Any general principles on how to finger a piece of music?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by MicceO, Oct 21, 2004.

  1. MicceO


    Aug 12, 2004
    I would like to know if there are (I'm sure there are, at least at DB business) any general principles on how to finger (LH) a piece of music.

    I mean things like, wether to use open strings or fretted strings,using the same string v. adjacent string, which position to use, should I go upwards or downwords, using same finger or another finger etc. The aim is, of course, to find a smooth, working fingering. What to prefer and what to avoid. (this of course, has to do with the sound as well, but that's not my point now)

    Why I'm asking this is that I've been fingering a couple of bass lines. In a way it is, of course, interesting to test different fingerings, and very rewarding when you manage to find one that works. But also time consuming.

    So, I believe that some knowledge of general principles could be of help.

    Thanks! :bassist:
  2. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Generally you're looking for something which minimises unnecessary fretting hand movement and lets you stay as relaxed as possible; sometimes you have to pick one of those as a priority.

    Additionally, you need to figure in the overall sound you are going for - figuring in the fact that playing the same note in different spots on the neck is going to yeild different tones and also that different fingerings will lead to different articulations.

    Two examples:

    1) In Lovesjones, we play "Love the One You're With". There's a little tag section that has me playing Bb A Bb A Bb A C. Initially I was playing this in fifth position (first finger at the fifth fret) and all on the E string as 2 1 2 1 2 1 4. However, jamming around one day, I round that it worked better in third position on the E and A strings (E 4 3 4 3 4 3 A 1) - by adapting my position, I found it much easier to make the phrasing 'punchy', fitting in with the guitar and drums.

    2) In one of the original songs I do with the 'Teeth, there's a part where I need to play a low A, jump to the G above (dominant seventh) and then to the A above that (octave). When I first worked this out, I was playing it in fifth position again on the E and D strings; further experimentation led me to start using the open A string for the low note, which helps me get a better groove going.

    So, the lesson I've learnt is that there are lots of ways to play things and some do work better than others, even if they break my general playing rules (I normally steer away from relying to much on alternating between third and fourth fingers, prefering 1,2 and 4 for most applications; I also rarely use open strings).

  3. Whafrodamus


    Oct 29, 2003
    Andover, MA
    I just try to not use open strings too much, but still minimize hand movement that's not needed.
  4. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    A few lessons with a teacher will show you common fingerings.
  5. Number one rule should always be sound. Even though you didn't want to hear it. ;) A good way to practice fingering is playing scales in different positions, with as little/much movement as possible. Or practice scales on just one string etc.

    If I can't play a line with the best sounding fingering, I practice until I can.
  6. MicceO


    Aug 12, 2004
    Thanks for your replies! :)

    As for the sound, I agree, it is all important! For example, I've noticed that using an open string may in certain situations give you some extra time if you have to make a major jump, but the sound is perhaps not exactly what you want.

    I've been working on a couple of walking bass lines where the left hand is quite busy. I think I don't have major problems in playing them somehow prima vista, but now that I've been practicing them a bit longer, the fingering is completely different from the one i first used. And it really took time to find that fingering. :bassist:
  7. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    There's a bunch of things to keep in mind when determining LH and RH fingering. One general principle is to avoid left-hand fingerings that require consecutive position shifts leading with the pinky.

    I tend to avoid the G string if I can. If a bassline fits on the lower three (or four) strings, I'll keep it there, even if it requires that I play in a higher position.
  8. Not quite sure what you mean. Can you give an example? Thanks.
  9. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I assume he means that if you had a bassline that ascends through, for example, A B C D E F, he wouldn't play it as:

    G2(1) G4(3) G5(4) S G7(4) S G9(4) S G10(4)

    That's string, fret and fretting finger in brackets (quicker to type than knocking up some tab :D ). "S" signifies a shift.

    Instead, he might play, for example:

    A12(4) D9(1) D10(2) D12(4) G9(1) G10(2)

    I'd concur with that approach - no shifting required at all - although it would depend on how I wanted to articulate the line.

    Mind you, I'm not so sure about staying away from the G string - if it produces a radically different tone (and that isn't a useful feature for your playing style) it might be worth investigating whether a bit of setup work could make it more consistent. It seems a shame to have a string sitting there being neglected...

  10. MicceO


    Aug 12, 2004

    As for my self, one practical thing is that my joints are a bit too flexible. So, using the pinky consecutively may lock the joints so that the finger is completely stiff. So, that's one thing I have to take into account. :bassist:
  11. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004
    My first "gig" was joining my high school orchestra in time for a musical that looked at popular entertainment from WWI to the 1960s.

    For my first performance experience I had to play all sorts of different musical styles.

    While the music was completely scored/notated. The production had constant key changes, so I developed the habit of avoiding open strings so I could changes keys at the drop of a dime, by moving my entire fingering up and down with the key changes. (Typically moving the song to a "horn section friendly" key like B flat or E flat.)

    Flash-forward 20 years and I'm doing original songs with my band. For my first crack through an original, I always put a bass line together with this principle as key changes are common for us to strike a compromise between the best key for the song, the singer's range and specific techniques the guitar player wants to use.

    Once the key is established, my next priority is using the already mentioned points of using fingerings for sonic quality, minimizing position changing, and particular techniques.
  12. The way I approach it is to look what key you are in,and then scan the piece of music and find the lowest and the highest note of the piece,and find a position that you can reach all(or at least as many as possible)without changing positions.
    Start by practicing scales using "proper"fingerings(not changing positions)