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Bass Guitar Lessons – How to Play Octaves

What is an Octave?


Bass Guitar Lessons – How to Play Octaves – > The octave of a note is simply the same note at a higher or lower pitch. There are 12 notes in the musical alphabet. All of these can be played at higher or lower pitches. Let’s look at 12 notes on the fretboard starting with open E. When we get to the 12th fret (13th note) the musical alphabet starts over. The E on the 12th fret is an octave higher than the open E.

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Bass Guitar Lessons - How to Play Octaves

Whenever you move up or down 12 frets you are playing the same note an octave higher or lower.

You can also find the higher octave by playing two strings up and two frets over. The example below shows A on the 5th fret of the E string. If you move two strings up to the D string, and two frets over to the 7th fret you will find the A note in a higher octave.

A Octave pattern bass

When playing the above you would typically play the low A with your 1 finger, and the high A with either your 3 finger or 4 finger (pinkie). I have started playing the high octave more with my 4 finger because I have found that it frees up my 3 finger which can be used to play other notes, or to help mute strings not being played.

Roots and Octaves

In the lesson on root patterns, we discussed how simply playing root notes is a common pattern used to keep rhythm while emphasizing root notes in chords. It’s often all that is needed for a bass lines – any more can sometimes be too much.

Octave patterns are another element that you add to root patterns to add more variety and emphasize higher or lower pitches when needed. For example, if you’re playing root note patterns with the notes A, D, and F work on adding the octaves for each note.

The diagram below shows the root notes of A, D, and F and the octaves using the two strings up and two frets over method.

A D F Octave Bass Pattern

One Up and Seven Over

Another way to play octaves is the one up and seven over method. With this method you move one string up and seven frets over. The diagram below shows C being played on the A string 3rd fret and then one string up to the D string, and seven frets over to the 10th fret.

one up seven over bass pattern

Using Octave Patterns

Octave patterns are one of the most commonly used and popular patterns on bass. Playing just the right amount of notes and playing them in time to help “glue” all other parts together is what playing bass is all about. And in many cases this involves just playing the root notes with octaves to the beat and rhythm of a song. So don’t feel like playing just root notes and octaves is boring or too simple. There are countless bass lines where this is all that is needed to make the song sound good – which should be the ultimate goal of a bass player!

Here is the video that accompanies this lesson on Octaves and Octave Patterns:

Beginner Bass Guitar Lesson - The Octave and Octave Pattern

Songs that Use Octave Patterns

Here is a cover of me playing “Treasure” by Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars bassist, Jamareo “Jam” Artis is playing these octaves throughout the entire song:

  • G#
  • F
  • G
  • C
  • A#
Treasure - Bruno Mars - Bass Cover

“My Sharona” by the Knack. The bassline is really the foundation of the song – one of the most popular songs ever. It is a simple bass line that is built on a G octave pattern:

A Taste Of Honey – “Boogie Oogie Oogie” – Aside from the intro, and fills in the chorus, the entire bass line is comprised of octave patterns.

A Taste Of Honey - Boogie Oogie Oogie (Slayd5000)

Lenny Kravitz – “Fly Away” – The bassline bounces between plucking, and slapping/popping with the use of octaves.

Lenny Kravitz - Fly Away
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Bass Guitar Lessons – How to Play Octaves