Many people might assume that bass is just a guitar with fewer strings and a longer neck, but they’re actually pretty distinct. They’ve ended up with similar shapes, but both instruments have come from a long history and have had a great impact on music, together and apart. But the age-old question still lingers: which one is better?
Neither guitar nor bass is better than the other. Because it has fewer strings, there is a stereotype that bass is easier to learn, but learning either instrument is an equal challenge. Bass is good for jazz, funk, hip-hop, and similar genres and is often a supporting instrument. Guitars are good for rock n’ roll, melodic playing, and solos.
In other words, which instrument is better comes down to personal preference. Choosing between these two instruments doesn’t take months of research, and you can get a general idea of what these instruments are and the basics of learning them simply by reading on right here.
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Guitar vs Bass
If you’re interested in learning to play guitar or bass but want to know which is best, it’s important to understand how they’re different. And how they’re used in music. Here are the differences between guitar and bass, in the most simple terms:
|Higher Pitched InstrumentMore Melodic PlayingTends to Lead in Rock & PopMore StringsRequires Less Pressure on the Strings to Play||Lower Pitched InstrumentTends to Lead in Funk & JazzIs often a Backup InstrumentNeeds More Pressure on the Strings to PlayFewer Strings|
The differences in the bass and guitar run deeper than just this, however, and each of them has a fascinating history and influence that stand apart from each other.
Guitars come in two major styles, solid body, and hollow body. Hard body guitars are usually electric, while hollow-body guitars are generally acoustic, though many can be plugged into an amplifier. While there are such things as two necked, twelve-string, and other variations of this instrument, most guitars will have six strings.
Generally, both types of guitars will be made of wood, though steel guitars do exist and are popular in styles like country music for their distinct sound. Because it’s a popular instrument, it’s generally easy to find both teachers and local guitar communities to be part of as you learn and grow.
A hugely versatile instrument, it takes the lead or is a prominent feature in many music styles, from jazz, bluegrass, and country to mariachi and flamenco to rock, pop, metal, and beyond. Once you’ve mastered the basics of the guitar, the number of songs you can play is truly staggering.
A Brief History
The modern guitar took the long road to get here. The earliest ‘ancestors’ to the guitar, namely the lute and an instrument called an Oud, are so old they predate written history. These instruments were made for precise, melodic music.
You can see their relation to the guitar in the neck and strings as well as the hollow body to allow the sound to resonate.
These instruments passed from Egypt to Greece to Rome, where the empire spread the Instrument across Europe. The modern shape of guitars didn’t start to solidify until Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.
As picks became more popular with guitar players, most guitar music shifted away from being melodic and instead moved towards being chord focused, giving the music a brighter tone as it started to be used for styles like a rock.
These days, guitars are found in almost every genre of popular music and come in a huge variety of styles and shapes.
Pros and Cons of the Guitar
|Great emotional outletBecause it’s a popular instrument, there are tons of resources for learnersHuge variety of music to play||Especially early on, playing can cause pain in the fingersCan be expensiveCan take a long time to master|
Looking at an electric bass that a Rockstar might play next to one from an orchestra might cause a great deal of confusion, making you think that these two instruments are completely different except for the name. Nope. The modern electric bass is a direct descendant of the classical instrument.
The bass was created to allow low notes to shine and is used in many types of music where low notes are the big-ticket item like hip-hop, funk, jazz, and rap. The rise of the electric base may have had a huge role in these genres existing in the first place.
Bass players are, generally speaking, rarer than guitar players for a few reasons. For instance, while it has fewer strings than a guitar, the strings on a bass are thicker to accommodate the lower notes it produces, meaning it takes more strength and pressure to produce the right sound.
Being a bigger instrument also turns some people off, or the thought of being back up most of the time when playing.
A Brief History
For most of history, the traditional upright size and shape of the bass and double bass were perfectly suitable for the orchestras and musicians that used it. Then, a new style of music emerged- jazz. Suddenly, performers lugging a giant double bass from gig to gig became a real problem.
Innovators and music lovers set out to find a solution, and after a few false starts, the first guitar-shaped bass was released in 1951. This new, portable bass could be played upright like a traditional bass or horizontal like a guitar, and it quickly gained popularity.
At the same time, jazz performers wanted something portable; many guitar players wanted an instrument that could compete with larger crowds, mostly by being louder. Because it operated at a lower register, bass guitars gained popularity in that area too.
Bass came to the forefront of music with funk music, where it took the lead and went on to inspire types of music such as disco, techno, rap, and even EDM music! To read more about the long and winding road, the bass took to get to where it is today, read the above linked article.
Pros and Cons of the Bass
|Rarer Instrument, so it could be easier to find a group to play withGood if you want to play music like funk or hip-hopFewer strings to keep track of when playing||Takes more strength and effort to playBigger instrument than a guitarFewer solos or leading moments in many pops and rock songs|
Which One is Better?
You might find people who will argue until they’re blue in the face that guitar is superior or find someone with an entire thesis on how much better the bass is. But really, it’s not fair to compare them like that. Though they might be shaped the same, these instruments have different purposes and strengths, so asking which is better makes no sense at the end of the day.
Which one is better for beginners? That’s a better question, but the answer is still going to depend on the beginner. If you love the music that features bass front and center but don’t have the time to build up strength in your hands to make a bass sound right, then a guitar might be better for you.
Equally, if you want to play guitar but hate taking the lead part in songs, you might want to consider a bass instead. This is a question that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, except maybe to say that neither is inherently better than the other.
Guitar vs. Bass: 3 Tips for Picking the Right Instrument
Now that you know the differences between guitar and bass, as well as the pros and cons of each instrument, you can start to choose which one feels like the best fit for you.
Do What Feels Right
I love it deeply, but playing music can be an expensive hobby, so picking up an instrument at random and deciding that’s what you want to learn isn’t a smart choice.
With how many instruments are out there, the odds are against you finding the right fit if you spin a wheel or throw a dart at pictures of magazines.
By taking the time to figure out what instrument suits you best and will hold your interest, you’re increasing the odds that you’ll stick with whatever instrument you’ve chosen, rather than leaving a guitar or keyboard in the attic to gather dust after a few months.
It’s alright to try several different instruments before settling on one, and even trying multiple brands of the same instrument is totally normal when making an investment like this.
Because this is based on feelings, there’s no objective answer to “how do I know if it feels right?”, unfortunately. The best advice that I can give you is to pay attention to your own instincts and look for signals like how the instrument feels in your hand and how you feel while playing it. And if you do end up changing your mind later, that’s fine too.
Consider Your Goal
Do you have dreams of stardom? Want to play with some friends in a band to pass the time? Just want to relax and unwind after a long day? Knowing what you want to do with your instrument before choosing it is an important factor in the decision. For example, I can name several famous guitar players, but I only know one famous violin player.
If you want to learn to play your favorite songs, look at the instruments used in those songs for something common. If you want to write your own music, you may want something more versatile, like a guitar or piano.
Ask yourself these questions before you get an instrument:
- Do I enjoy the types of music I can play with this instrument?
- Do I want to play with other people?
- If so, is there a place near me where I can find people to play with?
- Are lessons available, or will I need to teach myself?
- Can I do everything I want to do with this instrument?
Don’t Worry About the Brand Right Away
The brand of your instrument matters as much as you want it to matter. No brand, no matter how well known or how good their instruments sound in professional hands, will change the fact that as you learn, you’re going to place your fingers in the wrong spot, hit a few sour notes, and make mistakes as you go.
Getting a guitar or bass meant to play sold-out stadiums for a once a week hobby could blow your budget and not make much difference in the end. Especially if you’re watching your money, focus on building your skills before you decide to get something fancy when even a second-hand bass from craigslist will suit you just as well.
Learning Bass or Guitar: Classes vs Self-Taught
Having someone to guide you through the first steps of learning a new skill can be great, and a real teacher can offer unique benefits that an online course or app cannot. However, some people have to learn styles that make it better to teach themselves than try to adjust to how another person teaches.
First, the case of having a teacher. A teacher has the benefit of experience both in your chosen instrument and teaching other people to play. They may have tips and tricks not found anywhere else, and having a dedicated time when you’re learning and focused on music can help you stay consistent and stick with the hobby.
A teacher also can troubleshoot your technique more easily than an app or just playing by yourself. Having a source of feedback and encouragement can be vital for many people when learning a new skill. You may also be able to get to know other students this way and be part of a new community.
On the other hand, a class isn’t for everyone. Classes use up two things a lot of people are short on time and money. For some people, the expense just won’t be worth it. You may learn better by having a tutorial video that you can restart, rewind, and slow down until you get it perfect.
A class also might not suit you if you have an unusual schedule like working nights or don’t have a set time each week that you can devote to practicing your instrument. A video tutorial can be played or replayed at any time, making it more versatile than an in-person lesson.
The middle of the road option is an online class, which takes a few forms. Some online classes are solely videos of techniques and instructions that you practice on your own time, while others will connect you to a teacher via video chat.
This is a great option for several people since there may not be any local teachers you click with, or maybe no local teachers at all if you live in a small town or rural area. There are online classes and even apps specifically designed for you to learn at your own pace, and these are often cheaper than an in-person class.
So, just to recap:
|In-Person Classes||Online Classes or Self-Taught|
|Good for feedback and encouragementCan help you dedicate time to your new hobbyCan expose you to the local music community||More flexible for busy peopleBetter for people who need to repeat new skills oftenGenerally Cheaper|
Learning to Play Guitar
Are you leaning toward playing the guitar? Here are a few considerations to think about before you make the commitment.
What to Master First
If you’ve decided to play guitar, don’t go jumping into song tutorials on YouTube and plan on figuring out the rest later- learning these basics first will give you a solid foundation so you can go from beginner to master with the best understanding.
Experts will recommend learning in an order similar to this:
- Learn to care for your guitar- tuning, restringing, proper holding, etc.
- Learn how to read tabs and chords
- Learn Open Chords
- Learn Strumming in Rhythm and Power Chords
- Learn Songs
To see a more thorough breakdown of what skills on the guitar to master first, click here.
Learning to properly care for and hold your guitar is important to keep your guitar sounding its best and prevent hurting yourself with improper use.
Progressing from learning simple chords and getting a sense of rhythm to the more complex power chords gives you time to build up strength (and callouses) that will make things easier later.
Always remember that learning a new skill takes time, so don’t be discouraged by slow progress. Even ten to twenty minutes a week will add up until you can play your favorite songs from memory anytime you want.
Learning to Play Bass
Maybe you’ve decided bass is the right way to go. If that’s the case, the following key factors will help you make the final decision.
Basics to Master
Similar to guitar, the first thing to master when learning bass is technique. A good technique will give you a good place to fall back to if you’re struggling with more advanced parts of playing, as well as help you avoid injury from doing things incorrectly.
When it comes to bass, consider learning in this order as recommended by Online Bass Courses:
- Technique- holding the bass, how to position the fingers, etc
- Scales and Arpeggios
- Theory- knowing the basics of theory help you understand the goals of more advanced techniques
- Training Your Ears- learning how a bass should sound can help you fine-tune your own playing
- Tunes- start building your repertoire and continue to master new techniques!
When you first start, it can be extremely difficult to see how scales and lessons on how to read music are related to the songs you dream of playing, but if you master the basics, there’s no stopping you from building on what you’ve learned.
Sure, you might be able to watch some video tutorials and mimic the song perfectly, but as soon as they throw a technique in that you’ve never done before, you can end up frustrated and feeling like a bad player. In the end, taking the time to build your way up is completely worth it.
Guitar vs. Bass: Better Together
The old saying “teamwork makes the dream work” applies to the guitar and bass, not just people. Each instrument on its own is good, but together, they’re great.
Where do These Instruments Play Together?
Any time there’s an ensemble or a band with a guitar, you’ll usually find a bass playing along with it, and the reverse is true as well. You could honestly call guitar and bass the PB&J of the music world with how often they’re together making beautiful music.
All types of Rock music are great places to find these instruments playing together to create iconic sounds, but this dynamic duo can also be found in jazz, country, pop, R&B, bluegrass, and metal music, just to name a few.
While both instruments have taken a long road to get where they are today as distinct instruments, they do have a lot in common. They both came from classical roots and evolved to become staples of modern music, and much of the time, they do it together.
Playing Well with Others
You can spend your whole life playing alone in a soundproof room and still get a ton of enjoyment out of it, but there’s no experience quite like playing music with a group. I did it for years, and I still lack the right words to describe the experience.
No matter what instrument you choose after reading this article, from bass to guitar to bongos, if you choose to play with other people, it’s a good idea to remember that every instrument in a song is equally important.
No matter who has the solos, who is providing support, or who is doing percussion, the song only sounds right if every part is played. Think of your favorite song, then try to imagine how it would sound to take the guitar out. Then imagine if the bass was gone, or the drums, or any other instrument that belongs there.
Doesn’t sound right, does it? Like I said earlier, you can find people who will loudly declare that their instrument is the best, hands down, but mostly, you’ll hear people debating the pros and cons of every instrument.
If you find yourself playing in a band, hopefully, you’ll be able to play with people who understand this and want to make good music together. Even just a pickup band that’s only for fun on the weekends can sound amazing when everyone is playing their part well.
Can I Play Both?
Well, not at the same time. But in all seriousness, the only limit to how many instruments you can play is your time and dedication. Many people play more than one instrument, and it’s totally possible to be both a bass and guitar player if you want to.
You may want one to learn them one at a time, however, so you don’t find yourself trying to do guitar chords on the neck of your bass.
Like being bilingual can sometimes cause you to use the wrong language for certain words, you will have to work to keep these similar instruments straight in your mind.
Playing both guitar and bass might even give you an advantage. Either instrument will cause you to develop calluses over time to protect you from the discomfort that playing a stringed instrument can bring. Knowing the theory behind the instruments can lead to new innovations in how you play.
If you like to write your own songs, then playing multiple instruments can help you make better music. Thanks to the ability to record and edit yourself playing, you could learn to play every part of a whole song and put it together- some YouTubers already do this, even.
Bass VS Guitar, Final Thoughts
There is no better instrument for guitar and bass. There is only better for you. There’s a whole world of musical possibility out there, and you don’t have to limit yourself to one instrument or one music style.
Choosing between guitar and bass shouldn’t be about choosing the best instrument. It should be about choosing the instrument you’re going to enjoy most.
If you love melodic playing, having lots of solos in pop and rock style music, and want to go a little easier on the pressure you put on the neck of your instrument, then a guitar might be perfect for you. There are a ton of guitar players out there, so finding a community, teachers, and various tricks for guitar playing can be a breeze.
If you’re more of a fan of playing backup and only stepping into the spotlight occasionally, a bass might be for you. With fewer strings, a deeper sound, and a bit more hand strength needed, some people may shy away from the bass, but those who play will find themselves in demand for bands and able to take the lead in genres like funk, jazz, and rap.
So, the best advice I can leave you with is this: find the right instrument, give it everything you’ve got to master it, and don’t forget to have fun while playing!
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!