So you’ve just picked up your bass for the first time and you want to dive right in and be a rockstar but your hands just won’t do what you want them to?
This is an issue that almost every musician encounters when first starting out so don’t feel disheartened!
The best way to combat this is with simple exercises, which are commonly known as ‘Spiders’. These aren’t the most fun or interesting things to play but, in my opinion, are by far the most effective way to get both your hands working in harmony.
The aim of these exercises is to create finger independence whilst, at the same time, making sure both your fretting hand and your plucking hand are perfectly synchronised.
The idea is that, with your fretting hand, you are using ‘one finger per fret’ to walk along the string much like a spider would. It is key to make sure your hand posture and positioning is correct, as it is a lot easier to learn it correctly in the first place than to go back and re-write bad habits.
Here are some key points for fret hand positioning:
- Thumb behind neck, roughly inline with middle finger
- Fingers hovering about ½ inch above string, ready to press down
- Wrist straight with the back of the hand in line with the forearm
- Fingers coming down onto string, not across
With the plucking hand (for fingerstyle) you want to be ‘walking’ on the strings with your index and middle finger, making sure to constantly alternate fingers and not use the same finger twice.
A similar theory applies to playing this exercise with a pick but, rather than alternating which finger you use to pluck, you alternate between downstrokes and upstrokes with the pick.
Here are some key points for pick hand positioning:
- Find an anchor point for your thumb to rest on, I find the pickups are perfect
- Try to keep your fingers fairly straight with a small amount of curve to them and avoid having them curl in on themselves
- Make sure you don’t dig in too much or pull/pluck at the string, ideally you want to be lightly brushing across the string with your finger tips
- Grip the pick between your index finger and thumb
- Make sure the pick is sticking out the side of your thumb and not the end
- Try to angle the pick diagonally across the string to avoid it getting ‘caught up’ when playing
- Keep as much of the picking motion at the wrist and try to avoid playing from the elbow
- Though not essential, I find having an anchoring point helps with accuracy, so if you’re having trouble keeping your playing consistent try resting you hand on the bridge
It is best to start as a slow tempo (60-70bpm is ideal) and focus on accuracy above all else. When you feel comfortable at that speed you up the tempo by about 5bpm.