How to Read Bass TAB

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This beginner bass lesson will teach you how to read bass TAB. Jeremiah will go over some of the symbols used to notate techniques in tablature, and show you a quick example with a bass riff from U2’s “With or Without You”.
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Musical Alphabet & Notes On The Bass Neck

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Get the print out of the bass guitar neck here!

The Complete Musical Alphabet

A-A#/Bb-B-C-C#/Db-D-D#/Eb-F-F-F#/Gb-G-G#/Ab (and repeat).


Get it at

Natural Notes

There are seven natural notes in the alphabet. They are: A-B-C-D-E-F-G.


Accidentals in music are the sharps (#) and flats (b). A sharp sign raises a natural note by one half step, while a flat sign lowers a natural note by one half step.

Half Steps & Whole Steps

A half step is equal to one fret on your bass. A whole step is equal to two frets (two halves make a whole).

Enharmonic Equivalents (Notes With 2 Names)

The notes with slashes in between them are known as “enharmonic equivalents”. That fancy terms simply means a note with two names.

So A# and Bb are the same note, but you can call it by either name. You’re probably wondering when you should use flats and when you should use sharps. We have both sharps and flats for theory purposes.

When To Use Sharps & When To Use Flats

A sharp raises the pitch of a natural note (natural notes being A, B, C, D, E, F, and G). So, when you’re going up in pitch (like playing up the neck from the open string to a higher fret) use sharps. However, when you’re going down in pitch (like playing from the 12th fret back to the open note) use flats.

E#/Fb and B#/Cb

Look at the musical alphabet:


Each of these notes are a half step apart. You may be wondering, why is there no B# and no E#?

That’s because E and F are only a half step apart. B and C are also only a half step apart. Now, B#/Cb and E#/Fb do exist in “theory” and in “micro tonal music” but they cannot be played on the average instrument. It’s just the way it is!


Fretting Notes on Bass

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What Causes Frets Buzz?

Fret buzz can be caused by many things:

  • Fretting too close to the fret wire
  • Pushing down too hard, or not hard enough

If you find strings are buzzing on multiple frets, and maybe even open strings, you may have your action set too low.

What is Action?

Action refers to how high the strings are off the fretboard. Too high of an action will make frets tough, even near impossible, to fret properly. Too low of action will cause the strings to rattle against the fret wires.

If you’re experiencing fret buzz or you find that you’re having to press very hard to play smooth notes, you need to have your action adjusted! Any guitar shop will do this for pretty cheap, and it will make playing that much easier (and better sounding!).

Finger Style Bass Lesson

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What Fingers Should I Use?

When you’re first getting started, you’ll likely be alternate picking with your pointer and middle finger. There are times players might use all five of their fingers. Develop whatever feels and sounds best to you. Finger style can give you a broad range of different tones, so play around and see what best fits your style.

What Do I Do About Blisters?

As you play, you’ll build up callouses which will toughen your fingers to avoid blisters. Practice a bit each day and you’ll find your fingers getting tougher and your ability to finger pick getting better and better.

Where Should I Pick?

There’s no rule, play around with where you play to find different tones that you like. You can watch your favorite bassists and study their technique and then go from their. Develop your own style over time to help your playing stand out from the crowd. Always go with what sounds best to you. Music is an art, not a science. Everything should depend on what you like best, not what this person does or that person told you.

Rhythm Work

Your right hand (picking hand) is all about rhythm. It’s more than just alternating your finger picking, you need to work on volume dynamics and timing to give real diversity and uniqueness to your playing. Practice all of these aspects in time with a metronome to improve your control and tone.

Should I Use a Pick?

Whether you pick with your fingers or a traditional bass pick is up to you. Remember: do not just do what’s easier! Practice whatever sounds better and works best for the style of music you want to play.

To become the best bassist possible, it’s good to learn all types of techniques to broaden your abilities. Try picking, finger style, and slap bass to see what works best for you and what you prefer.

Reading Guitar TAB

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Guitar TAB (or “tablature”) is one of the simplest forms of music notation, so you’ll see it very often as you learn songs.
fill 1
B|-10p8-10----------------------|-10p8~-10-------------|| x2

Above is the example TAB we’ll be working with in this lesson.

P.S. Guitar TAB is specific to the instrument, so only other guitarists will understand it. It also lacks essential rhythm and timing information. Because of that, it’s essential you learn how to read Standard Notation as well, which is a universal language of music.

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Tuning Your Bass

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Getting your bass in tune for the first time can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to do it by ear. While it is important to develop your pitch recognition skills, it’s not the first thing you want to tackle as a bassist!

Purchase a clip-on tuner for your bass, a tuning pedal, or another tool that will listen to the pitches of the strings for you and tell you whether to raise/lower them. This will save you so much time and headache and get you playing fast!
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