How many octaves are there on a bass guitar and how far can we go? Do we really need a broader octave range in an instrument that was designed at first to only maintain the low end?
As always, the answer will definitely boil down to personal preference. But there are also important factors to consider if you are trying to obtain a bass and the octave range is one of them. Your playing style and the genres that you wish to master, will help you firmly decide on what kind of bass guitar you should be hunting for.
In order to accommodate the heavy chugging riffs of your djent band, you might need 5-string basses to access that extra low range. But if you are after an extended range in the higher register to do some John Patitucci-style jazz solos, then a six-string bass would be most ideal.
Even groove-loving four stringers who are accustomed to being the backbone of their group, would salivate at the full octave capabilities that a 24-fret bass could offer. Motown soul and punk rock may be heavy on providing the pulse and foundation in music, but that doesn’t mean bass players in those genres won’t enjoy the added range.
What is an octave for bass guitars?
Basically, an octave is the same note, only higher or lower in pitch. Following a continuously repeating cycle of 12 notes, an octave is the interval between a musical pitch and another, with the frequency doubled. For example, since the note A has a frequency of 440 Hz, then its succeeding higher octave is at 880 Hz. On the other hand, the note that is an octave below, will arrive at a 220 Hz frequency.
Octaves are given the same letter, syllable or frequency designation as its root note. As an octave, a C note is also a C, but to avoid confusion, octaves are designated the abbreviation P8.
In case you are new to basic music theory, here are some terms and their definitions to help you understand octaves more:
Along with duration, loudness and timbre, a pitch is a primary auditory characteristic of musical tones. A pitch is an intuitive attribute of sound which enables us to judge whether they are “higher” or “lower.”
An interval is the distance in pitch between two sounds or notes.
Measured in Hertz or Hz (named after German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz), frequency refers to a soundwave’s number of cycles every second. Our ability to observe and measure vibration and how they behave, allowed us to set standards that we can adhere to. The accuracy that we can derive from knowing the frequencies of sound led us to the invention of important music devices such as the tuner.
Solfege is a method used to teach musical skills that are primarily focused on listening and reading. In order for students to mentally hear the pitches, syllables are assigned to each note of a scale, making it easier for them to grasp the melodies aurally.
This familiar pattern which consists of syllables do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti, became well-known in popular culture because of its usage in the film Sound of Music. However, it’s influence can be more largely felt in the music curriculum that has been promulgated in schools worldwide.
Take note that the syllables will often be recited in a way that it closes with another “do” after the syllable “ti.” This higher “do” is the first octave and is present in all diatonic scales.
- Diatonic Scales
A diatonic scale refers to any heptatonic scale, meaning it has seven pitches per octave. The most known example of this is the major scale, as well as the minor scale and its other variations (harmonic minor and melodic minor).
How many octaves lower is a bass guitar?
A bass guitar is an octave lower compared to a guitar, hence its E1-A1-D2-G2 tuning. The subscript indicates the exact pitch based on the American Standard Pitch notation (ASPN).
On the other hand, a piccolo bass, which is jazz legend Stanley Clarke’s go-to instrument for soloing, is tuned a full octave higher than a standard bass.
What is the range of a bass guitar in octaves?
- How many octaves does a 4-string, 20-fret bass guitar have?
Using the same standard tuning as a double bass, the bass guitar can access a fully chromatic range of almost three octaves in a span of 20 frets (the standard number of frets for most Fender basses). The lowest note of a 20-fret, 4-stringed bass begins at E1 and ends at D#4.
- How many octaves does a 4-string 22-fret bass guitar have?
22-fret basses have 38 notes with 3 full octaves and an extra 2 semitones (half steps).
- How many octaves does a 4-string, 24-fret bass guitar have?
24 fret basses, which can accommodate 49 notes (including the open strings), can go up to 4 full octaves.
- How many octaves does a 5-string bass guitar have?
An extra string on a 5-string guitar can provide a few additional lower octaves. B0, C1, C♯1, D1 and D♯1 are the extra lower pitches that you can utilize on these bass guitars.
- How many octaves does a 6-string bass guitar have?
On the low end, a 6-string bass shares the same supplemental notes. Meanwhile, the thinnest string, tuned C3, can go as high as C5 on a 24-fret.
A 6-string bass with 24-frets provides an extra fifth full octave on the higher register (based on a 24-fret, 4-string bass).
Examples of bass lines that use octaves
The presence of octaves in thousands of songs across all categories is an inescapable phenomenon. Here are some of the most prominent tracks that employ octaves in the most effective ways:
“My Sharona” by The Knack
The intro section of The Knack’s 1979 chart-topper is one of the catchiest applications of octaves. Melodic doubling in octaves, which is prevalent in all kinds of music from classical to pop, can also be heard in this anthemic hit as soon as the guitar imitates the bass part, which is already playing around with its own octave right from the start.
“Higher Ground” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Octaves are very useful in employing slap and pop techniques. On this Red Hot Chili Peppers’ aggressive rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” bassist Flea took slapping to another level with his alternating combination of octaves, which resulted in a percussive style similar to a kick and snare drum interplay.
“Blue Monday” by New Order
Using a Powertran Sequencer that was home built by singer-songwriter Bernard Sumner, the programmed bassline of “Blue Monday” imitates a galloping octave pattern often present in a lot of disco songs. Even though a synthesizer was used for this song, you can still play it on a bass guitar and it doesn’t matter how many octaves your instrument has. What’s more important is that you have developed a tight groove, as well as some serious time-keeping skills.