I started playing guitar at age 11 and decided to pick up bass when I was about 16. Guitar is an extremely popular instrument, and most people who choose to pick up a new instrument gravitate toward guitar. I would always hear guitarists joke around with bassists saying, “bass is so easy to learn, anyone could play it,” or “bass is just for failed guitarists.”
Keep in mind, I don’t think these things are true at all, but I find it important to break down these questions so that we can fully understand them. I ended up learning bass out of necessity. There was a shortage of bassists in my hometown, so when I formed a new band, we simply needed someone to learn bass.
Guitar and bass have a lot of similarities which is why many guitarists learn to play bass and vice versa. However, bass and guitar serve different functions in rock bands, so you may be surprised by how different the two instruments are. Is bass easier to learn than guitar? Do bassists have an easier musical function than guitarists? I will answer these questions below.
Is bass easier to learn than guitar?
This is a tough question to answer, but in short, yes, bass is easier to pick up than guitar, and a beginner bassist will progress much faster than a beginner guitarist. However, this is not to say that bass is a walk in the park.
Let’s break down the main reasons bass is considered easier than guitar for beginners.
Fewer strings and larger strings
Bass only has four strings, which means a beginner will spend less time fumbling around. It is also difficult for guitarists, in the beginning, to play a chord or note without accidentally touching an unintended string. Bass strings are also thicker, and there is more space between each string, making it easier to play riffs and move from one string to another smoothly.
No need to learn as many chords
Bassists rarely play more than one note at a time due to the low register chords that can sound muddy, so most bass lines will arpeggiate a chord or simply play the root note. On the other hand, chords are a central part of any guitarist’s playing style. Chords can be difficult to learn, and switching between chords is not easy. It takes lots of practice and time building callouses for a guitarist to play their first bar chord, but most bassists won’t need to play them. That being said, bassists can certainly play chords, and some experimental bassists such as Flea or Les Claypool will frequently use chords in their riffs.
More space on the fingerboard
As I mentioned earlier, basses have longer necks, but they tend to have the same amount of frets. This means that there is more space between each fret, so your fingers will be less cramped. This is something that particularly stood out to me when I was learning bass. The space in between guitar frets gets very small and harder to play the higher you go on the neck. While the same is true for bass, the space in between the frets is larger, making it easier to play.
Bass lines tend to be simple
Don’t stone me for saying this… Obviously, there are bass lines out there that are incredibly difficult to play, and many guitar riffs are super simple. But, in general, bass lines tend to be simple while guitar riffs tend to be more complex and difficult.
Bass vs guitar: what are the main differences?
There are a few key differences between a bass guitar and a normal guitar.
Four strings vs six strings
Bass guitars only have four strings, while guitars have six strings. The standard tuning for a bass guitar is EADG which is the same as the first four strings of a guitar.
Down an octave
Bass strings are thicker and lower in pitch than a guitar. Bass guitars are exactly one octave lower than a guitar.
Basses have longer necks and larger frets. This is because of their lower register, which requires more space to produce low-frequency notes effectively.
Generally, a foundational support instrument
Basses are not usually used as lead instruments, and bassists rarely play the melody of a song. Instead, bass is used to support the rest of the band and has an important rhythmic role.
Before all you bassists come charging…
An argument for the bassists
In some ways bass is easier to learn, especially for beginners. But there are a few things that actually make bass guitar more difficult than guitar.
Bass is a more physically demanding instrument than guitar. The strings are thicker and tougher, so you’ll need to have strong hands to play bass. The finger callouses required to play bass are also different than guitar callouses. Bass can also be more difficult for musicians with small hands, because the strings are harder to press down.
Bassists need to have really good rhythm
If you play bass in a band, you’ll need to have impeccable rhythm. Bass players are a pivotal part of the rhythm section and work alongside the drummer to hold down the tempo and beat of the song.
Bassists should be able to improvise
Bassists, especially those playing jazz, blues, funk, or fusion, will likely need to improvise around the chord progression, listening for the chord changes. This requires a good ear for music and decent knowledge of music theory and scales.
Is bass or guitar easier to master?
We have determined that at a beginner level, guitar is slightly more difficult to play than bass. But what about mastering the instrument? This question gets much harder to answer with advanced players. At a certain point in any musician’s playing career, they use the instrument simply as a canvas to place their music knowledge and creativity. Therefore, neither instrument is more or less difficult to master. You can’t really compare the skill level of a veteran jazz bassist and a heavy metal lead guitarist. Both are great at what they do and have extensive musical knowledge.
Is it easy for a bassist to play guitar?
A seasoned bassist will have a good grasp on basic music theory, tough callouses on their fingers, and will already be used to the four low strings of a guitar. Bassists can definitely play guitar. There will be some hurdles that will take some getting used to, such as bar chords and the extra 2 strings, but other than that, it isn’t rocket science.
Is it easy for a guitarist to play bass?
It is fairly easy for a guitarist to make the switch over to bass. First of all, they are taking away 2 strings and expanding the space in between the strings and the frets. Second, you won’t need to play as many chords, and bass lines are generally simpler. The main difficulty guitarists may experience when picking up bass is the thickness of the strings and the finger strength needed to play.