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3rd finger in lower positions

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by DonkeyInk, Feb 10, 2013.

  1. DonkeyInk


    Feb 9, 2013
    What do you think? How is it used?
  2. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Let me preface all that I say here by mentioning that I am by no means an expert. I'm just a journeyman player (if that: applying to masters degrees at the moment), and am basing what I say here off of personal experience. YMMV, IMHO, IANAL, WYSIWYG, DFTBA, NAFTA, etc.

    I use third finger in two ways, both as a sort of Modified second finger.

    1.) Replacement for 2 in a half-step from 1. This is often referred to as "Bille" or "Italian" style fingering, where a hand frame is 1-3-4 instead of 1-2-4. I don't use it in this situation to lead to 4, in those cases I use 1-2-4 (chromatic). I do use it for example, in the opening bar of the Beethoven 5 trio: A: 3-1-1-4 E: 1 A: 0-1-3-1-3 D : 0-1-2-4.

    I like this because of the condensed hand that it gives, and I find that condensed hand helps with bringing arm weight to the string as well as helping create a nice vibrato.

    2.) in minor third fingerings where the semitone is between 3 and 4. so 1-3-4 with a whole step between 1 and 3. This is, for the most part, a last resort fingering for me, not because I can't do it safely or without hurting myself, but because I find that my articulation between 3 and 4 is not as accurate as I want it to be. I'm sure I could improve this with practice (Indeed, I have been improving it with practice), but in general, if I can get away with a different fingering, I will just for the sake of my own confidence level. I know several people who use this all the time to great success.

    An example of the usage of this fingering, in combination with 1-2-4 (with a full step between 2 and 4) is the 8ths and 16ths run from Mozart 39 (starting on F, then moving to Eb, then D, then C: G: (F)2-4-1-2-4-1-2-4-1-2 A: 1 G: (Eb)2-4-1-2-4-1-2-4-1-2 A: 1 G: (D)3-4-1-3-4-1-3-4-1-3 A: 1 G (C) 1-3-t-1-3-t-1-3-t-1 A: 4

    (not what I do, but a possible fingering that helps to illustrate the point)

    I feel that this is a fingering that is incredibly useful in classical work, such as the Mozart symphonies. I often wonder how other people perform these pieces successfully without the ability to hold a minor third in the hand (I assume some sort of Germanic Voodoo ;) ). I also feel, however, that you need to be shown the proper way to do it without harming yourself by a qualified teacher. Trying to stretch the minor third and keep it there (especially in lower positions) is a recipe for tendon damage.

    So that's my thoughts on 3rd finger in Classical playing. I use it all the time. Some people never use it. Some people use it sometimes. Some people feel that only the spawn of satan would use such a foolish finger.

    Again I will iterate that I'm still just a student, and there are others much more qualified than I who would beg to differ with my opinions. It's a discussion you need to have with your teacher, and how he or she thinks is best for you to develop in safety and health as a musician.


  3. +1, that’s pretty much the exact way I use the 3rd. I tried the other way for about 8 years and found that I couldn’t play in tune to save my life. Also the uncomfortable stretches between 1 and 2 where giving me too many tendon problems.
    As soon as I added the 3rd to my routine, bass playing began to finally make sense.
  4. Ryker_M


    May 10, 2012
    London, Ontario
    I'm probably a bit of an outlier when it comes to using 3rd in the lower positions. My only application for it that I use in my regular routines is the F# before the harmonic G, or the C# before the harmonic D. I have absolutely massive hands that make using 3rd kind of redundant for me.

    However, I find that when I play classical works; third finger works beautifully for the little accidentals that pop up in quick runs. A prime example of when I use third in classical works is the Brandenburg No. 3 runs that add in the C#.

    The hardest part though with third in lower positions is the tuning. For me anyways, tuning tends to suffer when I use third in lower positions. It more or less depends on how you learned to play bass and what kind of instruction you've received. My teacher would probably have me drawn and quartered for using third finger outside of thumb position.
  5. I never use the 3rd in lower positions. Never. I once used it around the heel doing a Rabbath-like stretching thing, but now I've gotten in the habit of shifting the whole hand--probably something close to proper Simandl technique. It works. It's easy and my intonation has never been better. Now it never occurs to me to use the 3rd unless I'm in thumb.

    It's funny how much time and energy I wasted to get back to the "basics." I wish I had taken lessons from a good teacher earlier, and I should get on finding a good teacher to continue now...
  6. I find that the 3rd finger is by far the weakest, so it's best to leave it out if the equation when handling a double bass. Plus you don't need to reach as far using 4th finger, so it avoids injuries.
  7. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Never say never. The storm scene in the Pastoral symphony has a low passage that is easiest executed 1-3-4.

    These absolute discussions regarding the 3rd finger disregard that there is a very successful school of playing in Europe that uses 1-3-4.

    The only reason we don't hear more defense of 3rd finger is that Talkbass is dominated by American players who were typically trained in Simandl.
  8. mattgray


    Nov 16, 2007
    Cincinnati, OH
    The third finger is entirely usable below the neck - the only reason people don't suggest using it is because their teacher told them to!

    The reason why the third finger feels like the Bermuda triangle is because it goes unused until thumb position, when you use it in an entirely different capacity. Building it into your playing starts with the conscious choice of using it, and it'll take a long time before you start to feel comfortable with it (years). If you attempt to really use it like you would your 1st, 2nd, or 4th at the present moment, you will hurt yourself because the muscles are not built up like they are in your active fingering system. It's best to arbitrarily strengthen it over time until it finally becomes relatively stable. Only then will you begin to learn how to center your weight over it.

    Another big consequence is that the addition of the third finger muddles with the 'traditional' Simandl system. The spacing between your first and fourth fingers feels good because you don't utilize the third finger, and you might find yourself over-stretching and hitting a note too sharp, etc.

    I don't think anyone should discount any possibility with the bass, and using the third finger will open a lot of doors to you technically, eventually... just don't push yourself too far!
  9. Some of the greatest players I know use it. Also, some of the finest players in the world use it as well. May not be for everyone, but it’s strange that some players feel so passionately against it that they will go out of they’re way to discredit other players for it.
    Like with everything, there is a right and wrong way to do it.

    A little while back I received quite a backlash from other local “music teachers” (non-professional players, high school teachers) when they found out that I allowed my students to use 3. I learned that trying to reason with high school music teachers in small town Canada is like trying to argue with a sack of potatoes.
  10. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    For me, the 3rd finger in the lower positions comes in handy for making certain phrases as legato as possible. Otherwise I don't use it much except in thumb position.
  11. Interesting. I took a few lessons from a classical player who played in this school. But it's important to point out that this school uses the 2nd and 3rd as a unit, whereas we're more used to seeing the 3rd and 4th together. I tried it for a few weeks--it's a racially different approach--you do more stretching with the pinky than straightening the pointer upwards. I could see advantages (as my teacher told me, intonation can be a little easier to master in different positions) but ultimately I decided my 1,2,4 was just fine...
  12. MR PC

    MR PC Banned

    Dec 1, 2007
    It does come in handy for certain types of phrases. Simple as that. I use my third finger in the lower positions (where many are stricktly taught to never use) when I need to. I'm not auditioning for, or playing for anyone where it's an issue.:)
  13. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    That is indeed very narrow minded. To evolve bass technique one has has to be open to 'new' or other things. Don't be dogmatic about anything. The use of the 3rd finger can be very handy in some passages like the above mentioned minor 3rd. Even Jeff Bradetich advocates this.

    Try playing a fast slurred passage for example: CBA, CBA, CBA etc. on the G string. Using 431 is much easier and faster and involves less hand movement then 421.
  14. However... in a position that low, pivoting is more effective if your hands are on the small side.

    Not that you're wrong to do it that way... if it works for you. However, with hands on the small side, third needs restricted to up nearer the octave. I think I'd seldom use it below, say, E on the G string. Unless I'm using thumb position down low, anyway.
  15. Good point! I occasionally use the 3rd in thumb below the octave, and it works fine. There are plenty of times when thumb works lower on the neck!
  16. Echoing what a lot of players have already said - It depends on the line and how smooth it sounds.
  17. DonkeyInk


    Feb 9, 2013
    I like the idea of a more condensed hand. However, I think a 3-4 half step is kinda sketchy. My weakest finger is the 4th finger. Whenever I have 4 down I make sure to also have the 3rd finger support it. They share a tendon. 3rd finger F# on G string is great. But there have got to be better options when it comes to 3-4 half steps. Maybe I just need to build the strength.
  18. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    But you also can pivot when using 134....
    Pivoting is not restricted to 124.
  19. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    When I personally use 1-3 for a half step, it is usually in a situation where I am not moving another half step to 4. I'm either moving back to 1, up another string, or moving up a full step (this last case is less common). I'm using it for the strength of tone inside of the semitone, and the colour I can get from the vibrato.

    regarding using it 1--3-4 (with "--" being a whole step) it's usually a fingering i will use in a faster situation where there are a large majority of notes falling into that minor third. Even then, I keep the weight on top of the finger that I'm using, which means releasing 1 from its note and allowing it to move toward 3 and 4 (unless, like in the Mozart 39 example i used above, I'm going back to that 1 quickly). I do this even in a classic Simandl 1 tone position though, so I guess it's just a stylistic thing.

    Again, others differ!
  20. SirMjac28

    SirMjac28 Patiently Waiting For The Next British Invasion

    Aug 25, 2010
    The Great Midwest
    Wow nice amount of information I'm still using one finger.

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