how to play the Bass Guitar

See how to have fun playing the bass guitar

So you have purchased your bass guitar – what is next? Figuring out how to play the bass guitar will probably be a very good start… This part of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning the Bass Guitar’ will start you off in the right direction.

How To Play The Bass Guitar

Posture

You can play the bass either sitting or standing. But, whichever you chose to do (many people do both), there are a few general rules of thumb you should observe.

The first is to try and keep your body in as natural a position as you can and the second is to avoid tension in your muscles, joints and hands.

Doing these two things will minimise the risk of a playing injury.

So how can you adjust your posture to stay loose when playing?

You should always be aiming to make the bass work around your own body rather than adjusting how you stand or sit to work around the bass.

How to play the bass guitar

The Plucking Hand

How to play the bass guitar

Your plucking hand is whichever hand you use to pluck the strings. If you’re right-handed, this will be your right and if you’re left-handed it will be your left hand.

Here’s how you can get your plucking hand in the best possible hand position to play bass.

First of all, let your entire arm relax completely and fall by your side.

This releases all the tension that was in your arm.

Next, raise your hand whilst keeping it relaxed. You’ll see as you do this that your fingers curve slightly. Almost as if you’re hand is very loosely clenched.

Take this hand position as place it over the strings with the tips of your index and middle fingers touching the strings.

The thumb can rest on the strings or the pickup and act as an anchor for stability.

Keep your wrist straight and avoid resting your arm on the body of the bass. This will bend the wrist and create tension which is never good.

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The Fretting Hand

The best hand position for the fretting hand is, in many ways, quite similar to that of the plucking hand but with a few important differences which you’ll learn about in a moment.

To get your fretting hand in the best position, start by going through the same process as the plucking hand.

Relax the arm by your side, bring your hand up, let your fingers curve but this time place the neck of the bass between your index finger and thumb. 

You shouldn’t be aiming to support the weight of the bass neck with your fretting hand. This is the job of your strap. But you should keep your thumb in contact with the neck to anchor your hand.

There’s a lot of debate online about the best position for the thumb.

Some say that it should be placed in the middle of the neck and others say different.

I feel that the thumb needs to stay in its natural position off to the side of the hand for two reasons.

  1. This is the position the thumb is in nature, and moving it elsewhere will create tension in the hand
  2. If the thumb is locked into one position then it will make the hand a whole less agile and mobile

Experiment with a few options and see what works for you. It may be different from other bass players if you have a double-jointed thumb for instance but always make sure you stick to the technical principles of avoiding tension and keeping a natural hand position.

Basic Plucking Technique

The bass guitar is most commonly played by alternating strokes between the index and middle fingers. 

If you’re new to this technique then simply start by practising alternating between the two on an open string. 

Don’t focus on going quickly. Rather, you should aim to keep a consistent tone, volume and tempo between each finger. 

The best bass players are the most consistent in their timekeeping and articulation so it’s never too early to start working on these fundamentals! 

Basic Fretting Technique

You should aim to use the soft pads at the tips of your fingers to press down the strings onto the frets to create notes.

The best tone can be achieved by placing your finger just behind the fret of the note above the one you are playing. This process is known as “fretting” a note.

Try to keep your palm flat and parallel to the underside of the bass neck. If your palm is at an angle then it means your ring and little fingers will have further to travel when they need to fret notes. This will make your technique worse.

You should aim to feel comfortable using all four fingers on your fretting hand.

You’ll most likely feel comfortable using your index and middle fingers but not the ring and little fingers when you first start.

A great exercise to get all your fingers working is the “1-2-3-4 exercise”

This simply involves numbering your fingers 1 (index), 2 (middle), 3 (ring) and 4 (little) then placing your hand on the bass neck and playing each finger in numerical order from any fret.

This exercise works absolutely anywhere on the bass but if you’re a beginner you should try it from the 12th fret. 

The reason is the frets are smaller so your hands won’t have to stretch as much and this will make it easier to start with.

How To Play the bass guitar - Summary

By now, you should be able to:

  • Play the bass guitar in the correct posture 
  • Correctly use which plucking hand suits your playing 
  • Know which position to place your fretting hand 
  • Know a few plucking techniques 

Now it’s time to improve your technique…

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