This lesson covers the basics for how to pluck the bass guitar. There are different ways of plucking the bass, so as you learn and progress you can incorporate various methods that work for you. Also, the way you pluck the bass can affect your tone and sound. So how you pluck might be different depending on what you are playing.
As a beginner, you should start with the technique I’m describing in this lesson. From there you can try other methods that fit best for you.
Let’s start by reviewing how your fingers are numbered when playing bass:
- Thumb – T
- Index Finger – 1
- Middle Finger – 2
- Ring Finger – 3
- Pinkie – 4
Thumb Placement on Pickup
This lesson provides instruction for right handed players. So if you’re a lefty, you’ll be using the other hand.
Start with your plucking hand (right hand) in a relaxed position with your wrist bent and your fingers hanging over the strings of the bass.
Now place your thumb on the top of the pickup that is closest to the center of the bass. For most basses, this is the pickup closest to the neck. Your thumb is now serving as an anchor for your hand while your other fingers do the plucking.
Alternate Index and Middle Fingers
With your thumb serving as an anchor on the pickup, your index and middle fingers should be relaxed and hanging over the strings of your bass. Start plucking the bass with your index and middle fingers. When you pluck you should alternate between the index (1) and middle fingers (2).
Practice by plucking the open E-String and alternating between your two fingers: 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2
With your thumb still on the pickup, practice plucking the open A-String: 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2
Thumb Placement on E-String
Next move your thumb down so that it sits on top of your E-String. Now your thumb is still serving as an anchor sitting on your E-String. It’s also muting your E-String. Now pluck your open D-String alternating between your index and middle fingers: 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2
With your thumb still on the E-String, pluck the open G-String 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2
Alternate Fingers (again)
Be sure to work on alternating between your index and middle fingers.As you get more comfortable with plucking you can also start to pluck with your ring (3) finger. When you do this, you’ll still want to alternate: 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3
Muting strings is as much a part of playing bass as producing sound. Bass should primarily be played using one note at a time. Chords are rarely played. Playing more than one, low-end note at a time can muddy your sound – which you don’t want most of the time.
So it’s important to mute the strings/notes that are not being played. Most of the muting can be done with your left hand on the fretboard. However, you can also mute using your plucking fingers and thumb. As you learn to play bass, muting strings will become natural and something you don’t think about.
Plucking in Different Places for Different Tone
Where you pluck on the bass can affect the sound that you get. When you pluck close to the neck, you get a warmer, fatter tone. When you pluck close to the bridge you get a thinner, brighter tone. Practice plucking in different spots to hear the various tones.
Practice Plucking with an Amp
Your plucking does not have to be done with too much force. Plucking too hard can cause strings to buzz, and it can also tire you out.
When you pluck, your fingers should be rolling over the strings without too much force. If you want a louder sound –> turn up the volume on your amp and/or bass.
Hence you should always practice plucking bass with an amp. Try to work on using relatively the same amount of force when plucking – while using your bass and amp volume to adjust loudness levels.
Here are a couple of videos that provide visual instruction to help you understand proper bass guitar plucking technique:
Basic Bass Plucking Technique (Beginner Bass Basics) – By BassBuzz
Learn Bass – How to Pluck the Strings – By MusicCollegeTV