For anyone starting out learning how to play the bass, one of the most important questions to answer early on is “How to hold a Bass Guitar”. If you start out holding the bass correctly, than it will be easier for you to play and you will learn faster.

For a comfortable playing position, it is best to use a strap. A wide strap, approx. 2-3 inches (8-10cm) is best, so the weight of the bass is evenly distributed. Adjust the strap to a length that is comfortable. The full weight of the bass should be resting on the shoulder strap.
The bass should be angled slightly upwards (see photo below), so that your left arm is free to move while you play.

Whether you prefer to sit or stand while you play, make sure that the position of your bass (strap length and angle) is the same so that your playing won’t be affected. Keep the bass close to your body so that it is easy to reach all parts of it when you play.

Standing Position

How to hold a bass guitar while standing

Sitting Position

Sit on a stool with a footrest to raise your right leg or just cross your right leg over your left leg.

How to hold a bass guitar while sitting

The Right Hand

To play the notes on the bass you can either:

  1. Use the fingers of your right hand to play the strings or,
  2. Use a pick (which is a piece of plastic shaped like a triangle held in the right hand) to play the strings.

Most bass players use the right hand fingers to play the strings. Some Rock bass players prefer using a pick because it gives a crisper sound.

Using Your Fingers

Names of each finger when playing bass guitar

The fingers of the right hand are named as shown in the following diagram. Use the ‘m’ and ‘i’ fingers to play the strings.

Bass Guitar Right Hand Finger Positions

The thumb (T) is used to support your right hand by resting it on the bass pickup as shown in the photograph. Most modern bass guitars have two pickups. One close to the fretboard and a second one nearer the bridge. In the early stages of playing, it may be easier to place your thumb on the front pickup as the string tension is not quite as “hard” as on the back pickup. The tone will also sound fuller and heavier, and it will also be easier for your right hand fingers to play the strings.

You should also experiment by playing with your thumb resting on the back pickup as the sound is clearer and has more attack and “bite”.

The Rest Stroke

When playing notes with your fingers, the rest stroke is used. The rest stroke involves the finger playing the string and then coming to rest on the next string. The photos below illustrate the movement of the index finger when playing the rest stroke.

Bass Guitar Right Hand Rest Stroke pic. 1

Play the 3rd string with an upward motion (not an outward motion).

Bass Guitar Right Hand Rest Stroke pic. 2

Come to rest on the 4th string.

Alternate between your index (i) and middle (m) fingers, making sure that one of the two fingers is always resting on a string while the other is playing a string.

Always use this alternating finger style as it will give you more possibilities when changing between notes and strings.

Using a Pick

Bass Guitar Pick

Picks are usually made of plastic and come in a variety of different shapes and thicknesses. Most bass players prefer a medium or thick gauge pick, as thin picks tend to give a less defined sound.


Placement of Bass Guitar Pick Above String

Use the tip of the pick to play the string.

How to Hold a Bass Guitar Pick

The pick is held between the thumb and index finger. Many bass players use this picking grip.


How to Play a Bass Guitar With a Pick

When playing with the pick, move your hand from the wrist (do not move your arm). You can support your right hand by placing the palm on the bass guitar body or use your other right hand fingers to rest on the body. Use a downward pick motion, indicated .

The Left Hand

Left Hand Placement

Left Hand Finger Position on Bass Guitar Fretboard

Your fingers should be on their tips and placed just behind the frets (not on top of them).

Left Hand Thumb Position on Bass Guitar Neck

For greater support, the left hand thumb should be placed behind the neck of the bass, approximately opposite your index and middle fingers as shown in the photo below.

The left hand fingers are numbered as shown in the following photograph. The left hand finger number, if needed, is written next to the music note.

Left Hand Finger Numbers for Learning Bass Guitar
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