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I'm looking to improve my fingerstyle technique on the bass guitar. I'd like to develop good habits, especially regarding alternating my fingers, as I currently tend to overuse my index finger and rake the strings too much. Likewise, I'm trying to get out of the habit of anchoring my thumb on the E string. Are there any exercises or lessons that would help with this? I'm especially interesting in learning to alternate my fingers and mute with my thumb properly when skipping strings or playing complex rhythms.

Note: I asked a related question about the specifics of how to alternate between fingers.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You can't go wrong practicing scales, so I'd definitely start there. But for string skipping and thumb muting, here's an exercise I like, called "the spider". You can do this anywhere on the neck that's comfortable, but I'm illustrating it on frets 1-4 for clarity (can we write tab here for non-six-string stringed instruments?):

$A 1 $D 3 $A 2 $D 4 $A 3 $D 1 $A 4 $D 2 | $A 1 $D 3 $A 2 $D 4 $A 3 $D 1 $A 4 $D 2

Then you expand the string spacing:

$A 1 $G 3 $A 2 $G 4 $A 3 $G 1 $A 4 $G 2 | $A 1 $G 3 $A 2 $G 4 $A 3 $G 1 $A 4 $G 2

and finally:

$E 1 $G 3 $E 2 $G 4 $E 3 $G 1 $E 4 $G 2 | $E 1 $G 3 $E 2 $G 4 $E 3 $G 1 $E 4 $G 2

This is a nice exercise for alternating your plucking fingers, since each finger is isolated on its own string. As always, practice with a metronome!

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Thank you! With all of the octaves and fifths that looks like a very practical exercise! –  Bradd Szonye May 17 at 23:03
    
Oh and I'm finding that it's helpful to reverse the pattern so that I'm not always using the same finger for the higher/lower string. –  Bradd Szonye May 17 at 23:26

A simple but interesting exercise is playing octaves, or fifths (start with fifths, then move to octaves) but play the lower note once, and the higher note twice, but always alternating the two fingers you're plucking with. The result is that you play the lower note once with finger 1, the next time with finger 2, then again with finger 1, etc. Do it slowly at first. After a while, check what you're doing; most likely, you will be playing the lower note always with the same finger. It's not exactly wrong, but it's important that you're aware of it and that you can control it.

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As far as anchoring goes, my old teacher taught me to rest my thumb on the top of the neck pickup. Not sure if it's the best practice, but it's served me pretty well over the years.

What I do a lot of to help warm up is run various scales in triplets, both along and across the strings. Not sure how to post tab on here, but something to the effect of the following:

G|------------------------------------------------|
D|------------------------------------0-----0-2---|
A|-------------0----0-2---0-2-3---2-3-----3-------|
E|-0-2-3---2-3----3-------------------------------|

You can modify this exercise to run along a single string, or take it across two octaves to go across all four-plus and get a better sense of how to get the left hand moving while you're at it. I like the latter method in particular because it helps discipline your right hand to be aware of what's going on instead of mindlessly pinging on a single string.

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