Dexterity Finger Exercises For Bass Guitar (Beginners)

October 5, 2023
Dexterity Finger Exercises For Bass Guitar (Permutations)

Today, we’re going to venture into a realm where numbers and notes collide. If you like geeky stuff, this bass guitar lesson is for you.

We’ll use a Python script to explore permutations for the one-finger-per-fret method and also the traditional 1-2-4 technique used by upright bass players. Then, we’ll apply those permutations to create challenging finger exercises that’ll level up your bass finger technique and dexterity in a matter of weeks.

If you’re looking to improve your bass technique, this lesson is for you.

Let’s get started.

Jump to the Permutations


If you’re short on time, here’s a video that demonstrates how permutations can be used to 10x your finger technique on the bass guitar in a short amount of time.

YouTube video
10x Your Chops On The Bass Guitar! – Posido’s Python Permutations

What Are Permutations?

Sounds complicated, but it’s not.

Permutations are arrangements of objects in a specific order. In simpler terms, it’s all about counting the different ways you can arrange a set of items.

Applying permutations to music isn’t necessarily new. Drummers and composers have been doing this for a very long time. And you can do the same for the bass guitar.

Hopefully, this lesson will provide you with some ideas and inspiration for challenging finger exercises wether you’re a beginner or intermediate level bassist.

2 Common Approaches For Finger Technique on the Bass Guitar

There’s are couple ways that I approach my fingerings on the bass guitar fretboard.

The first way is the one-finger-per-fret method. And it spans a total of 4 frets. This is the way I initially learned after watching a video of Jaco Pastorius and many professional bass players use this technique in their playing.

The second way is the 1-2-4 technique that you often see used by upright bass players. It basically uses the index finger, middle finger, and the pinky, in the span of 3 frets. I adopted this method later on in my playing after developing tendonitis and it’s become the method I use most.

From my experience with a physical therapist that specialized in treating musicians, the 3rd finger (ring) and 4th finger (pinky) share flexor tendons. She recommended the 1-2-4 technique over the one-finger-per-fret method for me, because it was less taxing. I tried it and liked it ever since.

Quick Background

I haven’t practiced the bass in a very long time. Urgent family matters have consumed much of my time. And this year has been one of my most challenging years.

So, I have a great deal of technical deficit.

In order to take action and get my chops back, I started looking into ways other musicians practice and develop their technique.

That’s when I started going down a rabbit hole about permutations.

Python Script For Creating Permutations

With just a few lines of code, you can generate all possible combinations of a given set of numbers. These combinations can then be used to create some really effective exercises for your fingers!

*You absolutely don’t need a Python script to get these permutations. I just find Python scripting to be fun.

Having that said, here’s a simple Python script that you can use for creating your own permutations. Feel free to copy the script and modify it for your own needs.

from itertools import permutations

numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4]
all_permutations = permutations(numbers)

for perm in all_permutations:

Assign A Number To Each Finger

Once you have the permutations, it’s time to assign a number to each finger of your fretting hand.

  • Index Finger = 1
  • Middle Finger = 2
  • Index Finger = 3
  • Pinky Finger = 4

This Python script will output all the possible combinations for the one-finger-per-fret method and the 1-2-4 technique. With each finger being assigned to a number, you can create some amazing finger busting exercises on the bass guitar.

Right hand and Left hand with numbers assigned to each finger.
Assign a number to each finger (right-handed or left-handed).

Permutations For The One-Finger-Per-Fret Method (Jaco Pastorius Approach)

There are 24 combinations for the one-finger-per-fret method.

  • 1, 2, 3, 4
  • 1, 2, 4, 3
  • 1, 3, 2, 4
  • 1, 3, 4, 2
  • 1, 4, 2, 3
  • 1, 4, 3, 2
  • 2, 1, 3, 4
  • 2, 1, 4, 3
  • 2, 3, 1, 4
  • 2, 3, 4, 1
  • 2, 4, 1, 3
  • 2, 4, 3, 1
  • 3, 1, 2, 4
  • 3, 1, 4, 2
  • 3, 2, 1, 4
  • 3, 2, 4, 1
  • 3, 4, 1, 2
  • 3, 4, 2, 1
  • 4, 1, 2, 3
  • 4, 1, 3, 2
  • 4, 2, 1, 3
  • 4, 2, 3, 1
  • 4, 3, 1, 2
  • 4, 3, 2, 1

Permutations For The 1-2-4 Technique On Bass

There are only 6 combinations for the 1-2-4 Technique.

  • 1, 2, 4
  • 1, 4, 2
  • 2, 1, 4
  • 2, 4, 1
  • 4, 1, 2
  • 4, 2, 1

Single-String Exercises

Now that you have a bunch of finger combinations mapped out, you can start creating exercises that’ll really take your chops to the next level.

Choose a combination and play the entire combination on each string one time. Be sure to use a metronome.

For example, if your combination is 3, 1, 2, 4, play 3, 1, 2, 4 on your E-string, then repeat on your A-string, D-string, and so forth. We’re focusing on playing each set of notes on a single string.

*It doesn’t matter which frets you choose to play. Since these are merely technical exercises, choose any location on the fretboard that’s comfortable with your hands.

Cross-String Exercises (Get Ready For An Ultimate Bass Workout!)

Here’s where you can make these exercises even more interesting. Instead of playing the combination on one string, you’ll play it across multiple strings.

For example, if your combination is 3, 1, 2, 4, you can play 3 on the E-string, 1 on the D-string, 2 on the A-string, and 4 on the G-string.

String crossing exercises, like this, are great for both your fretting fingers and plucking fingers and will develop your dexterity on the bass guitar in a short period of time.

Take Things Up Another Level! (Make It Rhythmic)

These singe-string and cross-string exercises are enough to keep you busy. But, if you want to take things up another notch, try playing the same exercises, but instead, play it to a rhythmic phrase.

Quick Tips For Beginner Bass Players Developing Technique

Here are a few tips that’ll help speed up the process for both your for your plucking hand and fretting hand.

Basic Bass Plucking Technique

  • Practice alternating your two fingers (index and middle fingers).
  • Pluck the strings with a light touch.
  • Check out the Floating Thumb Technique (also known as a Moveable Anchor Technique), where you place your thumb on the adjacent string that you’re plucking, instead of having your thumb on the pickup. This will minimize unwanted string noise coming from any unused strings.

Fretting Hand Technique

  • Keep your fingers curved. Some styles of music, such as funk sound great keeping your fingers flat, because you can mute strings more easily to get a percussive sound. However, for the purpose of developing your dexterity and finger independence, having curved fingers will be best and allow you to be able to play these exercises with more accuracy.
  • Avoid squeezing the fretboard when you press down on the frets. The amount of pressure that you only need is the amount that will produce a sound. Nothing more. Nothing less.
  • Many bass guitarists will struggle to keep their pinky finger from lifting off the fretboard. Try your best to keep your hand in a closed position so that your pinky stays put.

Now it’s your turn

Take things slow and take breaks often. Doing these exercises daily are sure to build your chops and dexterity on the bass guitar. What’s important is that you play each note with accuracy. So, also use a metronome and play along to very slow tempos.

Learn more about playing the bass guitar.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The One-Finger-Per-Fret Method?

The One-Finger-Per-Fret method, is a fundamental bass guitar technique where each finger is assigned to a fret. Jaco Pastorious used this technique often with his basslines.

What Is The 1-2-4 Technique?

The 1-2-4 technique spans 3 frets and each finger (except the ring finger) is assigned to a fret. The ring finger and pinky finger often press down on the same fret at the same time in order to support one another.


Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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