Ways to Play 5 String Bass Lines on a 4 String Bass

Tips for every player

At Worship Artistry, we adapt album recordings of worship songs to a 5-piece band. Sometimes that means using a 5-string bass to be faithful to the recording.

Choosing to play a 5-string or 4-string is a personal preference, but playing a 4-string doesn't mean you can’t learn the worship songs that use a 5-string.

Read my tips below on how to adjust. 

Substituting Octaves

The easy answer to adapting 5-strings to 4-strings is to move notes you can’t play on that low B string to your A string using octaves. An octave is the same note in a higher register. Find it by moving up two frets from the original note and over to the A string.

For example, if your original note is on the second fret of the B string, you would sub in the fourth fret of the A string. See the video below. This works really well if it’s just a single note. If you’ve got a more complex line, you’ll have to think through it a little more.

Staying in Groove

Bass is all about feel. If you have a complicated riff or transition, you may have to substitute more than just the notes on the low B string. Good news! It’s easier because an octave jump can be awkward; I think of it as keeping riffs intact.

Look at the example below. The first section shows the 5 string riff, the second substitutes only the notes on the low B string, and the third shows how the entire second half of the riff gets moved up an octave. Can you hear how that third example flows the best? Rather than disjoining the riff, it's kept together.

Get Creative

Every song requires some level of adaptation and bass players need to adapt. Remember, trust your ears, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Maybe playing a different note in the scale will actually sound better than the original.

You can also go backward! If a song is in the key of Eb or D and is played on a 4-string, it can be a benefit to switch to a 5-string if you have the option. Notes that are on the A string can be played two frets down on the B string. Again, use your ears and see what works.

Get Practicing

Nothing will grow your bass guitar confidence like practice. For an easier adjustment, try learning a song like Wake by Hillsong Young and FreeIt’s only got four chords so it’s an easy start. Let There Be Light is another easy one. If you really want a challenge, try Never Lost by Elevation Worship; that song is a beast! 



Daniel Ornellas, worship leader in the band "The Worship Republic" is originally from South Africa. He moved to the US with his band Tree 63 and has toured and recorded with numerous worship artists. He produces records and lives in Nashville with his wife Samantha and their two kids and is the bass instructor for Worship Artistry.

Ways to Play 5 String Bass Lines on a 4 String Bass

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Going below E

Great post. Because our praise team has generally lower voices we transpose down a lot. I picked up a HipShot Bass Xtender (I have no financial interest in HipShot) which easily gets me down to Eb and D when it's just needed for a few notes. Depending on the song I will also sometimes play drop D tuning. I've asked for a 5 string bass for Christmas.... :)