5 Bass Guitar Scales – Quickly Learn Basic Scales!

Just like when playing the six string guitar, learning bass guitar scales take time and attention to detail. However, it doesn’t have to be difficult. It just takes a little practice and some patience.

As a beginner, bass scales can be difficult, but they are a good way to improve your playing. Bass scales are also a really good way to improvise. Improvising on bass can be hard, but if you have practiced scales, it will be easier to improvise with a song.

So here are the five basic and easy bass guitar scales every beginner should learn and practice before moving on to more advanced variations.

What is a Guitar Scale?

The guitar scale is a set of notes played from the root note to the 7th-note. It generally consists of eight notes and it contains a variation for every degree. When you really dive into the weeds, there are countless scales for you to learn.

Bass guitar scales are similar, but they only contain five notes and they can be played within the chromatic scale. This makes them easier to learn than a typical guitar scale because you have more time opportunities in between and start everything at the bottom or top note.

The benefit of learning bass guitar scales is that you will start to see patterns along the neck of the bass and you’ll be able to use them to improvise and play solos as you get better. You’ll also start to hear them and pick them out in many of your favorite songs, adding a depth to the music that wasn’t always there!

The five bass scales we’ll look at today are the Major Scale, the Minor Scale, The Major Pentatonic Scale, The Minor Pentatonic Scale, and the Blues Scale.

The Major Scale

The first scale we will talk about is probably the most common, it is the major scale. The major scale can be used over most chords and it can be thought of as a simple five-note scale that can be used for exploration or improvising in any genre. The major scale is a major chord on its own, so it is common for players to improvise using the major scale.

The major scale, just like all scales, follows a formula that you can follow when you are playing so that you’ll be able to replicate it, regardless of the key of the song.

The formula for the major scale is as follows:

  • Root note – 1st note
  • 2nd note (whole step)
  • 3rd note (whole step)
  • 4th note (half step)
  • 5th note (whole step)
  • 6th note (whole step)
  • 7th note (whole step)
  • 8th note (half step)

For example, looking at a C major scale, the notes would be C (root note and key), D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

Many new players use this scale to learn the notes on the neck of the guitar as well. Practicing finding a C note and playing the scale above will allow you to find the rest of the notes on the neck in this way. If you can combine that skill of finding notes on the neck with a practice of the scale above, you’ll soon be playing bass guitar in any key.

The Minor Scale

The second scale we will look at is called the minor scale. It is another common scale and often finds it’s way into jazz music, although more than a few rock songs have been soloed with it as well.

As opposed to the major scale, the minor scale is a more natural sounding scale. The difference between it and the major is that in a minor scale, there are often sharps or flats. For example, if we were to play a C minor scale on our bass, it would contain the following notes: C, D, Eb, F , G , Ab, Bb , C.

The formula for the Minor Scale is:

  • Root note
  • 2nd note (whole step)
  • 3rd note (half step)
  • 4th note (whole step)
  • 5th note (whole step)
  • 6th note (half step)
  • 7th note (whole step)
  • 8th note (whole step)

As you’re learning the all the scales, including the minor scale, start by finding your finger placements and slowly play the notes. Only build speed when you can play the scale without mistakes!

The Major Pentatonic Scale

The first scale I’ll normally teach a beginner, both on the six string and the bass guitar, is the major pentatonic. The reason we do this is that while the major scale is composed of eight notes, the major pentatonic scale contains only five.

This makes the major pentatonic scale easier to learn and play over chords or improvise with because you have more time between notes.

If you’ve already learned the major scale, you just need to eliminate the 4th and 7th notes. For our example above, a song in the key of C would contain the notes C, D, E, G, A, C. The F and B notes are skipped.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

Both the major and minor pentatonic scale are made up of 5 notes. The minor pentatonic scale, however, the notes you remove on the minor pentatonic are the 2nd and 6th notes. This adds flat notes to the 3rd and 7th note.

Looking at the minor scale, when you those two notes you are left with a song in C having the notes: C, Eb, F, G, Bb, and C.

We find the minor pentatonic scale easier to understand once you start learning musical theory. If this is something you haven’t done yet it might be a good idea to start now!

The Blues Bass Scale

Our final scale is one of our favorites to play. This formula is a mix of the pentatonic major and minor scales.

The variation you’ll find here is that you add a augmented 4th or a diminished 5th note to the minor pentatonic scale. This note, known as ‘the blue note”, is a chromatic note that gives the soulful tone and feel to this scale.

The formula for the Blues scale is as follows:

  • Root note
  • 2nd note (whole step + half step)
  • 3rd note (whole step)
  • 4th note (half step)
  • 5th note (half step)
  • 6th note (whole step + half step)

Once again, going back to our song with a root note of C, a blues scale would be C, Eb, F, F#/Gb, G, Bb, and C.
The chromatic note is out of key, but it gives that blues sound. For now, that is fine. You can dig more into why this works when you study music theory.

The Final Note on Bass Guitar Scales

This article was written to provide you with guidance for learning scales. As a beginner, it is best to start with the easiest scales like the major pentatonic scale and not get overwhelmed. There are tons of scales out there for you to learn as you become a more skilled bassist!

Once you have mastered the five basic scales and can play them over chords, try improvising on them. Make sure to practice slowly as you are not expected to be able to play these immediately. Speed will come when the quality and memorization kicks in!

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Edward Bell Author

A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!