Arpeggio Work for Bass Players: A Daily Practice Routine

I have mentioned previously that our daily scale practice should include arpeggio work. There are numerous ways to approach this, and most scale books devote some time to various approaches to arpeggios. I find the patterns below to be good solid foundational patterns for any bassist’s daily routine.

  1. The patterns below are presented in C major, but should be applied to each major and minor scale/arpeggio
  2. They are given in three octaves, but should be adjusted to your current technical level (e.g. played in 1 or 2 octaves only)
  3. There are any variety of fingerings that can be applied to these patterns. However, I suggest that you play, at a minimum, two notes in a position before shifting.
  4. Whatever fingering you decide upon, keep it consistent so that you obtain maximum benefit from your practice.
  5. Keep it slow. Only work the tempo up, (slowly!) after you are comfortable with the patterns.
  6. Repetition is key.

Arpeggio Work for Bass – Exercise #1:

Arpeggio Work for Bass - Exercise #1

Arpeggio Work for Bass – Exercise #2:

Arpeggio Work for Bass - Exercise #2

Arpeggio Work for Bass – Exercise #3:

Arpeggio Work for Bass - Exercise #3

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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  1. How about some tab? I know it’s totally untraditional but like it or lump there’s a lot of us out there :)

    • Hey Joshua, we’ll work on getting some for this. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • Hummm… what’s the use? I mean it can be worse: having some tabs will not let you learn the fretboard, this kind of exercises is also built to work all the different fingerings, postions and shiftings on a same arpeggio, that means easily 6,7 maybe 8 tabs for the same exercise, depending on the starting fret, the position used (strating on the first the middle or the last finger) and even the different shiftings … my 2 cents, I’m not a pro ….

    • You Don’t have to stay that way. There are simple Bass instruction books out there to help you learn to at least be familiar with reading notation.
      Know Only tab is Handicapping your development as a BP.
      Are you aware that Flea started studying music a few years ago so he could sit in with Jazz bands and read and play Jazz standards???? He’s also opened a Music school in LA for underprivileged kids. I bet they learn to read real Musical Notation.
      Ask Jeff Berlin his thoughts on tab.

    • Not everyone has the luxury or time to learn to site read later in life. Flea gets paid to make music, so he can. Im not discounting the skill at all and i regret not having picked up the bass till later in life where i dont have the time to learn. I know some theory and i had hoped even this exercise in one position would be a nice practice piece. And flea has the luxury of being a professional highly paid bassist.

    • So, you don’t have the luxury nor the time to learn to read an ultra simple exercise but you do have time to fool around with your bass. Something tells me that you might not be making a good use of your time… ;)

    • I’m 40 and having lessons again. I started quite late in age, nearly 21, at that time I had to work to pay my bills, and took those tabs bad habits. Now that I have time (since last year), I know that I wasted my time, cos’ visualizing my fretboard while reading sheets brings me a lot of informations. It’s hard, it takes me a lot of time, keep in mind that you won’t progress fast while sight reading, but it’s essential when you really want to jump in a higher level. 15 minutes a day, not more, but now I see the benefits: with those simple reading exercises, I can visualize in maybe 30 seconds how many different positions or fingerings I can use, that’s really a benefit for improvisation, chord changes, etc… even walking bass when you read chord progression for example. Tabs ? do it on your own but do it mentally, it will bring you the level you want,… be patient first.

    • Hey man, I should have clarified. I can’t site read ! ! ! But I’m familiar enough with real music notation to be able to figure out the note and find it on the neck.
      Site reading is a whole ‘nother thing! Wish I was that good.

      All I meant to be saying was you can familiarize yourself to it.
      I’m gonna have to get my wife to write in the notes up on the treble clef (she plays keys) or pull out one of my old instruction books.

    • “Not everyone has the luxury or time to learn to site read later in life”…Man you are full of excuses. “Later in life”? How old are you?

    • Phil Snow Flea was a jazz trumpet “prodigy” in junior high school, so he likely knew how to read notation in the past. I only learned to read notation in bass clef, so I also would appreciate a tab.

    • Frans Rikkers

      Learn To read music. It is really not that hard. Tabs is not the way. I have a friend who started to read music after more than 40 years of bass playing!! He feels there is a new world opened up for him. So take my advice and learn to read music. Have fun!!

  2. Treble clef? On Seriously?

  3. Hey, I recognize some of those patterns from a book I have called. “Patterns for Jazz: Bass Clef”.

    As an aside…. Hey Juan Alderette, if you are out there, I would like to have my copy of that book back. I loaned it to you in 1988 and haven’t ever gotten it back. :)

  4. This is great piece and in an area I’m trying to improve. However would help to explain concept in a little more detail to go along with exercises for those of use who reading skills are a work in progress. Not looking for tab but saying ” Concept is to play arpeggio starting on first note in scale then then move to 3rd on that arpeggio” (think that’s what’s happening) would be helpful.

  5. Ex1: C E G – E G C – G C E – C E G – E G C – G C E… etc, all groups of 3 ascending.
    then C G E – G E C – E C G – C G E – G E C – E C G… etc, all groups of 3 descending.
    it’s basic music notation, not rocket science!

    this excercise is about getting to know better your fingerboard, and TABs are the worst way in that direction.

  6. Are these exercises sending for all bass players or only for double bass players? (sorry 4 my eng).

    • Of course ! I play a fiver with a low B and I fit the exercise to my instrument: If I can go lower, I do it, and if I can’t go upper (i.e not more than 2 octaves in that case for a 4 strings 20 frets jazz bass) I descend. I have 3 octaves in my case with that low B, I adjust…. As Franco says just above you, it’s just a way to learn your fretboard: don’t think “sheet music”, think “pattern to learn arpeggios on my fretboard”.

      • Victor Hering

        I see the point on being comfortable with music notation in order to call yourself a musician. But as long as my only bass at home is a 4 strings 20 frets jazz bass, I’m disappointed that I can’t go on the third octave…I wonder if a double bass as a bigger range than mine.

    • Hey Jakub, Dr. D is a double bassist but this exercise applies to both upright and electric.

    • Ok. Thanks guys ! These exercises are just great ! I love practice with ! ;)

  7. This exercise makes my brain hurt, switching clefs every two measures. Gotta hand it to the double bass players out there…

  8. What are the notes if B arpeggio on bass? Does it start on b and have a pattern?

    • Depends what kind of arpeggio, there are dozens: major, minor, diminished, augmented etc up to extended broken chords such as 11ths and 13ths. For B major arpeggio however, the notes are: B – D# – F# – B. This would be 1 octave, for 2 octaves: B – D# – F# – B – D# – F# – B and so on. This would be called ‘root position’ because it starts on B (and it is a B major arpeggio). If it started on the second note of the arpeggio (D#), it would be called ‘B major 1st inversion’, if it started on F# it would be ‘B major 2nd inversion’.

    • Why can’t they call D#~ a D# arpeggio or is it called both. Anyways I got it, I think,

      • D# (major) arpeggio would be D# – Fx (double sharp) – A#. B major arpeggio 1st inversion is D# – F# – B. So 2 of the notes are different. For the time being, learn the arpeggios in root position (Starting from the name of the arpeggio). Once you get comfortable with the way they move, start visualizing the inversions.

  9. For those that can’t read notation:

    For bass clef the bottom line is a G; count up from there.

    For treble clef the bottom line is E; the spaces beginning with the space above E spell FACE going up the stave.

  10. Hmmm… If I read this correctly, there’s 5 octaves of C spanning the base and treble clefs in this exercise. Yet on my bass I only have 4. Am I missing something?