6th August 2020

Should I Learn Bass Scales? if so, which ones?


In this article, I discuss whether we should learn scales, and how we do that.  



I am a great advocator for bass players first learning arpeggios or chord tones before scales.  These chord tones will generally be our first choice when constructing bass lines. 

But scales can be useful too, especially when creating riffs and fills. They can also be helpful to us when learning about music theory.  One caveat here, is to not go down the ‘rabbit hole’ of obsessively learning scales and modes, and not ending up having a clue how to utilise them! 

I am going to talk about four different scales today, and these are the ones that I consider essential for us bass players to know. 

These scales are: 

  • Major Scales 
  • Minor Scales 
  • Pentatonic Scales 
  • Blues Scales

The major scale follows a fingering formula that works every time, apart from when we are using open strings. 

That formula is: 

2-4, 1-2-4, 1-3-4 

It is useful to practise playing the scale in the air first, without your bass.  This visualisation really helps to embed the shape in your mind.  You are much more likely to remember the scale long-term this way. 

Try D Major Scale:

Now try the major scale starting on different notes. 

You can work out a lot of music theory from the major scale.  It give us our chord tones.  Just pick out the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note for example and that is a major arpeggio. 

Try to work out G Major Arpeggio using G Major Scale.

G Major Arpeggio for bass guitar tab

The major scale also gives us the chords in that key.  For example the root notes of a 2-5-1 progression in G Major, would be A-D-G.  All we have to know then is whether these chords are major or minor.  

Once you are comfortable with major scales, then look at minor scales.

There are three types of minor scale:

  • Natural
  • Harmonic
  • Melodic  

The important defining interval of all three minor scales, is the minor 3rd.  This 3rd interval is an easy way to distinguish minor scales from major scales.  A major scale has a major 3rd, and a minor scale has a minor third.  

These are the three minor scales using A Minor:

A Natural Minor Scale for bass guitar tab