Intro To Bass Guitar Theory

The G Major Scale on bass:

The concept of approaching the scale as a set of numbers, rather than multiple sets of letter-name-notes, is very powerful and can be applied in many different ways to your playing. This concept really is the foundation of Decoding the Bass Guitar, though in the lesson you will learn how to take this much, much further.

Leave a Reply 36 comments

Kevin J. Finglas - June 24, 2010 Reply

Hey John,
I’m torn between using a plectrum and just trying to use the two finger method. I’ve played mostly 6 and 12 string acoustic using thumb and three fingers to pick the strings but I find I can’t match the speed required to play the Metal style required by my current band. Is there a practice drill I can use to improve my speed using the two finger method of playing?
Ps I have an identical five string to the one you are using in your demo.
Cheers Kev.

    Jonathan Boettcher - June 25, 2010 Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    The two finger method is quite different than the way you would finger pick on a guitar… I’ll make a note about perhaps doing a video on that though.

      Patrick James McKenna - September 22, 2011 Reply

      Even though Paul McCartney has enjoyed some success using the pick (AKA plectrum) on bass, I use the index and middle fingers to strike (as well as to pluck and claw) at the strings. This is, beyond the shadow of the doubt, the best way to play through most music categories (i.e., Classic Rock, C&W, Folk, Gospel, etc.).
      A lesser used method of attack is the slap and pull method. The theory behind this is easy enough to grasp, by developing and putting it in practice is challenging.
      I would like to add the slap and pull method and expand my horizons as a bassist.
      I’ve been playing both electric and upright bass for probably enough years that an admission would give my age away. I will say that You have great approach to the electric bass. It’s practical and real.

rj - June 24, 2010 Reply

easy to follow instructions, i’m learning guitar but am interested in the bass as well, i would love to follow up on your lessons but would like to know if this theory works with guitar as well thanks

    Jonathan Boettcher - June 25, 2010 Reply

    Hi RJ – yes, this theory applies to the guitar as well. Keep in mind though that the 2nd string on the guitar is not tuned to a 4th of the 3rd string, so at that point you need to compensate with the pattern. - February 25, 2011 Reply

      hello sir iam alisina thanks for sending me the video thanks alot thank you so much. - June 24, 2010 Reply

The first 2 big strings (E and A) on the bass (and 6 string guitar) are the keys to almost everything for me. I am an intermediate player (bass, 6 string and 12 string). If I were starting to learn the guitar for the 1st time now, I would memorize the name of every note on the 1st 12 frets of the E and A strings and memorize the name of all the Barre chords with the E and A shape. After that everything falls into place. Thanks for this Bass Video, I am going to save it and refer to it often. Bill

William - June 24, 2010 Reply

Hello John:

Your simple explanation of the way the bass guitar works is excellent. It’s the most simplified description I’ve heard…and I’ve heard many! Thank you for making this video available and for taking into consideration beginner players like myself.

Best Regards,
William - June 24, 2010 Reply

Jonathon, had a look at this but also checked out your riff
thingie and the ‘penny dropped’ for me, so happy, thx.

Doug Wolf - June 24, 2010 Reply

cool beans! - June 25, 2010 Reply

Finally, a clear shot of the fretboard and fingering……… 🙂

Very nice, thanks Jon!

I guess the next improvement I could suggest would be to smooth out the delivery of your presentations a bit, your style can be a little halting at times. (Just trying to be constructive). Another thing that might help but is a little more tricky. If you could occasionally superimpose the note name, or number you are talking about onto the fretboard position….. I know thats a bit more video production, but it would really help improve understanding of the concepts such as I IV V, or scales in general, or in your song/riff lessons.

Thanks again and always!

    Jonathan Boettcher - June 28, 2010 Reply

    Ideally I’d love to find a way to get an animated fretboard… that would be cool 🙂

chris - June 26, 2010 Reply

nice job - June 29, 2010 Reply

The video was helpful. I’ve been procrastinating on replaying the I, IV, V lesson, I get it but still unable to really understand. I guess I needed the visuals too. It helped pull everything together—for me. Thank you.

Girma Bekele - August 5, 2010 Reply

Dear brother
I am Ethiopian. The country is a country where more than 80 different nations and nationalities are living. Currently her population is more than 80 million with a population growth rate of about 3%. Per capital income is only 1USD per day. More than 40% of the population is living below poverty line or are going to bed empty stomach.

I am self motivated musician playing music at church (lead guitar major). I did not join any music school and I am also worship leader at my local church. As I do not have money to buy your video please let me know if you are willing to send me a copy free of charge.

East Africa
Ethiopia - September 4, 2010 Reply


thanks – your DVD has helped me a lot, however I am still having problems finding notes on the upper range of my bass. I am studying your system…

Do you have any suggestions?

Also I have been playing a long time the wrong way and am not trying to us the “economy of movement”. I can’t seem to keep the fingers down on the fretboard. Any suggestions??

Skip - February 25, 2011 Reply

i sir iam really funa of you please sir send me some videos of bass guitar lessons thanks. - March 11, 2011 Reply

Question: I am torn between getting a 4 or 5 string Bass. I have played 6 string guitar for decades. Players I know use a 4 string and say that they tried a 5 string and the B-string “just gets in the way”.
You play the 5 string, so what should I consider when making my decision? I love the deep sounds of the B-string, but wonder if that is the right reason for a 5 string.

    Jonathan Boettcher - March 11, 2011 Reply

    Hi Chuck, yes I do play and love the 5 string, but the deep sound is not the only reason – more importantly is the symmetry of patterns that you get by adding the fifth string, which gives you access to a lot more notes without having to jump all over the fretboard. If the 5th string is getting in the way, it is only because they don’t know what to do with it properly, with all respect.

Muani - May 17, 2012 Reply

Do we really have to use a pick when playing a bass?

    Patrick James McKenna - May 17, 2012 Reply

    For me, the use of a pick is an option that I use for a certain effect or if it really hurts my fingers to play.
    When I play electric bass, I strike the stings with my index and middle fingers about 85% of the time.
    Some players use their thumbs, but I find the thumb method to be too slow.
    Some of the incredible bassists use [what I call] the slap-pull method, thumping the lower strings with their thumbs and striking the higher notes with their fingers.
    If the slap-pull method is what you want to adopt, learn the basics first.
    Check out the many different styles of playing. That includes orchestral bass parts (large ensembles which back up singers) down to the crudest players. Don’t limit your studies to the stuff that you like.
    Also important: practice!!!
    You will never be considered for any marathon runs if you don’t first master the complexities of crawling first.
    I wish you success in your endeavors.

    Jonathan Boettcher - May 17, 2012 Reply

    No, definitely not. Patrick made some good points – it really is all about your preference, and the sound you want to achieve. Personally I choose to use a pick, but also use my other three fingers (2,3,4) quite a bit as well. The pick gives me the speed and accuracy I like and the other fingers let me pop strings or do other things like that.

OYEDIRAN PAUL IBUKUNOLUWA - September 11, 2012 Reply


Fat String Freddy - February 12, 2013 Reply

The info is solid. When I watch these videos I hear the sound first and then see the fingers move. Very distracting. Its probably my computer. Is there a fix for this short of purchasing a new computer.
Hammer On!

tobi dunsin - March 13, 2013 Reply

Thanks for this - March 20, 2013 Reply

This will be the third DVD I’ve ordered from you..

I have Guitar Scale Patterns
Unlocking I IV V

they were both great and easy to learn on, I believe your
Decoding the Bass will be too..

How do I download my copy? I ordered the DVD and Download!
Richard A Palmer

JACOB - April 14, 2013 Reply

These are very good lesson I have been playing scales but don’t know how to put the together?

    Jonathan Boettcher - April 15, 2013 Reply

    That’s what the course is all about! 🙂

Kabelo - May 2, 2013 Reply

Hi John,i’m the beginner and i’m very inspired by your videos so i don’t if its possibly to send me lessons for beginners,thnz in advance

Khomotso Nyezi - February 19, 2015 Reply

Thanx for hooking me up i really cant wait for more lessons.

Ray Long - April 15, 2015 Reply

Hi I'm 57 and I've been trying to learn bass without any help but I've been checking out this and it's amazing

Paul - January 17, 2016 Reply


    Jonathan Boettcher - January 18, 2016 Reply

    Hi Paul, it depends which numbers you’re talking about. The ones in the tab diagram refer to the fret numbers. If I’m talking about a scale position, then the number refers to a note. The fingers also have numbers, however we don’t start with the thumb, but rather the index finger. So index is 1, middle is 2, ring is 3, pinky is 4. Does that help?

Dwayne - September 27, 2016 Reply

Thanks for the great lesson. I learned a lot

Paul Shepherd - September 28, 2016 Reply

How do you get the speed that you have on the fretboard. I know that you are a guitar genius and I have only been playing for a year , but I need to get quicker…can you help.

    Jonathan Boettcher - September 30, 2016 Reply

    Hi Paul, yes I have brought some speed across from the guitar, but that’s only because I’ve put in some hours practicing there. The same hours spent on the bass will serve you just as well. Speed comes down to two main things – practicing your scales, and practicing your picking technique. Personally I use a hybrid pick + fingers approach on the bass, though when playing scales I would just use a pick. Alternate picking is really important, because that enables speed…

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