Plucking or Picking the Strings

As you are holding your bass, the strings are labeled from top to bottom, or from closest to you to furthest away, E, A, D, and G. Take your right index finger and place its tip on any string except the thickest one, which is the E string. Though it may seem unnatural, extend the finger fully straight then press the string toward the body of the bass. Don't actually pluck the bass, just let the tension of the string release and slip out from under your fingertip. When this occurs, your finger should recoil off the string and land on the adjacent string one string level up (toward your face). For example, if you release the G string, the string furthest away from you, your finger will land on the D string. If you release the D string, your finger will land on the A string. And if you release the A string, your finger will land on the E string. Practice this technique using your index and middle fingers. The more you do it, the more comfortable and natural it will become (see Figure 2-3).

Figure 2-3.

Right-hand position

Using a pick, or plectrum, is also an option. A pick works better for some styles of music such as heavy metal or punk. On the other hand, finger playing is usually expected for jazz, country, and R & B. To use a pick, simply hold the pick between your right thumb and index finger so that the point of the pick points toward the bass and away from your thumb at a right angle. Drive the pick down through the intended string then let it come to rest on the next adjacent string. When you do this, it should mute the adjacent string only. Next, reverse the picking to an upward motion. Combine the downward and upward motions to create fluid rhythms. You can become quite fast at picking by combining the down and up techniques into one connected, back-and-forth motion.

Playing an electric bass is a little bit like using a bow. In archery, you draw the bowstring back then release the tension. This drives the arrow. You don't pluck the bow; you simply draw it back and let it snap forward. The same is true on a bass guitar.

To further refine your left-hand movement on the neck of the bass, you may have to do some stretching of your fingers. Start off by placing each finger consecutively on frets one through four on the G string. The G string is highest in pitch and furthest away from your face. Fret one is nearest to the nut; fret two is one fret further from the nut, and so on. Your fingers should be numbered in the same exact fashion so that finger one (index finger) should be on fret one, finger two (middle finger) should be on fret two, and so on.

Keep your left hand and fingers rounded (as if holding a lemon) while pressing the string against the fretboard. Next, add finger movement (or picking) in the right hand. Once you do this, you're up and running.

Figure 2-4.

Left-hand position

For now, don't be concerned about the bass being out of tune. Also, don't worry about the tone. Just get used to using both hands on the instrument. When depressing the string in the left hand, the position for this is in between the metal frets, toward the front of the rightmost fret (see Figure 2-4).

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  4. Plucking or Picking the Strings
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