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Alternating Technique Question

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by bassgirls, Jan 8, 2018.

  1. bassgirls


    May 24, 2014
    Hey guys.

    I've improved so much at finger style over the past year. But one thing I still struggle with is this: say I'm playing 3 notes on one string. Let's say 3 notes on the E string. I start with my index finger, alternate to the middle, then finish on the index. When I go down to the A string, should I start with my middle since that's next in the alternating sequence? I always want to start on the index. It's especially bad when descending (like from the G string moving toward the E playing 3 notes per string). Is there an exercise to correct this if this is incorrect?

    Also, after rests, I tend to go back to the finger I used before the rest.
    Say it's a note (index), a rest, then a note. The final note I play with the index. I think my brain views the rest as where the middle should have been. Is this wrong? If so, is there an exercise to correct it? Thanks!
    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  2. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    I think the short answer would be that if you can achieve what you wish musically with the way you play now, don't sweat it.

    If your technique is hindering you from achieving what you want musically, slow things down as you play and find out what's most efficient and effective for you and force yourself to develop yourself to play that way, even if it's slow and painful at first. Keep practicing it every day until it becomes second nature.

    I think if you examine your technique in slow motion you will see where you're stumbling and it will become clear which finger should be picking up next. EDIT: Sorry, I didn't read your original post closely enough, after scanning it quickly I thought perhaps you were using three finger technique.

    Another thing that may help is ignoring the left hand and simply focusing on developing this new method until your right hand is comfy with it. Maybe wrap the the nut with a scarf or put some foam in front of the bridge to practice moving across strings and alternate plucking.

    One of the things I've noticed is that because the three finger plucking technique offers no real advantage in terms of speed or dexterity over two finger plucking, there aren't a ton of tutorials out there on it.

    I feel like it's more fun to use more fingers, though my pinky is too short to hang with my other fingers.

    Also, have you been developing the floating thumb technique?
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
    Fergie Fulton, JRA and bassgirls like this.
  3. ba55i5t


    May 24, 2006
    Ideally you should be using strict alternating fingers, even when going through strings upward. If you are going through strings downward you might rake by using the same finger twice. When I started, my index was more dominant, now it's my middle finger.
  4. bassgirls


    May 24, 2014
    Yeah, if I'm playing 3 notes on the G string and then move to the D string, I'll kind of naturally pull upward (rake?) with the index and start on the D with it. That's okay? It seems more efficient.

    Do you have any tips for rests? Is it correct to view the rest as a stroke that should have been and hence repeat the note before and after with the same finger, or is that wrong?
    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  5. bassgirls


    May 24, 2014
    I use the method like that guy Scott on Scott's Bass Lessons on Youtube. Basically the thumb moves down to rest on the string above the one being played and act as an anchor and mute on that string. I like it. I couldn't do the method where the thumb kinda lays across all the strings. It felt too weird -- my thumb is somewhat long and my other fingers short, so the thumb almost felt in the way.
    Fergie Fulton and Element Zero like this.
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Alternating is important, but you can also cause yourself unnecessary problems by overthinking it.
    If your results sound good, and you're alternating most of the time, it usually isn't a problem to double up on one finger occasionally. Particularly on descending lines.

    If you're looking for an exercise, I would suggest muting all the strings with your left hand and playing 3 notes per string up and down, strictly alternating, for 15 minutes per day until it becomes automatic.
    Start slow, then go faster. Try doing it while your attention is mostly on something else, like reading a book or watching TV. You need to get it into your muscle memory so you don't have to think about it.
    Fergie Fulton, Wasnex and bassgirls like this.
  7. Fergie Fulton likes this.
  8. I use a similar technique that you describe (three fingers) however my thumb remains firmly anchored behind the neck in the middle. This I think is a holdover from my classical guitar lessons as I was taught that the thumb should always be anchored behind the neck so the fingers can fret the strings fully and offer a stronger pinching hand motion. It provides better reach up and down the neck (by your fingers)and is the basis for conservation of motion, so your arm isn't sliding up and down the neck so much. Your arm will get tired a lot quicker than your fingers. Muting is handled by my plucking hand mostly.
    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  9. ba55i5t


    May 24, 2006

    Yes raking is more efficient - if it works use it.

    In terms of rests I do not think about them as strokes that should have been there. The counter-factual is that a note occupies the space where a rest would be. That being said, I am alternating all, or most, of the time. If you use the same finger twice in the span of a few rests this is fine but not as efficient.
    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  10. bassgirls


    May 24, 2014
    Thanks, guys. I just want to clarify I am using two fingers. I think maybe the way I wrote things it seems like I'm using three. I'm not.

    Ba55, so on a 3 note pattern with a rest in between you'd do (I) (rest) (middle)? I do (I) (rest -- for the middle that should have been there), (I). Is this worth correcting? Is speed the main problem with my method?
    Fergie Fulton likes this.
  11. As far as I know, the only real no-no is using the same finger twice in a row on the same or higher string during a fast alternating note passage, because it will slow you down.

    As far as yes-yesses, they’ve already been mentioned: when dropping down a string, the last finger to play on the higher string starts the first note on the lower string (the “rake”). Typically alternating notes on the same string use alternating fingers. It doesn’t really matter which finger you start with after rests.

    EDIT: just realized you call your lower strings “high strings”—presumably because they are nearest the ceiling? So swap all my lowers for upper, and all my uppers for lower.
  12. Ross W. Lovell

    Ross W. Lovell

    Oct 31, 2015
  13. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Aw, well, maybe don't analyze it too much. I don't really think about it much when playing. Sometimes I'll use the same finger twice, depending on the passage. I've really not had to constantly tbink about if I'm always alternating "properly" or not. Relax.
  14. flojob

    flojob Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 15, 2011
    I practice that stuff for the same reasons you are. I found that some of my problem was my brain understanding what was supposed to happen. Groups of 3 (as you already pointed out) ends on the same finger, as does 5. After I concentrated on that concept, the fingers took care of themselves.
    I rake also when coming down in pitch, if the last note on the string is my index finger. If it's my middle finger, I'll alternate to the index when crossing strings to a lower pitch. As long as I keep the grouping in mind and understand what finger I will end on, it's not so bad.
    I try to alternate when crossing strings moving up in pitch. What I end up having to work on is right hand movement to reach the higher pitched strings. Ideally, I want my fingers to have a consistent position and an even attack. It requires me to move my whole hand, but it's something that I need to get better at. All I can do is practice.
    Also, I don't count rests as finger strokes in my brain, but it really depends on what the passage is that's coming after the rest. My habit is to start a phrase with my index, but I can imagine scenarios where the middle finger would be best, like octaves with the higher pitched note is played before the lower pitch note.
    I guess in the end, play any way that accomplishes what you need. There's no wrong way, I suppose, unless it causes you pain.
  15. bassgirls


    May 24, 2014
    That's a great post, Flo. Glad to know someone is in the same boat. It might be OCD or something. I just want proper technique because I do. Also, a few times I've tripped over my fingers in those situations, and it pointed out I must be doing something wrong. That's when I noticed it was happening on the odd groupings of notes and rests.
    FenderB, Fergie Fulton and flojob like this.
  16. Yeah, it’s ok. When you go the other direction, E to G, keep alternating.

    Starting over w/ the same finger is ok after a rest. Also starting with whichever finger is most comfortable is ok by me. Others may disagree.

    You are totally on the right track with all of this, figure out what works for you, that’s what it’s all about. So if something seems efficient to you then you should do that. Only reason to question it is if it isn’t working in some particular music or it is leading to physical pain.
    Fergie Fulton and bassgirls like this.
  17. Michael4bass


    Aug 20, 2011
    Florence, MS
    I pluck with my first two fingers and use my third and forth to mute the E and A strings, leaving my thumb anchored either on a pickup, pick guard or the body if there's not one, or the end of the neck.

    Bassically, Michael
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  18. CalBuzz51


    Mar 11, 2016
    There are times when I don't rake going back down because I'm playing a repetitive 8 note pattern and I want to start with the same finger on the first note each time through. It took a while train it but it works for me for that song.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  19. Oleg BassPlayer

    Oleg BassPlayer

    Feb 4, 2016
    I seem to be late for the party, but here are my $0.02.
    When I move to lower strings (pitch-wise, e.g. from A to E) I usually rake except repetitive patterns like:
    which also can be raked, but I haven't learnt to do it smoothly yet lol Still I feel raking will be more efficient, and I'm working on it.

    as for what finger to start with - index or middle, well, my teacher has taught me to practice with both up to the point you don't notice the difference. In this way, you can start with any finger which is very helpful when you, say, rake to the lower string and the first note there falls on arbitrary finger.

    I often play the same pattern starting with different fingers, this exercise helps me to learn not to depend on a particular finger to begin with.
  20. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Personally I don't believe there is s generic right or wrong way, but that 'correctness' should be a function of what the music demands. This is not an 'it doesn't matter' get-out, but a more music-focussed approach... I use a lot of cello music for study purposes, much of which include directed bowing. Sometimes how the music is to be articulated will indicate a particular approach. For example, one phrase might be a series of quarter notes with alternate up/down bows, others may be a series of up-bows that may be staccato or a single (slurred) up-bow. Sometimes this is to prepare for the next phrase, which may be a long down-bow, sometimes you have to get back quickly for another run of up-bows. Sometimes the same up-bow notes might be repeated with down-bows.
    I'm not saying that i and m are analogous with up and down bows, but that your fingering choices might be better if based on musical demands rather than dogmatic technicality.
    The point is that, IMHO, you shouldn't get hung up on strict alternating for its own sake but for the sake of the music. You should be able to play the same thing starting on i or m, and try to be aware of the subtle differences in articulation, according to what the music demands.
    Fergie Fulton likes this.

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