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Fingerstylers - how do you do it?


Rik

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I've preferred fingerstyle bass ever since I picked one up 18-19 years ago (influenced by Geddy Lee and Steve Harris). Until recently, I haven't thought a great deal about how I'm actually plucking the strings. But now I'm curious.

 

Looking at my own style, I've come to the conclusion that I don't actually "pluck" the strings per se. I've always kind of thought that "pluck" implied a pulling motion. Rather, I guess you could say that I tend to "slip off" the strings.

 

Let me explain what I mean. When I think of "plucking", it suggests to me that my fingertip should be grabbing the string from below (below as you look down at the instrument while you're playing, that is) and pulling it up toward my head, then letting it go. This would be a sideways motion if the bass was laying flat on its back. I thought to actually try "plucking" this way, and hated it. I invariably got too much finger into the string and it dramatically reduced my speed. The wierd thing is, I've read an interview or two with Geddy Lee and from his description I got the impression that this is exactly the way he plucks the strings. I may have misinterpreted what he was saying, though.

 

So what I actually do is push the string down toward the face of the bass, and let my finger slip off the "low" side of the string. I play directly over the neck pickup (using it for a thumbrest at the same time) , so this means that my fingertips tend to strike the face of the pickup after each note. When my finger "slips off" the string, the string is of course springing back up. So the string vibration is more up and down rather than side to side.

 

Hope those explanations make some kind of sense. I can see where playing an upright would require more of a "pluck" than a "slip off". And obviously, "pluck" is a more convenient term than "slip off" ;)

 

So how do you other fingerstyle players "pluck" the strings?

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i do both, depending upon the sounds i'm looking to achieve and the bass i'm playing. i also play all over the place, from the bridge to the higher frets on the fingerboard.

 

i thought you were going to ask which finger is dominant. i almost had myself trained to lead with my middle finger, but that has, sort of, fallen away, and i'm back to being index finger dominant.

 

i only use two fingers. i was never comfortable with three fingers, and i didn't see as many obvious benefits to it like i did with middle finger dominance.

 

i read an article by glenn letsch about that. it seemed pretty well reasoned, and by the time i got used to it, he was right. old habits die hard, though, so for now i'm back into a hybrid of doing the way i want to and doing it the way i've always done it.

 

robb.

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I must pluck somewhere near a 45 degree angle. My fingers definitely wind up below the strings, but there's also definitely some side-to-side motion in there as well.

 

It just seems to be what comes naturally; I've never given plucking angle much thought before. If I made a conscious effort to pluck completely horizontally, I don't think I'd like it very much because it would involve curling up the finger joints more with each pluck instead of pivoting the fingers back at the knuckles, which to me feels more nimble AND more powerful.

 

The only potential benefit of purely horizontal plucking that I can imagine might be to cut down on buzzing on a poorly set up instrument.

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Robb - well, with finger dominance, my main finger is my index; for rapid passages or hopping from string to string I'll use index and middle; in a few cases I will pluck with the ring finger or pinky. The pinky use is incredibly rare, though. There is one Rush song (can't remember which now) where one particular bit is easier when I use my pinky to hit one certain note.

 

Jeff - I play almost excluvely near/over the neck pickup when I play fingerstyle; sometimes I'll play over the fretboard between, say, the 17th and 24th fret when I want to get sort of an upright sound. The only time I play near the bridge is when I'm using a pick, which I only use for very fast 16ths that sit on a single note, as in some fast heavy metal. I found that fingerstyle close to the bridge is very uncomfortable for me. It's partly because I like the tactile response of the string feeling like its actually moving when I pluck it ;) That's the reverse of using a pick down there - when I'm playing rapidly with a pick, I want the string movement minimized under the pick. This is because when I pick I plant the side of my hand on the bridge, and all the movement is coming from my thumb and index finger. That diminishes my movement range (intentionally) so I don't want to chase the string with the pick - I want it to just sit there and let me hit it.

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I generally "rake." I go across the strings in a nearly sideways motion (to the body). I usually play over the bridge pickup (with my thumb on the neck pickup), though sometimes I'll move up near the neck for a fatter sound.
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Strongly believe in the push over the pluck. Both, clearly, work. Depends what you want.

 

The idea, as I learned from Dave Holland(shameless), is to play "through" the string. Put it in motion but don't stop or interfere with it in anyway. Right hand wise anyhow.

 

Takes some work but the benefit in tone is worth it. Really brings the bass to life.

 

Dave gave me this insight while I was studying URB but it's just as huge for electric.

 

Oh, and I too, for some reason, lead with the second, middle, finger. Don't know why.

 

D.

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I guess you could describe my right hand technique as pushing the strings parallel to the body. Not plucking at all.

 

I find that moving the fingers quickly is more important than how hard you hit the strings.

 

I alternate the first two fingers most of the time, the other times I will use just one finger or some combination of two fingers and one finger (actually I have all kinds of exercises which I have used and also given to my students).

 

Ocassionally I use my third finger and/or my thumb. (we're still talking finger-style here, slapping is a whole nother thing).

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Interesting question.I am right handed but I play left handed due to a birth defect of my left hand. The only usable fingers are my thumb, index, and pinkie, I am missing the middle finger.I tend to pull upwards and slide off of the strings with the very tips of my fingers. I am index finger dominant, but I usually alternate index/pinkie evenly. I rest the tip of my thumb on the front pickup when playing the E & A stings and float my hand, muteing with the edge of my thumb, other times.I do octaves with thumb and pinkie and chords by either strumming with my thumb or popping with all three fingers simultaneously.If I want a more percussive/ bright "pick-like" sound I support the first joint of my index finger with my thumb and use the fingernail in downstrokes.I find this eaiser than using a pick because no matter how much I have tried, using a pick causes painful cramping in my hand.Anyway, this all sounds much more complicated than it really is. I have always played this way and do all this naturally without thinking much about it. :)

 

Being right handed playing left handed I have often thought that it is very odd that stringed instruments developed to be played with the left hand as the fingering hand. It makes more sense to me that that there is an advantage to having the strongest and most dexterous hand on the fingerboard instead of having it plucking or strumming the strings. Are any of the forum members who are lefthanded playing right handed notice this?

 

Just some thoughts

Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly what it is - B. Banzai

 

Life is what happens while you are busy playing in bands.

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I am righthanded so what do I know.

 

The dominant hand (right, in my case) creates the tone. You can play all the notes you want, but they have to sound good.

 

This is where the theory of "putting the dominant hand on the fingerboard" breaks down.

 

Of course with practice and determination we can do anything we choose to do, and Basshappi has just given us an inspirational example of that.

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(Basshappi--PM me. You didn't study at UA in the mid-90s, did you?)

 

And let me just add: This ain't no Mud Club or CBGBs. I ain't got time for that now. :D

 

Speaking of David Byrne, I read that he plays guitar with his non-dominant hand, too. Tina Weymouth says she thinks it helps him keep the playing & singing separate in his mind. Whatever helps! (It sure works for him; I'll go on record saying I think he is a VASTLY underrated rhythm guitarist.) :thu:

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I'm a lefty, playing righty & I believe it actually helped me in my early stages of learning ! my left fretting hand was easier for me ! although I remember many days working on my alternate plucking - I now use three fingers (index, middle, ring) when needed but mostly index and middle, I had to pick up a bass to see how I struck the strings (it's a pure feel thing now) but I guess I push down through the string

almost like a flicking motion towards myself.

hope this makes some sense............

:confused:

I'm Todbass62 on MySpace
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Hmmm, my right hand technique is whacked out, man. I'll slap the strings with my middle finger for a nice zingy sound most of the time. I can usually get pretty fast with only one finger...usually...sometimes it ends up a big mess. Sometimes I'll play with three fingers, sometimes only two. It all depends on what I'm playing and how fast I'm playing it. It really depends on the song, but I'll usually end up with the technique described above.
Well, I see greenboy is back, so why the heck not....
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Another lefty who plays right-handed. The hardest thing for me was when slapping came into style. My right wrist wasn't loose enough. I got the Stick Control book for drummers that has a couple of pages with two-bar phrases of lefts and rights in every combination. I assigned my thumb as left and my index as right and worked through those patterns in octaves. I think it worked, I get a lot of compliments on my slapping.

 

Wally

I have basses to play, places to be and good music to make!
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I mainly use three fingers, sometimes I add the pinkie, but it's not so usual.

The reason for that is that I learned to play by myself and I feel very comfortable to use the ring finger when I rake along the strings, or while playing octaves with the ring and the index fingers. I also remember a didactic videotape by Billy Sheehan where he explains his support to this technique, and since that day we've had some e-mail correspondence; very friendly person.

 

Back to fingers, I've never learned to slap, so in some cases, and in particular songs, I rather "pop" the strings on the fretboard, using thumb, index and middle as a hammer, as if playing a stick.

 

:wave:

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Originally posted by Rik:

When I think of "plucking", it suggests to me that my fingertip should be grabbing the string from below (below as you look down at the instrument while you're playing, that is) and pulling it up toward my head, then letting it go. This would be a sideways motion if the bass was laying flat on its back.

I used to pluck more towards the body of the bass but I practiced plucking the above way for a while and it became my default technique. Most of the time I position my right hand over the bridge pickup for IMO the best combination of focused punchy growl and bottom end. However I also play with my thumb both with and without palm muting, I sometimes use my 3rd finger for chordal part or arpeggios, and I shift my RH position between neck and bridge depending on the tone I want. Then there's pick playing and slapping which is a whole other thang!

 

Something rather satisfying that I've noticed now that I've got all the techniques under my belt is that I mix them up and switch fluidly between them even for the odd note just to get the sound I hear in my head. A recent discovery is slapping and popping on the E and A strings (and also detuning the E to B which I'm getting a hipshot for shortly) - the sound of a popped note on the E string has so much weight and you can come up with some really satisfying grooves that contrast the low pops with slaps on the higher strings.

 

Alex

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Being right handed playing left handed I have often thought that it is very odd that stringed instruments developed to be played with the left hand as the fingering hand. It makes more sense to me that that there is an advantage to having the strongest and most dexterous hand on the fingerboard instead of having it plucking or strumming the strings.
This question came up on the ChurchBass e-mail list. Here's my explanation (not based on research - just observation and logical deduction);

 

Your dominant had is "proactive". Your other hand is "reactive".

 

Your plucking/picking/slapping is proactive, in that you have to consciously attack the strings in different ways, at different speeds, and with different intensities.

 

Your fretting is more reactive. Once you've learned the fretboard, you really don't even think about it. Your fretting hand merely follows your plucking hand as needed, changing position almost subconsciously.

 

Your plucking hand also needs to be stronger, with more stamina than your fretting hand - witness how often a bass part sits on one note, say, straight 8ths or 16ths. Your plucking had needs to go go go, while your fretting hand gets to just sit there in one place.

 

An good analogy is baseball. The basic motions in baseball are throwing, hitting, and catching. You'll notice that a right-handed player wears his glove on his left hand. Throwing is proactive - it requires the player to make a decision about where and how hard to throw the ball. So he uses his dominant hand. It's a conscious action.

 

Catching, on the other hand, is reactive. Regardless of whether the ball is a fly ball, a line drive, a grounder, or a throw from a teammate, catching the ball is a reaction. So the right-hander's left hand does that work. When the airborne ball is a 100+ MPH line drive screaming straight at an infielder's head, that player has less than a second to decide what to do. But it ends up not even being a decision - it's a reaction. His left hand comes up and meets the ball.

 

And when it comes down to it, hitting the ball is also a reaction. When the pitcher throws the ball, the batter again has less than one second to decide what to do. The batter may be looking for one particular kind of pitch to swing at, but he doesn't know when the pitcher is going to throw that pitch. He has to react instantly when he sees that pitch. And so the right-hander's left hand does the work. Most of a right-hander's power at the plate comes from his left hand, and vice-versa for a left-hander.

 

How about swords and shields? Again, proactive and reactive.

 

Driving - I'll bet most right-handers use their left hand for making minor, instinctive adjustments, while the right hand takes over mainly when making sharp turns.

 

This all comes from years of using the dominant hand to perform most tasks. The other hand becomes trained to "assist" the dominant hand, and you really never even have to think about what the non-dominant hand is doing.

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Originally posted by Wally Malone:

I got the Stick Control book for drummers that has a couple of pages with two-bar phrases of lefts and rights in every combination. I assigned my thumb as left and my index as right and worked through those patterns in octaves. I think it worked, I get a lot of compliments on my slapping.

 

Wally

Those compliments are well-deserved. You certainly can lay down a slap phrase like a mofo, especially for someone carrying the moniker "Soul Fingers" Malone! :D

 

Using that drum book sounds like a great practice exercise. I just might have to look into that. Good tip. :thu:

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I really try to exploit the different tones at different points on the string. I might play a verse near the heel of the neck and a chorus right over the bridge pickup. That's two sounds right there, without flicking any switches or adjusting any knobs. I usually plant my thumb somewhere and play with my first two fingers. Sometimes I'll pluck chords and double stops with my thumb and fingers.

"I had to have something, and it wasn't there. I couldn't go down the street and buy it, so I built it."

 

Les Paul

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Originally posted by basshappi:

It makes more sense to me that that there is an advantage to having the strongest and most dexterous hand on the fingerboard instead of having it plucking or strumming the strings. Are any of the forum members who are lefthanded playing right handed notice this?

 

Just some thoughts

Makes total sense! (I write left-handed but play right.)

 

Lately I've been into using the thumb for plucking. It took awhile to catch on, and I'm still working on it, but the sound you get has me hooked. We're talking serious thump! I like how I can adjust the amount of sustain I get with the palm of my thumb-plucking hand.

 

I probably overuse it a bit these days, but eventually it will get tucked away for occasional use, alongside all my other onboard "digital" effects.

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Okay, so much for right and left hand orientations...

I'm a former classical player and we term the 'pluck from under' as al aire while we term the 'slip off' as apoyando...the former is used for more expression and lessened effort on the plucking arm while the latter is for melody runs and quiet transitions...

i play apoyando style when i groove over 90% of the time and the other 10 is for my solos and i rarely use the al aire method because i only use it for chordings and right hand tremolos...

one thing very characteristic of me is that i move my plucking hand a lot for tone variation and dynamics...

people wonder if i use compressors because i play evenly by just moving my right hand from bridge side to even top of the board...well, that could be influenced by my upright playing...but anyway...my fingerstyle?...think of Jaco, Jamerson and Rocco...i accidentally sound like one of those guys...i mean accidentally...you'll get what i mean

If Jaco's bass sound farts, please forgive me for doing it always!

 

ONCE A LEVITE, ALWAYS A LEVITE.

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Thanks for the terminology. My own excursion into the land of double bass was over before it started, and we never got as far as pizzicato.

 

As for your sig line: it's funny you mention Jaco's tone as "farting," since a friend of mine once described his midrangey sound as having some 'nose' in it. :D

"I had to have something, and it wasn't there. I couldn't go down the street and buy it, so I built it."

 

Les Paul

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my method:

 

thumb rests against the body of the bass, right on top of the pickup-to on the pickup, resting on the b-string.

 

index or middle finger rolls the string downward, setting the string into motion, while keeping the physical tension relationship to the thumb.

 

the string is now sounding, the excess force is absorbed into the anchored thumb, were you can make use of it again to pick the next note.

 

when one picking finger goes down, the other slightly rises and is ready for action.

 

absorbing some of the force into the thumb resting on the body of the bass, and re-using that kenetic energy for your next finger is key here.

 

the right elbow should be pointing somwere in back of you. wrist straight horizontily with a slight angle verticley.

 

keep your back straight! dont hunch over with your shoulders. keep those shoulders centered in the middle of your shoulder girdle. posture and correct use of the body will make playing things that used to be hard very easy. and dont forget to breath. :)

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I usually play like Jeff A said - something like a 45 degree angle. Not across, not up and down. There are times when I want that nasty percussion thing to happen, and then I strike down onto the pickup hard. I also play in different positions (closer to bridge, between PUs, closer to neck, softly over the 24th fret). Having a finger ramp between the PUPs helps this. I also love a good rake from time to time. ;) Sort of like a pickup note (can something that percussive be a "grace" note?).

 

I'm index finger dominant, and 95% of the time use the index and middle. The thumb and ring finger get in there at times, but not in some effective pattern. And not the pinky.

 

Rik - thanks for the active / passive theory. I think it's not true for me. Years of mechanical work have made my left hand stronger (to hold whatever it is I'm cutting/screwing/breaking). I am a righty that plays righty, but I agree with those that think it might be better the other way (at 48, I ain't changing now :) ). How many of you have had the thought that if I had to loose a hand (or fingers on a hand), I'd sacrifice my plucking hand so I could still find a way to play, even though this would reak havoc for everything else....

 

Tom

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I changed my right-hand technique all the time, depending on the song...

Most of the time, I do the "pointer+index" thing using my first two fingers plucking upwards together at the same time, ala Geddy Lee (figures, I learned how to play listening to and watching the Exit... Stage Left VHS)...

 

Sometimes, I'll switch to using my pointer, index, and ring fingers independently, to pluck triplets on three strings...

 

Then, I'll strum through all 4 strings using all 4 fingers in that fake-flamenco Les Claypool thing...

 

Sometimes, I'll do all three of these (and more) in one song...

 

Don't limit yourself (and don't hurt yourself either)... practice, and watch how other people do it, and make sure it's comfortable...

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