Fast steady for a newbie?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by rpt50, May 7, 2021.

  1. rpt50


    Jan 10, 2021
    New to bass and looking for tips on songs that require a fast and steady pluck (e.g., "Going down" or "Dean Town"). As a long time guitarist, I can play this material with a pick, but I would like to be able to do this plucking. I'm working with a drum track, but I'm also wondering if there are any techniques that might help. For example, I've noticed that I have the most difficulty on the E string, I guess because it's a little floppy on my short scale. Is there a hand position or something that will help here? Also, should I start working on a 3 finger pluck, or is that just going to complicate things? At 59, I don't pick up on new things like I used to, but I'm always willing to try!
    Peter Torning likes this.
  2. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    If you're new to bass it's worth investing some time into getting your technique into shape before you develop bad habits that will be hard to break later. As I'm sure you've already noticed, playing bass is rather different than playing guitar.

    Here are a couple of well regarded right-hand techniques worth checking out. See if either of these works for you:

    Also, I'd suggest turning up the amp and playing with a soft touch. One of the things I personally like about the "floating thumb" technique above is that it almost forces me to pluck softly; having an anchor always seems to make me want to dig in harder than necessary. Of course, YMMV.
    3bc, One Way, Matty Koff and 9 others like this.
  3. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Regularly practicing with a click or drumbeat, and gradually increasing the tempo until you can play comfortably and steadily at higher speeds, is the only way I know to get good at it.

    Three finger plucking is something that depends a lot on the player. you can develop the ability with practice. But for most of the players I’ve known over the years, three and four finger plucking either comes naturally or it doesn’t come at all. I can pluck with three fingers when I need to because I worked at it. But it’s not something I could ever make feel completely comfortable for my hand. Best bet is give it a try after you get your two finger technique up to where you want it. You can never know too many techniques IMO. But it’s best to only focus on developing one technique at a time.

    The cure for floppy strings is to either try a different string set that has higher tension -or- play with a lighter touch. As was previously suggested by @Lobster11, the “floating thumb” technique almost forces you to play with a lighter touch. So that may be worth trying before you start switching strings.

    Luck! :thumbsup:
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
    3bc, One Way, hieronymous and 9 others like this.
  4. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    The right hand/arm will be using a muscle set that has never been used for this purpose before, so it will require some serious training to catch up with your left hand dexterity. There are no short-cuts that substitute for repetition, but what to repeat? For the type of music you are referencing, I agree with @Lobster11 that you should aim for a lighter touch, where the fingertip glances over the string at high speed rather than digging in or under for a pull/release action. The floating thumb will promote this, as well as being the most effective method for muting unwanted noise. It will also promote better control over dynamics, which you also need for this style of playing (notwithstanding the fact that Vulfpeck use really heavy compression on pretty much everything!).

    Also, try to strike the string through the plane of the bass rather than hitting in towards the body. This will allow you to play cleaner and with greater dynamic range before running into fret noise and clank.

    Try to move your plucking position towards to bridge. Not only will the strings feel tighter, it will be better for generating the type of tone and attack you need for this style. Also, try to position your bass in such as way as your right wrist and fingers are reasonable straight and not contorted over the body of the bass.

    Personally I'm yet to find something that can't be done with 2, but 3 is no less valid for that. But I would not recommend trying to develop both at the same time, simply because I think it will hinder your progress in both. So start with 2 and see where you end up.

    Good luck.
    JRA and Lobster11 like this.
  5. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    Starting slow, with a proper technique and a drumtrack or metronome, play a lick as fast as you can exectute it flawless. Play for a bit and then increase the tempo by a small increment (3-6bpm). Play that tempo until it feels comfortable to play.
    Repeat until you can't get comfortable with the new tempo - that's where your session is over.

    Do a couple of these per day, and take notes.
    StatesideRambler and JimmyM like this.
  6. acleex38


    Jul 28, 2006
    I totally agree with this, except I would emphasize starting even slower - uncomfortably slow. Use that to focus on the details. When you go that slow, you can't hide sloppiness.

    Someone once posted here MANY years ago that "speed comes as a by-product of familiarity." If you do it right and become intimately familiar with doing it well, the speed will come in time. Practicing for *just* speed may teach you to play it poorly, very fast. :D
  7. nnnnnn


    Oct 27, 2018
    For the intro and middle section of Dean Town with the steady stream of 16th notes I think plucking with three fingers would be rhythmically confusing because each beat and even each bar would start with a different finger than the one before. That may make for a good exercise, but it feels much more natural to me if I start each beat - or at least every second beat or every bar - with the same finger, which happens automatically if strictly alternating with two fingers.

    (Though having said that there are many songs for which I don't strictly alternate, often I'll use economy plucking - or whatever it's called using the same finger twice in a row when the second note is on a lower string.)

    The other reason three-finger plucking doesn't work for me personally is I've never found a comfortable hand position that allows for my middle finger being longer than index and ring fingers. Just index and middle is fine, or just index and ring, but not all three.

    Those are my reasons; you may not have the same problems.
  8. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Here's another practice technique you might also want to try that allows you to play along with the recording at regular tempo: If the line is straight 16th notes, like Dean Town, try playing along in quarter notes -- i.e., just play every fourth note -- for a while. Then, once you're able to play this way evenly and cleanly for an extended period, start mixing in a few eighth notes here and there. For example, you might play 1 2 3 4 1 2 1234 1 2 3 4 1 2 1234, etc. You can probably play a short run of eighth notes cleanly and evenly every once in a while. Over time, increase the frequency and length of those short bursts -- maybe 1 2 3 1234 1 2 3 1234, and eventually 1 2 12345678 1 2 12345678 -- and so forth. Once you can play the line for an extended period in eighth notes (again, cleanly and evenly with no mistakes), follow the same strategy by starting to mix in short bursts of 16th notes, and so forth.

    (BTW, I came up with this idea based on a Scott Devine video in which he pointed out when we can't play a line at tempo, the problem usually is not that we can't play the notes at that tempo per se, but rather that we can't maintain that tempo for long before technique breaks down.)
    One Way, ACRock, red_rhino and 2 others like this.
  9. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Fast steady for a newbie?
    ...start slow.
  10. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Yes. I assume Scott also included counting the subdivisions as part of the exercise? Most people can keep time in their heads at a pretty high rate - the problem to be solved here is getting the fingers to keep up, IME.
  11. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    ...and one more thing to consider.
    In playing fingerstyle, the least time-consuming part of the stroke is the bit where the note is being played. Most of the time is spent between notes: putting the brakes on, lifting the finger away and returning the it to the 'ready' position in time to play the next note. This is all dead time. Part of the key to playing fast is minimising the dead time, which in reality means keeping the distances moved as short as possible. Think about this. If you want to double your tempo you need to go from start to start in half the time. Is it better to go twice as fast or to cut the distance in half?

    The same goes for your left hand!

    After that it comes down to synchronisation, which is the other source of dead time...
    SemiDriven likes this.
  12. JeezyMcNuggles


    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    2 fingers. Relax. Speed up periodically. Relax. Take breaks. Relax. Metronome. Relax. Feel it. Relax.

    If there's any tension in your right hand and/or arm, you'll not only cramp and strain, you won't be able to keep anything going steady. Let alone fast. Start slow (it's actually a lot more difficult than going fast, but completely obtainable at the same time). Build up speed. Relax.
    SteveCS likes this.
  13. Double thumb, just like a pick.
  14. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    In general, playing closer to the bridge can help with this, because the string will not move as much if you pluck it in that area. You may notice that Joe Dart tends to play a lot of stuff very close to the bridge (including specifically "Dean Town"), likely at least in part for this reason. You might also have issues with the E string compared to the other things if you like to rest your thumb on the E or A string when playing on the higher strings, which you obviously cannot do with the E string (unless you to a five string). If so, you'll just want to incorporate practice using a way to anchor on a pickup or the body when using the E string, or practice getting more comfortable playing without an anchor as an alternative (doesn't work for me, but some swear by it). This can be incorporated into the same practice on general playing technique already recommended by others above.
  15. SLPimp

    SLPimp An Injury to One is an Injury to All Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2020
    Santa Fe, New Mexico
    Go as fast as you can do 8th notes. Use a metronome. Get faster. The end.
  16. red_rhino

    red_rhino Artful Dodger Gold Supporting Member

    As I've gotten older, my plucking technique has changed to incorporate the use of upstrokes. Quite a bit, in fact. This has resulted in smoother, more consistent tones, and roughly doubled the number of notes I can play using half the motion. I don't use it all the time, but I do use it a lot. A 3 finger alternating pluck (1 2 3 2 1 2 3 2) also cuts down on excessive right hand movement, but can be harder to maintain a consistent tone due to the differences in the length of the index, middle, and ring fingers. It takes some work to get it smooth.

    The nice thing about incorporating upstrokes where you can is that downstrokes set up the upstrokes and vice versa. It can also aid in cross-string movements, depending on the line.

    It's not something I use all the time, but I do look for opportunities to use it where I can. I think it's made a difference and reduced wear and tear. I should add that most of of the upstrokes I use involve the index and middle fingers, very little on the ring finger unless it's part of a rake.
  17. As a long time guitarist, your technique will be good, you just need to adapt to the bass strings. Just time and practice.
    My advice would be to try a larger pick, but given short scale tension, avoiding a thicker pick so you can smoothen out your attack.
    I like something easy to grip (I have a few dodgy joints myself, so a three finger grip is easier for longer nights).
    I like these;
    Dunlop 431P060 Tortex Triangle Guitar Picks .60mm Orange 6-pack
  18. OogieWaWa


    Mar 17, 2013
    Oak Harbor, OH
    Also keep your right hand relaxed, don't tighten up hoping you'll go faster, and it goes along with economy of motion and playing lighter. Unlike picking where your hand and wrist kinda make a rotary motion, it's more of a linear pulsing of your fingers than you're used to. Breathing is important to that relaxation.

    Try different amounts of curl in your fingers and try different wrist positions that go along with those; if you watch bass players playing fast there's quite a bit if difference in what is comfortable for people. Stay away from lots of curl and conversely having them too straight, stay away from extremes of wrist angle. Note during the day where your hands and wrists naturally are at rest, don't vary too far from that. Then instead of all straightening and returning your fingers to that position, and instead of pulling towards you and returning to neutral, position so you're getting the pluck at that natural relaxing point. Now you're using two sets of muscles lightly rather than one set for everything. Doing that may also save you some trouble down the road from making things go where they're not supposed to.

    Oh, and just because the E string feels floppy as you get closer to the neck, that doesn't mean you only play by the bridge all the time. There's different tone up there, sometimes you'll want that, kinda get used to it so it will work when it's needed. I'd say play at different positions and see what works.

    At our first gig back Saturday, about half way through the third of four sets my main plucker index finger started to get pretty sore, especially where there's supposed to be more callous, but when I practice I'll try using patterns using from 1 to all 4 fingers, each individually (not with the pinky, can't!) and sequenced, and not be able to detect much of a difference in how it sounds. That's real handy, I shifted to using my middle and/or ring fingers for most of the fourth set, and was fairly comfortable doing it. I didn't tear up my index finger.
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
  19. chazolson

    chazolson Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2013
    Reston, VA
    Two things:

    1. Get up on the tippy-tips of your right hand fingers. Don't use the meaty part to pluck, just use the ends.

    2. Take Carol Kaye's advice and put a 1/2" x 1/2" x 4" piece of foam sponge under the strings at the bridge to mute it just a bit. When you reduce the amount of "flopping around" the string goes through when vibrating, it's surprisingly easier to pluck faster. Plus you'll be cutting out a lot of harmonic "noise" so that the individual notes sound more defined. (Carol would put a piece of felt all the way around the strings when playing with a pick, and use foam under the strings when using her plucking fingers.)
  20. jw23mind

    jw23mind Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2017
    Reading MA
    playing fast and repetitive lines can be tough with typical fingerstyle, for me at least (Steve Harris, Frank Bello, etc... I don't know how those guys do it). I've always been tempted to switch to a pick except I'm way better fingerstyle in general. One thing that I developed more recently as an add-on kind of technique: crossing my middle finger behind my index finger as re-enforcement, then using index finger like a pick with up-and-down strokes. I think Geddy Lee does something like this. It's easier to get steady 8th and 16th notes like this, but then I switch to more standard index-middle alternating for more melodic parts requiring more string-crossing.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jun 20, 2021

Share This Page