Right Hand Techniques for Bassists | Bass Guitar Right Hand Tips

    The 6 Best Right Hand Bass Guitar Techniques

    As a bassist, you likely know there are many popular right hand techniques you can use to play your bass guitar.

    You may have a favorite approach or a technique that you feel most comfortable with; however, it's important to be able to utilize multiple techniques for different performance and genre styles.

    Thankfully, that is exactly what we will be discussing today! This article will explore some tips from AIMM's very own Gary Wilkins on right hand techniques for bass.

    About Gary Wilkins

    Gary Wilkins is the head of the bass department and has been teaching at AIMM for nearly 25 years. He has played with countless musicians, from Naughty by Nature to Whitney Houston.

    Today he's going to show you different techniques on the bass with your picking hand. Check out the videos below, along with the supplemental highlight transcriptions and links for the best right hand bass guitar techniques.

    Table of Contents


    One Finger Technique


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    The one-finger technique originally comes from bassists playing upright. When you play the upright bass, many players will only use one finger.

    Playing with one finger allows for increased consistency as far as tone, because it's much easier to take one finger and apply the same amount of pressure and make it as loud or as soft as the other notes.

    When you play with two fingers, you have to spend more time focusing on achieving an even sound.

    Your fingers are obviously independent of each other, so you could end up playing a little bit harder with your index finger or your middle finger.

    One approach where you would use the one finger technique is raking. Raking the strings could be when you are playing double stops (two notes simultaneously) or if you play three notes at the same time or independently.

    Watch the video above to see Gary perform this technique.

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    Two Finger Technique


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    The next technique we'll discuss is the two-finger technique.

    When you play with two fingers, you alternate between your index finger and middle finger.

    As mentioned above, playing with the same touch is easier with one finger because it's simpler to repeat the exact pressure you place on each string. However, chances are you are going to come across a rhythm or necessary speed that is just too difficult to accurately perform with just one finger.

    Being able to successfully alternate between two fingers makes faster tempos and intricate rhythms a lot less frustrating.

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    Tone and Articulation In The Right Hand


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    Using your picking hand, you can also control the tone and articulation

    If you play closer to the neck of the bass, you'll get a deeper sound. As you move further down, you will notice that the sound changes depending on how far you get away from the neck.

    Just by moving up and down that area, you can change your tone by using your fingers and changing the way you attack, whether harder or softer, all coming from your picking hand technique.

    You can also play with your fingernails (if you can get them long enough, that is) to mimic the sound of a guitarist performing with a pick.

    Try throwing your fingernails into the mix to get a little more articulation and brightness with your playing. Check out the video above for Gary's example.

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    Muting is another fundamental technique to learn.

    Most of your muting can come from your right hand just by using your thumb. When you play, you can follow your fingers with your thumb, so it actually mutes the strings, so they are not free to ring out.

    To successfully do this technique, you should try to get your thumb right under your fingers.

    When most people use this technique, their thumb is visible, sticking out to the side. But if you play with your thumb tucked underneath your hand, you can still mute the strings.

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    The Slap Method


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    In the '60s, there was a bass player named Larry Graham that you may know from Sly and the Family Stone. The story is that Larry played in church and they didn't have a drummer. So, as he played bass, Larry wanted a more percussive sound to make up for it.

    What he accomplished is what we now call it slapping, but at the time, he called it thumping. He played with his thumb, and he would hit the bass with it to get more of a percussive sound, and then he would pull with his finger to get more of an attack, so it was similar to a bass drum and snare.

    To get this effect, you use your thumb and play over the fingerboard.

    When you hit the strings, you are actually playing over the fingerboard. Regardless of what the frets are made of (nickel or stainless steel), you're getting that metal against metal sound that accompanies the actual note.

    The slap method is one of the more popular right hand techniques for bass players. 

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    The Three Finger Technique


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    The last technique we'll talk about is playing with three fingers.

    The bass has grown since the day it was invented, and people have taken liberties with their performances. The bass guitar has evolved from 4 strings to 5 strings, now up to 9 strings and more.

    Essentially, bass guitarists started playing chords on the bass. If you play chords on the bass, the majority of the time you're going to use more than two fingers to do that.

    To perform the three finger technique, you'll use your thumb, middle finger, and index finger.

    It's good to know how to use this technique and play chords on the bass so you can fill in and play them if necessary. For instance, if you're only performing with drums and guitar, when the guitarist begins a solo you can fill in and play chords so the harmony isn't lost.

    It comes down to what flexibility you have with your band and, ultimately, what is needed from you during the performance. Make sure to check out the video above to see Gary's examples and how he utilizes the three finger technique.

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    Learn More With Gary

    As you can see, there are many techniques you can use when you play the bass guitar. If reading this article and watching the videos inspired you to pursue additional education, that is fantastic!

    Why not learn directly from Gary Wilkins?

    The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media offers the following programs for bass players:

    Note: During this anxious and challenging time we currently live in, AIMM is proud to let students completely control their learning experience by choosing courses online, on-campus, or hybrid.

    Click the button below and discover how AIMM can benefit your career today.

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    Gary Wilkins

    Gary Wilkins

    Gary Wilkins is the Director of the Bass Program and a Bass Instructor for Atlanta Institute of Music and Media. He is responsible for creating and maintaining the Bass curriculum as well as teaching various courses. Gary has performed with Cissy and Whitney Houston, The New Jersey Mass Choir, Multicultural Ensemble (at the Newport Jazz Festival), and ‘Fender Bash’ at NAMM with Johnny Hiland. He has also been part of a private performance with jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, and bandleader Lionel Hampton. Gary also played on many recordings including releases by Triple Platinum Recording Artist ‘Naughty By Nature’. He completed three years as a Jazz Performance Major at William Paterson University.