Is learning bass easier than guitar?

Maybe it’s a dangerous question, but hear me out…

By Jon Liebman
March 24, 2023

How many times has someone told you that bass must be easier than guitar. After all, it only has 4 strings; how hard can it be?

What if I told you they might be right?

Hear me out…

I was talking with my old friend Ed Friedland recently, for a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview (my 800th bass player interview, by the way!).

When I told him that most bass students in the Bottom Line Club are over 40 – many, in fact, are in their 50s and 60s – he got it immediately.

“When I was teaching actively,” Ed says, “a lot of my students were this demographic you’re talking about, older guys. Most of my followers that look at my stuff are men 40s and up.”

You’re never too old to learn bass

He also said he liked my mantra for FBPO: 

You’re never too old and it’s never too late to experience the joy and the pleasure of making music.

“I fully agree with your spiel,” he says, “about (how) it’s never too late, you’re never too old (to learn how to play an instrument). I fully endorse that sentiment.”

He then offered some words of encouragement to members of the ‘older crowd’ who want to learn bass.

“Bass, I think, is a fairly forgiving instrument,” says Ed, “because the neck is bigger.” With that remark, he was referring specifically to those suffering from arthritis, joint stiffness, and other physical challenges.

Here it comes…

Then he said something a lot of bass players would never say:

“I think guitar is a lot harder because it’s a finer motor skill. You’re dealing with more of the knuckle bends and the fingertips, and I think that that would be harder.”

When I first heard those words, I immediately anticipated a lot of push-back from the bass-playing community.

But what Ed said actually makes sense when you think about it.

“You can do a lot with just one and four, one-two-four… It’s not about the dexterity. Learning how to function as a bass player does not require technique of virtuoso level. In fact, I would venture to say it could be a hindrance sometimes.”

Here’s what’s important

In the end, it shouldn’t be a contest of which instrument is harder to play. It’s the music that’s important, and the musicality of the player.

Bass and guitar have different roles, just like piano and drums have different roles. What would be the point in asking if one is easier to play than the other? 

You need to understand the role of whatever instrument you’re learning to play and give it your best shot. 

And it doesn’t matter how far “north” of 40 or 50 you are.

Have you made the decision yet?

“If someone of that vintage comes in,” says Ed, “they’ve made the decision: ‘I want to do something.’ So, that’s really good. Sometimes I think it’s important to let it be known: ‘Hey, it is a possibility for you. Don’t immediately rule it out.’”

How about you? Want to up your game as a bass player? Bottom Line Club members get amazing results with their bass playing. Most of them are of the “vintage” we’re talking about, so if that includes you, then you’ll fit right in.

Let’s play bass!


Find out all about joining the Bottom Line Club here.

Comments on Is learning bass easier than guitar?

  1. Well, yeah…it’s easier to play very basic bass than guitar. In other words, if you’re just starting out and a song requires quarter note root notes on bass and quarter note chords on guitar, then obviously the root notes will be easier. And anyone who plays decent guitar can fake some bass, whereas an beginner bass player might not be able to play any guitar at all. But after that stage, they each have their own demands and in certain types of music, that demand is more difficult for the bass. And, as an aside, I play several instruments and bass is my main one and I can say with all certainty that bass is the instrument that is most difficult to play and sing at the same time. So there.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      So there, indeed, Nelson! 🙂 Great observations. Thanks!

  2. John Faulkinbury says:

    Hello Jon
    Another very interesting interview and prompted some serious thought. Each of the two instruments brings something very different to the songs played and it is important to understand those roles.
    Being “north” of 60, I do find it more difficult playing the guitar. Fine motor skills definitely come into play.
    Thank you again for that great interview.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, as always, for your kind words, John. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

  3. Ted says:

    I fully agree with all your observations. At 86 I am a better bass player because everything I do is in the context of the music. As a result I have more command over the finger board & I play a lot easier.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Love it! Thanks for your comment, Ted. 86? How great is that! You’re an inspiration to us all.

  4. Danny Scerbo says:

    I’ve been playing bass since I’m 14 – I’m 70 and still playing. Throughout the course of years I’ve found that Bass players can play guitar, but guitar players don’t do as well in reverse. Not to say that bass players are shredders but most can play a good rhythm and a good lead when the song calls for it. Bass is more of a physical instrument than guitar as well. Just my observations in the more than 50 years of playing/gigging/rehearsing, et al.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Good points, Danny. Personally, guitar players who play bass tend to sound like, well, guitar players playing bass. They don’t sound like bass players! Not all the time, but much of the time. Thanks for weighing in. And keep on grooving!

  5. Celia Bradley says:

    When I got the urge to learn bass I wasn’t sure I could do it because I thought my hands would be too small – but I dealt with it, got some good teaching on technique and made a lot of progress. Recently I picked up an electric guitar because I wanted to learn to play blues and it’s a lot harder to bend the strings on a bass. The guitar felt really strange at first though, so small and delicate and my fingers felt cramped (because I was used to a bass) – it felt like a toy instrument. What I find harder about the guitar is that there’s more chordal work where you have to manage to keep several fingers down on the strings at once and manipulate them into different positions when you change chord – that may be a challenge for someone with arthritis or stiff joints. Also, when you’re playing a chord, because the frets are smaller than a bass and you have 6 strings to deal with, it’s sometimes hard to mute the strings you want to whilst making sure you don’t accidentally mute the ones you want to ring out. Writing this reminds me that the bass is still my first love and I need to give it more time and attention – not sure the guitar is worth all the extra effort, we’ll see!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Celia. It’s good to add another dimension to your musical abilities with guitar. Glad to hear that bass is your first love, though! 🙂

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