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Right Hand Technique for Bass (L#37)

Right hand -- or "plucking hand" technique should I say, in order not to isolate the lefties ;), is too often forgotten about, because many players are so bothered about what they're playing with the other hand...

But right hand technique on the bass is really key for a lot of techniques and for speed, so it's very important that you investigate and practice these right hand techniques.

First of all, when you're ascending a scale or bass line, you MUST alternate index-middle-index-middle, etc., no excuses! Failing to do so would really be detrimental to your fluidity, precision, speed, etc. I'm expanding on that in the video.

When it comes to descending however, you've got two choices: either alternate picking or raking. None is better than the other but what's important is that, when you've chosen the one that suits you best or feels more natural to you, you stick to it! Another important thing is that you can rake with both the index and the major.

Practice VERY slowly rather than playing too fast and getting into bad habits that would be a pain to break.

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  • eric

    Didn’t James Jamerson just use one finger?

    • scott

      Lol! But we’re only human ;)

  • eric

    Good lesson tho! I’ve played for years to a good level but always used a pick and been below average with fingers. Thought it was time to improve the old fingerstyle. So this has helped. Cheers!

  • doug yoder

    …excellent! …excellent! …excellent!!! I’m o-l-d, (still in my 50’s though), ‘have been playin for 40+ yrs., but the video on “alternate plucking and raking” is incredibly helpful! In all these years I’ve never had anyone take the time to explain and show in slow motion how it is suppose to be done. I have always been fascinated by bassists that can super fast ‘shred’ and yet each note is defined… THANK YOU !! doug

  • It was interesting to see someone dissect their right-hand technique in this way. Consequently, I immediately found myself analysing my own. As it turns out, I’ve been alternate picking and ‘raking’ in much the same way Scott does for years. However, I’d never thought about the raking part consciously or given it a label. My patterns on the way up and down are more or less the same, with the exception that I mostly lead with my middle finger (or my ring finger when using three-fingered picking). It also prompted me to look at my ‘system’ in more detail and iron out any inconsistencies.

  • Steve Campbell

    So I’ve never had a problem with descending. I’ve always had problems ascending with my picking hand. Do you have any tips on how to improve my weakness?

    • scott

      Yeah… ascending is tougher for me too. I just practiced it twice as hard as descending to get it ironed out. Make sure you’re using minimal movements in your picking hand and your fingers don’t look like a marching soldier. That will really help. Ez, Scott

  • Steve Y

    This is the lesson I’ve been looking for. I haven’t seen another site with this much info & detail. Thanks heaps.

  • jay dee

    I am having such a HARD TIME not raking on the way up the strings (hi to low ) I have to go real slow and pay close attention or I end up raking, obviously this is no good in a live situation.

  • ScottW

    Hi Scott, really enjoying all of your lessons! This one is great, if there was ever a technique to break down and practice obsessively it would be right hand string crossing, thanks so much. I have one question though: What’s your take on three finger plucking?

    • scott

      Three finger plucking… Mmmm… yeah, it’s great! I just use two because that’s what suits me, if three fingers is what suits you go for it!

  • Jim

    Hi Scott. First off. Thanks for everything. I have learned loads from your site. I played bass for a short time in school over twenty five years ago, and even though I am over forty years old I have decided to pick it up again and take it seriously. So I have a question regarding right hand technique: I learned to play by anchoring my thumb on the pickup and leaving it there at all times. I see that you play by moving your thumb from string to string to mute the strings above. I have started practicing this style and I notice that I am basically starting all over again. Scales, arpeggios and all the bass lines I know are now hard to play again. I am wondering if it is worth retraining myself, which I am willing to do, or simplky stick with my original method. What do you think? Thanks again for all of the knowledge and inspiration. Oh and by the way, “Autumn Leaves”… Well done!

    • scott

      Hey Jim… it depends on you and what you’re happy with. If that technique is working… great! But, it wasn’t for me soI had to change… I had un-muted strings ringing out when I didn’t want them etc and when you’re in a recording studio that a big deal because everything is under the microscope. Hope that helps! Scott ;)

  • Frederic U.

    Hello Scott,

    I’m a beginner and I first want to thank you very much for all the videos you publish !

    I’m focusing on technique right now and I face some problems with the raking technique when playing faster basslines: as one finger has to “fall” on the next lower string, this is not really straightforward and in such a case I prefer the alternate picking technique. I would like to make the correct choice so when you use raking in “fast” situations, do you change something about your fingers placement that can increases your playing speed ?

    Thanks a lot !


    • scott

      Hey Frederic. No, my fingers just kinda stay in the same position. Don’t worry though man, plenty of people play super fast with alternate picking too! ;)

  • You are a great teacher! Thank you so much for sharing this great stuff.

    I think that I’m going to stick with the raking technique. I like the way it feels. What happens when you are decending and skip one or more strings….should you continue raking with the same finger or use the other finger? . Both ways seems to have their pros and cons to my untrained hands.

    • scott

      I continue raking Sean – but, have a play around with some different options and see which one works best for. S ;)

  • Sergio

    Hi Scott, thanx for you great tutorials. Nice job!. I’ve been playing for several years, and now i decided to switch to this technique you propose here cause’ it seems it’s the only way to play fast arpeggios for example.
    When i’m practicing this exercise everything is ok , but when it comes to play grooves.. it becomes very awkward for me, so uncomfortable , it feels like i cannot play anymore, is it normal? Do you use string raking for scales, arpeggios, grooves, etc? What do you recommend? please help me. i performed last night and it was a disaster. I missed many notes… hahaha, thank god it was just my friends party at home..

  • Harvey

    This lesson is exactly what I needed, I can already hear a difference in the flow of my playing. I am not overly concerned about speed (above accurancy anyhow), until I saw this lesson I kept tripping over notes and now I can see why.


  • Bob

    I’ve been working these methods for about 3 weeks now and just discovered this lesson today. I’ve been wondering where your speed comes from. The answer is simple enough, but setting up a new right hand pattern (I M, I M) after so many years is another story. I’ll be “in the shed” on this for days, but once again, you’re making a bass player out of me.
    Thank you so much

  • Hi Scott. I am having a slight issue in that when using alternate plucking, my right hand plucking fingers seem to want to sync with my left hand fretting fingers.
    To explain.
    Ascending on top string (4 notes) – Left index finger on first note – Start plucking with right index finger (I.M.I.M). This ends with M plucking the last note fretted by my little finger.
    When I drop a string and descend, because my little finger is the first finger on the string, my right hand wants to kick off with the middle finger (M.I.M.I). On the fourth (last) note my left index finger is on the fret which is then plucked with my right index finger.
    The plucking pattern thus becomes
    Ascending … I.(F 1) – M.(F2) – I.(F3) – M.(F4)
    Descending … M.(F4) – I.(F3) – M.(F2) – I.(F 1)
    – a mirror image.
    This feels totally natural and fluid as both hands seem in harmony with each other but it does break up the continuous I. M. I. M. I. M. I. M. pattern that you advocate.
    As a total beginner, I am concerned about getting into bad habits early on so my question is, do I go with what comes naturally or do I persevere trying to learn what doesn’t, (in order to save correcting it at a later stage).
    What do you think?
    BTW. Great site and many thanks for your efforts

  • Steve

    I’ve been playing as what I thought was a proficient level on the bass for over 20 years. I am self taught, and wondered why I could not gain speed on the strings. I always felt as if I was tripping over myself, and now I know why. Thank you so much for this great lesson. In trying this technique out, I see how messed up my right hand technique is and I will be working on un-learning my bad habits. I will incorporate this into my practice time every day until I can get it committed to muscle memory.

    ipipipipipipip….pipipipipipi… Thanks!!!


    • plaintextman

      FWIW it’s nice to see I’m not the only self-taught player who has developed a partially sane, partially disastrous right-hand technique ;) Actually, it would seem that this is a very common problem for “intermediate level” bass players! I got some of the raking and alternation things right without giving it any thought, but also botched them in many cases without understanding why.

      I think I’m beginning to understand why the heck I just can’t manage to get dat sp33d. Why I trip up at even very slow tempos of stuff like MarloweDK’s L349. Thank you so much, Scott! For deconstructing and demonstrating important things in detail. I’ve just watched it and already I’m rethinking and repracticing many of the basic bass patterns.

  • Thanks for the lesson. I am a guitar (not bass) player who has spent 15 yrs developing technique through college and I now work in Nashville as a session/live player. I just got a bass gig and this website is a God-send. I know how important the basic are, but had no way of getting great instruction. I appreciate this so much. Will be spending a lot of time on your site. Thanks.

  • Robin Lee

    Amazing. When the penny drops, you can get some really fluid speed going. Thanks a million Scott

  • Great lesson Scott, I’ve been using a hard pick for centuries. I would really like to get motivated to get in the shed and get fluid with plucking with fingers, for the sound and sounds you can get and also because a pick can get pretty hard to hold on to after several hours of sweaty playing. As I was watching this lesson a popup said signup and then the only choice you had to exit back to the lesson was “I don’t want to join”, I have already joined previously, but don’t want to give you negative statistics about who wants to join and who doesn’t, was wandering if you could change the choice to exit back to the lesson, from “i don’t want to join” to something like “Not now, continue with the lesson”, so not to give you inaccurate likes or dislikes about your efforts…Keep sending the lessons, man….just my 2 cents…Steve

  • Martin S

    Hi Scott I’m playing Bass for many years and being self taught i use my middle and ring fingers alternating for fast playing. It seems to work for me but i have never heard of anyone else doing it. Maybe you could enlighten me. Thanks Martin

  • Duncan76

    Having trouble playing with my thumb anchored – everything is nice and relaxed and comfortable, it feels great but I can’t seem to get the fingertips to attack the strings properly. This makes me want to drink heavily.

  • vgjazzbass

    hey ,i found tha t really helpful ,but i have a question when playing for example 8ths fast the scale (you know same note twice per beat) igs more or a 16th note prestia like groove,isn it more convenient during descending to start with the index?(whether alternating or raking)

  • ragtimelil

    I’m loving these lessons but this is probably the hardest one for me. I’m sticking with it though. Thanks!

  • James McClain

    Scott, I appreciate the lessons you have put together and I have just started here. This is the first lesson I went to because I knew that I had no real knowledge of right hand bass technique while I have a good command of the fretboard. In practicing this technique at slow speed (40 or 60 BPM) I find that I consistently get tripped up changing from the A string to the D string or more accurately when I need to start the next ascending string using my middle finger. Any suggestions on how to break through on the muscle memory aspect of this exercise ? Thanks

  • Titti P.

    Oh man, this is so basic and so hard!! I’ve been used to le tmy fingers do whatever they wanted, but I need to gain speed so I have to re-learn this basic stuff… How many time do you recomend for this excercise daily? 15-20 minutes???

  • Chris E

    I’m in my 50’s and haven’t played since I was in high school; they needed a bass player for our church worship band so I got the bass back out and started working the rust off. Saw your lessons on Facebook and joined and love them — BUT — they don’t seem to be in any particular order.

    I’ve kept backing up to figure out where to start — and the lessons on Technique seem to be the place.

    I don’t have any trouble alternating fingers on the plucking hand. However, you are SAYING that you use two — but when you pick, you seem to be using the THUMB on your root note. Am I correct? I’ve never done that — and I’m not sure how to start that. I tend to anchor with my thumb on the wood of the guitar.

    Any suggestions?