Bass vs Guitar (Differences, Which One to Play, Difficulty)

The Bass is an often misunderstood instrument. This article explains the real differences between the Bass and Guitar, and which instrument might be suited to you.

This underrated instrument, so necessary to have a complete rhythmic section and secure a groovy accompaniment, is often categorized as just “another kind of guitar”.

But with a big difference: while the guitar is usually in the spotlight with its solos and enticing riffs, the bass is usually limited to a supporting role, resulting in a lack of understanding of this instrument.

Needless to say, the bass and the guitar are two very different instruments and while they might look similar to an inexpert eye, they each have specific roles in the arrangement of a song.

In this article, we will analyze a few differences between these instruments, we will discuss a few reasons why you might choose to play the bass instead of a guitar, and we will try to debunk a few stereotypes surrounding bassists.

What are the main differences?

Bass Guitar

The most evident difference between a bass and a guitar is the playing range they provide. Basses obviously offer a lower range, while guitars present higher notes. Because of this difference, the bassist usually plays in conjunction with the drummer, as they are responsible for the rhythmic flow of the song. Guitarists, on the other hand, usually play solos and create riffs more freely above the pulse.

electric-guitar

Electric Guitar

Basses usually come with four, five, or six strings. The more strings you have, the wider range you can play. Guitars usually come with six strings or more.

Regular four-string basses are usually played in standard tuning, just as guitars: E – A – G – D, but one octave down. This means that, technically, a guitarist knows how to play the bass and vice-versa, although the techniques employed with the two instruments are very different. However, five and six-string basses present a different tuning, respectively B – E – A – G – D  or E – A – D – G – C, and B – E – A – D – G – B – C.

Which one should you play?

There is another big difference between these two stringed instruments and it lies in the roles they play.

You may not be able to hear the bass part in one of your favorite rock albums, but if someone were to “steal” those lines from the tracks, you would instantly notice the difference!

Bass parts are extremely important both from a rhythmic and a harmonic point of view in almost any genre, but more specifically in jazz, blues, and rock music. For example, in a heavy rock song, the bass player is essential in covering the whole harmonic spectrum while the lead guitarist is busy soloing. Of course, there might be a rhythm guitarist filling in with chords, but, even in this case, we would still miss the rhythmic component of the bass, responsible also for the pulse and the groove of the whole song.

Yet, bassists are often underrated or considered less important than guitarists, especially in pop and rock bands. After all, we rarely see a rock bassist indulge in a hypnotic solo as the lead guitarist would do. This is more common in jazz and blues, where bassists and double bassists have more freedom in terms of virtuoso outbursts.

In other words, if you are comfortable with the idea of covering a very important role, yet often underrated, especially among non-musician fans, you can consider becoming a bass player. On the other hand, if you crave the attention of the crowd and want to be instantly recognized as the genius musician who just rocked an incredible solo, then go for the guitar.

Is the bass easier?

Short answer: no. As we highlighted in the previous paragraph, bassists are responsible for both the rhythmic and the harmonic completeness of a song, so the responsibility on their shoulders is quite big. In certain settings, such as jazz and blues concerts, they can also play solos and other virtuoso intricate parts, just as any lead guitarists. Last but not least, the strings in basses are bigger and heavier, making it slightly harder, from a physical point of view, to play the instrument.

On the other hand, basses are less versatile than guitars. For example, bassists never play chords, while guitarists do. Playing the guitar may require the knowledge of many different techniques not necessary to play the bass.

A guitarist, however, may need to study specific styles and other techniques to play the bass in the correct way. The most common example could be the slap technique, so important for bassists but hardly ever used by guitar players.

In other words, the difficulty of an instrument heavily depends on the genre, style, and role you want to assume. Guitars and basses can both be extremely difficult or extremely easy to play. It depends on whether you are going to rock a super-easy punk song or a harmonically intricate jazz standard.

Are bass players failed guitar players?

Absolutely not. While it’s true that many bassists start their musical journey with a guitar, their decision to shift to a bass shouldn’t be read as a failure. They are simply choosing a different role, as we highlighted in the previous paragraph.

For example, would you consider Jaco Pastorious a failed guitarist? Of course not!

Some guitarists actually decide to become bassists to have a more prominent role in the creation of the groove. As an example, think about John Deacon and his memorable bass riff in Another One Bites The Dust. Would you consider his part less important than Brian May’s? We hope not!

Conclusion

It should be clarified, once and for all, that the bass and the guitar are just two very different instruments, no matter how similar they look!

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