How To Read Bass Tabs: The Best Guide For Beginners

How to read bass tabs? For those who wants to master a bass guitar, answering this question is necessary. Or to be appropriate, learning the answer to this interesting query is the best way to go.

Regardless of the genre, many musicians consider bass the as the soul of a band. A bass guitar can create harmony between mixing rhythm. The presence of this instrument in the entire mix might be subtle. However, without it, the whole song would quickly stifle.

Because of this reason, many pros would agree that a band would not be complete without a bass. The soothing tone it gives is the one that supports the entire constitution of a piece. Therefore, it is quite commendable for a beginner to take an interest in playing this instrument.

If you are one of the selected few, then you already know that the road to mastery is not easy. However, if you practice consistently and familiarize several playing styles, getting attuned to this instrument is possible. Of course, your first task would be learning how to read bass tabs.

This article will serve as a bass-reading tutorial for novices. It can also act as a review for those who are already acquainted in playing bass guitars. So what are we waiting for? Read on!

How To Read Bass Tabs

How To Read Bass Tabs

Bass guitar tabs is an essential factor if you want to sharpen your listening proficiency. Even guitar players who excel in leads and rhythms will always spare time for reading bass tab. Of course, it can also help you in improving your skills and mastery of techniques.

Despite its name, bass tab (or bass tablature) is just a simple system of music notation. In short, it is an essential skill that you have to learn if you wish to learn the art of playing of the bass guitar. Mostly, you can find bass tabs in music magazines and books. It is a resource that is not scarce!

However, you should know that reading bass tab is just a parcel of all the things that you have to learn the bass guitar. Although it is important, there are still other concepts that you need to get accustomed with. Such of these are the playing styles, plucking techniques, and so on.

| Read more: Best bass guitar

Bass Tab Strings

How To Read Bass Tabs

Typically, a bass tab depicts the strings of bass guitar by a horizontal line. Of course, the usual ones would be four lines, which indicates a 4-string bass.

If you can find bass tabs that have five or six lines, then they are indeed mimicking a 5-string or 6-string guitar, respectively.

Specifically, the lowest line of the tab is for the string that has the lowest pitch (that would be the E).

Therefore, the standard bass tuning (following the same arrangement of lowest to highest) is like this: E-A-D-G. Check out the illustration as an example:

G ----------------------------

D ----------------------------

A ----------------------------

E ----------------------------

Although some songs require more strings or different kind of tuning, the arrangement of the pitch will stay the same. The fattest or the lowest string will always sit at the bottom.

Bass Tab And Fret Numbers

How To Read Bass Tabs

A standard bass tablature has notes on them, just like the ones in piano tabs or ordinary guitar tabs. A fret number represents each of these notes.

Specifically, you can see these numerical figures on the strings that you should play. Usually, most bass chords have 20 to 24 frets. You can start from the open string (or the 0 fret) then go the way up to 25.

Take the illustration below as an example:

G ------------------------------------

D ------------------5-----------------

A --------2----5---------5----2-------

E ---3-----------------------------3--

In that configuration, start playing the third fret on the E. Afterward, play the second fret on the A. Next, play the fifth fret on the A. Follow this with the fifth fret on the D. After this, play the same notes again, but this time, on an opposite and descending manner.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Therefore, before you read tabs, make sure that your fingers can already keep up with the pace. Until such, playing and reading tabs would be two different worlds that would never collide.

Bass Tab Bars

How To Read Bass Tabs

In any standard musical notation, bars are always depicted as straight vertical lines. Specifically, their function is to tell the player when the counting will repeat.

For example: 1, 2, 3, 4 (barline) 1, 2, 3, 4. Take a look at the illustration below so that you can understand the formation better.

G -------------------|-----------------

D -------------------|-----------------

A -------------------|-----------------

E -------------------|-----------------

Bass Tab Rhythm

How To Read Bass Tabs

Usually, bass tablatures never indicate the rhythm. Instead, the ones you can only see is the order or arrangement of the notes.

Because of this, seeing through the rhythm is a challenging task. You have no choice but to listen to the entire piece and figure where the rhythm should be placed.

However, there are still some generous instances where the rhythm is at the bottom of the fret numbers and the strings themselves. In the example below, you can see a standard bass tablature with fret numbers, bars, and rhythm indicators.

G -------------------|--------

D ---------------5---|--------

A -------2---5-------|--------

E ---3---------------|--------

     1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

You are lucky if the song that you are trying to learn has rhythm markings on the bass tabs. Otherwise, you have to figure the succession by yourself.

Of course, no pro bass player ever succeeded because of being spoon-fed. Therefore, we recommend that you take the initiative to practice a piece without the rhythm markings.

In this way, you can improve your listening skills and your proficiency in tone arrangement.

Other Markings In The Bass Tab

How To Read Bass Tabs

Most of the remaining marking that you can see on the bass tab tells you how individual notes are ought to be played.

Moreover, you should know that the markings, or the symbols, are not standard. In short, every tablature varies from one another. At this point, it is quite important that you familiarize these musical nuances.

Usually, these markings are at the start of the bass tablature. In this way, identifying them won't be too difficult for you. The list below will show some of the markings that you might encounter every tab-reading session that you have.

Markings within the strings

  • / or forward slash - indicates that pitch is sliding up
  • or backslash - indicates the pitch is sliding down
  • ^ or caret - this one tells you of a bend
  • x or X - this is the ghost note
  • h or H - hammer on
  • p or P - a pull-off

Marking below the strings

  • S - thumb slap
  • P - Pop
  • T - tap (if you are right-handed, the T has an L or R marking)

Alternate Bass Tuning

How To Read Bass Tabs

Of course, you bass tab reading is not yet comprehensive if you haven't encountered the concept of alternate tunings. Usually, you can see these indicators above the top. Specifically, they will tell you to alter the standard tuning of your bass (EADG) into something else.

Most of the time, the tab might show you the precise adjustment that you need to do (e.g. Db-Ab-Db-Gb). Otherwise, you will just encounter a typically tuning code like Drop D (Drop D follows a DADG arrangement).

However, despite the alteration in the tuning, you still have to start from the lowest string up to the highest string.

Where To Get Bass Tabs

After you get a good grasp of the concepts of bass tabs, it is the time that you put them into practice. Obviously, making bass tabs on your own is quite difficult, especially if you are just a beginner. Therefore, going online is your best resort.

There are some legitimate sites in where you can get decent bass tablatures. Here are some of them:

  • Ultimate Guitar - The site Ultimate Guitar is not just for the ordinary guitars. This site also offers a myriad of bass tablatures, too. Many go to this site because each of the tabs has indicators for their difficulty, as well as genre.
  • Big Bass Tabs - As its name suggest, this site is for bass tabs only. However, most of the tabs are for rock songs. Therefore, you need to search patiently if your tastes are for other genres.


If you are already familiar with guitars, you have already realized that reading bass tabs are not that difficult. All you need to do is to get familiar with the frets and additional markings.

However, for beginners, bass tabs are beneficial. It is a great start before even jumping to reading standardized musical notation. Of course, we suggest that novices should able to master bass tabs before they study the notes on the fretboard.

Bass tabs can also demonstrate to you how to do the complex fingerings that you can see on the standard notation. Although bass tabs are pretty basic, nobody can advance without them. Fortunately, there are a lot of internet resources on where you can get useful bass tabs.

Good luck on your journey!

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