Here’s a simple beginner bass guitar exercise that you can use to test your fretting hand technique. It’s great for beginners, especially those of you that feel you’re lacking in hand size or general left hand mobility. We’ll look at 3 simple patterns that you’ll see in every bass line, scale and arpeggio you ever play. They’re EVERYWHERE!!
The Three Patterns
In this exercise, we are going to look at patterns made up of three notes per string and the three patterns we are going to look at are; Half Step Whole Step (HW), Whole Step Half Step (WH) and Whole Step Whole Step (WW). These there patterns are everywhere, but remember that they are only building blocks. They’re just fragments that we use to build longer lines, scales and arpeggios.
So let’s start with the easiest of the three patterns, the Half Step Whole Step. Here we will start on the B at the 7th fret on the E string, and for this pattern we are playing the notes B, C and D as shown on the fretboard below. When using the HW pattern from B on the E string, you will be playing the 7th, 8th and 10th fret.
Take this pattern and run it across every string, start from different root notes and in various locations around the fret board and see what combinations of notes you get. Run this ascending and descending across the neck, this also works as a great warm up exercise although it can be a little boring just played straight so let’s really put it under the microscope and use it to hone our technique.
Fretting Hand Technique
Let’s check our fretting hand position; the thumb should at the back of the neck placed in the middle of the spine of the bass neck, never hooked around the top of the neck like a guitarist! This works as a pivot point when playing one-finger-per-fret. Be sure to curl your fingers over so that you are using the most control and appropriate strength when playing notes on the fretboard. You want to apply adequate pressure with you fingertips so that the notes ring clearly.
Next you want to make sure that your fingers are parallel to the frets and that each fret marker can be seen between each finger on your fretting hand, or if you can’t stretch that way, then just ensure that your fingers are in the correct default position. This helps with your accuracy and if you are unsure of your position, then use your middle finger as a guide.
Once you are happy with your position, then relax the fretting hand and just rest your fingers in place. Then play this pattern by pressing down just enough to let the notes ring clearly all the while keeping your hand relaxed. Keep that note held down until you are happy with the clarity of the sound before moving on with the rest of this first pattern. If you can’t make the stretch for all the notes, then check your technique again and use micro shifting if necessary.
Picking Hand Technique
The other thing to pay attention to here is your picking hand, we are going to alternate between the first and second fingers as we play each note. It doesn’t matter which finger you start with, just keep alternating and what you’ll find is that the lead finger switched every time you move to a new string. This is because we have two fingers playing patterns of three. So if we start on the index finger we get; Index, Middle, Index and vice versa.
Also, pay attention to your picking hand thumb. When playing on the E string, anchor your thumb on the pickup and then move it as your move across the strings. In other words, when playing on the A string, shift your thumb from its anchor point on the pick up to the E string. Then move it to the A string when playing on the D string, then leave it resting on the A string when playing the G string.
The picking hand thumb is the key to muting on the picking hand and can make the difference between sounding good and sounding awful, so pay special attention to this area of your picking technique.
We are playing this exercise in straight 8th notes as slow as you can initially to keep all this technique in check, while keeping the hands as relaxed as possible. Watch out for your technique as you come back down the pattern as that’s where issues are likely to occur. Once this has been engrained in your muscle memory, then you can work on building speed.
Using a metronome, build up in small increments and try to keep the hand as relaxed as possible as you do so. The temptation is to tighten and tense up when going for speed, but this just has the opposite effect and can lead to injury down the line. Keeping your playing light and relaxed is the secret to reaching crazy speeds. If you need speed for the win, then don’t dig in!
For pattern number two, we have WH or Whole Step Half Step. So starting on the 7th fret of the E string, this will be B, C# and D on the 7th, 8th and 10th frets as shown on the fretboard below. This might be a little trickier as the third finger tends to be the weakest one, but just take your time and follow all the aforementioned technique tips and you should be fine.
For our thirds and final pattern we have WW or Whole Step Whole Step, this will be B, C# and D# starting from the same point as before. These will be the 7th, 9th and 11th frets on the E string. This is a wide and stretched pattern so take you time to get this comfortably under the fingers. Don’t stretch if it starts to hurt, instead use micro shifts to reach all the notes. Once you are comfortable in that area on the neck, then you can move progressively down the neck towards the headstock of your bass where the frets are gradually spaced further apart, this means you may need to adjust your technique at this point.
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