Finger Picking Technique for Bass.

Finger picking for the bass gives the largest range of expression to the bass player that masters it. If you focus on using the 2 fingers next to the thumb on your right hand you can then also combine them with the thumb (used in slapping – a lesson to come).

You can use plectrums (picks) to play but I have found that finger picking gives me more choices in terms of dynamics and tone.

Sitting – Right- Hand Positioning

Position the Bass on your Right-leg and place your Right-arm onto the body of the Bass so that you are holding it with the underside of your arm, just below the elbow.

Photo Showing the Position of the Bass, Right-Knee and Right-arm

This should give you control of the balance of the Bass and also freedom to pluck the strings. At this point the Bass should fit comfortably and shouldn’t require any more support. If it does, then adjust the Bass on the leg. The left-hand should never be used to support the Bass as this will stop you playing the Bass effectively.

Right Hand Finger Technique

When playing the bass you use the 2 fingers next to the thumb to pluck the strings. Here you will see a photo of the starting position of the pluck. You pull the finger across the string to pluck it and then end up resting against the string above it, if there is one. The reason for resting on the string above is that it ensures that you only play one string at a time.

Photo Showing Pluck Starting Position

Photo Showing Pluck ending Position

Next are exercises that you can do to build up the strength and speed in your 2 fingers. Finger 1 is the finger next to the thumb and finger 2 is the finger next to finger 1.

The strings are numbered from the thickest to the thinnest. String 4 is the thickest and string 1 is the thinnest.

You are aiming for steady, even strokes in both speed and volume. Once you can successfully maintain a steady speed and volume for more than a minute you are ready to control the speed and volume changes needed to create real music.  

Exercises

Always alternate playing (plucking) between finger 1 and finger 2 (the 2 fingers next the thumb) no matter what you are playing. Here are some exercises:-

1)        

  • Finger 1 on string 4, finger 2 on string 4.      
  • Finger 1 on string 3, finger 2 on string 3.
  • Finger 1 on string 2, finger 2 on string 2.      
  • Finger 1 on string 1, finger 2 on string 1.

Then repeat the process going from string 1 to string 4. (coming up the strings)

2)        

  • Finger 1 on string 4, finger 2 on string 3.      
  • Finger 1 on string 2, finger 2 on string 1.

Then repeat the process going from string 1 to string 4. (coming up the strings)

3)        

  • Finger 1 on string 4, finger 2 on string 3.      
  • Finger 1 on string 3, finger 2 on string 2.
  • Finger 1 on string 2, finger 2 on string 1.

Then repeat the process going from string 1 to string 4. (coming up the strings)

All the exercises above must be practiced looking at the right-hand and then practiced looking away from the right-hand. This must be done because you can only look at one hand and it is better to concentrate on the left hand.

Use a metronome or electronic drumbeat (these can be found online) at all times and increase the tempo (speed) as you feel able to. As with all exercises don’t think that you can just do this a few times and that is enough. You must train you right-hand every time you pick up the Bass or you will lose the ability. 

Practice getting steady even strokes which hit every string evenly. This is the correct movement for playing the Bass. Use the metronome to practice playing at a steady speed (tempo), also making sure that you don’t drown out the metronome. This should help you to play at a consistent volume (dynamic).

To play dynamically you must have a reference point that you can call normal and this is what you need to achieve with your right hand – every stroke being the same as the last and the next.

The right hand must, eventually, be like a metronome. This means that you can play in time and that there are no gaps in the music, that aren’t meant to be there.

If you can’t play in time then you will never be able to play in a band.

More Exercises

Remember to use your metronome all the time and this will maintain your tempo. Start at a slow tempo of about 40 beats per minute and gradually increase the tempo.

Always maintain the same loudness and tempo.

Play the strings below in order firstly playing each string with both fingers and then playing each string with only one finger. Always maintain the alternating between fingers 1 and 2.

1)      4,3,2,1,2,3,4.

2)      4,2,1,3.

3)      4,3,1,3,2.

4)      3,4,2,1,4.

5)      Make up some of your own.

Enjoy.

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