Right Hand Bass Techniques

For Beginners Learning to Play Guitar

Midsection of man playing bass guitar
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One of the most important skills for a beginning bass player to develop is right-hand bass technique, and in addition to left-hand techniques, it is vital for good bass playing. In order to achieve this, a number of right-hand bass techniques can be used, with some being more common and some more specialized; here we will discuss the most basic and versatile method: plucking with your fingers.

Finger plucking, also called fingerstyle, refers to the use of your index and middle fingers (some bass players use more) to pluck each note, and no matter what kind of music you are playing, this technique will serve you well while other right-hand bass techniques, like slap bass or using a pick, are not practical for all styles.

Starting with proper placement of the right hand is important to provide leverage and confidence to really shred a bass guitar, and the usual method is to anchor your thumb on one of the pickups, the bass body, or the edge of the fretboard. Another method is to move your thumb to rest on the string below the one you are playing, shifting it up and down as needed. Use whichever method feels most natural to you.

Different Techniques

When you pluck a string, draw your finger across the string, rather than pulling it up away from the body. When your finger releases the string, it should come to rest against the next string (unless you played the lowest string).

Generally, it is best to alternate plucking fingers, but really there is no right or wrong way to choose which finger plays which note. When descending strings—that is, playing a note on the string below the previous note—it is usually easiest to "rake," or use the same finger for both notes in one motion.

In addition to finger plucking, there are several other right-hand bass techniques preferred by many bass players including slap bass, using a pick, or thumb plucking.

If you like funk, you might like to learn slap bass, which involves using the thumb to whack the strings and using the fingers to snap them against the fingerboard, resulting in a percussive style. Alternatively, a lot of punk and metal bass players like to use a pick, which is good for fast, regular notes and an easily heard, twangy sound. Lastly, a guitarist can use thumb plucking, which is seen more often among blues and jazz players, wherein the player his fingers below the strings and strokes each note with the thumb.

A Simple Exercise for Beginner Bass Guitar

Most instructors agree that practice makes perfect, but it's often difficult to figure out which exercise is the right one to start with. Try the below exercise to give yourself a quick lesson in right-hand bass guitar.

  1. Beginning with your index finger, play three notes on each string, alternating fingers for each note.
  2. Repeat, but begin with your middle finger instead of your index finger.
  3. Beginning with your index finger, play two notes on each string, alternating fingers for each note. 
  4. Repeat, but begin with your middle finger instead of your index finger.
  5. Try all four exercises again, but this time use the same finger to rake downward every time you descend a string.

With this brief exercise, you will begin to gain a firmer understanding of how to alternate notes and fingers. This way, with more practice, you will one day be able to seamlessly transition between many notes in a song.