The idea that playing bass is easier than playing guitar has been a common misconception for a long time, especially among those outside the music community. While it does have a bit of merit, this line of thinking is based on some preconceived notions that need to be discussed further and debunked to an extent.
Playing bass is not easier than playing guitar. Because bass has fewer strings than a guitar, there’s a common misconception than it’s automatically easier. It’s not.
But let’s explore deeper. We'll go over all you need to know and share our thoughts so that we can debunk this myth once and for all.
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Is Bass Easier Than Guitar?
The view that bass is easier than guitar to play comes from a stereotypical image of what music is supposed to look and sound like: guitars are only meant to be six-string acoustic or electric instruments. The bass appears only to be a four-string electric instrument.
Given that bass happens to have fewer strings and often has a more backing, rather than leading and more creative, a generic four- or three-piece pop or rock ensemble has given outsiders the idea that it is easier to play.
In these purely stereotypical, stifling circumstances, yes – it is indeed easier. If playing the guitar was done in a vacuum, it would be easier without outside factors, but that's not the case.
The guitar could be perceived as an easier instrument to play because of these factors:
- Is lesser in mass and size
- Possess a richer, more diverse sound palette
- Usually requires more technical skill and proficiency
- Is not as dependent on amplifiers and other external assistance
- Is not as dependent on other band members
This is particularly true in the world of popular music, where certain roles instruments are supposed to fill have been cemented by time, with changes often being misunderstood or unwelcome by the listener.
If one knows how much creativity, imagination, and skill goes into playing bass, then the original question's answer would be obvious. If creativity and skill are not important, then it would be easier to play than guitar: rudimentary bass does beat rudimentary guitar in terms of easiness to play.
Is Bass Hard to Learn?
Even though most common bass guitars indeed have only four strings, they are much thicker than those on an average electric guitar. Usually, a bass player has to choose to use different playing techniques than those of a guitar player, although not necessarily, which include plucking, fretting, and slapping.
Bass has a deeper, lower tone and overall sound. It is larger, heavier, and significantly longer in size. All basses require a certain amount of muscular strength in the fingers and the wrist to handle, plus a quick mind to keep up with the rest of the musicians.
This leads us to explore the roles bass usually occupies in the music world and why bass is such an important, yet often underrated, instrument:
- Responsible for the rhythm and groove and the percussion and drums, with both parties having to keep each other in check at all times.
- Bass also supports the harmony, which often most noticeably heard through the bass on a track with multiple instruments
- On a rock or metal song, bass tends to function as an enhancing force to the guitar riff or melody that drives the song.
Some musicians have even taken it a step further, erasing the regular guitars altogether and taking up their role as well, while also utilizing heavy distortion at the same time. Most rock classics that use bass provide that extra “muscle” in spades; Led Zeppelin's first two eponymous albums would be two great examples.
As some sources suggest finding a competent tutor might be a good start and learn more about music theory, tuning, and be familiar with basic musical vocabulary.
The Ever-Expanding Role of Bass
As previously acknowledged, the evolution of the bass and its role in the music industry over the last 100 years or so has been given far less respect than it deserves, knowing that the questions this article is trying to answer persist and are still relevant the global music discourse.
Some of the most iconic names will be discussed in the following few paragraphs to illustrate further the point: the bass's role in the music world has been openly evolving since the mid-20th century.
The late Jaco Pastorius of the Weather Report and his invaluable contributions to popular and underground music alone are a testament to how much the role and importance of an instrument could be re-defined with enough talent and creativity.
Pastorius's knowledge of complex music theory, active use of harmonics, and smooth blending of jazz, R&B, and funk, all enhanced by his virtuoso skill, continue to inspire influential artists decades after his death.
His prowess also only increased and not diminished his popularity with each album he contributed to.
Anthony Jackson is also a significant figure. He is credited with gifting the world a whole new instrument in the 1970s: the six-string bass guitar, which has gone a long way in proving bass's versatility and usefulness to the world of music.
Jackson himself has done much to help along the way, writing for and appearing on countless records with other legends in the industry, including Buddy Rich and Al Di Meola.
As overused as his name is in anything music-related media has thrown at us for years, Flea's role in popularizing bass and contribution to re-shaping its role in public consciousness could hardly ever be overrated or overstated.
Known for his aggressively funky, energetic performances and intense slapping style, the Red Hot Chili Peppers anchorman has long proven himself to be an intimate melodist and ferocious groove master alike.
Is Bass Easier Than Guitar? Final Thoughts
Is bass easier than the guitar? In the context of actually playing the instrument and all of the outside factors, it's not easier. Questions such as this pose a significant threat to stereotypes: mastery of bass is achieved with simplicity. This simplicity is the key to popularity and success, and that bass's role is always strictly limited by obligations popular music has put upon it.
Simplicity is only a viable tool when it is used as a means to an end and not as a key to immediate success. Unfortunately, in today's Internet climate that bends to aggressive marketing rules, everyone promises magical tricks and quick fixes that would otherwise have one belief. This makes it easier for people to view bass as easier to play. It simplifies things.
Still, that does not mean there are not loads of information out there that offer helpful insight into the craft of bass and its reality. If you look at someone like, for instance, Jaco Pastorius or Flea, would you say that there is a conventionally “easy” way to acquire such skills? Bass is a complex instrument and should be respected as such.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!