Learn to Play 1/8th and 1/16th Note Bass Grooves

Every bass player needs to know when and how to use 1/8th and 1/16th notes. In this video lesson I’ll demonstrate the difference between bass grooves with an 1/8th and 1/16th note feel. Then, I’ll explain how to improve your rhythmic accuracy when playing these 1/8th and 1/16th note feels.

First, listen to this example.

This example has an1/8th note feel, which means that every beat is divided into two. So, each beat contains a beat and an off-beat. There are four beats in each bar, so there are also four off-beats. Therefore, there are eight different places in every bar where you can place a note either on the beat or off the beat. Hence, it’s called an1/8th note feel.

How do you improve your 1/8th note groove?

In order to improve your 1/8th note grooves you need to have a system for feeling the 1/8th note sub-division when you play.

My system involves using the syllables Ta-Ka. Using this system Ta represents the beat and Ka represents the off-beat. Recite Ta-Ka four times making sure that every syllable has equal length.

Ta-Ka / Ta-Ka / Ta-Ka / Ta-Ka.

This represents one bar of 1/8th notes. Try reciting the Ta-Ka‘s in time with the audio example. If you can do that and keep it in time, then you’re feeling the 1/8th note sub-division.

How do you practise to improve your 1/8th note time feel?

The key to having great timing is the ability to place a single note very accurately onto any sub-division. Practise this by first placing a note just on the beats (Ta‘s) and then just on the off-beats (Ka‘s). I’ve demonstrated this in the video. Practise it slowly and it will help if you do it in time with either a metronome or drum beat.

Once you’re able to feel the beats and the off-beats, you must also be aware of which notes land on the beats and which land on the off-beats. Then you need to make sure that the notes on the beats land perfectly on the Ta syllables and the notes on the off-beats land perfectly on the Kasyllables. If you do that, your bass groove will be superb when playing 1/8th note feels either with or without a drum beat.

Try playing this next example slowly while reciting Ta-Ka. Once you can do it slowly, gradually increase the speed.

What’s the difference between 1/8th and 1/16th note feels?

When you divide a beat into two, you get an 1/8th note feel. If you divide each beat and each off-beat into two, so that each beat is divided into four, then you will have a 1/16th note feel.

When you play 1/8th and 1/16th note grooves, you can place notes either on the beat or off the beat. However, with 1/16th note grooves there are three different places where you can place notes off the beat. So, if you want to groove while playing both 1/8th and 1/16th note feels, you must feel the beat, the off-beat and the other two 1/16th note sub-divisions.

How do you improve your1/16th note groove?

First you need four syllables to represent the four 1/16th note sub-divisions.


I used Ta-Ka to represent the beat and off-beat in 1/8th note grooves. For 1/16th note grooves Ta is the beat, Di is the off-beat and Ka and Mi represent the additional 1/16th note sub-divisions.

I mentioned earlier that the key to having great timing is the ability to place a single note very accurately onto any sub-division. That is true of both 1/8th and 1/16th note feels and all other feels in all styles of music.

To master the 1/16th note feel, begin by trying the exercise demonstrated in the video. Play a single note on each of the four syllables. First Ta, then Ka, then Di, then Mi. This will help you to feel the difference between the four syllables/sub-divisions.

Once you’ve done that, try playing this 1/16th note example slowly.

1/8th and 1/16th note bass grooves lesson 3

Notice that this example is similar to the first 1/8th note example. The speed and chord progression are the same and they contain mostly the same notes. I deliberately wrote them that way so the only difference is the rhythmic feel. The first example has an 1/8th note feel and this one has a 1/16th note feel.

Try reciting Ta-Ka-Di-Mi while you play it, as I’ve demonstrated in the video. Play it as slowly as you need to, in order to place all of the notes accurately. Once you can do that, try gradually increasing the tempo. Don’t try playing the example fast until you’ve mastered it slowly.

Why you should always start by practising slowly?

A good rule of thumb to remember is this.

If you can’t play something in time slowly, then you won’t play it in time fast.

I’ve often heard students say that it’s harder to play slow than fast. It can often feel that way. The reason is that playing slowly makes all of the little errors of timing very obvious. They’re not so obvious when you play fast.

If you want to improve your bass grooves by mastering 1/8th and 1/16th note bass grooves, then you need to get rid of those little timing errors. Those notes that are placed slightly too early or too late. To achieve that requires playing the 1/8th and 1/16th note bass grooves slowly and accurately. Then gradually speed them up while maintaining the same level of accuracy. That’s how you improve your bass groove!

For more examples, check out my new book Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide to Mastering Time and Feel on Bass Guitar. It contains over 140 audio examples featuring 1/8th and 1/16th note grooves in a variety of styles including rock, blues, jazz and Latin. It also features sections on syncopation, shuffle feels, triplets and swing. It has practical advice for grooving with drums and sharing a collective time feel in a group. And it features five pieces with play along backing tracks to help you put these ideas into practice.