Plucking Fingers: To Alternate or Not To Alternate. That is the Question

Hail friends.

A question was brought up to me today in my bass world. A student wanted to know: “Should I always alternate fingers on bass?”

I’m a real big advocate of ALWAYS ALTERNATE FINGERS ON BASS… until you are doing it automatically. Until that physical movement becomes the way you breath on the bass - it is unconscious and effortless, and it is just how you play.

Once you have the control, THEN… THEN AND ONLY THEN… are you allowed to choose when to alternate and when not to.

Sometimes I like to play with just one finger.
BUT! I can alternate if I want to or need to.

I have lots of analogies here - mainly to modern art, or free jazz… but suffice it to say: before you decide you will innovate a new technique that works for you… make sure you have command over the fundamental technique.

Thoughts? Opinions? How is alternating those plucking fingers going for folks? This is a real tough one for lots of students, so I’d love to hear if you have drills or exercises or pieces that helped you get this together!


I think you’re right and give here a good advice. Maybe we could do a parallel with pick : all-downstroke should be allowed only when you master down-up picking :grin: not sure it makes much sense with a bass but it seems exactly the same thing than alternate plucking or “freestyle plucking”.

To alternate strictly is kind of hard for me, depending on the bass line. But I’m forcing myself to alternate as much as possible, except when the tempo is so slow that alternating won’t make any sense (to me).


Couldn’t have said it any better - sounds exactly what I am doing!!


Hey, @Gio . . . a few months ago I read your reply to another member about this and it made me determined to alternate my plucking fingers rather than just using my index.

I worked very hard at this, and now I’m using two (and sometimes three) fingers all the time. :+1:

In my case, I guess I was thinking too much . . . trying to do this with all the lessons all at once! Lots of time during the lessons, Josh would point out the correct way to pluck, which finger to start with, etc. and I was really getting frustrated.

What I did was to STOP the lessons for awhile, and not try to learn or play any particular song. I just kept hitting notes up and down and all over the neck and focused ONLY on alternating the index and middle fingers without trying to play scales, or do anything at all “organized”.

I guess you could say I was doing “calisthenics on the fretboard” :slight_smile:

Anyway, that’s what worked for me, and today I alternate my plucking fingers without even thinking about it.

HTH others out there and all best, Joe


It took me awhile to train my right hand to do this, but I think I finally got it down. Sometimes when I’m concentrating on the fretting hand, I suddenly realize that I haven’t been focusing on my alternating fingers on the plucking hand, but when I glance at my right hand, there it is alternating fingers on its own. So, I think it finally sunk into my sub conscience mind.


I initially struggled with Josh’s suggested plucking order because I naturally begin with my middle finger, not my index. I can’t put my finger on why this is but I suspect it’s a combination of my finger lengths and the angle I have my hand/wrist when playing.

I alternate quite well, but I neve seem to be on the same finger as Josh. I also reset more often than is suggested. I guess we should try to follow the guru instructions when possible, but e also have to accept that sometimes there is a way that works better for us as unique individuals.


I do think Gio is right on this. For me, I just enjoy playing more when I’m chugging along with both fingers. Once you get it down it feels much more natural.

@PeteP I always start with my middle finger also. For me it started when I broke my index finger when I was younger and playing. It never healed correctly and I just got into the habit of leading with my middle finger.


The music I like seems to range from ~160bpm eighth notes to 120bpm sixteenth notes. That’s not happening without alternating.


My personal opinion is that concentrating on alternating fingers isn’t worth the frustration when you are first starting out. You’ve got so many other foreign concepts you are trying to wrap your mind around, as well as trying to train your brain, left hand and ears to coordinate that adding the requirement of alternating right hand fingers could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and cause one to just give up entirely.

If somebody has reached that point then I’d wholeheartedly recommend just not worrying about it until you’ve got brain, left hand and ears all working together effortlessly (and mostly unconsciously). It could take weeks or months but by then you have plenty of conscious brain available for concentrating on right hand technique.

And then there’s this guy…


I love this, @Jazzbass19 And I think it reflects what @Korrigan says:

I also found that in my practice a RH (for me, I’m a righty) fingering drill had to be totally separate from anything LH related.
It was too much for me to integrate all at once.

I found some Adam Nitti drills in an issue of Bass Player magazine that were easy, repeating patterns in the LH, and full focus on alternating and string crossing in the right hand. That was my ticket to being able to focus in.

… The other ultimate right hand drill is any ramones song. Tons of alternating, not a lot of fretboard movement. It kinda fits into this category:

… So, yeah, @howard. I’m definitely with you on this.


Couldn’t have said it better!! As one progresses into playing a specific style if music, plucking technique along with which fingers you use to pluck whatever string will also progress. It’s all about practice, repetition, and what feels and “sounds” right. Every song is different.

Sometimes I think players might get too hung up on what someone might say what is “proper or improper” and interpret that as meaning “right or wrong”. Sometimes “improper” may produce the best results, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “wrong”…

I’ve taken the b2b course and learned a ton however, I’m still my own person, play my own bass (although much better than before), and play it the way that makes me happy and satisfied… Do I follow the Josh style to the tee? Hell no!! I don’t wanna be another josh. I wanna be Lanny!!! Pluck It!!! :joy::joy::joy:

Keep on Thumpin’