as how far up or down you move on the neck of a guitar. You can cover all of the intervals even with only four strings!

There are four types of intervals: major, minor, augmented, and diminished.

In a major interval, you move up a whole step — for example, from C to D in C Major. In a minor interval, on the other hand, you’d only move half a step.

Most songs will deal with major or minor intervals.


It doesn’t matter if you’re playing piano or bass guitar — every musician should know scales. Scales are basically different patterns of notes and intervals.

If you’re going up in pitch, it’s an ascending scale. Down in pitch is a descending scale. Simple, right?

Just like how there are different types of intervals, there are also different types of scales. There are major and minor scales for various notes.


Chords are also important in bass music theory. Tabs might create the melodies of songs, but chords actually help you learn how to play by ear. For beginners, you can learn guitar much faster using chords.

A chord is a collection of tones sounded all at once. Some chords appear so frequently that if you learn just a few of them, you’ll be able to play thousands of songs.

Knowing common chord progressions will also help you understand songs much better.

Root Notes

Finally, anyone learning bass music theory should know about root notes. A root note is the basis of a certain chord, usually the lowest sounding note.

If you know the key signature, chord progression, and root note of a song, you can write a basic bass line. Just take the root note and play it for a ‘stable’ sound.

To make things more complicated and improve the bass line, you should switch the notes up a bit — but playing the root note is a great place to start.

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