So you’ve decided to learn to play bass guitar? Congratulations, and welcome to a club that includes talented, diverse, and sometimes eccentric individuals such as Flea, Paul McCartney, Sting, John Paul Jones, John Deacon, and Gene Simmons. If you don’t know these bassists, your first step should be to look them up and watch/listen to them play! Find your favorites and let them encourage and motivate you. The bass is the heart of the band (at least according to us bassists) but the parts can be long and repetitive, so watching professionals helps you bring your own attitude and passion to the instrument.
Now, it’s time to play, but with so much music in the world, where do you start? If you don’t already have some favorite songs in mind, here are suggestions that will help you learn the basics of notation or tablature, key signatures, fingerings, rhythm, and tempo, all without boring you with endless repeats of the same eight bars. The secret to getting good at this is repetition, which is up to you, and learning good technique — from School of Rock teachers, of course.
10 Best Songs for Beginner Bass Guitarists
A good beginner bass part is one that is not too simple but not overwhelming, exposes you to different techniques and tempos, and builds your confidence.
1. “She Loves You,” by The Beatles
What better way to start a bass guitar journey than with some classic Paul McCartney. You could learn most of what you need to know by following the growth of McCartney as a bassist over the year, and She Loves You is a perfect example of the early “simpler” years.
What makes “She Loves You” a good song for beginner bassists?
- Written in C Major. What’s better than no sharps, no flats.
- Dotted half note, quarter note rhythm. A classic that’s everywhere.
- A driving beat with minimal repetition. Standard R&R but not boring.
How does “She Loves You” challenge beginner bassists?
Looks are deceiving. She Loves You has a fast and driving beat so you need to keep pushing and build stamina. You can also play it McCartney style using a pick, and if you’re so inclined, left-handed.
2. “Seven Nation Army,” by the White Stripes
This next song is a winner and it’s from a band that didn’t have a bass player! Huh? Yes, the White Stripes were a duo and notorious for their lack of a bassist in live performances. Yet, Seven Nation Army is an accessible next step into more ambitious rock music.
What makes “Seven Nation Army” a good song for beginner bassists?
- Written in G Major. It’s time to change keys and add a sharp - F#.
- The bass line stands out. You can’t be a shrinking violet.
- You have to count! Bass parts are often repetitive so count, don’t nap.
How does “Seven Nation Army” challenge beginner bassists?
This is a leap into a long, repetitive, yet simple bass part that keeps you on your toes. You learn how to deal with triplets, eight notes, and rhythm variations. Be sure to be well hydrated before taking this on!
3. “Sunshine of Your Love,” by Cream
There are few bass lines that are as recognizable as Jack Bruce’s iconic track on Sunshine of Your Love. It’s the beating engine of the song, sticks in your head, and is just darn fun to play. Sunshine also can be played simply by the beginner and with bells and whistles for the advancing player.
What makes “Sunshine of Your Love” a good song for beginner bassists?
- It’s a strong bass line. You get to be center stage.
- A new key and techniques. Two sharps, accidentals and some slides.
- Explore new rhythms. Sunshine offers a clean, symphonic bass line.
How does “Sunshine of Your Love” challenge beginner bassists?
The part requires stamina and precision. It’s not hard to play but it’s hard to play it right and keep it going for 110+ measures. Sunshine also provides an opportunity to explore the fingerboard using various positions.
4. “Smoke on the Water,” by Deep Purple
Rock music is interesting because it embraces characteristics from all different genres. Smoke on the Water is actually a four-note blues scale, and it introduces our first key with flats - G Minor. It’s not a difficult part but it will test your finger strength and ability to maintain a strong moderate tempo.
What makes “Smoke on the Water” a good song for beginner bassists?
- Repetitive eighth notes. Eighth notes build stamina and force focus.
- Blues scale brings a different sound. Blues riffs are a rock staple.
- Octaves galore. Octaves challenge intonation requiring precision.
How does “Smoke on the Water” challenge beginner bassists?
Smoke contains over 1200 notes! That’s a long, dense bass part and while it’s easily playable, it will take time to build up to full tempo and hold it to the end.
5. “Another One Bites the Dust,” by Queen
Here’s another classic that will be hard to get out of your head, and the best part is that the song was written by Queen’s bassist, John Deacon. The part is uncomplicated and repetitive but then there are those four bars ahead of the chorus -- a bassist’s chance to shine or epically fail.
What makes “Another One Bites the Dust” a good song for beginner bassists?
- The song uses a pentatonic scale. Pentatonic (5-note) scales are widely used in many genres.
- Introducing a minor key. The E Minor key brings an unexpected twist to a rock song.
- A clean but sophisticated rhythm. Eighth rests and 16th notes raise the bar on building control and finger strength.
How does “Another One Bites the Dust” challenge beginner bassists?
Another One Bites the Dust introduces new challenges including an alternate tuning for the bass, the E Minor key, and advanced rhythms yet it remains approachable.
6. “Message in a Bottle,” by The Police
It’s time to experience the monotony of being a bassist. Message in a Bottle is a great driving rock song written by a bassist, Sting, with a repetitive bass line that has two sections with four notes each. Regardless, this is a must play!
What makes “Message in a Bottle” a good song for beginner bassists?
- The song uses a true bass line. If you’re going to be a bassist, you have to learn to deal with repetition and this line is typical.
- It’s time to turn on the speed. At 150 beats per minute (BPM), this song will challenge you to keep up.
- Watch the guy who wrote it, play it! There’s nothing better than seeing the composer play his own piece -- it’s motivating and inspiring.
How does “Message in a Bottle” challenge a beginner bass guitarist?
For this song to work, it has to have a driving beat. If you slow it down or fall out of sync with the drummer, the song breaks quickly. It doesn’t matter if it’s loud or soft, it still has to rock, and the bass needs to drive it.
7. “Comfortably Numb,” by Pink Floyd
When it comes to rock ballads, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb is right at the top of the list, and the best part is the simplistic bass line prominent throughout. The part isn’t complicated but it has to be lyrical and consistent in tempo to fulfill the potential of this classic piece.
What makes “Comfortably Numb” a good song for beginner bassists?
- The song has a solid rhythm. The simple rhythmic bass line is consistent throughout the piece and is the foundational element.
- Practice those dotted eight sixteenth pairings. A dotted eight note paired with a sixteenth note is ubiquitous in bass notation. Get used to it.
- Build those fingers with slides! The part has lots of nice slides to an open string that will build finger strength and all important calluses.
How does “Comfortably Numb” challenge a beginner bass guitarist?
The key of C Major (2 sharps) and a tempo of 64 beats per minute don’t pose any particular problem for the aspiring bassist. The challenge comes from the over 6 minute song duration -- that’s a long haul for untrained fingers on both hands. You’ll be glad when you’ve built up your stamina.
8. “Baba O’Riley,” by the Who
Every bassist needs a Who song in their repertoire, and this one is a good starter. It’s not difficult but it does have its challenges with some long periods of rest, varying rhythms, and a fast double time section.
What makes “Baba O’Riley” a good song for beginner bass guitarists?
- Learn to deal with extended rests. Bassists have to learn to count rests and Baba O’Riley starts out with 60 measures worth. Get used to it!
- There are rests, rhythms, whole notes, and more. There’s a little bit of everything in this song helping you become a well-rounded player.
- Simplicity helps you focus. Since the notes aren’t hard, you're free to focus on the rhythms and technical perfection.
How does “Baba O’Riley” challenge a beginner bass guitarist?
Great bassists are versatile and this song helps to develop that characteristic by including varied, long, challenging sections.
9. “When I Come Around,” by Green Day
One quality that defines an experienced rock bassist is the ability to play recognizable riffs, and the repeating two bar bass riff in When I Come Around is as recognizable as it gets. It’s not easy but it’s short and powerful!
What makes “When I Come Around” a good song for beginner bassists?
- It’s Green Day after all. An iconic band, an iconic bass part -- it’s a must have in any repertoire.
- Just 2 bars to drill into your head. After playing this riff the 25+ times it’s repeated in the piece, it will automatically be committed to memory.
- Experience alternate tunings. You don’t often have to tune your bass differently but it does come up from time to time. Embrace it!
How does “When I Come Around” challenge a beginner bassist?
Once you learn the riff, you still have to deal with the fast tempo and the alternate tuning. Oh, and don’t forget about counting those repeats.
10. “I Got You (I Feel Good),” by James Brown
Let’s end our top 10 with James Brown’s biggest hit. This classic 12-bar blues riff drifts over into Brown’s famous funk. You can play it comfortably at Brown’s original 144 BPM or test your metal at his more raucous recording speed of 195. Either way, I Got You will certainly help you get your groove on.
What makes “I Got You” a good song for beginner bassists?
- The blues is where it’s at. Learning to play the blues is one of the most important skills for a bassist. It’s fun and in this case, funky.
- Let’s move further up the fingerboard. This song will push you even further up the fingerboard helping you develop range..
- Simple but challenging. The notes aren’t hard but if you want to push the beat, you’ll need to start slow and repeat.
How does “I Got You” challenge a beginner bassist?
You may feel intimidated whenever you break away from standard rock chord structures, but in this song, you can work on the blues and infuse some funk. With enough repetition, it will become second nature.
All of these songs are available within The School of Rock Method™
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About the Author:
Larry Perlstein is one of the owners of School of Rock West Hartford in Connecticut. Learn more about how to open your own School of Rock location in your neighborhood at https://franchising.schoolofrock.com.