3rd finger?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Gabe, Feb 9, 2003.

  1. Gabe


    Jan 21, 2003
    My bass teacher doesn't want me to use the third finger of my left hand except for harmonics and high positions. He says that the 3rd finger might occasionally be appropriate in other circumstances but is too weak to be used for anything but harmonics. I have seen bass music with finger numbering that calls for ring finger ( is this the Italian method maybe?).

    Do you guys use 3rd finger and is it heracy do use 3rd finger and a French bow?

  2. Why? Most Italians use French bow.

    Yes, the old Italian school of playing often used the 2nd and 3rd fingers together instead of just 2nd. This does make getting to the 4th finger more awkward though.

    Most people tend to use the 3rd and 4th as a unit these days. There are more advanced techniques that can involve using the 3rd finger in the lower positions - particularly in the case of playing fourths across two strings - the 3rd finger might finger an E while the 2nd might finger a B. This is a more advanced technique however, and I wouldn't recommend doing stuff like that until you have had a much more solid traditional fingering background first.

    Of course, the 3rd finger is used all the time to play notes in the higher positions - certainly from at least the octave point of the string and higher.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Wow. After all this time I've spent doing just that, I finally find out I'm not wrong, just advanced. Thanks Rob!
  4. Gabe


    Jan 21, 2003
    Thanks for the info.
  5. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Gabe - slight clarification - while it is true that the third finger is not used by itself, this is not because it is weak, but rather because the 4th finger is weak and requires help from the 3rd. Also, it is much more comfortable for most hands to cover a total span of three notes in the lower positions than to try to expand and get 4 - especially since inonation is so crucial. As others have said, in the higher positions, the 4th finger kind of gets put away and replaced by using just the 3rd finger. This is fundamental Simandl fingering, and there are other methods, but when people tell you to learn the basics of fingering, this is exactly what they are referring to - it will help.
  6. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    You know, I never bought that logic about putting the third and fourth fingers together. Because when the fourth finger is down, all the others are down as well, regardless of whether the previous note was stopped with a second or third finger. Of course playing 3-4 is quite a stretch in, say, half to second position, which is why you'll rarely see that fingering in that range. Instead, Italian fingerings use a variety of 1-1, 1-3, and 1-4 fingerings to cover notes in that range of the instrument. I've experimented with Italian fingering just to see its own merits and faults, and this shiftiness in the lower positions is probably what has doomed it to obscurity. It's perfectly serviceable, but so is standard Simandl and Simandl is used, known, and understood everywhere. Not a lot of reason to learn or use Italian fingering unless you've got a point to prove.
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    People have so many great reasons for failing to engage all the tools that are available to them.

    I use four finger/half-step fingerings as low as "5th position" when that's the way to get the job done.
  8. Use of all the left hand fingers is neither new nor heresy, though many people who don't know how to use it will poo-poo "four finger technique". But Heck, Dragonetti used these techniques 200 years ago!

    I was very lucky to have three teachers in a row who were advocates of using every technique possible in the search for good sounding, well working solutions to fingering and bowing problems. Now I see it as somewhat "limiting" when someone is unable to use four-finger or other "extended" techniques.

    Gary Karr is a proponent of this technique, and his method books use it. Find information on Gary and his stuff at:

    Another person who has a history of being open to various techniques is Mark Morton. He has, in fact, set up an entire "school" based around being able to use many different left-hand techniques:

    Check these sources out, and arm yourself with all the techniques you can. The third finger is *not* too weak to be used separately. Thumb position is practical in more situations than "old schoolers" might think. Expand your horizons on your own, if lessons alone aren't doing that for you.
  9. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    I couldn't agree more with this sentiment. I've recently encountered musical situations where using the thumb as low as, say, G on the D string was the practical solution and I'm surprised at how easily it works when you get past the thought of putting your thumb on the other side of the neck.

    I think, Samuel, you might have misread. Or perhaps I'm misreading you, I'm not sure. I wasn't eschewing a four-finger technique. Nor was I saying "don't stick your finger in the Italian method pie" - after all, I was admitting to doing as much myself, and that the method had its own merits. I was just saying there isn't a lot of point to replacing one three-finger technique with a different, more obscure three-finger one... feeling it implictly understood that I meant using such a method *exclusively*. If you think it'll expand your realm of technical knowledge, by all means, dig in. That's why I did it myself.
  10. sdjbass


    Mar 11, 2003
    Greensboro, NC
    I attended a master class with edgar meyer, he said he used 3rd finger and not using it is kind of stupid, but i still don't, its preference, but i guess there is more versitility with the closed open string right at the 4th finger, but it is hard and does take some getting used to especially since the third finger is pretty weak, but it will be like playing electric bass where you use 4 fingers
  11. Check out Rabbath for more uses of the 3rd finger (and excessive use of thumb position). From my limited experience with his method (working through 1st book) he basically advocates what someone said earlier, get the job done, in time and in tune. Because most of our hands are too small he uses this whole hand pivot around the thumb. I haven't been able to get the hang of it comfortably yet.
  12. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    With respect to intonation, pivoting gives me a big advantage over shifting in the beginning. But I also play the same lines the Simandl way so I can take advantage of extra hand muscle when I need it.

    One of my teacher's main instrument is the cello, and when I showed the pivot trick to him like it was the latest McDonald's menu item he just yawned and said that cellists pivot all the time! Maybe there's room to make that 3rd finger get that bass cooking after all...
  13. Anyone that says "You cannot use this finger to sound this note" should be shot. I say if it feels better to use 3rd finger, then use 3rd finger, and while you're at it, give him the middle finger (j/k), but seriously, I use 3rd finger almost all the time, especially up in 2nd position and in Thumb position (Well, you pretty much have to use 3rd finger in thumb position). I hope this was helpful.
  14. ibanezman80


    May 7, 2003
    I don't understand why most teachers say the third finger is the weakest, when the weakest finger is obviously the pinky finger. I say if it feels good, do it, as long as it's not really sloppy. I played electric before I picked up the double bass and was taught to use all four fingers for scale patterns etc., and i'm sticking with using all 4. The lead chair from the Winnipeg Symphony uses a 4 finger technique and he's one of the best double bass players i've ever met.
  15. dblbassmike


    Apr 14, 2002
    Detroit, MI
    I do not use my 3rd finger, unless I'm playing harmonics. I still do not understand the reasons why it should not be used, I have been playing dbl bass for 8 years, and I can't find a direct answer to this. I use the Simandl method, so obiviouly you do not use 3rd finger. How ever I am also studying the Heinrich Schneikart method which uses the 3rd finger. I'm also an electric bassist, and have been playing for 14 years. I have always used my 3rd finger and still do when I play electricly. Well thats all I have to say.

    Michael :confused:
  16. As I understand it, when these three finger techniques were developed, the size of basses was highly variable, string lengths were sometimes quite long, actions were high, and strings were high tension and rough.

    This was the only practical way for players to go, in the lower positions where to notes are so far apart. This situation made the tuning in 5ths even harder to deal with, when it ws popular.

    Remember things were so bad for bassists, at one time, that the written parts were simplified, and sometimes the tempos were slowed, to allow the basses to keep up.

    I think we forget how much easier we have it now with steel strings.
  17. dblbassmike, I am familiar with Art Davis's 4 finger bass method book, but I do not know about Heinrich Schneikart. Can you describe it a little more, and where do you obtain a copy of it?

    I come to the double bass by way of the classical guitar (and, of course, electric bass). So I think it may be easier in certain positions to use all 4 fingers, such as the crook of the neck position. However, the Simandl approach of the 4th (not the 3rd) in the lower positions and the 3rd (not the 4th) in the upper register is probably the best way to play the double bass, given the size and length of the strings, and the fact that you are playing an instrument in a vertical, not horizontal posture.
  18. appler

    appler Guest

    I was taught not to use the third finger too. I use it occasionally for harmonics though, so I guess I'm pretty much with the majority on this on.
  19. Rob W notes that, "Most people tend to use the 3rd and 4th as a unit these days." My teacher advocates that as the Simandl hand position in the lower position. He believes that the Simandl "locked" hand position is extremely helpful for always finding the right notes. In the Rabbath approach, however, Rabbath advocates having all fingers working independently and fluidly, as in cello technique. He advocates using the weight of the left arm to finger each note, where the hand may "rock" if you use, first, the 1st finger, and then the 4th finger. What is wonderful still is that using his "pivot technique" (again so natural to cellists), you can slant the fingers slightly up or slightly down (depending on which direction you are moving), so each finger can work extremely independently and totally relaxed without hardly any hand muscle tension of squeezing. Having come to the bass originally from classical guitar, I find the use of Rabbath and cello technique works fantastically for the double bass, and really frees it up as a solo instrument.
  20. Helene


    Oct 10, 2003
    I can see you play the cello as i do. The use of the 3rd finger may be obvious for us and teachers never understand it. They don't like students who have a technique they don't have... However you must be careful with this finger. It can help in some occasions but it's very difficult to play in tune using both techniques. I gave up with the 3rd finger, I only use it in Mozart K550...
    Sorry for my bad English, I'm French !