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A (Somewhat) Definitive Guide To The Matthew Garrison Technique And Playing Ramps

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Jan 22, 2006.


  1. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    I receive an email or PM about once every week or two on average asking about how I use this technique, so I figured I’d start one definitive thread containing most of the material I’ve collected on the topic. All of the questions are based on ones I've received or seen here on TalkBass. I'm not an expert, but I do have some experience, and since people seem interested in it, I figured I'd post it. The guide is divided into four posts.

    Questions are in bold.
    Quotes from Matthew Garrison are in blue.
    Quotes from Mike Flynn are in red.
    Quotes from me are in plain text.

    What is the basis of the technique Matthew Garrison uses?

    His technique is basically a four-finger free stroke technique, using his thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers in that order. This is a quote from Garrison himself from a 2004 interview:

    “I started experimenting with the 4-finger right hand technique just before I started playing with Zawinul. I was looking at the pizzicato techniques that were being used by Dominique Di Piazza, Victor Wooten, Gary Willis, and I came up with a hybrid technique using concepts from all three of these guys. I noticed that my thumb was just always there on the string not doing anything so I started to incorporate the thumb along with my index, middle, and ring fingers. It made total sense to me because I would have four fingers available on my right hand and four fingers on my left so each one could cover one note. As compared to the standard two-finger approach, your speed is doubled immediately. You can play twice as many notes while exerting only half the energy. It's really about economy of motion. It's totally effortless. I've always had a really strong background when it comes to understanding harmony and knowing how to deal with it so the techniques came after I had the knowledge of the fretboard. I matured as a musician before adding these techniques.”

    Do you have an exercise you could suggest to someone wishing to adopt your 4-finger right hand technique?

    Yes. The basic principle is that the thumb is indicated by the number 1, index finger is 2, middle finger is 3, and ring finger is 4. The motion that works best for me is simply a downstroke with the thumb (1) followed by index (2), middle (3), and ring fingers (4). The first step is making sure that each finger is completely independent of the others so practice doing downstrokes with your thumb as fast as you can go on a single string followed by just your index, middle, and ring fingers. Do all of them separately. The next step is to combine fingers such as 1 and 2, 1 and 3, as well as 1 and 4. Do all of the remaining combinations: 2 and 1, 2 and 3, 2 and 4, 3 and 1, 3 and 2, 3 and 4, 4 and 1, 4 and 2, 4 and 3. Then, work through all the three finger combinations followed by using all four fingers. To practice string crossing, for example, between the E and A strings, you can play the E string with your thumb followed by your index, middle, and ring fingers on the A string. You can also practice playing the E string with your thumb and index finger followed by your middle and ring fingers on the A string. Or, play the E string with your thumb, index, and middle fingers followed by the ring finger on the A string. There are a lot of possibilities to consider. I would then experiment with exercises to break up the pattern and place accents on different beats. It's a very thorough process that you work on one step at a time. My bass technique book will cover all this material starting with basic exercises like this that progress through scales, arpeggios, and eventually culminate with specific bass lines from my tunes using all four fingers.


    Another quote from Matthew Garrison about the technique from Bass Player:
    Your four-finger solo technique now seems to be your standard technique in all situations, and you’re using it more musically in uptempo solos, instead of as an effect.

    Right—I’ve even been using the technique for two-note grooves. It’s something I adapted from Gary Willis’s three-finger approach, and I honed it during my stints with Zawinul and John McLaughlin. I play a downward thumb pluck and upward plucks with my right-hand index, middle, and ring finger, which are curled underneath; then I mute with the side of my thumb and my left hand. It started as a “flurry” effect before my brain caught up to it, but I always had Art Tatum’s virtuosic flourishes in mind. It’s not so much the Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders/Stanley Clarke sheets-of-sound concept, where they’re screaming on their instruments from their soul. For me it’s not about the volume or the amount of notes coming out; it’s about the intent and the intensity. I want to be able to “scream” over changes.
     
  2. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    How do you practice it ?

    Mike Flynn: To get this flowing like a regular two finger technique I started running sequences against the metronome - the patterns I used to get it going in a groove are mainly octaves and fifths - but it works best when you play say root (4 plucks), octave (2 plucks) minor seventh (2 plucks) - so you always keep it even, always keeping the thumb and fingers moving in that sequence and always doing 4 plucks per beat.

    You can obviously move all this around and try different bass lines - it's not the amount of notes you play, more the number of plucks you use to play them - so a simply minor pentatonic bass line suddenly becomes a funky staccato 16th note funk out - if you play 2 notes per string - but use 4 plucks to play them you get that nice bouncy super-fast Jaco thing happening - the key being dividing the amount of plucks evenly between the amount of notes - i.e 2 notes + 4 plucks = 2 plucks per note.


    I started out by playing along with a metronome very, very slowly. A metronome is vital, as is starting slowly. The goal is to get an even attack in perfect time with all four fingers, so you’ll want to play quarter or eighth notes at a low tempo. As with most things, it is more difficult to play this way slowly than quickly, as going slow will exaggerate all of the flaws. I had to do this for months just to get my fingers going at the same rhythm and to get my ring finger strong enough. I eventually sped up, but it took some time...it was basically long, slow, boring practice, but I knew it would pay off. After a while, I didn't need to concentrate so much on it, so I began watching TV with the metronome on, playing along the whole time, to try to get it so it was second nature (and so I wouldn't go crazy from the repetition).

    Then I started working on starting with a different finger each time- I-M-R-T over and over, M-R-T-I over and over, etc. That's still the toughest part for me though, as I naturally revert back to T-I-M-R as I practice it way more. Going the other patterns is doable if I don't think about it much, but when I start concentrating and start realizing that my thumb is playing the third beat in every bar, I often screw up :D

    I also work on ascending with whichever finger is next in line, and descending 90% of the time with my thumb (as it's hinged to descend better than any other finger), with the other 10% descending with the next finger in line, although that only works when descending one string. In general I descend with my thumb.

    Norwegianwood: It's so hard for me to pluck with index first, though....if you understand, normally when I use three fingers, I begin with the ring finger....It feels more natural to do it your way, but I can't do it yet.

    Mike Flynn: This is the problem with this technique - I understand completely - it takes some major will power to reverse the natural tendency to play thumb, ring, middle index - but I'm afraid that it seems to wrok the other way better - but let me be clear - whatever way works best for you is fine - this is the way this works for me - do what suits you best.

    Will using four fingers make me go faster?

    It can for some, but it's no guarantee. Many folks can go as fast as anyone out there using just two. For me, it did increase how fast I could pluck by quite a bit (after nine years of playing with two fingers), but you may be different.

    What are the advantages to using the technique?

    Mostly stamina- it takes half of the effort to play twice as many notes as you do with two fingers. It can allow you to ascend and descend more efficiently, and it can possibly add speed to your plucking hand. You also can have a greater range of fingers across the strings, which can make for much faster string skipping and recovery from moving up and down the strings.

    What about muting?

    That was an issue I worried about when I wanted to pracice this. I find I do a little more left hand muting, but you can still mute the string you're playing on with your other fingers for staccato notes, and I working on muting the lower strings with the edge of my palm. In general though, this way of playing with a really light touch has kept the other strings from ringing out much if at all, so I don‘t really do much right-hand muting anymore. A scrunchy at the headstock can aid in this as well.

    Are there other ways to play this technique?

    Do whatever feels comfortable to you. I personally angle my hand a bit more diagonally than Garrison does; it’s more comfortable and natural to me, and I’ve gotten it up to a pretty quick speed. Other players may try T-R-M-I….I met TalkBass member Don’t Fret at a get-together, and he plays this way. It allows different fingering patterns. For example, when I play two consecutive notes on the same string followed by their octaves two strings higher, my picking fingers go in the pattern of T-I on the E string, then M-R on the D string. My hand forms a sort of Z-shape. When playing the same pattern going T-R-M-I, your fingers play T-R on the E string, and M-I on the D string, forming a sort of tent-shape. This shape is actually more natural feeling for the hand, but the amount of coordination required to play this way is a bit too much for me.
     
  3. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    Where can I see examples on this?

    Mike Flynn has a great lesson on four-finger plucking on his webpage; it includes written instruction and video samples of him playing it slowly so you can see how it’s done.
    Mike Flynn’s video/lesson page: http://www.munkio.com/music/music_lessons.html

    Matthew Garrison can be seen on the Herbie Hancock/ Future2Future DVD, as well as his “Mathew Garrison Live” DVD/CD set, available at his website, www.garrisonjazz.com

    Video samples from Garrison’s Live DVD: http://pritchardschool.com/jazzrock/interviews-matt.html

    I have a few video samples of myself playing it for those interested. Here are a couple links to them:
    Two bass improv jam .wmv (about 12mb)
    Four fingers improv speed sample .wmv (about 3.5 mb)
    Second four fingers improv speed sample .wmv (about 5mb)
    Fingerpicking sample- older and not played so well .wmv

    All of the sound samples on my site are also played with this technique.
     
  4. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    So what is a ramp?

    A ramp is a block of wood or plastic (usually radiused to match the fingerboard) placed either in-between the pickups or between a pickup and the neck. It's main purpose is to facilitate a lighter attack by limiting the amount your plucking fingers can dig in..

    Here is a photo of a ramp from the front: ramp
    And here is a photo of a ramp from above so you can see the radiused top: ramp angle view

    Garrison uses them and they seem to be important to his technique.

    A standard rest stroke technique allows your fingers to come to a stop once they hit the string behind them. When using a free stroke technique like the Garrison one, finding an alternative consistent stopping point is very important, particularly because you will be using so many fingers at once including your thumb, which moves differently than your other fingers. A ramp will make using the Garrison technique far easier to achieve. It effectively reduces the distance your fingers can dig in when plucking. It also stops your fingers just after they go through the strings, so it's possible for a ramp to let you play faster, as your recovery time after plucking the string is shortened. I could not play this technique without one.

    Why should a ramp be radiused?

    Most fingerboards have a radius. A proper setup involves adjusting your string height to match the radius of the fretboard. This means the bottoms of your strings aren't straight across- they form a curve that follows the radius of the fretboard. If you use a flat ramp, the distance between the middle strings and the ramp will be greater than the distance between the end strings and the ramp. This will result in an uneven attack- you'd be digging in more on the middle strings than the end strings.

    It is FAR easier to play using your thumb in addition to your standard plucking fingers when using a ramp. The thumb tends to dig in the most, so putting the ramp there makes the thumb bounce back up when it hits the ramp just as fast as your other fingers.

    And how much does it bother (if any) when you slap?

    Since I, like most other people, slap in the area between the fingerboard and the neck pickup, a ramp located between the two pickups doesn't affect my slapping at all.

    Don't you ever want to play aggressively?

    I've found that the very rare occasions when I want to play aggressively, I pluck close to the bridge, not in the center. I usually have better luck not plucking hard anyways- in my experience, I can get a much better aggressive sound when I don't pluck hard, as that often ends up just sounding sloppy.

    Do any real pros use ramps?

    Gary Willis (the originator of them), Matthew Garrison, Dominique DiPiazza, Todd Johnson, and Tony Grey all use them, among many others.

    How does a ramp attach?

    Double stick tape is how I do it- I generally use the Scotch brand foam tape. It is non-marring (so long as it’s used properly). Be sure to remove some of the tackiness of the tape first by sticking and unsticking it to a piece of fabric- the adhesiveness of this tape is FAR stronger than you need it to be, and not removing some of the stickiness of the tape can make it hard to pull the ramp off of the bass at a later date. It also adds piece of mind if you’re at all worried about your finish being marred. I’ve taken my ramps on and off many times over the past year, and have had no marring issues; my basses also have natural wax finishes.

    Some people build “floating” ramps by having them attach to the screws of the pickups, although I won’t comment on these as I have no experience with them.

    You can also have one screw into the body, although this is a drastic modification to your bass and could decrease it’s value.

    What size should I make my ramp?


    It should be the width of the pickups (obviously), and the height depends on the distance between your bass’ body and the strings. For the best results from your ramp, your bass should be set up with fairly low to low action, and your ramp should be pretty close to your strings. I keep the strings on mine about the distance of two credit cards’ thickness (not counting the raised numbers) from the top of the ramp. Your preference may vary. It is better to have your ramp built shorter than taller if you’re unsure where you’d like the top of it to be- that way, you can experiment with the height of the ramp by adding and taking away layers of double-stick tape. You can fine-adjust by using non-foam double stick tape.

    Where can I get a ramp? How much do they cost?

    Prices vary…I’ve gotten mine for around $75- you may be able to find cheaper- and on the high end, Fodera charges around $200 for theirs. Luthiers Rob Elrick and Pete Skjold make them-you can also ask a local woodworker or luthier to build one for you as it‘s a fairly simple project. You can even do it yourself if you have a bit of woodworking skill, a good sander, and a radiusing block to match your fingerboard.

    Ramp demonstration video:


    I hope this little guide was of some help to some of you out there. Take care, and feel free to ask any questions here.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2016
  5. Thanks alot, this is a great help and i look foward to experimenting with this technique. Nice playing!
     
  6. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    toms_river.nj.us
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    Very Nice! Thanks for putting it all together! I enjoyed the loop video... great playing Bryan!
     
  7. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    Thanks guys- let me know if there's any other info or videos of certain aspects that I can provide for you. I was thinking of posting a close-up video of my hands showing how I ascend with the next finger in line but descend with my thumb.
     
  8. Don't_Fret

    Don't_Fret Justin Schornstein

    Dec 10, 2003
    East Coast, US
    Hey Bryan, looks like the technique is progressing nicely. Keep up the good work.
     
  9. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    Thanks- how is it going for you?
     
  10. Don't_Fret

    Don't_Fret Justin Schornstein

    Dec 10, 2003
    East Coast, US
    I've really been gravitating towards a three finger technique using the thumb, index and middle, kind of like Gary Willis except with the thumb, not the ring. It makes descending a bit easier, as I can go to the thumb before I have to move my whole hand. Ascending, especially with arpeggios, is infinitely easier than with the regular two finger.

    I think that once I become really comfortable with thumb index middle then I can integrate the ring finger in if I so desire, although it's still useful for a triplet or 32nd note once in awhile.
     
  11. Kobaia

    Kobaia

    Oct 29, 2005
    Denton TX
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amp Gruv Gear and Mono Cases
    i can really move with 3 fingers. they're already limbered up from double thumbing. i'm having a hard time getting my ring finger in
     
  12. Can you give a more detailed explainations of how you hold your hand and how you mute the strings?

    Thanks
     
  13. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    Sorry for the delay- daddy duties come first. Ok, here's a quick video that shows pretty well where my hand is, and how I keep my elbow raised a bit and my forearm wrapping towards the front of the bass. I want to reiterate that I hold my hand at more of an angle than Garriosn does- it's just a little more comfortable for me this way because A. I like to point my headstock up at a pretty high angle so I angle my hand to match it, and B. my fingers are pretty different in lenghths, so I find I can get them to end at about the same point if I angle my hand so my fingers aren't quite perpendicular to the strings. Do what works best for you.

    I keep my hand either floating above the strings or resting on the body of the bass; floating for quicker passages, and resting for chording and fingerpicking-style arpeggios. I do most of my muting with my fretting hand, but I show how I use my plucking hand for it in the vid. I can use my thumb to mute the lower strings if I just plucking a couple notes up top, or I can rest the inside of my palm on the E or A strings, although this tends to slow things up.

    I also can mute the highest string with my ring finger, ala Gary Willis' technique, while playing triplet patterns with my thumb, index, and middle (near the end of the video). I say Matt Garrison doing a bit of this on the Herbie Hancock video, and Willis was apparently a big influence on how he developed his technique.

    Here's the clip- sorry for the bad sound. I found out that when I rest my digital camera on my amp itself, it doesn't pick up on most of the projected sound from the speakers- you can barely hear some of the eighth notes near the beginning :meh:
    Video sample
     
  14. Kobaia

    Kobaia

    Oct 29, 2005
    Denton TX
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amp Gruv Gear and Mono Cases
    i think it got it for 1 string i'll post a video in a day or so
     
  15. Kobaia

    Kobaia

    Oct 29, 2005
    Denton TX
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amp Gruv Gear and Mono Cases
  16. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    That's very good- the only two things I'd suggest would be to work on getting a more consistant attack when playing more than four notes at a time, particularly on slower parts, as it sounds like your thumb is not follow your ring finger as quickly as it could.

    My second suggestion might solve that- perhaps try curling your fingers under your hand a little more so that your thumb is right in line with your fingers and not so much higher up. In your vid, your wrist is almost perfectly straight (which is a great way to avoid carpal tunnel), but it's leaving your thumb a little higher up. Bending your wrist a slight bit will allow you to pull your fingers under a little more so they'll be closer to the plucking end of your thumb. You should keep working on the way you're doing it though if it's considerably more comfortable though- if you can get a more even attack, then you'll be doing awesome. The most difficult thing with this, and any plucking technique is consistancy. Using more fingers makes it more difficult in the beginning stages to get a more consistant tone- it's certainly my biggest issue that I work on.
     
  17. Nico3535

    Nico3535

    Mar 8, 2006
    Florida
    What if it feels more natural to start the strokes with the ring finger and ending it with the thumb stroke??? I seem to be getting the right sound right now its slow but sounds right.
     
  18. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    I actually addressed this above, although it's a big post so it's probably easy to miss. The one big issue I had with playing ring-middle-index is that there is a natural tendancy for those fingers played in that order to make a galloping triplet sound, which is undesirable. Going the other way seems to combat it and allowed me a much more consistent attack. But do whatever works for you.

    This is from Post #2 above:
    Are there other ways to play this technique?

    Do whatever feels comfortable to you. I personally angle my hand a bit more diagonally than Garrison does; it’s more comfortable and natural to me, and I’ve gotten it up to a pretty quick speed. Other players may try T-R-M-I….I met TalkBass member Don’t Fret at a get-together, and he plays this way. It allows different fingering patterns. For example, when I play two consecutive notes on the same string followed by their octaves two strings higher, my picking fingers go in the pattern of T-I on the E string, then M-R on the D string. My hand forms a sort of Z-shape. When playing the same pattern going T-R-M-I, your fingers play T-R on the E string, and M-I on the D string, forming a sort of tent-shape. This shape is actually more natural feeling for the hand, but the amount of coordination required to play this way is a bit too much for me.
     
  19. A ramp... hmmm... WHAT A GREAT IDEA! I am so glad I stumbled across this thread! I think I am going to try my hand at making one for my Spector ReBop 5. It has a 2 pickup configuration that looks like it would be perfect for this sort of device. PLUS I have always been a little less then pleased with the amount of gap between the strings and the body on the Spector - the ramp, I think, will make me much more comfy with this situation.

    As for the technique... very cool! I had not seen this one until I read this thread. I am sure I will take to this technique very readily - I have been sort of doing it when 'noodling' around without even realizing it had more potential. I am going to take it up a notch! BAM!

    Thanks! Great thread!
    --tz