Warm-ups are a great way to start your practice session. They’re also a great way to prepare yourself for a performance. In this post I’ll share with you some of my favorite bass guitar warm up exercises.
These warm up exercises will help you develop your speed and dexterity, and will give you the opportunity to practice techniques that you’ll need to master if you want to play in front of an audience.
Some people prefer to just pick up their instrument and play right away. However, having a disciplined way to warm up on the bass can help avoid injury and improve your overall technique.
Let’s dive in.
Here are some key takeaways when it comes to warming up on the bass guitar.
- A good warm up will help get your ears, mind, and hands to work together in-sync.
- When your ears, mind, and hands are in sync, speed and dexterity comes naturally.
- Practice slowly. It’s a warm up, not a sprint.
- Keep your warm-ups in the context of a chord or chord progression.
- Certain rhythms can sync up your hands quickly and expose troublesome areas.
- String-crossing is good for stretching your fingers and clean playing.
- Starting your phrases on a chord tone (instead of the root) is great for improving your visual mapping your fretboard.
- Incorporate voice leading when warming up. Voice leading is a skill that’s highly applicable for any style of music.
If you’re short on time, watch my video that goes over my go-to warm-up exercises on the bass guitar! These warmups are great for mapping the fretboard, stretching the fingers of your left hand (fretting hand), and getting blood flow going with all your fingers.
5 Of My Favorite Bass Guitar Warm Up Exercises
Here are my go-to warm-ups when I’ve been away from my instrument for an extended period of time.
When I became a parent, I found it very challenging to find time and energy to practice my bass. As a result, my technique suffered, my ears got rusty, and my mind wasn’t as sharp. It was like I was a beginner on the bass all over again.
I created these exercises (with the exception of the Reverse-Shuffle), as a way to jumpstart my gears and get the everything sync’d up and working together. So, not only do we want to warm our hands, we also want to warm our mind.
Take your time with these and make them a part of your daily ritual.
1: Double-Stops (This Will Strengthen and Stretch Your Fingers)
I like to warm up using double-stops. When you play two-notes at the same time you get a double-stop. So it’s not quite a chord, which is 3 or more notes played simultaneously.
Double-stops are effective in helping you map out your fretboard because you have to visualize the location of notes on two different strings, at the same time.
Start out with a basic Major scale. Then, move on to your essential jazz scales.
This exercise will:
- get the sound of the scale in your ears
- stretch your fingers
- challenge you to visualize your fretboard
2: High-Five Exercise (Approaching With Secondary Dominants)
Next, I like to take the double-stop exercise to another level, by approaching each double-stop with it’s dominant V chord (also known as a secondary dominant). Hence the name “High-Five Exercise.”
This is the basic concept of a secondary dominant. So, sometimes in jazz lingo, you’ll hear the term “V of V” or “V of ii” or V of vi.”
Here’s what “V of V” means:
- In the key of C, the V chord is G7. So, the V chord of G7 is D7. A “V of V”in the key of C is D7 moving to G7.
Now, for the secondary dominant chord, I am playing a diminished shape based on the 3rd. The shape is a tritone, but I’m playing the tritone an octave higher.
This exercise has a Gospel sound to it.
Actually, I wrote this exercise after I heard Jaco Pastorious’ version of the Beatles song Blackbird. There’s a part in the song where Jaco plays these exact shapes.
When I was transcribing the song, I noticed the movement and decided to write a warm up exercise that applies this concept.
This exercise will:
- familiarize your ears with the sound of a V to tonic relationship
- expand the stretch of your fingers
- challenge your mind to see the changing shapes on your fretboard
3: Reverse-Shuffle Exercise (This Is A Good One For Your Daily Bass Warmup!)
Staggered rhythms are one of the best ways to get both of your hands to work together in sync.
When your hands aren’t working together, your speed and dexterity on the bass will be very limited.
This is a rhythm that I’ve witnessed many sax and trumpet players use when they practice their lines.
It’s basically a sixteenth-note followed by a dotted eighth-note.
Play this rhythm when you’re running bass fills, scales, or any other phrases.
You’ll find that this rhythm will expose many troublesome areas where you’re having difficulty playing fast.
This exercise will:
- expose weak areas to focus on
- sync up your left and right hand
- challenge your mind to stay focused
4: The Tornado Exercise (Descending minor ii V’s Will Help You Learn Your Fretboard!)
Finally, this last warm-up, The Tornado Exercise, was an exercise I wrote when I was having a hard time finding time to practice my bass.
When I became a parent, I barely had time and emotional energy to play my instrument.
So, I needed an exercise that would sync up my mind, hands, and ears quickly.
The Tornado Exercise is created from a series of chromatically descending minor ii V’s.
The phrases of this exercise, use(s):
- string-crossing from broken intervals (specifically broken thirds)
- start on the 3rd
- built-in voice-leading
This exercise will:
- get the sound of resolving the 7 to the 3rd into your ears
- even out your technique when crossing strings
- map out your chord tones
- challenge you to remember the form
Watch the video above for a complete breakdown of this warm up for bass guitar.
Work on this slow and focus on accuracy to ensure that your right and left hands and your mind are all working together in sync. When done right, your fingers will look like a spider crawling on your fretboard!
5: Level-Up A Popular Bass Player Finger Warmup
When you’re doing a warm up, try to incorporate techniques and skills that you’ll actually use in the field.
A popular warm up on the bass is the one-finger per fret method, where a number relates to a finger. And, it looks like this (starting with the pinky finger): 4-3-2-1
While this exercise is highly effective in getting your fingers to play faster on the bass, it doesn’t challenge your ears or your mind. It only addresses the physical aspect of playing the bass. Also, you’d rarely ever play a phrase that sounds like this!
So, think about the music that you play or are hired to play and create warm ups based off the requirements for that music.
In other words take the same fingering (4-3-2-1) and apply it to the chord tones of a dominant 7♭5 to get a line, like this instead:
Now, you have an exercise or warm up that you can actually use in a live gig setting!
I recommend that anything your working on in the bass shed be musical and useful for the musical environments that you play in. Try this for all finger permutations!
Now It’s Your Turn
Warming up on the bass is crucial if you want to keep your fingers limber, increase your speed, develop your dexterity, and avoid injury on the bass.
These bass guitar warm up exercises are meant to be played slowly. Be present while you warm up. If you find yourself zoning out, take a break.
What goes in, comes out. So, use warm ups that have content that you’ll actually use in a gig.
If you learned a lick or phrase that you like, make an exercise out of it. This will keep everything that you do sounding musical.
In conclusion, there’s no need for fancy equipment or complicated techniques. The best warm ups are the ones that work for you. These five warm up exercises will help you improve your speed and dexterity, and make you a better bassist.
Liked this bass lesson? Get more here.