Ten Easy Steps to Get You Fingerpicking – Step 7 (Alternating the Bass)

Step 7

Alternating the Bass  

In Step 6 we looked at how to fingerpick notes simultaneously. In this lesson we're going to be focusing on alternating the bass strings.

Alternating the bass strings is something that all fingerpickers struggle with when they're new to it. The reason for this is that it's damn hard! It's very difficult and it takes a lot of work to get your thumb bouncing between the bass notes, consistently hitting the right strings.

Alternating the bass is a huge part of playing fingerstyle guitar, and it's well worth investing the time to really get good at it. It's something that all the great players do and it can really make your playing a hell of a lot more interesting when done well.

Let's get straight on with the lesson.

Alternating the Bass - Part 1

To get things moving, we're going to take three very simple chords, G, C and D, and just work on alternating the bass notes across two strings.

(Exercise 1)

Firstly, hold down a C major chord and alternate between the A and the D strings.

Alternatng the Bass 1

(Exercise 2)

Now on a D chord alternate between the D and the G strings.

Alternatng the Bass 2

(Exercise 3)

Now on a G chord you want to alternate the bass strings between the low E and D strings. It may be a little tricky at first but its very common to skip over the A string when alternating the bass on chords with the root note on the low E string.

Alternatng the Bass 3

(Exercise 4)

Now you can alternate the bass on those three chords independently, it's time to try them out as a chord progression. 

Alternating the bass 4

Alternating the Bass - Part 2

Now you can alternate the bass strings on G, C and D major chords, let's make it a little more musical by adding in some other notes. 

(Exercise 1)

Notice here that the thumb has remained the same as before but we've added in the index and middle fingers in-between the bass notes. 

Pay attention also to the thumb, index and middle fingers on the D chord; they all shift up one string and break the 'general rule' we learnt in Step 1 - Finger Selection.

Alternating the Bass 5

Let's stick with the same idea but now play around with it a little.

(Exercise 2)

Alternating the Bass 7

(Exercise 3)

Alternating the bass 8

(Exercise 4)

Alternating the bass 9

Notice that for all of these exercises the bass notes have not changed at all. 

It's worth starting to consider the bass notes as an instrument all of its own. Start trying to think of it a bass guitar, almost separate from the guitar itself. 


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Alternating the Bass - Part 3

Here's where alternating the bass gets a little harder. Alternating between two strings isn't so bad but doing it across three is very demanding indeed. 

The first thing to do here is to just work on the bass notes themselves.

(Exercise 1)

For the C chord we add in the note of G on the low E string.

Alternating the Bass 9

(Exercise 2)

For the D chord we add in the open A string.

Alternating the Bass 10

(Exercise 3)

For the G chord we add in the note of B (2nd fret of the A string)

Alternating the Bass 11

Now let's put them into a full progression.

Alternating The Bass 12

Alternating the Bass - Part 3

It's important to know which notes you can add in to be able to alternate any chord. 

You can add in any other note that is inside the chord. Knowing a little theory of chords is going to really help you out here. 

Let's take a C major chord. The notes inside this chord are C, E and G; therefore, I can use any of those notes in my alternating bass.

In a G chord the notes are G, B and D, so any of those notes will work well when alternating the bass strings of that chord.

You always start with the root note on the first beat of the chord, but after that you're free to put the alternating bass notes of the chord in whichever variation suits best.

Let's now take all the basic open chords and alternate them. Study the notes that are in the bass and you'll see what I've just explained in action. 

Alternating Bass 13

There are of course other variations you can do. If you do your study on the notes inside each chord, you'll be able to come up with many. 

Learn these by heart and then try some of your own. 

Alternating the Bass - Part 4

So now you understand how to alternate the bass strings. To finish up this lesson, here's a pretty tricky pattern for you to have a go at. See if you can master it. Get this down and you're really fingerpicking!

Alternating the Bass 14

10 Easy Steps to Get You Fingerpicking - Step 7 Summary

In this Step we have covered alternating the bass strings. Remember to really take your time with this, often it can be one of the most frustrating skills to master for fingerstyle players.

Always go very slow and try not to pull your hair out too much. Trust my when I say that the pay off for your hard work is huge!

If you really want to take your fingerpicking to the next level, consider taking one of my fingerstyle courses. In the School you'll find hundreds of in-depth video lessons all aimed at helping you grow into a great fingerstyle guitarist.

I hope you've enjoyed Step 7 of this 10 Easy Steps to Get You Fingerpicking series. I'll see you on Step 8!

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