Plucking: One Finger per String

Apologies, I asked this question somewhere in Module 4 and now I can’t find it, lol…

When I first attempted to learn the bass about 10 years ago, I picked up what’s probably a bad habit: assigning one finger per string on the plucking hand. (Thumb = E, forefinger = A, middle finger = D, ring finger = G.) Now I’m starting again, these lessons are great, and I’ve really been trying to learn proper finger-crossing. But when something tough comes along, I regress to the one finger per string habit again.

So here’s my question. Is that necessarily bad? It certainly makes muting a lot easier, which is why I started doing it in the first place. It feels really natural, but I’m worried that I’m enforcing what will eventually turn out to be a bad habit, later on.

Any thoughts, anyone? I know plenty of players have found their own unique way of playing, maybe this is just my own idiosyncrasy, something that will eventually define my style; or maybe I’m sabotaging myself right from the start. I’d love to hear what other, more experienced players have to say. Thanks!


This is the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone plucking in that manner, but if it works for you and you can keep up with fast tempos, I don’t see a problem with it.

I’m sometimes criticized for my floating thumb, but it’s the way I pluck and it works for me.

I’m eager to hear opinions from some of the others, but that’s my 2 cents worth.


This actually works nicely for octaves but it will limit the speed you can pluck at substantially.


The reason this method works with guitar the availability of your palm across the bridge to help with muting and as much as you assign those fingers you’ll find yourself doubling up anyway to play repeating notes like triplets. You’ll even find yourself doing things pluck the string and for lack of a better term reverse pluck where you flick the string striking it with your finger nail. I fought hard to get out of the habit of playing this way as there is definitely benefits to the gallop 1-2-1-2 method or the 1-2-3 method. Bottom line if it works for you, that’s great, but keep an open mind those that came before us probably did a lot of homework developing what has become the traditional method. Regardless, its your bass, play it like you want. Beethoven said, "To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable”…lets go with that.


@bobtoombs Welcome to BassBuzz!

When you have time, join us on the Introduce Yourself thread.

I sometimes play like this. Not specifically one finger per string, but thumb, first, and middle finger. It depends on the song. The vast majority of the time I play alternating first and middle.

There is nothing wrong with having the one finger per string ability in your arsenal. However, I have to agree with @howard, it doesn’t offer the same versatility or speed of playing as alternating first and middle finger. Also, the entire course is built around playing with alternating first and middle (with the exception of the slapping module)

Maybe @JoshFossgreen will have some different insight.

@PamPurrs Who would possibly give you a hard time about floating thumb style? Do they just not understand what it is?


Welcome @bobtoombs

Bad habits if this is indeed one are difficult to get over. I’m going to have to have a go at this though as many many years ago I played guitar and often used a similar method for certain styles of music .


I don’t have an answer but I have the same issue.

When I first started playing bass (half a century ago) I used a pick, being a converted guitarist. When I joined a band of more accomplished musicians I was told that real bassists played with fingers. Nobody told me exactly how this was done (and there were no YouTube videos back then), so I had to figure it out on my own.

Now, as I attempt to relearn the bass after a break of about 45 years I find that while I’ve forgotten nearly everything, certain habits persist. While I don’t strictly play one finger per string, I’ll definitely play a series of notes on one string with one finger rather than alternating 1-2-1-2. Like you, I use my other fingers for muting.

I alternate between my way and trying to do it the “right” way, which at this point feels awkward and actually makes it more difficult to keep time accurately.

As I struggle with alternating fingers I am reminded that James Jamerson did it all with his index finger.


Picks are wonderful things. Come join us :slight_smile:


The best multi-finger technique I’ve ever seen was at a Bass Clinic in Melbourne with Billy Sheehan called “the art of Bass” tour in 1996. Instead of just plucking with index, middle of the right hand he was using index, middle, ring finger and I think even pinky at times. He was so smooth and so fast. Amazing to watch. He never assigned a finger to a string though. Now I occasionally try using 3 fingers to pluck, just for fun.


I even got him to sign a poster that still hangs in my studio/mancave …It says "To Russ, keep slapping that big “open B” …lol, it still cracks me up!!!


I don’t assign fingers to strings but I do often “RESET” when I’m changing string so many times its like 1-1-2-1-1-2-1. I also do some “raking” like with Pink Floyd’s Money. On the 2nd 3rd and 4th notes I just rake using my index finger, since once I pluck one its already there ready to pluck the next


Agree with this! I’ve heard this from a few other people @bobtoombs, and I always say the same thing - stop doing that and get good at alternating! There’s a reason you’ll never see any pro bassist doing the assigned-finger approach - it’s just not flexible enough.


Well, heck. Part of me was kinda hoping you’d come back and say “Great! Wish I’d thought of it!” The other part of me knew but was putting off dealing with it. Well, heck.

Okay, just when I was getting up to speed on “Billie Jean” the wrong way, back to the drawing board I go. Someday I’m gonna thank you, but today–hmmph!

(But really–thanks very much for the feedback, and for an excellent set of courses. It’s all very much appreciated.)



I’m pretty new still so I my reply is not so much out of experience, but I agree with everyone else that it will limit your speed.

However, like many things in art, there is a lot of personal touch here. Maybe you won’t play as fast, but speed is not the only one facet of playing music.

If you watch Mark Knopfler play, it looks kind of wierd to hear rock music played this way, and I am sure he can not get up to the same speeds as some guitar shredders do, but he developped his own super unique voice on the guitar. Now, of course finger-picking on guitar has been around for a long time, but his personal style is actually quite different, and most of the good finger-pickers are in classical and flamenco music, not in rock.
(interview with him about developping his picking style:

My point is not to compare the bass to the guitar, but rather that with a unique technique you might just find the music and sound that are unique to you. Many double-bass players pluck with only one finger and can achieve everything they need for their musical style. They probably cant gallop like Steve Harris, but they are also not trying to play that music.

It will certainly be a hinderence in the sense that the course material is geared towards alternating picking, much of popular music is played this way so it might be hard to perform your way, and not too many people will be able to help you out if you want to discuss how to play somethign. But hey, if it works for you, it sounds good and you can play with other people the music you want to play, no one really cares how you play it.


When I hear the “real Bass players don’t use picks” bs I feel so sorry for Carol Kaye…I wonder if she knew all those years, all those major recordings, that she wasn’t a real bass player…while there are others, she used a pick most all the time as opposed to those who often or sometimes do/did.
While I can play the alternating fingers, I can get lost while trying to be a “real Bass player” …I end up leading with the 2 some times and then not just on rakes staying with the same finger…but if you follow Kaye with picking the down beats on the down and the up beats on the ups you almost never get lost… that’s what works for me…and I have been experimenting with different picks…but hey folks some of you complain that basses don’t get recognition… get some flats and a pick and I’ll tell you what, it’ll be a lot harder for you to get lost in the mix…you can jump in their face and still sound bassy. Need to mellow out? try softer picks. Like what? Experiment yourself to find what works for you. Almost any semi resilient material will work. I have cut up all kinds of stuff that you find around the house or in Walmart, Target etc. Some picks have almost been like a pencil, others have been as floppy as a cheap mudflap
…Kind of a fun game…who knows you may discover the millennial whoop of bass playing sounds…don’t be so establishment … :slight_smile:


Ive never heard of such a habit or technique. I wouldn’t even be able to do it.

And I’d say it will limit what you can get out of the bass as an instrument, but if this works for you, and you enjoy it, then I see no reason to change. Go with your own physiology. I do many things the wrong way because my body likes certain things that the majority of “proper musicians” say is wrong.

Also this notion that you can’t use a pick to play bass is utterly ridiculous. The bass is a guitar.


What’s a “pick”?


Yep, just what I thought…I would only use that on my Yamaha…



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