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Bass Guitar Lessons – Fretboard Hand Technique

This lesson explains the correct bass guitar fretboard hand technique. As always, there are other techniques that work and that you can develop as you progress as a bass player. But it’s important to start with this technique to get the basics down before developing a style more custom to you.

Parts of the Bass

Be sure that you are familiar with the parts of the bass as they are referenced often in this lesson.

Finger Numbering

Before we get started, let’s review how fingers are numbered in regards to bass:

  • 1 – index finger
  • 2 – middle finger
  • 3 – ring finger
  • 4 – pinkie finger
Bass Fretting Hand Numbers Fretboard Technique

Relax your Fretboard Arm

Make sure your bass is in the correct position, and your posture is correct – see Correct Bass Positioning and Posture. Relax your fretboard arm so that it hangs to your side. As you move through this lesson, make an effort to keep your arm relaxed. Don’t get too tense or rigid.

Fretboard Hand Placement

Move your hand up and place your thumb in the middle of the back of the neck. Make sure your thumb is perpendicular to the neck, pointing to the ceiling – don’t slant it left or right. Don’t let your thumb get too high or too low – keep it in the middle.

Make sure your thumb is the only part of your hand touching the neck. There should be space between the bass neck and your palm. This will allow for easier movement up and down the neck without friction from the rest of your hand.

Cover the Fretboard with Your Fingers

Move your thumb so that it is placed behind the 5th fret on the bass. Now lay your fingers over the fretboard to cover the strings on the 4 frets in front of your thumb. Only one finger should be placed on one fret at a time. You will need to stretch your fingers to make this happen. Don’t try to play any notes yet. Just focus on covering 4 frets using one finger per fret.

Now shift your hand up and down the bass neck working on keeping your fingers in position to cover 4 frets at a time. Keep your thumb behind your fingers in a perpendicular position pointed at the ceiling. Try to focus on using only the muscles in your hand – don’t let your arm or shoulder get to tense or rigid. 

Place Your Finger “Pads” on the Bass Frets

Focus on using your finger “pads” as opposed to your finger “tips”. Your finger pad consists of the part of your finger from the first joint to the top of your finger.  See picture below:

Bass Guitar Finger Pads Fretboard Hand Technique

Move your thumb so that it’s behind the 5th fret. Now place your fingers one fret at a time on the E string as such: 1 – 4th fret, 2 – 5th fret, 3 – 6th fret, 4 – 7th fret. You should now have your 4 fingers placed on each fret at the same time. 

Now practice doing this moving up and down different places on the E string. Then practice this on the A, D, and G strings.

Focus on keeping your thumb pointed to the ceiling. Use the pads of your fingers – keep your arm and shoulder relaxed.

Accurate Placement on Strings

Your fingers should be placed just behind the metal fretboard bars. Think of your finger pad as a wedge pressing the string against the fretboard bar. Accurate placement of your fingers will help create a clean, solid tone while not having to apply too much pressure on the strings.

Moderate Pressure on Strings

A common mistake made by beginner bassists is applying too much pressure on the strings when playing. This causes your fretboard hand to become tired and can also create unwanted buzz or bending on the strings. Make an effort to place just enough pressure on the strings so that you get a clean, solid tone.

Stay Close to the Strings

Always keep your fretboard hand and fingers close to the strings. Fingers should always be just off of the strings when moving and shifting throughout the fretboard. This will help with speed and accuracy, conserve your energy, and keep your fingers from “hammering” the strings.

Pluck while Fretting

Now it’s time to work on your fretboard technique while actually plucking your bass. To understand proper plucking technique see our “Proper Plucking Technique” page.

Move your thumb so that it’s behind the 5th fret. Now place your fingers one fret at a time on the E string as such: 1 – 4th fret, 2-5th fret, 3-6th fret, 4-7th fret. Pluck the E string each time a finger is placed on a higher fret. As you move up the fretboard keep your fingers held down until all 4 fingers are each on a fret.

Now pluck the E string with your 4 finger on the 7th fret. The release your 4 finger and pluck, release 3rd finger and pluck, release 2 finger and pluck with your 1 finger on the 4th fret.

Practice doing this on your E string on different places of the fretboard. Then practice this technique on the A, D, and G strings.

Muting the Strings

Muting the strings is an important element of playing bass – just as important as producing sound and tone. Your fretboard hand is the primary muting hand. As you play, work on muting the sound and tones on strings that are not being played. This is accomplished by simply applying light pressure on the strings not being played. Your index (1) finger will naturally take on the primary responsibility of muting the strings – it’s always in a position behind your other fingers to serve as a mute when needed. As you progress with your fretboard technique, muting will become natural. You will develop a style of muting using all hands and fingers for – plucking hand included.

Building Strength and Flexibility

The early phases of learning to play bass can be very awkward and uncomfortable. In fact I have had many beginners tell me that they feel like they are just not “built” for playing bass. A common misconception is that you need big hands and long fingers to play bass. This is absolutely not true. Anyone can become a good bass player – regardless of size or strength.

Learning to play bass (and most other instruments) is comparable to athletic training and preparation. Building strength and flexibility takes time and effort – but can be accomplished by anyone with the right amount and types of practice and training. Anyone who develops and maintains an effective practice and training routine will build strength and flexibility – and can become an accomplished bassist!

Bass Guitar Fretboard Hand Technique Video Lessons

We recommend the videos below to help you understand and develop proper bass guitar fretboard hand technique.

Proper Fretboard Finger Placement Video – by JamPlay Bass

Below is a video showing proper fretting technique. This video is from pro bassist Brent-Anthony Johnson as a part of his Beginner Level Bass Lessons series on JamPlay Bass. If you are interested in taking online bass lessons we high recommend their services. For more information about JamPlay Bass Lessons check out our review of their site and services. Our visit the JamPlay Bass website.

Learn Bass – How to Fret the Strings – by MusicCollegeTV

Learn Bass - How to Fret the Strings

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