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There’s a lot of debate among musicians about which instrument is easier: guitar or bass. So I decided to take a look at the similarities and differences between the two instruments and give my opinion on which one is easier. After all, I’ve been playing both for years and have a lot of experience with them. Here are 7 reasons why I say that bass is easier than guitar:
1. Basslines Are Often Found more Basic Than Guitar
2. Bass Strokes Are Based On Metronome, But Guitar Has Rhythm And Solo
3. Finger Plucking Is Easier To Perceive Than Strumming
4. Learning Bass Chords Isn’t Always Essential (Spoiler: You Should Learn Though)
5. Large Fret Size With Bigger Gaps Between Strings Makes Bass Easy To Play
6. Bass Is Less Versatile Than Guitar
7. Bassists Are Often Not The Center Of Attention
To talk in more depth about each reason, let’s have a look at the similarities and differences between these two instruments. Let’s begin!
Similarities Between Bass And Guitar
When it comes to guitar and bass, there are more similarities than most people realize. Both instruments can be found with six strings. They both can be played with a pick, and both use frets (metal strips embedded in the neck) to control pitch and create different notes. Most bassists don’t use the pick, though; rather, they typically rely on a more consistent plucking pattern using fingers.
Both are stringed instruments that are played with the right hand and tuned with the left. However, both are available as the left-hand orientation, too, for lefties out there. However, both instruments can be used to create a wide range of sounds, making them essential components of any band.
Additionally, both can be amplified using an amplifier or PA system. As a result of these similarities, guitar and bass players can often share tips and tricks. Many famous guitarists began their careers playing bass as the similarities in scales, melodies, chords, and notes between the both led us to our next section, chords, and notes.
Chords And Notes
In music, chords are two or more notes played together. A note is a single pitch, while a chord is a group of notes played together. When multiple chords are played in succession, this is called a chord progression. Chords are usually played by holding two or more notes with the fingers on the fretboard.
Guitar and bass chords are largely the same. Any chord of the guitar in the lowest four strings (E, A, D, G) can be played in a four-string bass too. But, as the bass guitar has such a deep sound that it can often make chords seem muddy and inarticulate, bassists fret the same pieces of music slightly differently than guitarists do, so you’ll have to play things more slowly or use higher notes for your solos.
Scales And Melodies
As we already came to know about the similarities of chords and notes between guitar and bass, it’s time to know about the pitch level. Note that each fret, either on a bass or guitar, is a half-step. So, if you want to raise the pitch of your string to the next note, you have to press the first fret. What do I mean by that?
It means that if you can learn scales and melodies on a bass, you can implement them on the guitar or vice versa. However, it doesn’t mean that playing the same scale and melodies in one sounds the same as the other because of obvious reasons. But you get the point, right?
For this reason, you may see many bass players just simply start with a guitar. After mastering chords, notes, scales, and melodies on a guitar, they move to their desired instrument – the bass later. It’s not rare to see its vice-versa as well.
Available Pricing Options
There are also many similarities between both regarding the different pricing options available in the market. You can find a bass or guitar for 3 different levels of players: beginners, intermediate, and experts. A good quality beginner’s guitar or bass will cost from $200 to $400. An intermediate would cost from $500 to $1000. There are higher-end models available for both instruments as well.
Certainly, the number of differences between both is higher than the number of similarities. Here I go:
Differences Between Bass And Guitar
Bass Role vs. Guitar Role
Most bands have at least one guitarist and one bassist. These players are there for a reason. The bass generally forms part of the rhythm section, together with the drummer, while the guitarist is often front and center, singing as well as playing their instrument.
The bassist has a very important role in underpinning the band. They hold the groove, provide a rhythm, and flesh out the flashy stuff from the lead guitarist. A bassist can play chords, melodies, or solos, but mostly their playing is a foundation for the other band members to build on.
Bass Tuning vs. Guitar Tuning
Bass tuning is done in the same way as guitar tuning. Players use the tuning pegs on the headstock to adjust the pitch. Tightening the strings raises the pitch, and loosening them drops the pitch. Tuning should be checked every time you play, even though basses tend to hold their pitch better than guitars.
You can either use a tuner or tune by ear. Clip-on tuners are portable and easy to use. Attach the kit to your headstock and it will tell you the status of each string as you test it. There are also mobile phone tuner apps available that use the phone’s microphone to hear the note, then display the tuning outcome on the screen.
Bass Size vs. Guitar Size
A bass guitar is generally bigger than a guitar. A typical bass, called a long-scale bass, has a 34” neck, which is noticeably longer than a guitar. A short-scale bass has a 30” neck, which even so is still longer than a standard guitar’s 25” neck.
This may put some people off learning bass, especially those with smaller hands or a weaker grip. Bass guitar strings are thicker and although the distance between the frets may make playing easier, it is also a disadvantage for smaller players. A short-scale bass may suit a smaller player or those new to the instrument.
Bass Scale Length vs. Guitar Scale Length
Because a bass is bigger than a guitar, it has a longer scale length. This is the distance from the end of the fretboard to where the strings meet the bridge. The more technical way of calculating it is to measure the distance between the nut and the middle of the 12th fret and then double it.
A bass usually has 20 to 24 frets compared to a guitar’s average of 20 frets. The long neck is the first thing many guitarists will notice about a bass. Basses are also solid bodies rather than hollow bodies so will be chunkier all around.
Number Of Strings (Bass vs. Guitar)
There are fewer strings on a bass guitar than on a guitar. A standard electric guitar usually has six strings, but a bass normally only has four.
There are also modified basses that have more than four strings. Basses are open to heavy modification, including five, six, or more strings, which allows alternative tunings. Some basses have fretless necks, like the standup basses which preceded them.
Strings on bass are generally longer and thicker than guitar strings. There are several different styles to choose from. Which type you choose depends on the style of music you’re playing and your own personal playing style.
Holding Bass vs. Holding Guitar
You should always use your bass with a strap. A 2-3” wide strap is best, which should take the whole weight of your instrument. If you choose to sit down, use a footrest to raise your right leg or cross your right leg over your left to help achieve the best position for your instrument. The best playing position is generally with the body of the bass resting somewhere between your chest and your hips. That means the headstock should be between the shoulder and eye level.
Guitars, especially lightweight acoustic models, can be played without a strap if you prefer, but this is not advisable with a bass.
Playing Style Differences Between Bass And Guitar
Some guitarists choose to learn the bass as well because there are more opportunities to join a band that way. Bass is rarely as popular as guitar, even though its place in the lineup is no less important.
There are differences in playing style, however. Acoustic guitar players will nearly always use their fingers to play, whereas bassists have a variety of techniques literally at their fingertips, from plucking the strings with their fingers to using a slap or pop technique if they’re more towards the funk or jazz style or even using a pick for rock, hard rock, and metal sounds.
Bass Playing Advantages Vs. Guitar Playing Advantages
The biggest advantage to being able to play bass is that fewer people take up the instrument. That means more chances of finding work if you’re a bassist than if you’re a guitarist. There aren’t many bands that can survive without a bass player.
True, bassists aren’t often the center of a band in the way that a guitarist is, but then again, Paul McCartney and Flea would like a word with you about that. They have taken the instrument to a new level while still also being accomplished songwriters, and in McCartney’s case, also a lead singers with his bands after the Beatles.
7 Reasons Why Bass Is Easier Than Guitar
Basslines Are Often Found More Basic Than Guitar
Basslines are more basic than guitar tunes. This does make them easier to learn, especially for new players struggling with sore fingers and the unfamiliar feel of a new instrument. There are enough challenges for new students without adding complexity at the very beginning.
It is generally agreed among players that starting to play the bass and getting reasonably decent at an amateur level is easier on the bass than on the guitar. Of course, you will need to practice, especially if you want to specialize in any particular genre, but getting to grips with bass at the start is generally simpler than learning guitar.
Bass Strokes Are Based On Metronome, But Guitar Has Rhythm And Solo
If you’re a music fan who starts tapping the beat rather than humming the melody, you may be more suited to learning the bass than the guitar. If you’re a flamboyant type who goes for melody or lyrics, then guitar may be more your style. Some bassists aren’t exactly shrinking violets (think Geddy Lee, Flea, or Bootsy Collins, for instance) and they can still express their creativity in a unique playing style (Mark King or Nick Beggs come to mind). However, many bassists are rightly famed for their precision playing (Les Claypool, Jaco Pastorius, John Entwistle).
Finger Plucking Is Easier To Perceive Than Strumming
Finger plucking (pizzicato) is easier to see than strumming. You can choose notes more easily with your fingers or a pick than you can if you’re strumming chords. That’s why the precision of the likes of Pastorius, Claypool, and Entwistle is so admired. They are playing at speed, but still, clearly hit every note and never lose the beat.
Your style and sound can also depend on the strings you are using and the style of music you’re playing. Generally, heavier strings will work for a slap bass style, while lighter strings make for better playing with a pick.
Learning Bass Chords Isn’t Always Essential (Spoiler: You Should Learn Though)
Chords are not as essential for bass playing as they are for learning the guitar. If you’re looking to improve your playing though, you should learn chords for bass just as you would with a guitar. A multi-note chord on bass will sound totally different from the same chord played on the bottom four strings of a guitar. It is often better to use two-note chords at most so that you can make the most of the bass sound and add as much body as possible to the sound of the band.
Large Fret Size With Bigger Gaps Between Strings Makes Bass Easy To Play
For someone used to a guitar, the large fret size and bigger gaps between the strings may make a bass easier to play. A bass part may also be easier to play, as it doesn’t rely on melody and chops as much as a guitar part.
Larger frets also mean a player isn’t pressing the string all the way to the fretboard, which helps when the string is thicker than a guitar string. They may also produce a brighter tone.
Some musicians place great importance on the size of the fret, others say that playability is more important, regardless of the size of the frets.
Bass Is Less Versatile Than Guitar
Arguably, the bass part is less varied than the guitar. However, the very lack of versatility is its strength. The whole band relies on the rhythm produced by the bass and drums. As you gain knowledge and confidence you will see that there are ways to embellish a bassline without losing the all-important rhythm, just as a drummer can add flourishes and flair to their part.
Some of the great bass players such as Entwistle or Pastorius had great precision and a unique style that delivered metronomic precision as well as flair.
Bassists Are Often Not The Center Of Attention
It is often thought that bass players can disappear into the shadows. True, they’re not always the center of attention, so the role may suit someone who is not as fond of the spotlight as a lead singer or guitarist. However, some singers are also bassists, and certainly, bass players can be very creative types, writing songs just as well as the other band members. Think how important Paul McCartney was to the songwriting of the Beatles, for instance.
Bass players can be a supporting act to the other band members, always there, plugging away, but contributing in other ways. If you play both guitar and bass, you can have the best of both worlds.
Why Some Say Guitar Is Easier Than Bass
If you want to go to an expert level, then bass might seem difficult to you for the following reasons:
Slapping And Popping
Mark King of Level 42 and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are well known for their slap bass style. This style looks spectacular but is not without its risks. Thumb injuries are common.
Slap bass is often found in funk and jazz playing and is a much more percussive style than picking. The thumb typically strikes the lower strings near the neck of the bass. A pop is created by snapping the higher strings away from the instrument and letting them bounce off the fretboard. By rotating the hand quickly between slap and pop positions, it is possible to create a singing bassline that is louder and more like a drum line than standard bass playing.
If You’re Into Funk/Jazz, Complex Rhythms Are Required
Think of more or less any tune by Chic, Parliament, or Funkadelic and you’ll have an idea of the complex rhythms needed to play basslines in some genres. Funk and jazz make copious use of the slap bass technique to give the songs a bouncy, dance-orientated feel, and these bands’ bassists are rightly counted among the best in the world for their prowess. Becoming that accomplished doesn’t happen overnight, so this criticism is justified.
Mastering Strings If You Want To Take On A 5/6/7/8-String
There are many sites offering tabs to practice when you feel like moving up to more than four strings. This may be where guitarists who also play bass have the edge. You can practice chords, arpeggios, and tunes using the tabs provided. This will help your dexterity and build familiarity with the extended range of strings. Many are designed for guitar but can also be played on bass, at least according to some of the comments.
You’re Weak Or Someone With Very Small Hands
As always, the caveat is that basses are more or less standard size, so younger or smaller students may struggle with the size of the instrument. Anyone with small hands is generally advised to try a short-scale bass, as it is slightly shorter than the full-size version. Bass strings are also thicker than guitar strings so be prepared to develop calluses and sore muscles if you’re not used to playing the guitar already.
There is no doubt a bass can be a handful, but the satisfaction of being able to hold a whole band together outweighs any negatives for many players.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Put simply, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is when someone who has low ability in any given area believes their knowledge and skills are far superior to what they are in reality. It can also apply in reverse when someone who has spent years honing their craft believes that everything associated with it is simple and easy. This false self-confidence can result in poor career decisions as well as potentially life-endangering activities where safety is compromised, especially for the over-confident sufferer of this Effect.
The discussion of the merits of bass versus guitar is as old as the instruments themselves. Ultimately the choice of which one to pick, or learn first, is a personal decision that can only be made by the musician themselves.
Is Bass Easier Than Guitar? – The Final Verdict
Learning bass first will ease your way to the guitar journey in many cases.
Bass is a great instrument for beginners, but in the long run, your way to an expert level requires some serious level of practice and dedication. Let your personality, personal preference, and style decide which way to go.
Fred L. Robinson is a young man from Mansfield, TX. He has always had a great passion for music and bass guitars in particular. At the age of 28, he is an expert on bass guitars and their related equipment, materials, history, and origins. Fred works as an author and bass guitar expert at Instrument Insight, where he uses his vast knowledge to help people make informed decisions about their bass guitar purchases.
Cornell K. Benson is from Mansfield, OH. He is 30 years old and has expertise in electric guitars and gears. Cornell has a great understanding of electric guitars and their materials, build quality, playability, and versatility. He also has an in-depth knowledge of the history and origins of various electric guitar brands.