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How To Read Bass Guitar Sheet Music

Reading bass guitar sheet music isn't as challenging as you think

How To Read Bass Guitar Sheet Music

Finding out how to read music is such a different skill from actually playing the bass guitar. Together with our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Bass Guitar’ range, this unique part will provide you with sufficient details to begin practicing this amazing skill.

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Musical Notation - Why Do We Need It?

How can somebody from Australia write something, and another person in the U.S. can understand it? It’s because they observe the rules of reading and writing in the English language. Produced written music notation is the same thing. If you’re in LA or Melbourne, so long as you can understand the icons on the page, you can play the music.

Types of early notation have been found on tablets going back as far as 2000 BC. Modern’ staff notation’, the strategy we currently use, was created by Catholic monks to standardise church music.

How To Read Bass Guitar Sheet Music

Should You Bother Learning To Read Music?

Understanding how to read music requires commitment. There are no two ways about it, it’s a hard skill to learn.

Some amazing music artists never learned, and there are common techniques including playing by ear, or by using chord patterns, that ultimately don’t require written music.

You could absolutely go down this path if you choose. Just recognize that like riding a bicycle, reading music is really a skill you never forget – and the pros massively outnumber the downsides.

Is Reading Music Complicated?

When you were learning to read and write, did your educator take care of them as the same task? Most probably not. Physically writing letters and learning how to control a pencil, is a different skill set than reading how unique characters join together to make a word.

Understanding how to read music is identical.

The process of playing the bass guitar is really a completely different skill from the process of reading the music which is placed before you. Yes, you will find a link. But it’s not precisely the same. So any instructor who is not isolating out the two of these tasks, and teaching them through different strategies, should really be fired!

Chord Charts


Chord And Bass Note

Learn To Read Music Notation

The Bass Clef Staff

For bass guitar, staff notation is actually organised around something named the bass staff. This is made up of a stave (the name for the lines) of 5 lines and 4 spaces. It is usually marked using a bass clef (the thing at the start of the line that looks like a backwards C)!

Middle C sits in the gap at the very top of the stave, upon an imaginary line.

Notes can sit on a line or in a space. The vertical location (height) of the note defines the pitch. The higher up the stave, the higher the pitch. When the note has to move higher or below the stave lines, we create mini lines for each note that is higher or lower. Those lines are known as ledger lines.

Bass Clef Staff

The notes

In order to avoid counting down from middle C each time, you can use memory aids to recognise the notes. The 4 spaces in the bass staff read the phrase “All Cows Eat Grass”.


The 5 lines read the phrase “Great Big Dogs Fight Animals” – or perhaps something more interesting that you can create!


And just for an overall view, here is the whole Bass Clef Staff, with all notes…

Bass Clef Notes

How Long Do We Hold Notes For?

If we read through music, we read the music score from the left-hand side to the right. As we already have learned which specific note to play, we now must find out how long to play it for. Happily, the printed note actually tells us this at the same time.

The overall shape of the note and if it’s filled in, tells us the length of time to hold the note for.

  • A whole note (or if you are in the UK, it’s called a Semibreve) is an empty circle and lasts four counts.
  • A half note (or if you are in the UK, it’s called a Minim) adds a stem and lasts two counts.
  • A quarter note (or if you are in the UK, it’s called a Crotchet) fills in the circle and lasts one count.
Note Length
How To Read Bass Guitar Sheet Music

How To Read Bass Guitar Music - Summary

Fantastic news – you’re on your way to reading music!

With that information, for those who study it for enough time and get used to recognizing which line and space equal which note, you will get fluent in reading music in no time.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of information and facts which I haven’t given you yet – but it’s about managing the facts to not ever overwhelm you. Whenever you happen to be confident with these specifics, you’ll naturally find out a lot more…

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