Hi guys. I'm working my way through the Bass Method books. I'm on volume one right now, and I had a question about alternating your fingers on your picking hand. I played guitar and mandolin, and when alternating picking, on eigth notes you use a down stroke followed by an up stroke, but for any note duration longer than that (ie, quarter, half and whole notes), you would use down strokes. I realize that playing finger style bass is different, but I was wondering if there was any reason for the strict index finger / middle finger alternation I see in the book. If I have a measure that consist of a quarter note followed by two eigth notes, I keep wanting to play the quarter note with my index, the first eigth note with my index, and the second eighth note with my middle. Thanks.
It may seem like a small thing, but learning to strictly alternate your fingers means just that. Sure you can re-set the leading finger as you want to do by using it on the 1/4 note then use it again on the first of the 1/8 notes.
But understand why you want to do this.
You want to lead with the index finger so if you play 1/4 note followed by two 1/8 notes you land back on that quarter note with your index finger not your middle finger. But if you play the same again you will end up back on that leading finger you want to favour and all will be fine again. So if you repeat that phrase over and over, then every other phrase will lead with the middle finger.....you alternate what finger leads (plays the strong beats) not just what finger plays the notes.
This is the true benefit of learning to alternate, learning to have any finger play a note or beat because the music you may play may not always be even.
When you find songs that have syncopation that makes them un-even then you may trip over your fingers trying to always let the leading one always lead, so you lose time or tempo because your technique is limiting you....not the music.
The other point is once you have learned to strictly alternate it is easier not to do it if you do not want to...may seem strange but you are making the conscious choice to not use it, rather than being stuck in having to use it because you cannot strictly alternate.
Take the time and learn it correct because it offers another level to you playing.:)
The way I see it is like hopping and walking.
You can walk all day without rest but hopping you will get tired.
You can jog but with one leg you will struggle to keep up with a jogger for long.
You can't spring with one leg!
Check out this lesson by Scott Devine.
As a beginner, working on always alternating your plucking hand fingers just means that you don't have to spend time considering which notes get the index and which notes get the middle finger (I always like to give Gb the middle finger; it's my least-favorite note:D). You'll be able to focus more on all the other stuff you'll want to work on. Upright bassists have to deal with this when figuring out bowings - which notes get a down-bow, which ones get an up-bow, but with electric the general school of thought is that strict alternation is the basic, go-to method of playing.
You'll eventually find that there are plenty of exceptions in the real world but again, for starting out it's a good rule-of-thumb to follow.
Ultimately, in order to be a well-rounded musician, your goal should be to play any note with either finger and not be able to tell a difference in tone or volume.
Unless you are this man who goes both ways with his index finger
Thanks for the replies and links guys. It makes sense now. I guess I shouldn't be comparing guitar and mandolin technique with bass technique.
I play fingerstyle, but if you are already adept at picking, why not do that? The length of the notes for guitar don't really dictate whether it is and up or down stroke.
Back to my point though.
You should master walking but there are no rules to say you can't incorporate other things. Sometimes I use my thumb for triads or four finger slapping. On guitar I sometimes do speed runs like a bassist. Having the ability to do exactly what you want with your hands means that its only theory and creativity and phrasing that affect your playing.
I confess that I haven't practiced using my ring and pinky on right hand (imagine a horse compared to two legs in a race) but I can play fast enough with two fingers.
There are several very well known and respected bassists who do use one finger, and use the tip, or the nail, as sort of a pick and do downstrokes and upstrokes as part of their technique: Chuck Rainey, Geddy Lee, Robert Trujillo, and others.
I would say that it is certainly good for a beginner on bass to focus on alternating as they're starting out, but as you progress, you may add different techniques to your tool box, and what you've done one guitar and mandolin can certainly be applied here.
Once you're ready for this step, there are things to consider. Will you play with the nail at all, or trim it down far enough and only try to use flesh? If using nail, is it 100% nail, or is a combination of nail and flesh? Whichever way you choose, is there a noticeable difference in tone between down and upstrokes?
I have really tried to use this method, and have had stints where it was what I focussed on for a couple of months at a time. I always tried to do it with with 100% flesh, right at the tip of my finger. I always found that I sounded fine and even when playing solo, or to a drum machine or metronome, but as soon as I blasted some music and chugged along, the downstrokes sounded a lot louder, which is something I never understood. But don't let my experience deter you. Everyone's different. Everyone has different muscles, tendons, joints, callouses, and density of flesh/nails. You may not notice any issues, and be perfectly consistant and one day decide to use this technique often.
Again though, please do yourself a favour and stick with alternating your fingers for now... Especially because it is giving you a hard time. Practice leading lines with different fingers, so you're comfortable starting with index or middle. Learn how to control your descending, so you can either alternate or rake, whichever is best for the feel of that note, but have full control over each method. You must be comfortable with both fingers and gain finger independence.
I do think it is also good to learn to alternate strictly. I do this with two but more often with 3 fingers. It helps build up independence of movement in the fingers.
Different plucking (and muting) techniques will help you get different feels out of the same bassline. Try them all, work out which ones are for you but don't give up on any of them too soon.
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