For many people learning the bass guitar, fingerstyle playing is often the go-to technique people start with and usually stick with it for their whole journey because you can use it for different styles of music. This technique can be applied to a wide range of genres, from rock, metal, pop, jazz, and country. While getting comfortable with fingerstyle playing may take some time, the rewards are well worth the effort. Here are some practical tips that will help you get started on developing your right-hand skills specifically.
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1. Start Slow & Build Up Speed Gradually
It’s essential to have a firm grasp of the basics before picking up the pace. Once you’ve got the hang of fingerstyle, you can increase the tempo. You’ll want to ensure your dynamics are even, and the best way to do that is by playing slowly and in time.
Practice with a metronome at all times to reinforce good playing habits, making you more efficient and allowing you to pick up speed. You have to walk before you can run!
2. Keep It Simple
When learning fingerstyle bass, it’s best to stick with a two-finger plucking technique where you alternate between your middle and index fingers. This two-finger alternation will be your bread-and-butter!
Most players find that the basic two-finger technique is super reliable and sufficient for most styles of music; however, once you become proficient at this and feel like you can utilize more fingers, feel free to do so. For example, the three-finger technique is quite common, especially in metal, and it does have its benefits, but for now, commit to getting good at just two.
3. Pay Attention To What Your Thumb Is Doing
Your thumb is the foundation of your fingerstyle technique; it provides support and stability for your other fingers as they make contact with the strings. As you play a string, your thumb will be resting on the string just below it. If you’re on the lowest one, your neck pickup will typically be where you place your thumb.
Many people like to anchor their thumb in one spot on the bass, too; however, I’m an advocate of the floating thumb or moveable anchor technique where your thumb simply travels with your whole hand as you play and cross strings. It feels much less restrictive and can assist with muting unused strings, which is a godsend if you play a five or 6-string bass.
Chances are you’ll also find this technique quite liberating as well without sacrificing any stability – here’s a short but informative video talking about it more in-depth so you can learn it too:
4. Use Your Fingertips
One common mistake players make when learning fingerstyle bass is that they’ll try to pluck the strings like those who play fingerstyle on an acoustic guitar. Although there is a time and place for this method, it’s not the conventional way of fingerstyle bass playing that’s used to play most basslines.
What you’ll want to do instead is only use your fingertips, and when you play a note, the finger that you just used will just fall and rest on the string just below the one you just played.
Not only is this comfortable and intuitive, but this significantly contributes to that round fingerstyle sound when playing the bass guitar, whereas plucking upwards creates an entirely different sound that’s only used occasionally.
5. Distance Matters
Fingerstyle playing is all about developing a good tone and touch. This means finding the sweet spot on each string where you can get the best sound for the music you’re playing or even for a specific part of a song.
For example, if you play closer to the neck of the bass, you’ll find that the note is warmer and rounder, whereas if you play nearby the bridge, you’ll get a thinner and more articulate tone.
It’s also worth mentioning that playing in different areas will affect how the string feels and plays – people tend to be able to play faster passages near the bridge because the string has more tension and resistance and won’t move around as much. But if you’re in no rush, most people spend their time anchored towards the middle.
Nonetheless, every spot has its purpose, and you can make use of them if you get familiar with their tone and feel.
6. Have Fun with It
At the end of the day, fingerstyle bass is all about having fun and expressing yourself through your instrument. Sure, you’ll probably have some obstacles, like some finger discomfort, but by practicing the right things, like the tips above, you’ll overcome them by being patient with yourself as you learn the bass.
While there are some standard techniques that have been tried and tested over the decades, ultimately, there are no rules, so feel free to experiment with different ways of producing sounds. Be creative, and most importantly, enjoy the process!
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Like most things, fingerstyle bass playing takes time to get good at, but hopefully, these tips have given you some specific things to focus on that will help you improve faster and make it more fun for you.
Remember, while fingerstyle bass has many benefits, not everyone prefers it, and you’re by no means required to play with your fingers to be a good bassist. However, if you’ve given fingerstyle a fair chance, and you feel it’s not really for you, you should give playing bass with a pick a shot since there are plenty of benefits for that as well.
Ideally, I recommend getting familiar with both fingerstyle and pick playing, though, because they’re two different tools you can use. However, most people will gravitate towards one or the other to varying degrees.
If you’re a new player, I suggest finding what works best for you and just enjoying the process of learning to play the bass; whether you choose fingerstyle or pick, that’s up to you, but chances are, you’ll probably make use of both, so spend time practicing them.
If you’re a brand new bassist, you’ll also want to make sure you have the right accessories for bass guitarists. As beginners, having the right tools can make a difference in your overall learning experience. It’s likely you have some of these already, but it’s possible you don’t have everything you need, so check out these essential bass accessories to see if you happened to miss anything.