How do I pluck chords

I’m trying to play chords for the first time, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve been simply raking through the three strings, but I’ve just watched a talkingbass video where Mark plucks with thumb+index+middle at the same time. Is that what I should be practicing instead? It feels really awkward, and completely confuses my plucking fingers.

Specifically, this is the bar I’m learning. How would you play it?


For a chord, yes, you pluck them all at once. I would do it the same way Mark did…


Almost everything feels awkward when you haven’t done it before.

Chords are played all at the same time, they’re usually the thumb + some fingers. If you strum them one string at a time, they’re an arpeggio.

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How do I mute the E string while I’m plucking with my thumb?

If I were you, I would just do it the same way Mark does (as @sully suggested). Mark also teaches that method in his Chords for Bass class (which I’m taking), along with some alternatives for different chords.
It feels awkward to me also, but just playing chords on the bass in general is a bit awkward to me. I’m sure it will become more comfortable over time.

I hate to sound snarky, but does that mean that pick players - guitar or bass - or finger strummers never actually play chords, they’re only ever playing arpeggios?

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Every guitar chords is strummed one string at a time, fast enough though…it’s a chord. :wink:

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well that’s like saying every circle is made of a bunch of really short straight lines :slight_smile:


depends on how quickly you do it. If you strum fast enough that they sound like they happen at once then they’re a chord; if they’re slow enough that you can independently hear each note then it’s an arpeggiated chord.

Yup, thumb + index + middle. It’s just building muscle memory. Riding a bike and driving a car felt awkward at first too.

I’ve recorded both approaches to show what I’m talking about. The chord is in the 3rd bar. (I’ve recorded the entire 4-bar section, to show it in context.)

3 fingers: This is the one I’m having problems with, because

  • I’m plucking upwards, not across (to avoid muting)
  • my thumb has to leave the E string, so there’s nothing left there to mute it

Is this what I am supposed to be doing, or am I missing something?

Rake: This feels much easier, and in terms of fingering it fits much better into the rest of the section. Also I don’t think it sounds that much worse than the 3 finger pluck.

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(spoiler alert - you sound better than you think you do)
Top one sounds better and you did it perfectly.

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That looks and sounds fine to me. It’s like guitar fingerstyle, they’re freestrokes instead of reststrokes. Your thumb and fingers go towards each other in a squeezing type of motion.

You can mute the E string with your left hand, either your thumb or one of the other fingers.

Sure, you can do whatever you like… you can also strum it with your thumb or the back of your fingers.

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I tried, but it made my wrist feel like it was breaking in half

It’s one place that playing fingerstyle guitar or banjo really helps.

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You could fret the 5th on the E string and mute the A, you could rest your thumb on the E string and play the A, D, G strings with your index, middle, ring. It’s your rodeo :slightly_smiling_face:

Try to avoid plucking upwards, away from the bass. Just like when you pluck normally, you should be plucking towards the bass so that finger ends up resting on the string above.

It should feel as if you’re pinching the strings, but the motion should be slightly towards the bass, never away from.

You don’t need to pluck all chords, just strum them if you want :slight_smile:

The rake is great. Do the rake.
You can also do a flick - where you whip out with your fingers from the A string toward the G and lightly brush/flick over them.
You can also do that 3 finger technique - though I usually only do the 3 finger chord technique if the rest of the riff supports it more.
I wouldn’t do 3 finger technique here.
Too much transition for one little chord that a rake or strum would grab.

Also, Jeff Ament played that with a pick!
So, my first choice would be - with a pick, and a nice down strum.

Second choice would be the rake.

Third would be a strum/flick with my fingers.

Distant fourth would be the 3 finger technique. It’s a great way to play chords, and it’s a great way to get clean 3 note voicings, but in this context it’s not practical and it doesn’t make sense.


I tried it, I find it way easier to pluck it with 3 fingers rather than strum it with my thumb :slightly_smiling_face: I tried it with the 5th fret E string and muted A too but the open A sounds much nicer. I tried strumming it with the nail on my index finger and that worked nicely too. Depends on the sound you want.

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