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Need for Speed

The only speed exercise you’ll ever need

speed exerciseAbout eight years ago I developed a bad case of tennis elbow thanks to my 9-5 office job. The doctor called it RSI; I affectionately dubbed it my bass playing days are over!

Tennis elbow affects the tissue joining a particular forearm muscle to the bone of the elbow. The particular forearm muscle just so happens to be the one your two bass playing fingers are connected to. The upshot was that I could not touch the bass unless I wanted to spend the better part of a week chewing on anti-inflammatories.

Time passed, and the injury healed. BUT – I had to completely redesign my fingering technique.

I used to play with a very tense right hand, and when the speed increased, so did the tension. I would crunch my muscles hoping to squeeze just that little bit of extra speed out of them. All this resulted in was a sore wrist, and safe to say after my elbow injury, playing this way would doom me to the forearm brace and physical therapy all over again. I always knew it was incorrect, that my hand should be relaxed, but until I couldn’t do it any more, I didn’t bother correcting it.

I persevered with the relaxed right hand until it became second nature, but I had lost my speed. I knew there had to be a better way – the correct way – to get the speed I used to be capable of.

As it happens, a good friend taught me a speed exercise that set me straight, and now I can play faster than I ever could before.

And so, dear reader, the time has come for me to share this with you!

The Ultimate Speed Exercise

The ultimate bass speed exercise

It’s a very simple exercise, but it works wonders, not only for speed, but for correct feathering technique (for those unfamiliar with feathering, it is the action of fingering the string with the very smallest portion of the very tip of your fingers).

  1. Finger eight notes on open E, followed by open A, D and G, focussing on using only the very tip of your fingers.
  2. As the index finger plucks, immediately dampen the string with the tip of the middle finger, and vice versa (so it sounds like bop-bop-bop-bop instead of bah-bah-bah-bah).
  3. Do this slowly. Yes, you heard correctly – this is a speed exercise you do slowly. The aim at this stage is to get the fingering technique and dampening done right. You should dampen the string just with the tip of your finger, so it’s in the correct position to feather the next note straight away.

(Metronome-haters, please ignore step 4).

  1. Once you’ve gotten used to playing like this, switch on your metronome to ensure you aren’t going too fast. Start über-slow, say 80bpm playing 8th-notes, just to ensure the muting is still happening.

(OK metronome-haters, you can come back in now).

  1. Gradually increase the speed, only going faster when you can consistently maintain the dampening and feathering technique in tempo.

And really, that’s all there is to it! If you repeat this simple speed exercise every day, before long you’ll be swimming in 16th-note fills and your guitarist will start giving you dirty looks.

And of course, throughout all of this – keep your right hand relaxed! Tension is the enemy here. Keep it chilled, keep a light touch, and for really insane fast bits, move closer to the bridge.

Hopefully this will help you avoid an injury like mine and keep you happily noodling away for many years to come.


Sam Lloyd has been playing bass for over 20 years, and has been gigging since the late 90s. He is also a professional blogger, and runs a successful communications/PR business.

Check out more of his bass playing tips.

Sam Lloyd
Sam Lloyd has been playing bass for 22 years and gigging since the late 90s. His greatest musical achievement so far has been convincing the drummer there are bars of five in Black Dog. He is also a professional blogger and content marketer, but don't hold that against him.

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