by TG-WP on April 8, 2020

The importance of the right hand in bass playing

(For all you left-handed players, please substitute ‘right hand’ with ‘left hand’ 🙂 )

I’m sure most, if not all bass players would agree that the right hand is intrinsically linked to the execution of bass grooves. There is no escaping the importance of great right hand technique if you are to become a great bass player…and yet it is something that is overlooked by many beginner and intermediate bass players. Why is this?

Part of the reason is that many focus primarily on the notes that are being played by the left hand and never really spend enough time on any one thing to get round to what the right hand is unto. I have had many students say of their right hand technique – “…I don’t really know what is going on, I just let it do its thing” (to paraphrase). If you are serious about making a bass line groove and move people, it is of paramount importance that you spend some time on your right hand technique. In my opinion, more than just a bit of time. I would say that for everything you learn, after the notes are ‘under the fingers’, what is going on with the right hand should be the next focal point….even before any serious practice ensues!!!

Let’s get straight to some exercises that can help you on your way to great right hand technique. The primary approach we are working on is the traditional 2 finger index middle approach and this lesson is aimed at beginner – intermediate players (though we can all learn something new, right?).

Exercise 1

Firstly, we’ll get acquainted with playing each string with alternating index (I) and middle (M) fingers –

Using the open string to avoid a left hand focus, play the following exercise. When you get to the last finger pluck on the G, damp it with the left hand (using all four fingers lightly on the string) and go back to the beginning. The aim is to get this transition seamless and create a circular flow through repeated cycles of the exercise. 

1a – i m i m i m etc… 4 notes 

1b – m i m i m i etc… 4 notes 

1c – i m i m i m etc… 2 notes & 1d – m i m i m i etc… 2 notes

The most important part of this (and all exercises, grooves, etc…for that matter) is to get it right, not fast. Once you have it down, fast is not far away!! If you immediately go for speed before you’re ready, and continually get it wrong, you are only reinforcing the incorrect execution of the exercise. So take is slow to begin with…

Exercise 2

As above – Descending versions with strict index (i) middle (m) alternation and raking. With the descending versions, it is important to focus for a moment on the damping. As you leave the ‘G’ string and progress to the ‘D’, lightly place the left hand fingers on the ‘G’ in such a way as to dampen this string whilst not interfering with the movement of the ‘D’. Repeat this for each string as you transition to the next. This may take a few attempts before the execution is flawless, but stick with it. As I’ve mentioned previously, mastering this type of movement (in this case ‘damping’) will inform the very way you understand and interact with your bass, and how it responds to your touch. 

2a – Alternating 

2b – Raking 

2c – Alternating & 2d – Raking 

Supplement to the above exercises 1 & 2 –

Triplet versions of the exercises – 

Ascending Triplet version

Ex 1 

Descending Triplet version

2a – Alternating (Index starting) 2b – Alternating (Middle starting) 

2c – Raking (Index starting) 2d – Raking (Middle starting) 

Exercise 3 and more to follow…Get stuck in and I’ll be back with part 2!!

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