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Using simple shapes on the bass #1 (L#70)

My students are definitely an inexhaustible source of ideas for new bass lessons! The previous lesson to this one, Internalizing fingering positions on bass, followed a private lesson with a student who had a pretty good bass technique but struggled to use it in a live situation...

This one follows a lesson I gave to a professional bass player who really impressed me with his sight-reading skills and overall technical knowledge, but who missed something really important that I'm going to show you in this new bass lesson.

In fact, all his knowledge seemed to rather be a 'hindrance' to him! Let me explain: I'm not telling you that you shouldn't practice to acquire a good musical knowledge and a good bass technique, don't misunderstand me! On the contrary, I highly recommend you practice your scales and arpeggios on a regular basis, for example. But what I'm saying is that it's not enough to create your own bass lines, to play the bass 'fluently', in a creative way and ultimately without thinking, at least not too much! ;)

Also check out Using simple shapes on the bass #2

Full tab/notation & workbook available to Academy members »

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  • Gerard Haughey

    Loven the boxes Scott! Right up my street : )

  • Rocky

    another great lesson, thanks for sharing. Can you talk about trills? do you have a video that covers the technique of doing a trill with one finger (I usually notice it as the ring finger) Thanks

  • Scott…

    I absolutely LOVE your material. Just thought I’d say that sometimes, while you’re jamming, you look like Sting.

    Keep the good stuff coming! You are helping alot of people.

    • scott

      Lol… I hope I look like Sting when I’m his age! ;)))

  • Peter

    Great lesson!! I wonder what trumpet players or sax or any other non-stringed instrument do instead of geometric visual figures, do they actually think of every note? A side comment, i’ve found a little confusing having to invert the view we get from the actual fingerboard and the draw you’ve made, guess it was easier to write it that way from your stand-point. Anyway, badass lesson Scott, thank you and keep they coming!

  • Miguel

    Wow!!!! What a lesson!!!.I adore your way to teach.Thank you for made it easy.

  • Al

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You have relieved like seven years of frustration! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. Would like to see more of this. I am that guy who can read but can’t improvise.

  • jeff

    Rock on Scott !

  • David Fletcher

    Ahhh….All this time playing shapes and hoping that eventually I would see notes instead and not shapes…Seriously I thought the shapes were just a temporary thing in my quest for fretboard knowledge.
    Do classical musicians (eg, cellists) see notes or do they play shapes too?
    and …will I eventually be able to hear the shapes more clearly?

    Finally…So much clarity in these lessons…Great work Scott.



  • Ali

    Hi Scott, great lessons – informative, helpful and given in the most patient and non-patronising manner. Awesome and I will keep watching. All power to you sir!

  • Johnnie

    Great lesson scott ….now is the time to get back into the shed…please keep up the beautiful lessons…..God Bless you. jw

  • I would really like to know more on this shape thing, or at least see some examples on different keys.
    I been uncountiously using this shape stuff since I started playing bass 14 years ago. I know no theory, scales or anything and never had problems to jam with other musicians. I just closed my eyes and let my hands and heart do the rest,

  • Jim Radley

    I love this philosophy. The problem that the gentleman came in with is exactly the problem I have suffered. Im thinking notes not shapes. This makes things so much easier. Ive always had issues with scales but Scott has really opened up my mind to approaching it differently. I actually now see the value of scales. I had convinced myself for many years in way or another to give it a miss. Now I can actually see how important they are, and how while there are a lot of them its actually fun to learn them. That was the biggest issue before, not having fun with it

  • King Neal

    Great lesson, I got a lot out of that! can you tell me where you got that insturmental grove from, I would like to use it as a practice note.



  • Kevin Joseph

    this video really explain alot to me, i to am guilty of notes and there names not shapes thanks for the breakdown, i’m go to use this method thanks Scott ..

  • ola orish

    thank u again

  • Uros

    Great job Scott, you confirmed my way of thinkin’ , now l know lm goin’ in the right direction :)

  • BEN

    Great lesson Scott, you made it easy and your way to teach is extremely clear and helpfull .
    PLEASE continue explainig these shapes to make bass lines, more on this shape thing and some examples on different keys.
    Best regards.

  • Scott what a powerful lesson I mean it was right on the money, very timely. Shapes i can diff. see those quicker than trying to see all the notes. Again exellent lesson. in the shed I go.

  • Robert

    Scott, you don’t know but I too was stuck with what to play..And your box lesson has opened my eyes wide open….Great lesson and I look for more great lessons from you…Because I have been teaching and learning on my own without any lessonls…You are Great….

  • Great, as usual!

  • Clifton Jackson

    Hi Scott,
    Slick lesson! It was an Eye Opener for me! Why didn’t I think of that? Opened up a load of Ideas for me! I noticed if you…Think Outside of the Box, you get a couple of more notes! Just saying!
    Great work.

  • Russell


    Thanks for the lesson, My music theory is not my strongest point so using shapes is a large part of my playing ability.
    Please could you expand in a video some of the triangular shapes you spoke about for the major sound and apply it to a groove?

    love your lessons.
    ps: when you coming to South Africa? I guarantee you’ll have fun!!!


    • rythmvirus

      i think also……………….. lol cause the African music is very very awesome rhythmically… really love it lol

  • Paul

    Ive been saying to my bass tutor for some time that he must be “seeing” patterns on the fretboard that I simply can’t, he has consistently refused to grasp what I have been rattling on about…….. And here it is, a perfect example of what I have always thought must be there…… Patterns, well done Scott, you have opened a window for me, at last I can string together a few notes that actually sound like music…… A complete revelation to me….. So many thanks! :-)


  • rythmvirus

    really greattttttttttt…… thank you so muchhh and keep it up

  • Chad

    Scott, you have a great way of teaching. Alot of teachers are stuck in that – everyday is the same thing mode( monotone approach lol )-,. And you really bring personality and clear knowledge to teaching.

    Good luck with everything bud!


  • ahdowns

    Great lesson!

  • LC

    Wow!! You just unlocked the secret to playing the bass for me. I was just like your student playing for years but never thought of this. A complete revelation to me. I am a graphic designer and a visual learner. For me this is amazing

    Thanks Scott

  • Ken

    Wow!! I am also a graphic designer and you just tricked me into playing a minor pentatonic without thinking about it! Thank you Scott.

  • Jonathan Varghese

    That was a Wonderful Lesson , you know, you are not just an awesome player but an amazing teacher too. I am glad I found your website. I have been playing guitar for the last 10 years, and honestly this was the best online lesson I have ever watched. Thank you !! I am gonna follow all your lessons.

  • Raul Aponte

    I have just discovered this page and I love it!!! Great teaching, simple ideas, usable material, clear instructions… Wow!!! Thanks Scott!!!

  • Uros

    Nice lesson as always. Thanks for making bass so comprehensible.

    I know a guy, who actually does think of notes and not shapes…and he does it on guitar…and he’s pretty good at it. And you know him, too. He’s from Slovenia. And he tortures us with it :)

    • scott

      Lol… I do know that guy! ;)))

  • harold

    love the lesson do you have them on dvd. i am staring to play a bass

  • Jo

    So I live in Saskatchewan, Canada, and just taught myself bass about seven years ago. and now i play in my church all the time, but have never taken any lessons or anything. And then i got kind of stuck because i couldnt really just teach myself anything else. But now i can just go on my computer and learn anything i want to know about bass. thanks so much scott!
    Just a question…. say i’m playing the key of G, just repeating four chords, say Em,C,G,D…. how do i apply the whole box things to every different chord.. you showed us Em, but i’d like to know how to figure out the other chords. Thanks!

  • paul

    Another great lesson, maybe u should think about doing more of this simplistic stuff and putting it all in a play along, cos I’d be one of the first to buy something like this. cheers

  • Anastasia Culurides

    Hello Scott,
    Great thanks for these. Fantastic.


  • Alejandro

    Scott, thank you for taking the time to teach the world how to play the bass! Your lessons are incredible and motivating. Unfortunately I fall into the “poor student” category, but as soon as I am able, I will make a donation because I am grateful to have such great resources to learn from! Happy 2013, hope great things are in store!

  • Mudshark

    Scott – very cool lesson indeed. I have just spent a very happy hour noodling around in the boxes. Much appreciated

  • Dave

    Hope im not being redundant or insensitive but just found you and feel born again with bass revelation; so as the new guy i gotta ask, why do you wear the glove? Tanks for the lesson,
    New subscriber,
    F LASH

  • joel

    excellent teaching scott…you are heaven sent!!!

    Ive had 2 bass guitars that were gifts to me for years but never really get to play them at all…Its because some video instructors teach them as if we are already good at paling the instrument even if we are only beginners. I hope you explain the other shapes for other chords so we can understand fully on how we attack each chord as we play….Looking forward to the other lessons. God bless you

  • joel

    excellent teaching scott…you are heaven sent!!!

    Ive had 2 bass guitars that were gifts to me for years but never really get to play them at all…Its because some video instructors teach them as if we are already good at playing the instrument even if we are only beginners. I hope you explain the other shapes for other chords so we can understand fully on how we attack each chord as we play….Looking forward to the other lessons. God bless you

  • Jim

    I’ve been using shapes forever (my weakness is knowing the notes on my fingerboard), but always used bigger shapes–the whole pentatonic scale for example. And so all my improvising would end up sounding like I’m trying to use the whole octave. Thinking of the pentatonic in smaller shapes, isolating just a few notes, has me playing differently. Less predictably. I am moving on to the other scale shapes and seeing what I can do to break down the big shapes down to smaller shapes. Mind altering video! Thank you Scott!

  • Jaap

    Hi, This is very nice. Lots of people claim to have innovative approaches to learning bass, but this is the first really different one I have come across, thanks!

  • frncheez

    So so simple for what I have left for brain cells…
    What computer program do you use for beats and tempo..?

    Thank you for the tremendous work you put together. Very well done I find

  • Bassanon

    Excellent lessons. i just discovered the site and i am very excited. However, I can’t seem to download the backing track on my iPhone mobile device… Any suggestions or other means of obtaining the BT?

    • scott

      Great to hear you’re enjoying the lessons man! The download is a zip file – so maybe there’s an app to help you download it?

  • Scott,
    Great lesson and love any concept that makes playing easier. Do you have the same application for a major chord?

  • Pablo

    Great lessons men. Just got a sterling 5strings that encouraged me to get back on lessons again, and yours adjust perfectly

  • Mark

    Scott, Brilliant, Just brilliant. That was not only explained really well, but so so helpful. I only subscribed today but already you have made me want to practice and become an allround better player. Your lay mans terms are so simple to grasp. Why have I not visited here before. I now of course am finding it hard to not do to much in one session AND leave the site. Thanx a million.

  • Jared

    Scott, I’m really loving this! This is so helpful. You have no idea.

  • Russell

    great way to help visualize what to play

  • igor

    you are my absolute idol :)

  • David P.

    Thanks Scott this Lesson Helped Alot

  • Gene

    OK Scott I must be a meatball but I can’t seem to find this backing track or tab in the backstage pass area. This is the second one I’m missing so it HAS to be the tool between the chair and the keyboard of my laptop HAHAHA. I’m just loving your stuff and it’s making me want to practice so MUCH MORE! I had a session last night with a mate and he told me that I have totally improved leaps and bounds since our last session. Thank you Scott and I want to learn more :)

  • gideao almeida

    muito bom as aulas sua!! tem como me passar esta harmonia para mim emprovisar nela valeu !!

  • Chris E

    This is always how I thought about playing bass — but never had anyone teach me the modes and chords or simplify the patterns! This has made my playing take an enormous leap ahead! THANK YOU!!!

  • Afonso Pires Feitoza

    Hi Scott. Great lesson! Can you make available the sheet music (or just the tabs) of the lines you have performed?

  • Napier

    Scott, I normally think you are awesome and I think the fact that you are giving away such a vast amount of resources and information for people is phenomenal but I feel it would be remiss of me not to point out to everyone coming here who might be less aware of music theory than I am that Em consists of E, G and B only! NOT D! The chord you are making reference to is Em7, which contains E,G,B and D! Minor triads, as the name suggests, only have 3 notes!