The strings of the bass guitar - beginning with the thickest to the thinnest - are called: E, A, D, G. The following mnemonic may help you to remember it: "Every Adult Dog Growls ".
On the fretboard there are little metal wires, the frets. They are numbered from the headstock in direction to the body. So the fret closest to the head is the first fret, the next one is the second fret and so on. Most bass guitars have a position marker at the third, fifth and seventh fret.
When pressing down the string with your finger between the headstock and the first fret you play on the first fret. Analogously, you play on the second fret when placing your finger between the first and second fret. When you pluck the string without fretting you play the open string (e.g. open A-string).
Refer to the Notefinder in order to find out which note is played on which string and which fret.
The terms "up" and "down" and "high" and "low" do all refer to the pitch, i.e. how high or low a note sounds. The string next lower to the D-string is therefore the A-string which sounds lower and is thicker. Spatially, the A-string is located above the D string, don't get confused about that! Similarly, when talking about “two frets higher than the third fret” we refer to the fifth fret (because the pitch gets higher with ascending fret numbers).
The strings are alternately plucked with the index and the middle finger of the right hand. That’s why it is called alternate picking. The movement mainly (but not exclusively) comes from the knuckle joint, the finger is slightly bent and hits the string with the fleshy part of the fingertip, the fingernails should be trimmed. After plucking the finger should rest on the next lower string. This technique is called rest stroke or apoyando.
|The index finger is floating above the D-string ready to hit the string.||The index plucked the D-string and now rests on the A-string below. The middle finger is ready for plucking the D-string.|
The fingers of the left hand should be positioned as close as possible to the frets (but not on them!). Inaccurate fretting can be compensated to some extent by pressing harder but that's the wrong way and may even lead to injuries such as a typewriter's cramp or a tennis elbow. Thus always make sure that you play as relaxed and with least strain as possible.
Every finger is responsible for another adjacent fret. This is called position playing. For example the index finder (also called the first finger) frets all notes that are played on the second fret. Accordingly, the middle finger (second finger) frets all notes on the third fret, the ring finger (third finger) all on the fourth fret and the pinky (fourth finger) all on the fifth fret. This is called playing in the second position. Thus the position is named after the first finger's fret. Analogously, in the fifth position you will position your fingers as follows: First finger - fifth fret, second finger - sixth fret, third finger - seventh fret, fourth finger - eighth fret.
|Playing in the second position: The first finger frets an E on the second fret.||Accordingly, the fourth finger is in charge of the fifth fret and frets a G.|
When you have difficulties to stretch your hand that far you can try to tilt it in the respective direction rotating your wrist. Important: The thumb must not move but stays "glued" behind the fretboard and functions as a "pivot" (roughly vertically in the middle of the fretboard and horizontally between first and second finger). Instead of moving it you stretch it a little in the respective direction. Generally, the thumb should not move unless you change positions, that means e.g. that you move up from the third to the sixth position.
When playing the bass guitar all strings have to be muted except for the one that is played. Given the sound level of a rock band they otherwise involuntarily resonate and make you sound "muddy".
Muting is done by both the left and the right hand. The strings that sound higher than the one you are playing are muted by the left hand, the fretting hand. To do so, the fingers of the fretting hand are held flatly on the fretboard thereby lightly touching the higher strings and preventing them from vibrating.
The next lower-sounding string from the one you are playing is automatically muted by the rest stroke technique (see above).
But also the strings still lower than that have to be muted. For example the E-string when you are playing the D-string. Or the A-string and the E-string when you are playing G-string. In order to mute these strings you may use two different techniques. The first is to mute them with the thumb of the right hand. While playing the D-string the thumb rests on the E-string muting it. While playing the G-string the thumb rests on the A-string lightly leaning against the E-string thus muting both.
|Playing the D-string: The thumb rests on the E-string||Playing the G-string: The thumb rests on the A-string and leans against the E-string|
With the second technique the thumb does not move but stays propped up on the pickup or the pickguard. The respective strings are muted by the ring finger and pinky of the right hand. While playing the D-string the ring finger touches the E-string thus muting it. While playing the G-string the ring finger touches the A-string and the pinky the E-string so that they are muted both.
|Playing the D-string: The E-string is muted by the ring finger of the right hand||Playing the G-string: The E-string is muted by the pinky, the A-string by the ring finger|
Try out both techniques and choose the one that comes more naturally to you.
Whenever you play the bass guitar you should tap your foot marking the (usually) four beats per measure. Together with the drummer the bassist acts as the rhythmic basis of the band. Hence it is crucial that he develops a good timing and should be able to keep a steady rhythm. You can train this by always tapping your foot when playing. Admittedly, that's an additional difficulty for a beginner (who has already to watch his left and right hand) but you will see that this effort will pay off in the long run.
When practicing you should wear your bass guitar strap. To adjust it to the right length do the following: Sit down on a chair wearing your bass guitar, then stand up. Your bass guitar should exactly keep its position. This is important because you usually practice in a sitting position but play rehearsals or gigs while standing. In order to be able to best possibly reproduce what you have learned the bass guitar should have the same position while sitting and standing.