I’m familiar with the different approaches to alternate picking with a plectrum, from economy picking to strict alternate picking. I personally prefer to use down-picks for downbeats and up-picks for upbeats.

I realize that fingerstyle bass uses similar techniques, but alternating fingers instead of pick direction. I’m not sure though what the pros and cons are, however, of strictly alternating, versus alternating down- and upbeats, versus raking and such. I also don’t know if it matters which finger I start with. Could somebody please give an overview of the techniques so I can figure out what’s right for me?

I found a lesson online by Mark J Smith that teaches strict alternate picking and explains its advantages. It’s very helpful, but it hints that strict alternating isn’t always ideal, without explaining why. So this will be helpful for learning technique but I would like some more in-depth information.

Note: I asked a related question about how to exercise good right hand technique, once I've figured out which approach I want to use. I’m fairly new to bass and trying to develop good habits early.


1 Answer 1


It's largely going to be determined by what you feel most comfortable doing, what you're playing, and what you think sounds best. Each of the various techniques you specified does have its place, however. Strictly alternating is almost universally applicable, and it's what many start with. Its only real shortcoming is being a little awkward for time signatures that aren't multiples of two, like 3/4 (which is pretty common) or 7/4 (not so common). Alternating on down/upbeats can give a more rhythmic feel, particularly so if you're strumming harder with one finger than the other. Raking isn't really a standalone technique in my mind, but works rather well for hitting multiple successive strings. Anyway, don't worry, your technique will develop nicely with practice.

As for when strict alternate picking isn't ideal, again, some have trouble with odd time signatures. Personally, I'm pretty strict, but if the next note I hit is above the last string I plucked, I'm more likely to use the same finger rather than alternate. I think the guy in the video you linked to emphasizes it because it's what you'll be building your technique off of. It really boils down to what you're playing, and, most importantly, what's most comfortable for you (assuming you can still play properly!).

An exercise I did when I was practicing alternating was practicing scales, first hitting each note with each finger, then progressing to alternating fingers. The added benefit was that I learned my scales rather well!

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