Play Bass Guitar Arpeggios (The Easy Way For Beginners)

November 23, 2023
Bass Guitar Arpeggios - Image of Vibration

Being able to play bass guitar arpeggios is one of the most important things to learn on your instrument.

The foundation of many basslines, bass runs, bass solos, and walking bass is often an arpeggio.

By developing this one skill, you’ll gain:

  • knowledge of the fretboard
  • dexterity for playing phrases across strings (you’ll get interesting fingerings out of these)
  • an ear for hearing chord changes and keeping track of where you are in the form

If you’re ready to learn all there is to playing arpeggios on the bass in an easy to understand way, this guide is for you.

You’ll learn:

  • What exactly are arpeggios
  • Different types of arpeggios that you can play on the bass
  • Ways to play arpeggios with fluidity

Let’s dive in.

TL;DR

If you’re short on time, watch my video that breaks down what arpeggios are and how to play them on the bass guitar.

YouTube video
Bass Arpeggios – How To Play Them & Practice Them

What are arpeggios?

An arpeggio is what you get when you play individual notes of a chord in sequence (instead of playing the notes at the same time).

This is also known as a broken chord.

The sequence can be either ascending or descending and span more than one octave.

Since the notes of an arpeggio come from chord tones, they’ll always sound good.

That’s why musicians will use a lot of them in their solos and melody.

Bass players, like Ray Brown, will also use arpeggios for their walking bass lines. This is because chord tones are an effective way to outline a chord progression with harmonic clarity. Arpeggios are a great way to literally outline the harmony.

Different types of bass arpeggios

There are as many arpeggios as there are chords. And it would take a really long time to learn them all.

However, there are some fundamental ones you should learn as a bassist.

Once you have mastery over these basic types, you’ll be able to see any arpeggio shape on your fretboard and play it with ease.

3-note arpeggios (Fundamental shapes for beginners)

The most basic arpeggio can be created from a triad. There are 6 triads that you should familiarize yourself with. Here they are, along with their numeric formulas. If you’re a beginner, notice the change in pattern between each of these triads. It’ll help you learn this stuff quicker and also help you with your understanding of chords.

  1. Major Triad: 1, 3, 5
  2. Minor Triad: 1, ♭3, 5
  3. Diminished Triad: 1, ♭3, ♭5
  4. Augmented Triad: 1, 3, ♯5
  5. Sus4 Triad: 1, 4, 5
  6. Sus2 Triad: 1, 2, 5

4-note arpeggios

You can extend a triad by adding one note. This creates a seventh chord. So, your notes of the arpeggio from this chord will have 4-notes.

Here are 8 fundamental four-note arpeggio shapes you should be familiar with and their numeric formulas.

  1. Major 7: 1, 3, 5, 7
  2. Minor 7: 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7
  3. Minor/Major 7: 1, ♭3, 5, 7
  4. Dominant 7: 1, 3, 5, ♭7​
  5. Diminished: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭♭7
  6. Augmented 7: 1, 3, ♯5, ♭7
  7. Minor 7♭5 (Half-Diminished 7): 1, ♭3 ,♭5, ♭7
  8. Major 7♯5: 1, 3 ,♯5, 7

5-note arpeggios aka Jazz arpeggios

Jazz arpeggios have a really nice musical sound are often used. These 5-note arpeggios include the sound of a 9.

Here are the numeric formulas for 8 fundamental jazz arpeggios:

  1. Major 9: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9
  2. Minor 9: 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7, 9
  3. Minor/Major 9: 1, ♭3, 5, 7, 9
  4. Minor 7♭5 with a ♭9: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭7, ♭9
  5. Minor 7♭5 with a natural 9: 1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭7, 9
  6. Dominant 7♭9: 1, 3, 5, ♭7, ♭9
  7. Dominant 9: 1, 3, 5, ♭7, 9
  8. Dominant 7♯5 with a natural 9: 1, 3, ♯5, ♭7, 9

In total there are 22 different arpeggios that can serve as a solid foundation for getting these under your fingers.

In the next section, I’ll show you some ways to play these shapes with ease on your bass guitar.

How to play bass guitar arpeggios?

Bass strings have a lot of tension and are spaced farther apart than other stringed instruments.

While the instrument itself can be physically demanding, there are 3 ways we can make playing arpeggios more easy and enjoy the process of learning them.

Hammer-on Approach

This first thing we can do to play these shapes more easily is to try playing hammer-ons whenever we are playing more than one note on the same string.

This frees up the plucking finger to be in position for playing the next note on the next string.

I use hammer-on and pull-off techniques almost exclusively whenever I’m playing a line that has multiple notes on the same string.

Even-Odd Approach

The next thing we can do is alternate between an odd number of notes on one string and an even number of notes on the next string.

I like to use 2 notes on the first string and 1 note on the next string.

That way, I can incorporate a hammer-on right away.

I’ve found that this approach minimizes clumsiness when crossing strings.

Raking Approach

Finally, raking your strings (also known as sweep picking) in combination with hammer-ons and even-odd approaches is a potent combination.

Raking takes less effort when crossing strings. A lot of guitarists will use a technique called sweep picking for their arpeggios. You can adopt this approach by raking your thumb.

When ascending, rake the strings with your thumb.

When descending, use either plucking finger to rake the strings.

Best way to practice arpeggios on your bass guitar

Practicing arpeggios on the bass provides a lot of benefits.

You’re going to end up really learning the fretboard, because these shapes cover a lot of ground.

Your fingers will also develop a lot of strength and flexibility having to cross strings.

Crossing strings is actually a hard thing to do smoothly on the bass. So, practicing these shapes often will improve your overall technique.

Here are a 3 ways to practice arpeggios.

Arpeggiate Scale Degrees

Using a scale, any scale, you can arpeggiate each scale degree by playing every other note of the scale.

Start out with 3 notes, then work your way up to 5 notes.

For example, the notes of a major scale, are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Arpeggiating each scale degree would look like:

  • 1, 3, 5
  • 2, 4, 6
  • 3, 5, 7
  • 4, 6, 1
  • 5, 7, 2
  • 6, 1, 3
  • 7, 2, 4

Moveable Shapes

Moving a shape is a technique often used in jazz. The basic concept is to play a shape and then play that same exact shape an interval up or down.

You can move the same exact shape up and down your fretboard.

This sound can have a nice effect and is also good for developing your overall technique on the bass.

Arpeggiate Chord Progressions (A Foundation for many Walking Bass Lines)

Take out a chord chart and practice slowly arpeggiating each chord that you come across.

This will really help your ears hear each chord tone. It’ll also help your fingers navigate through the chord changes.

It’s going to sound basic when you practice this, but this skill is fundamental. So spend a lot of time with this.

Now It’s Your Turn

It’s time for you to apply everything you just learned.

Get a few of the fundamental bass guitar arpeggios under your fingers and start using them over different chord progressions.

Bass arpeggios are a great foundation for your solos and basslines.

What’s important is that you’re applying this information right away and creating something out of it. That’s going to be the most effective way to learn it and remember it.

Did you enjoy this bass guitar lesson? Click here for more bass lessons like these!

PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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