When students approach me for lessons, they’ve often tried guitar at some point. Usually, they try to learn it on their own which results in frustration.
They ask me for lessons on guitar, but at some point early on, they ask me some variation of this question:
Guitar is too hard. Should I try to learn bass? I’ve heard it’s easier.
I get this all the time.
The answer isn’t as simple as people think. This is exactly why I decided to write a post answering this question in depth. Let’s look at the question:
Is bass easier than the guitar?
The bass may be a little easier than the guitar because it has two fewer strings to learn on (4 compared to 6 on the standard guitar). However, some elements make the bass harder as well including longer neck, heavier strings, different playstyle, and higher price.
Let’s dive into the details.
Is Bass Easier To Learn Than Guitar? Direct Comparison
Here’s the short answer: the bass may be a little easier to grasp due to the absence of two strings. They both require enough skill that a new musician won’t find one much easier than the other in the long run.
The differences are there, but the core of playing both is similar enough that a guitarist will be able to transfer their skills to the bass (and vice versa) with little difficulty.
Just look at Paul McCartney. He played only guitar until he convinced his friend to buy a bass, and then he just picked it up.
Take a look at this table for an easy-to-see comparison.
|Which is easier?
|Number of Strings
|About the same
|Basslines, driving rhythms
|Too different to compare directly
|Similar Playing Techniques
|Frets by half steps, chord shapes
|Frets by half steps, chord shapes
|Holding Bass Vs. Guitar
|Held lower usually, hand plays down more often, fingers and wrists are key
|Held up, more action from elbow
|About the same
|Size And Shape
|Long neck, heavier, thicker strings
|Smaller neck, lighter strings
|Higher price, always needs electronics
|More variety in price
|In general, basses will cost more
If you want more specific information on these elements, look at the next section.
Bass Vs. Guitar Difficulty
Digging into the details of these different elements, we see answering is bass easier to learn than guitar isn’t so easy.
This section covers each element specifically to help you out.
Number of Strings
The most obvious difference between bass and guitar is the number of strings.
On typical guitars, they use 6 strings. Typical basses only use 4.
There are instances of basses and guitars having more, but these are special cases. The extra strings on both function to double the sound of each string.
Playing them is just playing a standard guitar or bass.
For the reason of strings alone, the bass is easier than guitar. 4 is easier to master than 6.
But it’s more than just strings. Taking into account the other elements we’ll see the answer isn’t so clear.
The tuning on both are different, yet the same?
The guitar tunes it’s 6 strings to the pitches E-A-D-G-B-E in that order.
For the bass, it’s like you drop the top two strings and tune the first four the same. The bass tunes with E-A-D-G.
In practice, the bass strings are tuning to lower octaves of the same pitch from the guitar strings. However, the tuning process is the same.
When it comes to difficulties with tuning, they’re about the same.
Personally, I struggle (as pretty much everyone does) with tuning the B string on the guitar. So it’s easier to tune without it on the bass.
But, tuners don’t seem to pick up the bass pitches as accurately, so the bass requires more ear-work on your part.
Bass and guitar may function similar to each other, but they serve contrasting roles in the music.
The guitar usually comes in two varieties in songs: rhythm and lead guitar.
The rhythm guitar plays the chords of the song in a specific rhythm to augment what the drum set is doing and provide direction to the sound.
Rhythm guitar is played with strumming and whole chords.
Lead guitar is more like solo guitar. The guitar player plays melodies and lines (or riffs and licks in rock music).
This is focused more on fingerings and picking.
Bass guitar is like a combination of those at one time.
The bass has two jobs but only one player: provide the bass notes for the chords and create a driving rhythm.
The bass usually plays only one note at a time, but they must have perfect rhythm and line playing abilities.
A bass fills out the sound.
The rhythms and lines aren’t usually as complex as the guitars, but the bassist must handle both at the same time and without messing up. There’s no one else to fall back on.
In short, the playstyle differences are so contrasting it’s impossible to compare difficulty directly in this category.
Similar Playing Techniques
For the understanding and playing of the notes, guitar and bass are largely the same.
When you want to raise the pitch level of the string by a half step, you press down in the first fret.
Each fret on bass and guitar is a half step.
This means learning scales and melodies on one will work on the other (although they’ll sound different).
It also means learning chord shapes will apply from guitar to bass and vice versa (although the bass won’t use the top two strings).
For this reason, most serious bass players first started on guitar and then transferred over later.
Holding Bass Vs. Guitar
Holding bass and guitar is different as well.
There are “normal” ways to hold guitars and basses, but there are always those who will argue the finer points of exactly how high or low on your waist each one is held.
This is based on genre and personal preference in large part.
For this article, I’ll look at generalizations to get an idea.
In general, the bass is held lower on the waist. When the bass is played the hand ends up approaching the strings from a more downward direction.
Often, the action of the bass’s strumming and plucking comes from the fingers and/or wrist.
For guitars, they’re often held up higher on the waist.
The hand comes to strum more from the side than above. The action of the playing is in the wrist and arm from the elbow.
Difficulty-wise, they’re different, but the same in this element.
Size And Shape
Everyone knows what the guitar looks like, and at first glance, it seems like the bass is the same.
When you hold onto it and study the bass, you see this isn’t true at all.
In reality, the bass has a longer neck and more weight to the instrument. This makes bassists’ fingers have to reach farther and move farther to reach all of their notes.
The bass strings are thicker than the guitar strings and require more power to play them.
In this category, the bass is much harder to play than the standard guitar.
Pricing of the instruments doesn’t affect the difficulty, but it’s still important to consider, especially if you’re a newer player.
The guitar is more popular. Companies make more guitars.
As an end result, there are more guitar options out there for less money.
However, if we look at comparable models for a bass and guitar, we’ll still find the bass is more expensive by a small amount than the guitar.
This is for two reasons:
- The bass has more material to it (longer neck, heavier, thicker strings, more stability to handle the bigger strings).
- The bass requires pickups and onboard electronics (acoustic guitars don’t).
Final Thoughts: Should I Play Bass Or Guitar?
When my students come up to me after I talk to them about how the bass is easier than the guitar, they always want to know what I recommend. They ask:
Should I play bass or guitar?
Looking at the answers from above, the answer is up to you.
When you listen to music, are you keyed into the rhythm and lead work of the standard guitar? Or do you feel connected to the low driving lines of the bass?
Learn the one YOU want to play. They’re close enough in overall difficulty that you won’t notice much of a difference from one to the other.
In my experience of working with students of all ages (7-70 years old) for over 10 years as a teacher, the most important part of a students’ success is motivation. You have to want to learn in order to succeed.
Everything else just comes with practice and guidance.