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Guitar to Bass - What NOT To Do

When it comes to playing a bass guitar, many guitarists find that it’s not as easy as the bassist makes it seem. “It’s just single notes, how hard can it be?” Is a phrase often uttered by many a guitarist who feels like branching out and picking up a bass guitar.

Because of this, there are a few mistakes that are fairly common amongst guitarists that try bass guitar. This article is going to look at the most common amongst them, to help steer a budding bassist away from common guitar practices.

1.Take your pic(k) The first mistake that guitarists make is always using a pic (or plectrum). Guitar pics are almost always a necessity for electric guitar solos, chords, and riffs. So when they transition to a bass guitar, they assume that they have to use a pic as well.

Although you can use a pic on a bass guitar (and it gives a nice, clean, twangy sound when you do), you don’t have to use a pic. Many bassists use their index and middle fingers instead. It gives greater speed, control, and cross-string playing with ease.

Why should a guitarist play with their fingers? How else are you going to get the “slap and pop” bass sounds?

2.Timing, and patience It may come as a shock to many guitarists, but 90% of playing a bass guitar has nothing to do with what notes you play, but rather how and when you play them.

The key to being a good bass guitarist is being able to keep the same note playing over and over, at the same tempo. Anyone can do a driving bass line, but keeping it in time, is what you need to focus on. Guitarists that shred tend to ignore the metronome at times, as they’re feeling the beat, and that’s okay.

As a bassist, you have to be a lot more careful about playing with the timing, as all of the other instruments are relying on you to keep the beat. And that brings us to the next point.

3.Your Best Friend, The Drummer You may have heard the term “drum and bass” thrown around a lot, and it’s 100% true.

The drums and bass are constantly playing off and relying on each other for timing, and if you’re a guitarist looking at becoming a bassist, you’re going to have to join the metaphorical club too.

What we mean by this, is that sometimes you will have to follow the drummer’s timing (which will give you room to experiment with bass runs and changes), but other times, you will have to lead the timing whilst the drummer changes things.

The basic motto you have to remember is “Drums follow bass, bass follows drums, everyone else follows you two”. It’s good to know this when transitioning from guitar to bass.

4.Don’t go solo They say the mark of a good bass guitar is when no-one notices it. Why is that though? Because bass guitar isn’t an electric guitar, it means that if the notes are in key, they blend perfectly.

However, if a single note is out (unlike a guitar), everyone will hear it, and notice it instantly. This is why electric guitarists have a hard time transitioning to bass guitar. Bass guitarists know when to play a run, and when to keep the driving bass going.

Many electric guitarists get bored when playing bass, and start playing solos on the higher registers of the bass guitar. This can be a problem when a bad note is hit, as the entire crowd will all stop what they’re doing, and stare.

When switching from electric guitar to bass, you have to remember that you’re now playing the most powerful instrument on stage, so play with caution.

5.Dead notes are okay Any guitarist will cringe if they’re playing a chord, and they get a dead note. However, with bass guitar, dead notes are often written into the music.

You have to remember that electric guitars are perfect for carrying across tunes and melodies to the crowd, but as bass is for timing, it means that you can add some percussion into the mix as well.

A well-timed ghost (or dead) note can add a “tic” to the music, which gives it a more lively, funky sound. Don’t be afraid of adding in a few ghost notes when playing.

6.Chords, not any more Guitarists play chords, everyone knows this. Whether it’s the basic “A, E, D, G” that everyone starts learning, bar and power chords for rock bands, or complex diminished and augmented chords for jazz music, they’re present.

However, not on a bass guitar, please don’t do it. You see, bass guitars are played on a lower register to electric guitars, and so if you attempt a chord that low, it won’t sound nice, it will just clash. However, that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a fate of only playing the root notes of a chord.

When transitioning to a bass guitar, use what you know about chords to break up the chord into the 1-3-5 notes, and play them one at a time, to form a run. That is how a bass guitarist plays chords.


There’s nothing wrong with switching from electric guitar to bass guitar, or visa versa. But it doesn’t help to play a bass guitar like an electric guitarist either. Knowing these tips should help point you in the right direction to leading your band in no time!

About the Author

Austin Consordini is the owner of His music reflects his mood and interests in both classical and contemporary music. To learn more, visit his website here or his music page at

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