While the bass looks a lot like the guitar, it demands an entirely different playing technique. In this blog, we’ll take you through some bass-playing basics, starting with the absolute fundamentals: the correct playing posture, both sitting and standing; the right-hand technique, where you’ll learn how to pluck the strings with your index and middle fingers and with a plectrum, and you’ll also learn to mute the unplayed strings and remove all that nasty low-frequency rumbling from your sound (a technique that actually involves both hands, but more on that later). Then, we’ll close with the left-hand technique to make sure that your thumb learns to rest against the back of the neck and that your other fingers are always ready and waiting in just the right spot, setting you up with a solid bass-playing foundation.

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

Of course, any left-handed bassists can reverse the order: left = right, right = left.

#1. Proper Playing Posture

If you’re a complete beginner, then it’s recommended to start playing sitting down. This will help you develop the healthiest posture.

  • Choose a chair or stool that doesn’t have any armrests and sit with your back straight.
  • Place the body of your bass on your right thigh. Make sure that the bass is firmly planted in place. Keeping your thigh horizontal to the floor, your foot flat on the ground. Making sure that your leg is relaxed will help with this.
  • Hold the neck of your bass in your left hand, making sure that the neck is tilted slightly upwards. Your bass needs to sit stable on your thigh so that it doesn’t dip as soon as you let go of the neck. In other words, make sure you’re not bearing the weight of the neck with your left hand to hold it up. If your left wrist is still straining a little to hold the weight, then just tilt the neck a little further up.
  • Now, place your left hand around the neck kind of like you’re holding a sandwich, so make sure that your thumb is flat against the back of the neck and that it’s sitting almost parallel to your middle finger. The rest of your fingers should naturally rest against the strings. Don’t be tempted to curl your thumb over the neck – we’ll talk about that in more depth later (including photos!).
  • Hold the body loosely and avoid gripping it with your elbow and arm.
  • Avoid tilting the body back so you can get a better view of the strings when you look down. Of course, you can keep a relaxed eye on your left hand. Keep your back straight and try not to curve and strain your neck.
  • To finish: double check that your posture feels fully relaxed, so there’s no tension in your leg, your left wrist, or your neck.

Bass Guitar Technique for BeginnersMost bassists rest the bass on their right thigh when they sit down to play.

Can you rest the bass on your left thigh?

A more traditional way of holding your bass when sitting down is to set it on the left thigh with the body resting a little against the right thigh. Holding the bass this way prevents you from bending over your instrument and makes it easier to keep the neck tilted up. Try it out! You might even want to use a footstool to raise your left leg. Just make sure to keep your legs relaxed and free of tension.

» Footstools

Bass Guitar Technique for BeginnersAn alternative technique when sitting to play: rest the bass on the left thigh

Playing standing up

While it’s best to start playing sitting down, it’s also wise not to wait too long before standing to play. Otherwise, you might struggle with the transition from sitting to standing.

  • Use a guitar strap: Make sure that the strap is firmly secured to the strap buttons of your bass! Watching helplessly as your bass comes loose and crashes to the ground is no fun, so this is essential. For extra peace of mind, many bassists use a set of strap-locks, or a guitar strap with integrated strap locks. But if you’re not too keen on the idea of installing a set of strap-locks, you could use a set of strap-blocks instead.
  • If possible, adjust your strap to a comfortable length. A good method for getting it right is to sit down with your bass resting on your thigh as described above. Now, shorten the strap until the body of your bass hovers just above your thigh, then stand up (making sure to keep your back straight, of course).
  • If your hands start to feel tense, then your strap is too loose. Tighten it up, take a short break, then try again.

» Guitar Straps
» Strap Locks
» Guitar Straps with Integrated Strap Locks
» Strap Blocks

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners
Standing to play the bass

Does playing your bass get painful?

If you feel any pain at all while playing your bass, then take a break before going back over the instructions outlined above to make sure you’re retaining the right posture. If you know you’re doing everything correctly but you’re still experiencing pain, then try taking an extended break for a couple of days. If the pain persists, then contact your doctor and seek help from a physiotherapist. Further to that, and to prevent any future problems, it’s recommended to take a few lessons with a professional bass guitar teacher. They’ll be able to teach you the correct posture first hand and offer direct feedback, setting you up with the correct foundation so you can continue studying to play the bass in the healthiest way possible.

#2. The Right Hand Technique


Plucking is the most common bass playing technique:

  • Rest the tip of your thumb on the middle pickup (or ‘most middle’ pickup) of your bass as lightly as possible. We’ll go into this starting position in more detail in a bit.
  • From here, you can comfortably pluck the strings with your index and middle fingers. Pluck the first note of the bassline with your index finger; the next note with your middle finger; the note after that with your index, and so on, alternating your fingers with each note. A really important thing to note when plucking: avoid curling up or ‘clawing’ at the string to get a big volume. You’re not playing a double bass, so you can rely on the volume pot of your bass to do the work. If the timbre of the note sounds a little faint, only then should you try plucking with a little more force.

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners
Rest your thumb on the middle pickup as lightly as possible. Alternate plucking the strings with your index and middle fingers and avoid ‘clawing’ at the strings.

The right-hand muting technique

When playing the bass guitar, it’s extra important to prevent the other strings from vibrating. The notes produced by a bass are very low in pitch and if multiple strings are vibrating at the same time, then your bass sound will have a noisy, background rumble to it – in exactly the wrong way. As such, it’s essential to learn to always mute the strings you’re not playing. While it can take a little while, eventually, you’ll learn to use both hands to mute the strings, leaving you with a nice and tight, clean sound. Tip: practise the right and left hand muting techniques separately. We’ll start you off with the right hand technique.

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners
Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

With this muting technique, as you can see above, the fingers stay in exactly the same position. You’ll simply move your right hand down so that that your thumb rests against the E or A-string, the same way it did on the middle pickup.

The E-string

  • When playing the E-string, very lightly rest the tip of your thumb against the top of the middle pickup as we described earlier. Doing this immediately gives your fingers a fixed position. So, the idea is not to ‘hang’ on the edge of the pickup or to push down on it. Remember: the more force applied by your thumb, the less force you’ll have left over for your other fingers.
  • When playing the E-string, there’s no need to mute the other strings with your right hand since it will be taken care of by your left hand (more on this later).

The A-string

  • When playing the A-string, gently rest the tip of your thumb against the E string to mute it. We’ll say it one more time: rest your thumb as gently as possible – so gently, it’s almost floating.
  • Since your thumb is muting the E-string, it’s not in danger of vibrating or getting accidentally hit while you play the A-string.

The D-string

  • When playing the D-string, gently rest the tip of your thumb against the A-string.
  • At the same time, allow the side of your thumb to rest against the E-string. This way, you’re muting the two strings at once: the A-string is muted since you’re using it as your support-point, while the E-string is muted by the side of your thumb, leaving you free to play a clean note on the D-string.

The G-string

  • When playing the G-string, gently rest the tip of your thumb against the D-string.
  • This will work in exactly the same way as before. So now, you’re muting the D-string while the side of your thumb mutes the E and A strings.

Five-string basses

You can use exactly the same right-hand plucking and muting technique for five-string basses as you would for a four-string bass. The only difference is that you’re starting on the B-string, and three strings will need to be muted with the side of your thumb when playing the highest pitched G-string.

But is this the one-and-only muting technique?!

If you Google it, then you’ll come across a few right hand muting techniques. Unfortunately, we can’t say which one is the definitive technique since there are plenty of incredible bassists that favour one technique, and just as many, just as good bassists that prefer another. We’ve decided to teach you this particular technique because: a) it always gives your thumb a support-point, b) your fingers are automatically placed in the same position, and c) using this technique, it doesn’t matter which string you’re playing: the distance between the strings, the thumb, and the index and middle fingers remains the same. This way, your fingers and hand muscles are making exactly the same movements for each string, making your playing as efficient as possible.

Can you rest your thumb somewhere else?

While we’ve set you up with a technique that starts by resting your thumb on the middle pickup, you might prefer a less round, sharper bass sound. In that case, you can rest your thumb on your bridge pickup instead (the one that’s mounted closest to the bridge). For a fuller sound, you can rest your thumb just on the end of the fretboard. If you prefer to rest your thumb on the body of your bass, then you could consider installing a thumb rest.

» Thumb Rests

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

Can you play the bass with a plectrum?

Because it’s a pretty common technique, is well worth learning, and tends to result in the most consistent bass sound, we’re focusing on the finger-technique in this blog. However, plectrum techniques are also common and result in a less rounded, fiercer sound that works for a lot of rock and metal bassists. Beginner bassists often find that playing at a higher tempo is easier with a plectrum, but ultimately, you can also learn to play just as fast with your fingers. In the image below and on the left, you can see the correct way to hold a plectrum. It’s important that, as you move the plectrum up and down to play a string, the movement is made by your wrist (and not your whole forearm). The best way to nail the action is to imagine striking a match.

For more general help playing with a plectrum, see our dedicated blog on the subject via the link below.

When it comes to playing the bass with a plectrum, a different muting technique needs to be used, which is shown in the image below and on the right. Note: make sure not to mute the string you’re playing (unless, of course, you want to give the sound a muted effect). For playing the bass, it’s recommended to use a standard plectrum made from delrex and with a heavy thickness, but when it comes to plectrums, it’s worth experimenting with various different picks (there are plenty of variety packs) to see what feels and sounds right.

» Learn to Play with a Plectrum
» Standard, Heavy, Delrex Plectrums
» Plectrum Variety Packs

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

#3. The Left-Hand Technique

Every finger has its place

What you’re about to learn is the starting position for your left hand. This will make sure that every finger has its own place, and while you won’t necessarily need to use it all the time, it provides a comfy starting point. By holding your fingers close to the strings, but without touching them, they’re ready and waiting to grab a note as soon as they need to.

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

The notes of a bass guitar (the B-string at the bottom is included to show the range of a 5-string bass). Click on the image to see the full fretboardNote: the notes have been simplified a little to make them easier to read. All notes including a ‘♭’ symbol (a flat) actually have two names. For example, a D♭ is the same as a C♯, depending on the context. For more on this, see this blog, and more of our blogs about reading music. While the ability to read music isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s definitely useful.

Playing your first notes

  1. As we mentioned earlier, the thumb of your left hand should always be resting against the back of the neck of your bass, roughly facing your middle finger as it hovers above the fretboard.
  2. Let the fingers of your left hand lie flat and make sure they’re hovering above the strings without actually touching them, and that each finger has its own place.
  3. Now, with the tip of your index finger, press down the E-string just before the fifth fret.
  4. Now, pluck the string with the index finger of your right hand. As you can see in the image of the fretboard above, you’ve just played an A note!
Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

Make sure your thumb is relaxed as it rests against the back of the neck and that it’s (roughly) parallel to your middle finger (see the image on the left). While some bassists tend to curl their thumb around the neck, this isn’t recommended (see the photo on the right). This way of holding the neck makes it harder to develop a smooth left-hand technique and, above all, can make it harder to get a clean note out of your bass.

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners
As a little exercise, place the tip of your index finger just before the fifth fret on the E-string to play an A note. Make sure your other fingers are hovering just above their own spot.

Check, check & double-check

Make sure that the string is able to vibrate freely for a long time (that it has a long sustain). Can you hear that the string is muted, buzzes, or rattles?

  • You might need to pluck the string with a little more force (not too much). Golden rule: never use more force than necessary, so that you always have a good, consistent sound.
  • Maybe your other fingers are touching the string by mistake.
  • You might be holding the string down too far from the fret, or too close to the fret. Experiment a little with the distance and see what sounds best.

Rinse & repeat

  • Lift your index finger and release the E-string.
  • Now, press down the E-string just before the sixth fret with your middle finger, while your ring and little fingers hover above the strings. Pluck the E-string with the middle finger of your right hand.
  • Lift your middle finger from the E-string, then place your ring finger at the seventh fret. Pluck the E-string with the index finger of your right hand. Then lift your middle finger and place your little finger at the eighth fret, plucking the string with your middle finger.
  • Now repeat each step for each finger, but this time playing the A-string. Then repeat each step for the D-string, and finally the G-string.
  • Keep repeating until you can smoothly play four good-sounding notes on each string.
Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

Example: hold the string down with your
middle finger and allow your index finger to rest lightly against the string while your ring and little fingers hover above the fretboard without accidentally muting any strings.

The left-hand muting technique

Ok, since we’ve already covered the right-hand muting technique, now we’ll take a look at the muting technique of the left hand – more commonly referred to as the fret hand. You might already be asking why you can’t just mute the strings with one hand. You’ll find the answer in the image below. Say you’re playing the A-string and want to mute all of the other strings with the index finger of your left hand. While you can mute the D and G strings easily enough, if you try to mute the E string at the same time, you’re in trouble. Maybe you could reach your middle finger across to mute the E, but it’s not exactly comfortable and you run the risk of muting the A-string at the same time. So here, the best solution is to mute the E string with your right hand, and mute the D and G strings with your left hand leaving you free to play a clean note on the A-string.

Bass Guitar Technique for BeginnersExample: say you’re playing the A-string. Then rest the thumb of your right hand on the E-string while muting the D and G strings with your left hand.

A step-by-step guide to left-hand muting

  • If you’re playing a note on the E-string, then you can mute the other strings (A, D, G) by allowing your index finger to lie across the fretboard, resting against the strings. Sometimes, you’re actually using your index finger to hold a note on the E-string, in which case, it will still be able to lie across the other three strings.
  • If you’re playing the A-string, then mute the D and G strings with your index finger.
  • If you’re playing the D-string, then mute the G-string with your index finger.
  • If you’re playing the G-string, then your left hand doesn’t need to do anything since your right hand will be able to mute the other strings.
  • Everything works in the same way when playing a five-string bass. Of course, you just have an extra string that will need muting with your index finger.
  • Just like the right-hand muting technique, the left-hand muting technique will take some practice to get right. Be patient with yourself and you’ll get there!

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners
By laying the index finger of your left hand very lightly against the strings, whenever you play the E-string, your index finger will mute the A, D, and G strings.

Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners Bass Guitar Technique for Beginners

If you’re playing the A-string, then rest your index finger on the D and G strings (left image). If you’re playing the D-string, rest the index finger on the G-string (right image). If you’re playing the G-string, then your left hand doesn’t need to mute the strings, your right hand will take care of it.

See also…

» What’s the Best Tuner for Me?
» What is the Best Bass Guitar for Me?
» What’s the Best Acoustic Bass Guitar for Me?
» What’s the Best Guitar Strap for Me?
» What Are the Best Bass Guitar Strings for Me?

» How do I become a bassist?
» A Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up a Bass Guitar
» Cleaning Your Fretboard
» What’s the Best Bass Guitar Effect for Me?
» What’s the Best Bass Amplifier for Me?
» Musician-Related Injuries: 8 Ways to Avoid Them
» A Bassist’s Guide to Writing Bass Lines
» The Fretless Bass: The Pros & Cons
» 4 or 5-String Bass: How Much is Just Enough?
» Top 10 Songs With A Smashing Bass Intro
» How to tune your guitar or bass

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