Why is first fret so difficult?!

ok, total noob here. Just got my bass. Moving thru the lessons. I’m struggling on what I think is finger strength for the first fret. I rattle on all 4 strings on the first fret (still trying to figure out the problem with my A string but that’s another thread). I just can’t seem to press it down hard enough to get a good sound. What exercises can I do to increase my finger strength to fret correctly? I know it’s going to take time, but anything I can do to start working out the digits would be awesome!


First fret is generally harder because it’s right by the nut. There’s a few things that can make this worse.

  • Your bass probably needs a setup. There’s a big thread on this:

You can pay a shop to do this for you, but it’s also easy to do yourself and a great skill to have. It soesn’t require any special tools. Here’s an excellent video:

  • The nut might be too high. This is actually common and would be the first thing I would check after getting the action set up, if it still felt hard. It’s not hard to fix but trickier than a normal setup. You’ll probably want a shop to look at this. If you get a regular setup and there’s still a problem, this is easy to check - let us know if you still have a problem then.

Yes to everything @howard said.

The first fret will always require a little more force since the string tension is more at either end of the string than in the middle. The same as plucking closer to the bride than the neck.

It should still be doable though. Which, I think, is the main reason @howard went straight for the setup and nut height recommendation.

There are all kinds of finger strengthening things on the market but I’ve never seen any consistency in reports of how well they function. One person might say this tool is the best and then someone else will say no it’s irrelevant because the tool put your fingers in a position that is different than how they would be on the fretboard.

@JoshFossgreen has said the best way to increase finger strength is to play. I’ve stuck with that and it has worked well for me.


I am pretty new myself, finished B2B last fall. I found this on youtube, and it helps


I picked up this book (remember those, they make them out of this stuff called paper), it has very simple exercises that strenghten your fingers and help with coordination. It is a daily drill thing for me now. Deceptively easy at first glance, I have yet to get past page 2. Highly rated. It has really helped (but a long way still to go).

One note, as you are starting…take it easy, take lots of breaks. If it hurts, stop. Tendonitis is easy as hours seem to go by like minutes when practicing.


Somewhat late to the post, but I was fixing some books on my bookshelf and I had this book, never used it though.
So I have to ask, do you pick an exercise for 15 mins or do you start from the 1st and you play until you get tired?

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I start on the first one, and work it until I have some amount of speed and accuracy, and then a few more.
For example, when I started I did the first 4 which basically are the 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-1, 3-4-1-2, 4-1-2-3 and worked them for a while, and by a while I mean days and days.

Then I pick the next group. Not looking to master at 200bpm etc, just to play relatively cleanly. Be careful, these will wear you out in the beginning, so go slow and don’t burn out your hands just on these. They are also great for just picking up the bass and doing a few for a few minutes or while watching tv, etc.

You could, like many books, spend a lifetime doing the exercises. The whole point is to train your fingers to be stronger and to do what your brain is telling them to do, so mix them up and see if they can react.


If someone is doing a setup and not checking the nut height then they’re not doing a very good job. It’s easy to check… fret just past the 2nd fret and you should have about the thickness of a sheet of paper between the strings and first fret. If the nut height or break angle are wrong then it makes it difficult to impossible to set the intonation and it can have a negative effect on the tone of open strings.

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Yep. Really easy to check and (on most basses) fix. Especially if all the strings are high (this is the easiest to fix and requires nothing more than a piece of sandpaper.)

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