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Picking technique (when strumming+walking bassline)

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New Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2
Topic starter  

Hello guys,

I've been playing the guitar for three years and have never learned how to position my right hand properly when playing a song that requires both strumming and picking individual notes such as a walking bassline (when using a pick).

Do I need to anchor my hand using my pinky so that i can pick the bass notes without getting in the way of my strumming? Should my hand be floating, not touching the guitar? I find it difficult to be precise when doing so. Or does my hand need to be placed on the bridge? I tried playing "i shot the sheriff" whilst keeping my hand against the bridge but couldn't strum the chords properly. Does the method change when muting strings? I found the first 3 strings very hard to mute. Help!!! I'm stuck :)

if anyone could help me with this, it would be much appreciated. I'd also be very grateful if anyone could suggest some excercises that could help to improve this technique.

Thanks a million!!

Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 189

I also have trouble with this, and I hope someone with expertise will respond.

What I can say is this: The motion of strumming (as many of us practice it--especially the self-taught, like me) makes picking individual strings especially difficult. A strum is a free sweeping motion, often practiced with enthusiasm by those carried away by the joy of music! :P The movement is about rhythmic energy and not about precision; thus it tends to disengage the picking hand from the strings.

Needless to say, this energy doesn't translate well into precise picking. When I want to pick a few single notes (such as a walking bassline) I often myself diving at the string from a position several inches above; the result is, well...very often not good! :oops:

So, to my mind the crucial thing is to develop a strum that keeps your picking hand anchored. I've never felt comfortable keeping my pinky on the pickguard, but many folks do this and if it works, that's fine. I tend to rest the thumb side of my picking hand on the lower strings, moving off as necessary of course to hit bass notes. This works for me for several reasons:

1. I often use partial chords, not full six-string strums. This is easier if you play with a band, but with some attention it can be used for solo playing as well.

2. I try to strum closer to the strings. I've cut back quite a bit on the big wild strumming motion.

3. When I do lift off into a full strum, I consciously reign in the picking hand a beat or two before I need to pick a single string. The crucial thing is awareness--think about shifting motions in the right hand just before you have to do it, and then position your hand accordingly

I hope this helps--and I hope a real guitar player/teacher will chime in and help both of us! The above is simply what I've figured out on through trial and error to address the problem, and there may well be better ways of looking at it.

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1120

Hi -first - I'm def. no expert.

I'm not entirely sure what your problem is. Is it the precision in the strumming hand that bothers you - if so - practice. If I understand your concept of walking bassline - I'd say the trick is to mute the strings with your fretting hands. I just made a quick recording to illustrate (nothing that will make me famous I'm afraid...haven't played like this for a while ) just a standard jazz-blues. Played with a pick, without anchoring the fretting hand - I stumbled over that lesson somewhere - don't remember where - maybe

...only thing I know how to do is to keep on keepin' on...

LARS kolberg

Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2736

I would also like to recommend a song for practicing walking basslines - 'I walk the line' by Johnny Cash. Very nice bass movements in the song which keep it going from one scale to another.

For rest, you may follow good advice given here by all.

Good Luck !

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5582

You will get lots of different opinions on this, all of them valid. Some players anchor a finger, some don't.

For me, I like to play with an open hand with my ring finger and pinky on my picking hand not anchored, but loosely sliding on the pickguard or body of the guitar. For me this helps me keep my hand at a consistent distance from the strings at all times, while also allowing me to strum freely. If I want palm muting I will rest the heel of my picking hand across the bridge.

In my experience (but everybody is different), I have found one of the most important factors in playing both rhythm and lead at the same time, or playing an alternating bass/strum style to be how far you choke up on the pick. Super important in my opinion.

It is far easier to pick individual notes precisely when you choke up and play with the very tip of the pick. But strumming chords can sound very choppy like this. On the opposite side, it is very easy to get a very even and balanced strum when you hold the pick out on the outer edge away from the tip. But you find when you go to pick individual notes you have no control whatsoever. So you have to find that perfect distance where you can strum evenly and balanced, and then go to individual notes and be precise and under control.

For me, I have learned to really choke up on the pick at all times. Makes precise picking much easier. But I have had to learn to strum much more evenly over the strings to sound balanced. And this is another reason why I personally need to keep some fingers on the pickguard or body. Just helps me maintain that consistent distance from the strings.

And the type of pick matters too. For me, I like medium picks with just a very little flex in them. With heavy picks I find it hard to strum evenly and balanced, although they are great for picking individual strings. But that little bit of flex keeps the pick from hanging up in the strings when I'm strumming.

Now after all that, that is just how I do it. Everybody is different. Some people keep their hand closed at all times and use the heaviest pick they can find. There is no right or wrong. What is important is that you find what works for you.

It isn't easy, you just have to keep experimenting. Sometimes it takes awhile to find what works well.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis