Learn The Notes On Your Fretboard! (For Beginner Bass Players)

October 3, 2023
Posido Vega playing the bass guitar with close up of fretboard

I’ve been teaching the bass for more than a decade. And, I’ve found that many of my new students, even though they’ve played the bass for many years, still don’t know the location of all their bass guitar notes on their fretboard.

That shouldn’t be the case.

Learning your bass guitar notes shouldn’t take a long time. There’s a certain logic to the fretboard. When you understand that logic, everything falls into place.

In this lesson, I’m going to show you: The exact method I used to learn my bass frets and notes in 2 weeks time (with video explanation).

Let’s get started.

Here’s My Step-By-Step Process To Learn The Notes On The Bass Guitar

The approach that I used to learn every note on the fretboard can be summed up in 4 simple steps:

  1. Interval Logic
  2. Fretboard Logic
  3. Octave Signposts
  4. Apply What You Know While Keeping Time

I’ll breakdown each step, provide some diagrams, and also provide a video explanation of my entire process.

Bookmark this page for quick reference if you’re a beginner still learning the notes on bass or just having a tough time memorizing the fretboard.

TL;DR

If you’re short on time, here’s a video that breaks down my exact approach.

YouTube video
Learn Your Fretboard Bass Guitar Notes Fast! (4 Easy Steps)

Step 1: The Interval Logic of Notes

For most styles of music, particularly Western music, there are only 12 notes that you need to learn. And, the fastest way to learn these notes is to understand the logic of how they are spelled—one note at a time.

Tip: Musical notes are spelled in alphabetical order. So, if you know your alphabet, specifically the letters A to G, you’re more than halfway there.

A, B, C, D, E, F, and G account for 7 notes. These are often called natural notes. They are also the same notes as the white keys on a piano.

This order repeats itself, no matter the instrument: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, etc…

The remaining 5 notes are the sharps and flats: A♯/B♭, C♯/D♭, D♯/E♭, F♯/G♭, and G♯/A♭. These are the same notes as the black keys on a piano and ad located in between the natural notes.

You’ll notice that there are two ways to spell sharps and flats. This is called enharmonic spelling.

So, while a note can be the same pitch, the spelling can be different based on context. Don’t worry so much about context when you’re starting out. Once your master your fretboard, learning the which spelling to use, and when, will come naturally.

Whole-Steps and Half-Steps

You’ll notice on a piano that there are black keys in between each white key, except for two places.

Tip: There’s no black key between the notes E and F. And, there is no black key between the notes B and C. This logic is the same on a fretboard, whether it’s a bass fretboard or a guitar fretboard!

Piano keys - Whole-Step and Half-Step Diagram
Piano keys – Whole-Step and Half-Step Diagram

The notes E and F are always a half-step apart (one fret). And, the notes B and C are always a half-step apart (one fret).

All the other notes are a whole-step apart (two frets).

Next up, let’s immediately apply this to our fretboard. The approach I’ll show you is much less tedious than memorizing notes chromatically.

Step 2: The Logic of the Bass Guitar Fretboard

Previously, we learned that:

  • musical notes are spelled in alphabetical order
  • the notes E-F and B-C are always a half-step apart
  • and all other natural notes are a whole-step (2-frets) apart.

Here’s the most important logic of the fretboard that you must know:

  • Each fret on your fingerboard is a half-step.
  • Two frets is a whole-step.

On a four-string bass guitar, your open string notes are E, A, D, and G.

Bass Guitar Fretboard Notes and Piano Notes Diagram
Bass Guitar Fretboard Notes and Piano Notes Diagram

Let’s focus on your lowest string, the E string. The easiest way to learn your bass guitar notes is to start with one string.

Remember, the notes E-F and B-C are the only notes that don’t have any notes in between.

Find The Notes of Your E-String (The Easy Way)

So, on your E-string, the first fret is the note F.

Following the same logic of musical notes will reveal the location of all your natural notes on your E string:

  • Two frets up from F is G.
  • Two frets up from G is A.
  • Two frets up from A is B.
  • One fret up from B is C.
  • Two frets up from C is D.
  • Two frets up from D is E.
  • Then this pattern repeats itself.

Let’s apply what you just learned to the next string, the A-string.

Find The Notes of Your A-String (The Easy Way)

The note locations on the A-string, are:

  • Two frets up from A is B.
  • One fret up from B is C.
  • Two frets up from C is D.
  • Two frets up from D is E.
  • One fret up from E is F.
  • Two frets up from F is G.
  • Two frets up from G is A.
  • This pattern also repeats itself.

Let’s keep going and learn the locations of natural notes on the D-string.

Find The Notes of Your D-String (The Easy Way)

The note locations on the D-string, are:

  • Two frets up from D is E.
  • One fret up from E is F.
  • Two frets up from F is G.
  • Two frets up from G is A.
  • Two frets up from A is B.
  • One fret up from B is C.
  • Two frets up from C is D.
  • This pattern also repeats itself.

One more string to go! Let’s learn our bass guitar notes on the G-string.

Find The Notes of Your G-String (The Easy Way)

The note locations on the G-string, are:

  • Two frets up from G is A.
  • Two frets up from A is B.
  • One fret up from B is C.
  • Two frets up from C is D.
  • Two frets up from D is E.
  • One fret up from E is F.
  • Two frets up from F is G.
  • This pattern also repeats itself.

Now, let’s ramp things up and start learning our octaves!

Step 3: The Locations of Octaves

This next step is crucial to accelerating your knowledge of the fretboard. Octaves serve as signposts on the fretboard. Actually any interval, such as a 5th, can serve as a signpost. But, I recommend learning octaves for all beginner bass players, because they’re the same exact note and confuse less.

A perfect octave is the same pitch, double the frequency.

The frequency can be either higher or lower.

To keep things simple, there are many octaves on your bass guitar fretboard. And you’ll want to learn where they all are.

Find all of them along the neck of the bass.

Bass Guitar Fretboard Octaves Diagram
Bass Guitar Fretboard Octaves Diagram

Here are a few easy to remember octave shapes:

  • Two frets up, up two strings, is one octave up.
  • Two frets down, down two strings, is one octave down.
  • Three frets down, up three strings, is one octave up.
  • Three frets up, down three strings, is one octave down.
  • Five frets down, up a string, is one octave up.
  • Five frets up, down a string, is one octave down.
  • Seven frets up, up a string, is one octave up.
  • Seven frets down, down a string, is one octave down.

Step 4: Apply To All Musical Situations (Learn Your Fretboard Fast!)

You can learn the notes of your bass with the first 3 steps. But, it’s step 4, applying logic and using the octave as a signpost, that’ll get you learning your notes fast.

Tip: There’s no way around this. You have to play your bass. And, you have to exercise applying what you know.

The more you do it, the more the notes will become second nature and you’ll master the fretboard sooner than you realize.

In this video, I’ll show you how to apply the stuff you just learned, using a simple bass line and a metronome to keep time. While playing the root note, I’ll often think about where the octave is and then play the same bassline an octave up.

You’ll see just how easy it is to find the notes on your fretboard.

(Bonus) Step 5: Say the note name aloud as much as you can

Each time you practice, I recommend spending a few minutes consciously saying the name of each note out loud.

Practice this slowly.

You’re aiming for accuracy over speed.

This is a very helpful way to learn all the notes on a bass in a short period of time. And, something I used to do often is say the name, locate the fret, then go for the note. When I was learning to read standard music notation, I’d often say the note spellings out loud to reenforce the locations on my fretboard.

I would do this during band practice , jams, and even in live performances. That way I’m learning while playing in time.

This forced me to think on the fly. It was also a good confidence booster when I was first starting on the bass.

Now it’s your turn

All this knowledge about logic and octaves is great. But, it’ll be much better when you start putting it into practice.

Learning your bass guitar notes is essential if you want to be able to improvise, read music, or play along to a chord chart (while keeping time).

So, start applying what you just learned and you’ll see progress in a matter of weeks.

Keep shedding on the bass guitar.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the notes on a bass? (Standard Tuning)

The notes of the strings on a 4-string bass guitar, are: E, A, D, and G.

For a 5-string bass, the string notes are: B, E, A, D, and G.

For a 6-string bass, the string notes are: B, E, A, D, G, and C.

The bass is tuned in fourths for standard tuning.

Similar to learning your octaves, learning your fourth intervals can be a very helpful pattern for learning what the notes are across strings.

What’s the best way to memorize bass guitar notes?

A common question I’ve been asked, is “How do you memorize the notes on the bass?”

My response is always the same, “You don’t.”

It’s far more important to understand the logic of note spellings and the logic of the fretboard. Because, once you understand that, the locations on the neck just make sense.

Establish some good habits, like paying attention to patterns and shapes, and naming your notes aloud. And, trust the process.

You’ll eventually learn all your notes.

Memorization comes natural if you are finding relationships and meaning behind the information you are trying to memorize.

Finding patterns and shapes is one way of establishing relationships in your mind.

How To Find Notes On Bass Guitar?

To find your notes on the bass guitar, you gotta’ understand the instrument’s fretboard.
 
A 4-string bass in standard tuning has four strings—E, A, D, and G.
 
The fretboard is laid out no different than a piano. All natural notes are a whole-step apart, except for the notes E and F (half-step apart), and B and C (half-step apart). All the other natural notes (no sharps or flats) are a whole-step apart.

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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