Playing bass guitar requires a lot of hand strength — compared to a traditional guitar, the strings are significantly heavier and can be tough on your fingers if you’re just starting out. Whether you’re new to learning the instrument or are a veteran bass player, doing targeted exercises is a great way to improve your finger dexterity and playing stamina. In this article, we’ll take you through several bass exercises to practice.
Bass Guitar Exercises For Players Of All Levels
1. Finger Permutations
If you’ve ever taken bass lessons, chances are good that your instructor asked you to do finger permutations at some point. This exercise is a lot like doing scales, and it’s great preparation for playing fast or intricate basslines. To start, first, place your hand on the neck with one finger per fret. You can start on the low E string.
Practice playing the note that corresponds to your index finger, then your middle finger, then your ring finger, and then your pinky. To do permutations properly, you then need to mix up the order until you’ve done every combination — this site offers a helpful chart.
This is a good exercise to do on every single string. It’s a lot of different combinations and it can be tedious, but it’s essential — especially for beginners. As you practice this exercise, it can be helpful to play with a metronome, using a slower tempo at first.
Once you can play through all of the combinations at this slow tempo without causing fret buzz or making mistakes, you can bump up the tempo a bit.
It’s important to note that you can do this exercise on any four adjacent frets, so you can practice it virtually anywhere on the neck. You may want to start with the 1st fret, 2nd fret, 3rd fret, and 4th fret and work your way down the neck from there. If you want a visual guide, this helpful video can show you how to do this useful fretting exercise.
2. The Right-Hand Finger Technique Exercise
Many exercises we found involve practicing motions and positions with your left hand as you fret notes with one hand and pluck notes with the other.
However, right-hand speed and dexterity (and accuracy) are essential if you want to be a great bassist. Before we get into this exercise, make sure your right-hand technique is up to speed — this video shows you an example of a good right-hand technique. For this exercise, you can practice scales or even just play single notes.
You play eighth notes (one for each finger) starting with your index finger, then the middle finger, then the ring finger. (The pinky is excluded from this one.). If you’re very new to bass, you can always play longer notes until you’re comfortable. Playing on one string at a time is a good place to start, but once you’re comfortable, this exercise is a good way to work on your scales.
If you’re new to bass, you might be unfamiliar with arpeggios. But playing an arpeggio is fairly simple — you play each note in a chord individually instead of playing through the whole chord at once. This is an exercise you can do in every key. And just like playing a scale, you’ll want to start at a tempo that is slow enough to be comfortable — using a metronome is optional. The arpeggio option is a versatile one.
You can spend a few minutes on it each day as a warm-up before bass lessons or before your daily practice sessions. Alternatively, you can spend a decent amount of time on it as a learning exercise or practice tool. You can adapt this exercise to any ability level. And if you aren’t quite sure where to start, check out this helpful video lesson on where to start with arpeggios.
4. Warm-Ups And Post-Practice Stretches
You might not think of playing bass (or any instrument, really) as strenuous activity. However, bass players can (and do) get injured sometimes. There’s even a Performing Arts Medicine Association dedicated to rehabilitating players for their injuries. This association recommends a warm-up routine that may sound surprising. Instead of stretching, they recommend a brief burst of mild cardio — think something like a five-minute, fast-paced walk.
After that, perform a few movements of the joints you use when playing — shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers. Then you’ll be ready to play a scale, arpeggios, or whatever you usually do before bass lessons or a practice session. This warm-up routine is designed to improve blood flow to your muscles, which can help prevent injury.
Post-practice stretching, surprisingly enough, is actually better than pre-practice stretching for preventing injuries.
After playing, try to always make time to stretch your wrists & fingers using exercises designed specifically for bass guitar. If you aren’t sure where to start, this helpful video will show you some useful stretches to use. Stretching gives you the added bonus of being able to stretch from one fret to the other when playing notes that are fairly far apart on the neck.
5. Finger Independence Exercises
You already know that coordinating your left and your right hand is one of the most important things to master as a bass player. But if you want to be able to play beautifully fluid basslines with legato notes, a finger independence exercise or two will go a long way towards that goal.
To start with this particular finger exercise, first, line up your fingers on four adjacent frets on the E string. Play a note using your pinky, then move your index finger down to the A string and play that note. The point of the exercise is to keep all other fingers still while moving one. You can repeat the process with each of the four fingers. And if you’d like, you can practice going from the A string to the D string and the D string to the G string (and the G string to the B string if you play a five-string bass.)
If you’re pretty new to learning the bass guitar, this might be a challenge. Be patient with yourself, as finger independence can take some time to master. If you’re new, this is an exercise you should try to do every day.
But the good news is that it’s simple enough that you can make time to do it while watching TV. You don’t need to use a metronome — the point of this great exercise is to master the physical stretch itself, not playing in time. Of course, this is not the only bass guitar finger independence exercise.
If you want to mix up your routine, you can try this one first and then incorporate other techniques into your routine. If you take lessons, your instructor will likely have some suggestions to help you get started. But to get started on your own, check out this video introducing some additional exercises you may want to learn.
Playing a scale probably isn’t your idea of fun, and most bass guitar players probably aren’t thrilled at the idea of playing scale after scale. However, playing scales is one of the best ways to get better in terms of speed, accuracy, and dexterity. But if you’re a newer player, you may not know which one to start with. If you take lessons, you may have already been introduced to the first scales you need to learn.
Most new players play the major scale first. The major scale is the most important when it comes to Western music, and it’s worth practicing each position until you’ve mastered it. From there, the major pentatonic and natural minor scales are good to learn. To void confusion, you might want to try to repeat one scale until you have it memorized.
You may find that learning two, three, or four scales at a time slows you down and causes confusion. As you practice bass guitar scales, remember to start slowly, making sure each note rings out clearly. It can be easy to accidentally blend one note into the other or notice fret buzz periodically. Do your best to get rid of these issues first before you try to play any faster. If you’d like to start, this video show’s you one instructor’s method of playing the major scale.
Hopefully, you found our list of bass exercises helpful! If you use these exercises to create a regular practice routine and stick to it, chances are good that you’ll see your bass guitar skills improve dramatically. What do you think? Did we leave any exercises out? Let us know what you think in the comments, and please don’t forget to share if you found it useful.