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Is learning bass easier than guitar?
Which of the two is better to get started with?
Check out our comprehensive FAQ on bass vs guitar
The “is bass easier than guitar” question is an age-old curiosity among newcomers and experienced musicians.
Electric guitars and bass guitars obviously have a lot in common. The bass looks like a guitar with fewer strings, larger frets, and a longer body/neck. It intuitively seems like an easier instrument.
But is there a clear winner, and is it really that simple or obvious?
People learn guitar because it is appealing, widely used, and versatile. People learn bass because they love the fat lows, tight rhythms, and funky grooves.
As someone who can play both instruments reasonably well, I look forward to addressing this question objectively.
Guitar or Bass, Which is Easier?
Bass is easier than guitar in the early stages of learning music. You can play or cover famous songs quicker with a bass guitar. Most bass parts are monophonic, so you don’t have to learn chords.
The guitar’s learning curve is steeper if we’re talking about being able to play a full song on either instrument, but the skill ceiling is the same for both. Both instruments play different roles and require distinct skills and musical abilities.
Frankly, this is an apples and oranges discussion, and picking an instrument just because it’s easier is not the healthiest approach towards music. Like so many things in music, whatever works best for you is the right choice.
Instead of looking for a clear winner, let’s explore the nuances of learning these instruments. This will help you find the right instrument to start your musical journey.
Long Answer: Bass vs Guitar
Is Bass Guitar Easier Overall Than Guitar?
While it may be easier or quicker to learn in the early stages, bass is not an ‘easy’ instrument unless you are content with playing a few notes over four chords for a lifetime. As I said before, the skill ceiling on both instruments is the same, and I don’t think there’s any reliable or definitive way to measure how ‘better’ one would be anyway.
Sure, you’ll be able to join a band long before a guitar student even touches on barre chords. That’s how we get the joke – a bassist’s third lesson is a gig.
But the gig will be an underwhelming experience once the novelty dies down.
There are plenty of incredible bass players who have shown us that bass is not an ‘easy’ instrument to master by any means. Stanley Clarke, Les Claypool, Jaco Pastorius, Squarepusher, and Thundercat are all examples of bass virtuosos who demonstrate exceptional talent and a deep understanding of their instrument.
What Is The Difference Between Guitar And Bass?
Acoustic, nylon-string, or electric guitars are generally six-string instruments that are tuned to E-A-D-G-B-E (lower to highest string).
An off-the-rack acoustic or electric bass guitar has four strings and will be tuned to E-A-D-G, except everything is an octave lower in pitch than the guitar.
There are two crucial points to remember:
Bass and guitar have considerable sonic differences
The role of bass and guitar in a song is very different.
The guitar is a recognizable and versatile instrument. A guitarist plays rhythm (chords, riffs) and lead (solos and embellishments), which are all prominent parts that attract more attention.
Bassists work in tandem with the drummer, often following the kick drum.
Drums and bass contribute to the groove/rhythm, which is the backbone of a song. Bass parts are structurally significant but lurk in the background, partly because lower frequencies just sound softer to humans compared to higher frequencies.
If you take a bass part out, it’s immediately noticeable as nothing else is filling the lower frequency range aside from short bursts from the kick drum. If you take a guitar part out, it feels less wrong if the vocals and other guitar parts occupy a similar frequency range.
So just because guitar parts stand out more than bass lines, it doesn’t mean guitar is more important as an instrument.
Which Is Better For You?
In a nutshell, it’s crucial to identify which instrument resonates with your preference, personality, and musical goals. A few classes with both will be the ideal way to decide, but understandably not everyone has the time or money for this.
Both instruments demand a different mindset and skills.
Objectively, the bass is a better instrument if you love to groove, stay in the pocket, hold the rhythm, and enjoy an integral but less flashy role in a band.
The guitar is better if you like chords, soloing, and playing with effects. It has a versatile, glitzy, and more expressive role in music.
So if you struggle between learning bass vs learning guitar, you just need to ask yourself a few questions to find out which one is your cup of tea.
If you have no preference, start by listening to the masters. Check out bass virtuosos such as Joe Dart, Jaco Pastorius, Thundercat, Victor Wooten, and Stanley Clarke.
Follow it up with great guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai, John McLaughlin, and Tommy Emmanuel.
So let’s start with Jimi…
Now listen to John Entwistle’s savage bass playing in Real Me by The Who compared to the guitar parts. They call him “Thunder-fingers” for a reason.
He is one of many bass players who illustrates how remarkably wild and complex bass playing can be.
Following on from the previous example with The Who’s Baba O Riley, the bass has a more laidback role and simple arrangement.
John Entwistle dials it down to support the feel of a simple, four-chord song. We can witness the same band and bassist but a vastly different flavor and application.
You can pick up the bass and play the latter within a few days. The other song could take months, if not years, to pull off at a concert.
Is Bass More Painful To Play Than Guitar?
Bass can be more painful to play than the guitar as it is more physically demanding. The bass has a longer neck, thicker strings, and larger frets.
You need more strength/pressure to press the bass strings against the fret. Bass guitars are also heavier than electric or acoustic guitars, meaning that playing bass calls for more stamina and strong shoulders too.
Is Bass or Guitar Better For Smaller Hands?
Objectively, the guitar is better than bass for students with small hands. Guitars have more manageable weight and dimensions, especially electric guitars and folk-sized acoustic guitars.
If these factors matter, you will find it easier to learn guitar. People with small hands may struggle with the neck profile, scale length, weight, and string spacing when they learn bass.
If you have really small hands, you might want to consider one of these half sized acoustic guitars. Short-scale bass guitars also exist and are popular for smaller players.
Can Any Guitarist Play Bass Easily?
Guitarists can play bass easily compared to someone with no musical experience. It’s because of the similarities between the two instruments.
The familiar shape, tuning, and guitar scales carry over to the bass. However, the picking technique, scale length, and role of the two differ significantly. This means there is still a sizeable learning curve if you transition from guitar to bass.
Why Do Bass Players Recieve No Respect?
A bass player is everybody’s fool, especially when the drummer isn’t in the room.
From being called the keyboardist’s left hand to a failed guitarist, I have heard ’em all.
At the end of the day, these are just jokes. Every mature musician understands and respects what bass playing brings to the table (and it’s not dinner or a date).
Is It Harder To Sing While Playing The Bass?
It’s generally accepted that it’s harder to sing while playing bass compared to singing while playing guitar.
With bass, you have to hold the rhythm, remember the lyrics, sing the melody, and stay in tune and time. It can be an overwhelming process that stretches the ear and brain in too many directions.
Bassists often play grooves or riffs that are syncopated. Trying to sing over a syncopated groove can be seriously confusing.
In theory, you can practice your scales or chops on bass without an amp in a quiet room. But you can only do this in a quiet room, which can be a limited, taxing, and unrewarding experience.
However, an electric bass guitar needs amplification for rehearsals, to play along with a backing track, to utilize effects pedals, or to practice specific techniques that involve dynamic playing.
There are alternatives to a bass amp for silent practice such as a headphone amp or multi-fx pedal (and we explore these in this article).
Of course, this doesn’t apply to upright or acoustic basses that are loud enough for home use and practice.
Why Is Bass So Quiet?
The electric bass is quieter than most instruments. Really this has more to do with human hearing – we are just more sensitive to mid-high frequencies but lower frequencies need to be louder for us to appreciate them properly.
The low-frequency sounds can get drowned out easily by distorted guitars, keys, and drums.
A bassist can crank up the amplifier (volume). Still, the gentle finger plucking phrases and low-frequency notes may be too nuanced for a layperson.
Personally, I refrain from calling the bass an easier version of the guitar.
Trying to find an ‘easier instrument’ is not a fruitful way to approach music. Every instrument demands rigorous practice, studying theory, and commitment for life.
There are, and always will be, exceptional bassists or guitar players who lure you into the fold and tempt you to learn one instrument over the other.
Don’t forget, if you aspire to be a musician, an instrument is only a conduit of your creative expression and musicality.
Plus, at the end of the day nothing stops us from learning both. It doesn’t even have to be a choice! If you have the time and patience, this may be the best solution.