Playing in One Position: A Workout Guide for Bass Players

Bassist's left hand

Photo by Carlos Paes

Q: Do you have any exercises that might help with playing in one position on the fretboard? I have a hard time getting away from reorienting myself from root to root.

A: I would suggest starting with exercises you’re already familiar with, and adapt them to a single position. I frequently have my students do this, and have them force themselves to stay in one small area of the fretboard.

For example, arpeggios over chord changes to a jazz standard:

Say you’re working on developing your ability to walk arpeggios over changes, in all inversions. Once you’ve become comfortable with that exercise, take it and repeat the process, but in small chunks of the fretboard.

Try walking arpeggios (1, 3, 5, 7 of each chord) but only allow yourself to play in the first four frets plus open strings. You will now have to change register (dropping an octave to finish the arpeggio, for example), use less familiar fingerings and if you’ve only memorized the shapes of the arpeggios, you’ll begin to really know what notes are inherent to each chord symbol.

Of course, do this in all inversions (from the root, from the 3rd, 5th & 7th).

Now, we can up the ante again by introducing chromatic approach notes. Do the same exercise (in one position) but now add a half-step below (or above, or both) to every chord tone. This really begins to open your minds eye up to the changes on the fretboard.

You should do this in every position of the fretboard. This is also a fantastic way to get more comfortable with that middle area (between the 7th and 12th frets) of the neck that many players are less familiar.

You can really take any harmonic exercise and apply this methodology to it as a means of forcing yourself to do something familiar in a new way.

Never stop exploring and never stop asking yourself what you can’t yet do!

Readers, what do you do to work to expand your fretboard knowledge? Tell us about it in the comments.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. I run scales from the lowest note to the highest note in 4 frets 1 finger per fret then for fretboard knowledge and position shifting I play scales on each individual string, saying the notes as I go.

  2. Here is another exercise: start in any position and play all the notes within a scale (e.g.. C major, f# melodic minor, etc.) in that position on all strings across the fingerboard. Then go up a half step and continue.

  3. the following link leads to a piece I wrote on this very topic. please, check it out. click on the two arpeggio links.

  4. I tend to run my modes up and down the fretboard in all keys…it’s good practice to see how closely related they all are.

  5. I have written an entire book, “The CORE Method”, specifically dealing with the concept of playing in one position.

  6. I tend to play and try not to suck.