Can You Play Common Bass Patterns?

In this lesson we are going to take a look at developing a new approach to building and controlling how we perceive common bass patterns, more notably the root/fifth combination on the fingerboard. Historically, the common approach to learning intervals on the bass is to learn a simple fingering by rote and then string them together – usually jumping all over the fingerboard while doing this. With this approach, you are not playing the bass, but the bass is playing you!

Because the root/fifth intervallic combination is such a common bass pattern, our main objective is to develop an orientation to the fingerboard where we will, without a moment’s notice be able to locate a fifth above or below a particular root note within a specific position of the fingerboard. For example, if we use the first position to get started, we would play from the low E on the E-string up to the B on the 4th fret of the G-String.

1st positionOnce you determine what the root note is, using one finger per fret, locate the related fifth either ascending or descending in that specific position. This seems like a simple task at an isolated level, but to absolutely internalize this knowledge you need to be able to locate the relative fifth instantly from all of the notes listed in the exercise below. As you already know, the relative fifth from any given root note can be a Perfect 5th; or a raised or lowered fifth resulting in an Augmented or Diminished 5th.

You are now ready to work through this exercise which will give you a command and mastery of the fifth in relation to any given root in the first position. Take each note that is written as the root and then simply play the relative fifth that is indicated above or below it. Make sure for this exercise to adopt a strict one finger per fret positioning on the fingerboard.

Root Fifth Exercise-page-001This exercise isn’t as easy as it seems.  Try it out and post your comments and questions below.

All the Bass


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10 Responses to Can You Play Common Bass Patterns?

  1. Michael Moore says:

    Great exercise Joe. Definitely gets you out of the easy one and three fingering-old reliable! Only one question, on the C you either have to stretch to play it and the corresponding 5th or shift. Which would you recommend?

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      No- it’s all in position. If you play C with your 3rd finger, the P5th above would be played on the open G; the b5 would be played with your 4th finger on the D-string and the #5 would be played on the 1st fret of G-string. You also have the options of playing them below the given pitches.

      Hope that helps!



  2. Brian says:

    I don’t quite understand the exercise. Does it mean for the first example play D flat then its flat 5th, next E followed by its sharp 5th etc?

  3. Anthony says:

    You’re right, Joe. It’s harder than it looks! I don’t see b5/#5 in what I play too often.

    Couple of questions. If you have to stay within the 1st position, I guess the only option in bar 6 for the P5 of F is to play the lower C on the A string, right?

    Which brings me to bar 7. I guess the root of C on the 1st ledger line is the only exception in the exercise where a slight shift is necessary, right? The b5 (Gb) is available within 1st position on the D string, though. Thanks again!

  4. Allen says:

    Hi Joe

    I often play Root-5 with index and pinky (1-2-4 fingering). Why the emphasis on OFPF?

    Thanks for the lesson.


    • Joe Hubbard says:

      Hi Allen

      The R-5 fingering using 1 to 4 is what is known (on the electric bass) as a compression fingering. It’s totally acceptable to do, but so many people use this and then when they have to play a more complicated line they run into trouble. Learn the one finger per fret method and then mix the two concepts in performance.



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