Top 5 Beginner Bass Techniques
Let’s talk about beginner bass techniques.
When you’re starting to learn bass, technique feels like it’s the biggest stumbling block out there.
I wanted to give you a round-up of the 5 most essential bass guitar techniques for beginners.
This way you can prioritize what to learn in the early stage of learning how to play bass guitar.
Let’s start with the most obvious one:
Bass Fingerstyle Playing
When starting out on electric bass, one of the first techniques you should learn is how to produce sound by plucking strings with your fingers.
Playing bass with fingers is also called fingerstyle picking.
You should focus on learning proper right-hand technique on bass (or should I say plucking hand!) from the first day you pick up your bass.
The fretting hand is the one that presses down on the strings over the fretboard – this way you choose which note you wish to play. But in order to make a sound, you need to get the string to vibrate.
This is where the plucking hand comes into play, and it makes a big difference which technique you choose to use to get the sound out of your bass.
Fingerstyle playing on bass gets you a smoother sound, that’s more rounded and it features a bit more bass. To me, it’s somewhat easier to control the nuances of sound in comparison to playing with a pick (we’ll talk about playing with a pick next).
When playing fingerstyle, you have quite a few options to get different sounds:
- Playing with a single finger
- Playing with two or three fingers in an alternating fashion
- Plucking strings with the nail of the finger
- Plucking two or more strings at the same time
…and many more!
You see, when you opt-in to use fingers for plucking strings on the bass, you have a lot of options.
There are other things that influence the sound you’ll get when using fingerstyle:
Where you pluck strings in relation to the position of where you anchor your thumb, will change the tone dramatically. For example, plucking strings close to the fretboard as opposed to plucking close to the bridge, will change the tone of your bass.
In my opinion, the most underrated benefit of playing bass fingerstyle is that you get a high level of control over muting the strings.
Muting is another term for killing unwanted noises and I’ll share more about this later on, keep reading.
I want you to be aware that playing fingerstyle will most likely feel more difficult than playing with a pick when you are beginner on bass.
It’s just a more complex technique with more variables, but worth getting into.
If you’re just starting out on bass, I suggest checking out my course Bass Guitar 101 – where I introduce fingerpicking technique in easy to learn lessons, starting from scratch.
For a more in-depth proper left and right-hand beginner bass techniques study, check out the Ultimate Bass Technique Workout course.
Both of these courses are a part of the Bass Road Academy training library – you can instantly access all my bass courses there with a single membership.
Not all bass players NEED to play fingerstyle, so let’s check out the second technique I feel is essential to learn on bass when you’re a beginner.
Playing Bass with a Pick
Some bass players would tell you that you’re not a “true bass player” if you’re playing bass with a pick.
I must disagree with this (and I’m primarily a fingerstyle player!).
Playing with a pick is just another way to get the sound out of your instrument and it comes with different pros and cons.
Picks are usually made of plastic material, and come in different shapes and sizes.
When you go to the music instruments store, there are really no special “bass picks” to buy, they are called simply picks. Guitarists and musicians on many other instruments use them.
You hold a pick between your fingers of the right hand (if you’re a righty), and you pick a string in either downward or upward direction to get the note sounding.
Playing with a pick tone-wise is considered a bit tighter and percussive sound as opposed to playing fingerstyle. Usually, the sound you get has a bit more high-end frequencies so it does sound brighter in comparison to plucking strings with your fingers.
This tonal character, along with the percussive and tight sound you get from a pick made this the preferred picking style for rock, pop, punk, and metal bass players.
Also, sound engineers kinda prefer it when you’re playing with a pick as the sound is a bit easier for them to record (at least to ones I worked with!).
Although it might feel a bit easier for a beginner on bass to get started by playing with a pick (as opposed to a more complex fingerstyle technique), playing with a pick does come with a set of its own challenges:
For example, it’s more difficult to play intricate lines that feature patterns that skip strings and those are often easier to play fingerstyle. Playing several notes that need to be sounded at the same time is more difficult and sometimes impossible with a pick, while it can be done with the fingers.
Another biggie is controlling sound with a pick.
You get a very different sound when you pick a string going down, and when you pick a string with an upstroke.
It can get difficult to control the tonal differences and dynamics.
Then there are so many factors influencing picking technique like the type of pick, angle how you hold it, how you position the hand, how deep you go through the string with a pick, etc…
In any case, I think it’s a must for every bass player to know how to play with a pick.
You need to learn how to play with a pick so you have that option.
Advice: Learn BOTH!
When you have tried both: playing with a pick vs playing fingerstyle – you can proceed to choose your default plucking technique on bass.
This way you’re making an educated decision not just based on what “looks easier” to you when starting out.
The reality is that you’ll end up playing either with a pick or fingerstyle and it won’t be an even split like 50/50. For example, I spent 80% of my time playing fingerstyle and only maybe 20% with a pick – depending on the band repertoire at the time.
Choosing fingerstyle OR playing with a pick as your primary technique will be a decision based on your personal sound preference and convenience reasons. PLUS the type of bass lines you’ll be performing will influence the technique you choose to go with.
I started by playing bass with a pick due to the fact that I had experience playing guitar beforehand.
Also, the songs I was performing with a band at the time required me to use a pick to get the right tone and feel.
After a few years, I moved to the fingerstyle technique as the primary one and that has remained ever since.
The thing with technique on bass is that it’s just another creative way to get a sound out of your bass. Which one you use is up to the artist inside you and what you feel sounds good.
When it comes to what sounds good or bad, there is one thing that never sounds good on bass and that brings us to the next technique:
One thing that never sounds good on bass is poor control over unwanted vibrations and noises.
Beginner bass players are plagued by this, so learning solid string muting techniques from the get-go is a must.
What is string muting?
When you’re playing bass, you can get noises all over the place.
These noises are sounds that you didn’t want to produce on purpose while performing a bass line.
You accidentally make these sounds with your left and right hand while playing bass.
What you need to get good at is muting those bad noises and sounds.
With bass, all of the sounds come from the vibration of the strings and you need to learn how to control those vibrations.
If you wanna sound good and get a better tone, then you need to learn how to stop unwanted vibrations from happening.
To understand it in simple terms: MUTING means developing a technique with both right and left hand that helps you stop strings from vibrating and producing sounds that you didn’t want to make intentionally.
If you touch a bass string that is vibrating and making sound, it will instantly stop making that sound.
That is the essence of the muting technique and it’s one of the things you must practice as a beginner on bass – it’ll make you sound better!
You can instantly pick out the bass player that had good training from the one that didn’t learn with a structured program or had someone to guide him or her – these self-tought bass players usually have poor control over strings muting.
They might be performing intermediate songs (sometimes advanced too) but their playing will still be on beginner level in reality as they completely lack or have poor control over strings muting. This gets outed when they try to join a band, post videos for Youtube and in other public performance situations.
Musicians would sometimes use the term dirty or muddy as a reference to the player’s sound if they don’t have a good muting technique in place. They would prise a good bass player as the one having a great, clean tone.
So if you’re looking into which techniques on bass to work on when starting out on bass as a beginner bass player – string muting is a must.
Ghost Notes (Dead Notes)
I like joking with musicians that there’s one thing that clearly gives away a guitar player that is “pretending to be a bassist”.
Sometimes bands would get a guitar player to substitute for a bass player – and here how to spot one:
This “intruder” will not be using ghost notes (dead notes) when performing bass lines.
I know it’s silly but it’s one of those techniques that is integral to bass that doesn’t get much use on the guitar. Unless a guitar player is a funk machine of course 🙂
Ghost notes are non-defined, percussive notes that you can produce on bass and which sound awesome. It’s like a percussive kick you get to sound out of your bass amp.
Dead note on the bass, as the name implies doesn’t have a defined tone pitch. It’s just a percussive hit.
When you add ghost notes on bass, in between regular notes the magic happens.
It’s like you’re breathing life into a bass line and making it so much more.
Funk bass is the style that probably features ghost notes most dominantly.
Ghost notes are one of those techniques you must learn on bass, no matter if you’re playing fingerstyle or with a pick.
The technique is performed with the fretting hand, which stops the string from vibrating.
When you pluck a string that you stopped with a left-hand finger, not fretting any specific frets in the process – you get a mighty sounding percussive sound out of your bass.
Adding the ghost notes technique to your bass toolbox will help you sound more expressive.
We’re almost done here, but there is still one more technique you simply must learn when starting out on bass.
You need to have it under your belt to play popular songs.
Hammer-Ons / Pull-Offs
This is one of those beginner bass techniques you need to learn how to do with your fretting hand.
When you play a hammer-on on bass, you are sounding note with just the fretting hand and WITHOUT plucking a string with your plucking hand at the same time.
As you are not plucking the string with the right hand, the resulting note sounds softer and more connected.
The hammer-on just flows from one note to another as opposed to a bit more aggressive way of plucking a string with a pick or fingerstyle.
You’ll see hammer-ons and pull-offs often mentioned as a pair – because these two beginner bass techniques are two sides of the same coin. It just depends on in which direction you are going.
Hammer-on can produce a note out of nowhere or go “right” on the fretboard, towards the pickup.
Pull-off as the name implies goes in the opposite direction. You are pulling off, so you end up going down the fretboard – from higher to lower pitch.
I won’t go into details of how to actually perform these techniques on bass, but I’ll address why you need to learn and practice them.
These are techniques that help you to get:
- A different kind of articulation of a note on bass (new tones!)
- Play faster (because you can now sound notes with both left and right hands – efficiently doubling your picking speed)
- Perform slap & tapping lines
- Perform intricate licks and legato fills
You should definitely look into learning how to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs on bass.
When you start learning songs, you’ll notice that bass players use these techniques quite often.
How To Learn Beginner Bass Techniques
My advice here would be not to stress out about the beginner bass techniques, especially early on.
When you’re a beginner bass player, everything is difficult and you need to take it step-by-step.
The bass technique is a bit elusive concept in a way that everyone does it a bit differently – but all bass players stress about it.
I must say that I’m of those bassists who think that there is really no WRONG technique if it works for you and enables you to play what you want.
Though I believe that there are general, proper technique concepts that will help you be more efficient when performing bass lines.
The result of efficient technique: it’s easier to play the songs you love or just play what’s in your head.
It is realistic that when you are starting out, you’ll feel that your current level of technique is stopping you from making progress.
It feels just frustrating.
The good news is that you can get better at playing bass – if you have a plan.
I’ve started the Bass Road Academy online learning program to help beginner bass players have a structured learning experience.
There is a core learning path that you can follow from the first steps on bass.
Bass Guitar 101 course slowly introduces bass technique concepts at the right time, so that you have a solid base and avoid being frustrated.
You’ll be practicing bass lines that you CAN perform and which will help you accelerate your progress.
If you’re a beginner on bass (or feel like one), check out how Bass Road Academy can help you level up your skills.
You’ll get access to all the training and courses inside as well as new materials and courses releases.
It’s all you need to get better on bass if you’re a beginner.
I give detailed feedback on all video submissions in the Bass Road Academy, and would love to check out your performance.
Hope you’ll find the tips in this post helpful.