Beginner's Guide: 5 Essential Blues Bass Guitar Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Learn the 12-Bar Blues
  2. Practice Walking Bass Lines
  3. Use the Pentatonic Scale
  4. Play with Swing Feel
  5. Listen and Play Along with Blues Music

If you've just picked up a bass guitar and you're wondering how to play bass guitar for blues, this beginner's guide is the perfect place to start. We'll walk you through five practical tips that will help you get your blues bass grooves going in no time. Ready? Let's jump in.

Learn the 12-Bar Blues

The journey on how to play bass guitar for blues starts with understanding the 12-Bar Blues. This is the backbone of blues music and you'll find it in countless songs.

What is the 12-Bar Blues?

Simply put, the 12-Bar Blues is a chord progression—a sequence of chords—that spans 12 measures (or bars) of music. This progression often follows a specific pattern:

  • 4 bars of the I chord (the first chord in the key you're playing in)
  • 2 bars of the IV chord (the fourth chord in the key)
  • 2 bars of the I chord
  • 1 bar of the V chord (the fifth chord in the key)
  • 1 bar of the IV chord
  • 2 bars of the I chord

How to Practice the 12-Bar Blues

Now that you know what the 12-Bar Blues is, it's time to get your hands on your bass guitar and start practicing. Here's a simple way to do that:

  1. Choose a key: Start with a key that feels comfortable for your fingers. Many beginners start with the key of E or A.
  2. Identify the I, IV, and V chords: If you've chosen the key of E, for example, your I chord is E, your IV chord is A, and your V chord is B.
  3. Play the progression: Use the pattern we discussed earlier to play the progression. Remember, it's 4 bars of the I chord, 2 bars of the IV chord, 2 bars of the I chord, 1 bar of the V chord, 1 bar of the IV chord, and finally 2 bars of the I chord.

Take your time with this. It might not flow perfectly at first, but with practice, you'll start to feel the groove. And before you know it, you'll have taken your first big step on how to play bass guitar for blues.

Practice Walking Bass Lines

Once you're comfortable with the 12-Bar Blues, the next step on how to play bass guitar for blues is to enhance your groove with walking bass lines. These serve to smoothly connect the chords in your progression and add a rhythmic drive to your playing.

What is a Walking Bass Line?

A walking bass line is a style of bass playing where each beat of the measure gets its own note. This creates a kind of "walking" rhythm—hence the name. It's a fundamental part of blues bass playing. Think of it as the glue that holds the rhythm and harmony together in a blues song.

How to Practice Walking Bass Lines

Now, let's look at how you can start practicing walking bass lines. Here's a simple exercise:

  1. Choose a 12-Bar Blues progression: Let's stick with the key of E that we used in our previous exercise.
  2. Find the root notes: For each chord in the progression, play its root note on each beat of the measure. In our case, that's E for the I chord, A for the IV chord, and B for the V chord.
  3. Add passing tones: Passing tones are notes that you add between the root notes to create a smooth, "walking" movement. They can be other notes in the chord, or notes from the scale you're playing in. Try adding one or two passing tones between each root note.

Remember, the goal here is to create a smooth and rhythmic flow that "walks" from one chord to the next. It might take a bit of trial and error, but keep at it. As you get more comfortable, you can start experimenting with different passing tones to create your own unique walking bass lines. This is a key step in learning how to play bass guitar for blues, so take your time and enjoy the journey.

Use the Pentatonic Scale

Next up in our journey on how to play bass guitar for blues is mastering the use of the Pentatonic scale. This five-note scale is a go-to for many blues bassists and can add a lot of flavor to your playing.

Understanding the Pentatonic Scale

The Pentatonic scale is a five-note scale that's used in many different genres, including blues, rock, and country. In blues bass, we typically use the minor pentatonic scale, which has a more "bluesy" sound. The scale is made up of the root, flat third, fourth, fifth, and flat seventh of the major scale.

Using the Pentatonic Scale in Blues Bass

Here's how you can start incorporating the Pentatonic scale into your blues bass playing:

  1. Learn the pattern: The minor pentatonic scale has a simple, repeating pattern that you can learn and move around the fretboard. Try learning the pattern in the key of E to start.
  2. Add pentatonic licks to your bass lines: Once you're comfortable with the pattern, start looking for places to add pentatonic licks to your walking bass lines. This can give your playing a more melodic, solo-like quality.
  3. Improvise: The Pentatonic scale is perfect for improvising. Practice improvising bass lines and solos over a 12-Bar Blues progression in E, using only notes from the E minor pentatonic scale.

Incorporating the Pentatonic scale is an important part of learning how to play bass guitar for blues. Remember, playing music is an ongoing journey, so don't worry if you don't get it right away. Keep practicing, and you'll start to see improvement before you know it.

Play with Swing Feel

Another important tip on how to play bass guitar for blues is playing with a swing feel. The swing feel is what gives the blues its distinct rhythm, and it's often what separates the blues from other genres.

What is Swing Feel?

Swing feel, in the simplest terms, is a rhythmic pattern that involves a play on timing. Instead of playing straight eighth notes, where each note is given the same amount of time, we give the first note more time than the second. This results in a rhythmic pattern that swings back and forth, hence the name.

How to Play with Swing Feel

Playing with a swing feel may seem challenging at first, but with these steps, you'll start to get the hang of it:

  1. Listen to the blues: The best way to understand swing feel is to listen to a lot of blues music. Pay attention to the rhythm section, specifically the bass and drums.
  2. Practice with a metronome: Set your metronome to a slow tempo and practice playing bass lines with a swing feel. Start with a simple 12-Bar Blues progression.
  3. Experiment with different rhythms: Once you're comfortable playing with a swing feel, start experimenting with different rhythms. Try adding in some triplets or syncopated rhythms.

Playing with a swing feel is one of the key elements in learning how to play bass guitar for blues. It might feel a bit unusual at first, but with practice, it will become a natural part of your playing.

Listen and Play Along with Blues Music

When you're learning how to play bass guitar for blues, one of the most effective methods is to listen to and play along with blues music. This will not only help you understand the structure and feel of blues music but also improve your timing and rhythm.

Why Listen to Blues Music?

Listening to blues music is more than just an enjoyable pastime—it's also a critical part of your development as a blues bass guitarist. By listening, you can grasp the essence of the blues: the rhythm, the chord progressions, the swing feel, and the interaction between the different instruments.

How to Play Along with Blues Music

Playing along with blues music may seem intimidating at first, but with a little patience and practice, it can be a fun and rewarding exercise. Here are some steps to guide you:

  1. Choose a Song: Start with a blues song that you like and that isn't too complex. You can never go wrong with classics like "The Thrill is Gone" by B.B. King or "Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters.
  2. Learn the Bass Line: Listen to the song carefully and try to learn the bass line by ear. If you're having trouble, there are many resources online where you can find tabs or sheet music.
  3. Play Along: Once you've learned the bass line, play along with the song. Try to match the rhythm and feel of the original bass player as closely as possible.

Playing along with blues music is a powerful tool in learning how to play bass guitar for blues. Remember, practice makes perfect—so don't worry if you don't nail it on your first try.

If you're eager to improve your blues bass guitar skills and want to learn more tips and tricks, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!.' This workshop will not only provide you with valuable insights on how to excel in your musical journey but also give you the tools to become a better musician overall.