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Finger pressure

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Mar 17, 2019.

  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    I have looked up previous threads and other resources but there is relatively little that focuses on how much finger pressure as applied to the fingerboard is enough to a) play the best sound possible and b) play at speed. As I see it, it could well be the function of many things, inclusive of type of strings, player's ability, type of bass, etc. but for those more experienced players or teachers, how do you tell when there is enough pressure (or conversely not enough) applied?

    Regards to all
  2. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    Excessive pressure will fatigue the player but there is a minimum required to stop the string with consistency for tone and intonation.

    Simon Fischer, the violin pedagogue, wrote a few finger pressure exercises into his exhaustive "Basics". Some of these concepts are illustrated in this Nathan Cole youtube video -

    The basic idea in Fischer's book on the amount of pressure is "as much as necessary but as little as possible." But, as much as necessary is a lot more on a bass than a violin.

    Ideally, I try to achieve this as much as I can with weight, ( and if needed back and upper arm muscle rotating the forearm) and as little squeezing in the hand as needed. My left hand is based on Rabbath's concepts - so I say use weight and rotation in the arm to generate the finger pressure, and avoid a rigid and tense thumb. This is essential to perform pivots (shifts with a stationary thumb - like at the heel of the neck)

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    ^^^Great post above. I will also add that for many players there is the question of what part of the finger is being used to stop the string. Finger tips have less surface and require less weight, while finger pads have more surface and require more weight. Each has its own sound, and players tend to use the technique that produces the sound they are after. The distribution of weight in relation to surface area is basic physics, but we don't think about that when we play because it's baked in by that point. But in the practice room, it's a subject worth considering.

    In the end, my default is better too much weight than too little: the former may be a bit of wasted energy but the latter is a flawed sound. The technique I am chasing 90% of the time is about weight transfer from one finger to the next rather than coming from a fixed hand position, so as long as the transfer is efficient and flowing there will never be a shortage of weight to stop the string even at tempos.
  4. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    I have thought about this a bit. I think the goal is to push the string to the fingerboard and press just hard enough to make it sound good (i.e. not buzz). In theory this helps me not over play with my left hand. The harder I pull with my right hand, the tighter I push down with my left.

    Something to try maybe is does pushing down harder with the left hand while playing softly with the right change the sound any?
  5. A simple test for what is needed for a clear sound is to raise your LH into playing position with four arched fingers resting on a string but not spread, and thumb on the back of the neck. Start to bow and the sound produced is muffled and not a note. Gradually hook/press the string down towards the thumb until it hits the fingerboard and the note pops out clearly. I call this my "moo" sound when showing students. Flex the string up and down testing the pressure each time it hits and sounds. Then open the fingers into the normal 1 2 4 spacing and retest the pressure with different combinations, eg index only, 1 and 2 together, 1 2 and 3+4 all together.

    I agree with the Simon Fisher idea that Jon mentions above and employ the pads rather than the tips of my fingers. The reason for this is because the finger tips come together as you progressively curl your fingers more, making it not possible to create a half tone between 1 and 2. My fingers end up arched like a pianist's to rest half way between the center of the fingerprint and the tip, where there is a slight flat spot in each pad.

    Too much pressure between thumb and fingers is tiring, slows shifting and fingering, and doesn't change the sound noticeably IMO. I like to feel a relaxed balance between both hands resting back towards my body, connected by the string. Relaxation is important for vibrato too, and so is placement of the thumb behind the vibrato finger.
    tonequixote and unbrokenchain like this.

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