Bass exercise strategies

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by elarue, Aug 17, 2018.

  1. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    I have a background in music - I have a degree from Berklee (I was a vocal principal, not a bass principal), I've played upright bass in high school and some in college, and I've studied quite a bit of theory and ear training. But now I'm getting really in depth into actually playing bass guitar. I've got a book that I've borrowed from the library, and it's got a lot of info, but of course, like most bass methods, it's written assuming you know nothing about music to begin with.

    From what I've been able to gather, the elements of actually playing bass can be broken down into four broad categories:
    1) Left-hand playing (actually fingering the notes)
    2) Right-hand fingerpicking
    3) Right-hand pick playing - downward only
    4) Right-hand pick playing - alternate picking

    For someone in my situation, what would you recommend to improve in each of these areas? Are the same exercises used to teach music to someone with no musical background still the best way for me to build stamina in my arms and hands? Or are there specific drills out there that focus more on finger dexterity and moving around the fretboard and the strings?

    Thanks guys and girls! :)
  2. reddog


    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    pick playing ... not my thing.

    I do love me some Bobby Vega, tho.

    Google yielded this, too.
    • Chris Squire (Yes)

    • Noel Redding (Hendrix)

    • Paul McCartney (Beatles)

    • Phil Lesh (Dead)

    • Scott Tunes (Zappa)
  3. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    What did you google exactly? Bass players who play(ed) with a pick?

    Also, since fingerpicking is more your thing, how did you improve at it?
  4. reddog


    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    Just do "index", "middle" 4 times, then move to another string, continue, repeat.

    You want to get the alternating,2 finger thing so that it's unconscious.

    don't worry about picking.... that's for losers. ;)
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
    Daniel Piper likes this.
  5. reddog


    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    finger style picking ... don't worry about switching notes right now.

    "one,"two".... "one", "two"... repeat.

    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  6. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you are going to finger pick, just use alternate picking using index and middle finger; if you are going to use a pick, just up and down. There are other ways, but this is by far the most common and will service the vast majority of styles. No need for special exercises or endurance training. Unless you are playing speed metal, your daily scales and arpeggios will give you all the stamina you need.

    If you have a hand strengthening tool, throw it out. You don't need a ton of strength to play electric bass.

    This is all just one man's opinion. No need for unpleasantness if you disagree. ;)
    Quantized Harmonic and BOOG like this.
  7. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    Maybe I should clarify. As far as I understand, if you're fingerpicking, it's pretty much a given that you alternate between index and middle finger(does anyone deviate from that pattern?) Which is easy to say, but I'm finding that when I've got riffs and runs that involve several different strings, sometimes it's hard to make my fingers actually do that. So are there any sort of exercises that I can practice that will make that process easier? Same thing with pick playing.


    Nov 15, 2017
    Richmond VA
    i play with fingers only..using a pick is just not for me...back in the day i used a song to exercise, i'd just play it over and over and make myself pay attention to alternating fingers, even throwing in the ring finger from time to time...back then i used triumph-fight the good fight...these days i do the same with pink floyd-money or james gang-funk 49....there's plenty of exercise to be had there and i'm actually playing something i know...the hardest part is keeping the tempo down cuz i have a tendency to speed up if there's not a drummer there to hold me back...
  9. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    Exercises -- Most of us started out running the major scale up and down our fretboard.
    Bassbeater likes this.
  10. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    So you think mainly playing scales should do the trick? And just major scales, or should I be playing the other modes as well?
  11. Bassbeater

    Bassbeater Guest

    Sep 9, 2001
    After you have the theory basically down, it's a fitness thing.
    Scales to a metronome. Try to have consistent volume and tone on each note, and to be able to control volume and tone on each note.
    Hand and body posture becomes important for playing for long periods consistently.
    Record your self practicing. Practice in front of a mirror.
    Find the best drummer you can and play basic grooves with them to develop fine timing in context.
    reddog and eJake like this.
  12. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    Yep, that's what I'm looking for - ways to build fitness. :)
  13. Bassbeater

    Bassbeater Guest

    Sep 9, 2001
    You can do circle of 4rths and 5ths and modal progressions if you know them. Use a metronome.
    Practice consistent root noting, a lot of fancy players fail the band test when they can't play a simple thing consistently.
  14. Bassbeater

    Bassbeater Guest

    Sep 9, 2001
    Play a drill for a few minutes at a non challenging tempo. When you feel your muscles in your arms burning after a few minutes, take a few minutes break and massage your fore-arms so you don't build up lactic acid and toughen connective tissue. Rinse, repeat. After long sessions like this I recommend icing your arms the same way a sprinter or other athlete ices after pushing muscles. I use a tennis ball sometimes to loosen knots in my forearms and regain speed.
  15. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    By circle of 4ths/5ths progressions, do you mean progressing with chords around the circle of 5ths? As in playing C-G-Dm-Am-Em-Bmb5, etc?
  16. elarue

    elarue Guest

    Jul 25, 2018
    Yeah, I find myself shaking my arms out a lot. Never heard of icing my arms though. I'm assuming I could find something to help with this at any sports medicine place?
  17. Bassbeater

    Bassbeater Guest

    Sep 9, 2001
    circles, you could voice the chords as arpeggios, but remember what a bass mostly does is triads, it's easy to overplay on bass and buddy the composition with other players.
    Chromatic whole step up, half step down patterns are good to build strength. Also spider drills help you traverse the neck.
    I use an ice bag that I ordered online for $4.

    This guy overexplains, but you get the idea. use a metronome and build speed. Cut the rhythm on the metrome 3/4 with accents, etc.
    Basically you build mental and physical dexterity like this.
    -Also mute your unused strings with your left and right hand as you play. If you don't learn this and incorporate it into your style you won't sound great with a loud amp.
  18. bfields


    Apr 9, 2015
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Pretty much every technique you can imagine has been used by someone. But alternating index-middle finger is a good default to start with.

    "String-skipping exercises" might be a useful search term.

    Another thing that wasn't obvious to me at the start was the importance of muting.
    Bassbeater likes this.
  19. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    I assume you can read music. Besides putting in the technical work, I find the most important thing for any bassist to be an intimate knowledge of the fretboard. There's nothing better to train that than playing actual music, and playing off a sheet is an excellent way to ingrain the basic positions.

    Maybe try some Simandl etudes, they're written for upright, but will serve the same function sans intonation training. If you're into funk or jazz, I highly recommend Alan Raph's "Dance band reading and interpretation". It's most commonly available in the treble clef version, but you can either transpose it down an octave or just play the exercises high on the neck to get the spiders off the dusty end. This book will kick your syncopation skills into high gear.

    And something you can do without reading - I've gotten this one off Chris Fitzgerald from the upright side of the board. The basic exercise is to go through all keys within 36 minutes, allocating 3 minutes to each key. During those three minutes you basically play the tonic arpeggio all over your fretboard, and after three minutes are over, you change keys. (I like to go to the flat keys first) One day, only do all keys in major, the next day in minor, and another using dominant chords etc. Upright players may use drones in each key for intonation purposes, but since we don't need to concern ourselves with that, we can use a backing track or a drum machine to play over.
  20. dab12ax7ef


    Sep 25, 2011
    Check out some of the Ariane Cap lessons on YouTube. She has quite a few dexterity and technique exercises. I didn’t link to them cause there are many, but check some out that sound interesting to you.