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.
The Right Hand
To play the notes on the bass you can either:
- Use the fingers of your right hand to play the strings or,
- 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
The fingers of the right hand are named as shown in the following diagram. Use the ‘m’ and ‘i’ fingers to play the strings.
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.
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
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.
The Left Hand
Left Hand Placement
Your fingers should be on their tips and placed just behind the frets (not on top of them).
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.