Technique Series: Fast Fingers

Although there are musical situations when we want our left hand fingers to strike the fingerboard forcefully, we most often want to use the minimum amount of pressure, and no more. To do otherwise is generally inefficient, clumsy, noisy and speeds up muscle fatigue, among other things.

When it comes to left hand technique, the speed of the finger movement is far more important than muscular force. Sometimes the fingers must move slowly, of course, but fast fingers are often necessary. This is especially true with loud (unamplified) playing. The louder the volume, the wider the string vibrates; the wider the string is vibrating, the faster the finger must drop on, or lift from, the string.

Fast, light fingers have other benefits as well. For instance, if you play a quick passage with fast fingers, the passage will often feel slower. Having fast, light fingers can also help with stamina. The faster the finger moves, the later you can move it, giving you extra micro-seconds of time where the finger is at rest. Having fast, light fingers is a worthy instrumental goal.

Timing of Finger Motion

When we are dropping a finger on the string, we place the finger on the string, then the new note is played. The finger must begin to drop before the new note is to be played. When lifting a finger from the string, the finger moves away from the string as the new note is played. As a result, our technical timing is not the same as our musical timing. We drop before and lift when the note is played. Whether we are lifting or dropping the finger, we want to move the finger as late as possible and as quickly as possible.

There are many exercises to develop this skill, but below are two that I like. When you play them:

  • Play quickly. This ensures that the fingers must move very quickly to get to their next note.
  • Move swiftly enough that there are no extraneous noises caused by improperly pressed strings, or fingers that move too early.
  • Use several finger patterns; come up with as many as you can.
  • Do the exercises on multiple strings.

EX. 1

Fast Fingers - Ex. 1

EX. 2

Fast Fingers - Ex. 2


  • Play quickly to ensure the fingers must move very quickly to get to their next note.
  • Move fast, and late, enough that there are no extraneous noises caused by improperly pressed strings, or fingers that move too early
  • Use several finger patterns; find your own.
  • Do the exercises on multiple strings.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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  1. [email protected] Andreas The focus of these exercises is when the finger is moved from one note to another, i.e. at the end of a section of repeated notes.

    They are meant to be played at very fast tempi, but you can hold a single note for however many beats you wish. Bowed players would do a tremolo. If the finger motion either lifts or drops too slowly (or moves to early or too late) then there will be either dropped notes (when lifting) or unclear notes (when dropping the finger. Getting every note clean is the goal.

    Exercise #2 presents an additional challenge to exercise #1, as you must lift/drop quicker, due to the fingers changing strings. Clearer?

  2. Joe L

    In exercise #2, the right hand is playing two strings in unison, with the index and middle finger? Or should it just stroke both strings like a guitar player, focusing the exercise on the left hand?

    • Hi Joe,
      Right hand is not a big deal. If you are an electric player, you can use all four fingers in pizzicato without too much thought do that. Using a pick is perfectly ok though, as.the left hand is the focus.

  3. love this and play your best Y’ll!

  4. A while back I wrote a script to generate all of the permutations of 3 and 4 fingers across a six string bass. I would love to share it hear if there is a way I could post it.