Beginning Bass: Fretting Hand Dexterity

This is the month when I meet a whole lot of new bass students, both in my private practice and my role as the Bass Department Head at Belmont University in Nashville. A lot of times, one of the first things I’ll become aware of is the need for a little tune-up as far as the LH fingerings go (this would be RH for Jimmy Haslip, Keith Horne and all of my lefty bass buddies, BTW).

These exercises are good as warm-ups if they are played slowly and they can be used to build speed if utilized at the end of a practice session as well.

The first exercise is just 1 finger per fret moving diagonally across the neck (E-A-D-G) and then reverse (G-D-A-E). Dave LaRue calls this exercise “The Spider” and indeed it does look like a spider crawling up your neck. You can either move up or down the bass neck with this one. If you have smaller hands don’t try to stretch all the way across the four frets but use a thumb pivot. Leave your thumb behind the 2nd finger and move the hand up and back as needed to reach the notes. As an alternative, try starting the pattern up the neck and moving backwards.

The second exercise I call the “Spinal Tap Tritone Lick”. It is two 5th intervals a tritone (b5) apart. The notes are on the E-A-D and A-D-G in first position. You can almost hear Derek Smalls playing this figure as the woefully small Stonehenge monument is lowered to the stage….(If you don’t get this visual, rent the movie-it’s a howl!).

Finally, the third pattern looks a little tricky but is really easy once you get the formula. The first finger stays put while the other 3 move across the E A D and G strings. Then the pattern flips and the first note stays put on the G string while the other 3 fingers are on the G D A and E strings. This can be worked on anywhere on the neck.

A great source of these sort of patterns is Bass Fitness by Josquin des Pres. Practice the patterns slowly at first-an athlete stretches his muscles slowly before playing and you should as well. Have fun and don’t hurt yourself!