Ask a muso: How to shred bass with The Pinheads

From choosing the right guitar to playing your first chords, Tun the Pinhead is here to guide you through Bass101.


Question: I really want to play the bass but have no idea how to start. I've looked at online tutorials but they all seem a little too technical... I don't even have a bass yet! What are the main things I need to know to start out and get good at the bass? 

Tanya "Tun" Avanus

Tanya "Tun" Avanus of The Pinheads says...

1. Pick your bass

There are two sizes you can choose from: full size or short scale. Full scale bass guitars have long necks and frets (the spaces between the lines on the neck) that are quite wide. Short scale bass guitars have a shorter and sometimes thinner neck which makes it easier to play if you are a small human. Or if you just like little pocket rockets (like my Hot Wheels Hofner).

Another option you have is to play a right or left handed bass. The majority of guitars you find in shops are right handed, purely because 90% of the population are right handed. However, just because you write with your right or left hand doesn't mean you'll feel most comfortable playing that way - I’m left-handed and play guitar right-handed. Right-handed is where you pick with your right hand and left-handed is where you pick with your left hand.

Don’t be afraid to go to your local music store and try out both sizes and both orientations (and if there are no left-handed basses, just turn the guitar over and play it upside down - people do it, it’s not weird). When you’re sitting down with the bass, put your thumb on the back of the neck and your four fingers on the fret board. Stretch your fingers across, slide your hand up and down the neck and generally get a feel of how it would be to play.

Always look up guitars for sale second hand. Don’t spend a fortune buying a brand new guitar. There are heaps of guitars out there that need a home and need to be saved from landfill!

2. Amps

If you’re just learning in your bedroom, a small practise amp will suffice. You can find heaps of practise amps on Gumtree or in op-shops for heaps cheap and they work a charm. You don’t need expensive gear to make music. It doesn’t make you sound better - it just burns a hole in your wallet. You’ll also need an instrument lead or cable to connect your guitar to your amp.

3. Pick or finger?

There are two main ways - picking using a plectrum and finger picking. To be honest, there is no right or wrong way to play - only what feels right for you.

PICKING: Using a plectrum (pick) can sometimes be less natural feeling than finger picking. This can come down to how to properly hold a pick. To be completely honest, this is something I still struggle with! When I first started playing bass, I held it one way, an now I hold it another way. There are also heaps of other shapes and thicknesses and materials. Get a whole bunch and try them out - they will feel different and sound different. You usually hold it between your thumb and the side of your index finger and pluck a string down, up or both.

FINGER PICKING: Under the strings where you play, there will be little plastic or metal things. There are called “pick-ups”. Rest your thumb on the top edge of one of the pick-ups so your four fingers hang down. Using your index and middle finger, pluck the string upwards,

alternating so your fingers are doing a walking motion. Practise plucking all the strings separately, always keeping your thumb on the pickup. This is the essence of basic finger picking. Some say finger picking is OG and badass. Cliff Burton proves this point. RIP shredmaster.

PS I suck at finger picking, I pretty much always use a pick.

4. Tuning

Bass guitars generally have four strings (there are variations with more strings). Standard tuning starting from the string closes to you is E A D G. That’s what most of your favourite songs will be in. If you don’t own a tuner, there are websites and phone apps that use the inbuilt microphone on your phone or computer.

5. Playing a song and knowing where to put your fingers

Alright, now you’re all set up and ready to go. Time to get playing. A great place to start is with tablature or ‘tabs’. Pick a simple song that you like and know super well (trust me). If you have access to the internet, open a search engine and type in “(your song) bass tab”. You’ll find something pretty easily. Reading tabs can take getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Maybe even consult a YouTube tutorial. The lines represent the strings, and the number in those lines represent what fret you have to press in order to get the right note. Or, if you have good ear, you can just sound it all out and start jamming with someone! Also, the 12 bar blues are a great thing to learn when you’re beginning. It can help with learning the relationships of different notes to each other, and how the same shapes can be transposed into different keys.

So, that’s it. Thanks for reading my drivel. Go out and get ‘em! Be the next Geezer or Cliff!

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