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Fingers flexed or straight?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by mikemulcahy, Dec 8, 2004.

  1. mikemulcahy


    Jun 13, 2000
    The Abyss
    My teacher is cracking my skull about keeping my fingers curved on my left hand when I feel its more natural for me to keep them rather straight. I think I am more articulate this way but my teacher, a very traditional cat, is brow beating me to death about it.

    Any thoughts from the pros?

  2. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    The best tone is produced by using the very tip of of your finger to stop the string. If you can do this with a straight finger, fine but it is accomplished more cleanly with a curved finger.
  3. bonniej


    Dec 8, 2004
    I had wondered about this as well. I see people play with their hand clamped across the whole fingerboard to play the traditional 1-5 (ie C-G for a C chord) bluegrass beat, but I always finger each note individually. Is each-note-fingered the right way to do it?

  4. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    You should aim to stop a note with one finger only. Using other fingers to support that finger is not only unnecessary but impedes your dexterity.
  5. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    I'm no pro, but your teacher is right. The rewards of curved left hand will become manisfest when you'll sart to get closer to thumb position and will have to deal with the transition from normal to thumb pos. One good exercise at that point (but you should follow teacher's recommendation) is to play without the thumb touching the back of the neck, so you concentrate on pushing the strings on the FB with your fingertips & arm weight rather than clamping the neck with your left hand.
  6. mikemulcahy


    Jun 13, 2000
    The Abyss
    I am wrong as per usual ;) . I have been practicing the proper finger flexion and I see your point. But there are times when I am lost in my own groove, I catch myself with straight fingers.

    Thanks for the words.

  7. If I am exhausted from a set of demanding jazz songs I find myself with straight fingers as well. Sometimes I remember to curve them and sometimes I forget but usually I recover during a ballad or simple tune. It is actually less work though to use good technique, the human instinct just doesn't take logic into account.

    Curved fingers do many things for you:

    -Clearer/cleaner tone
    -Longer and louder ring
    -Better for vibrato
    -More relaxed
    -More often in tune
    -Faster playing
    -Louder accent
    -Setup for thumb position

    Help me if I've missed something.
  8. Much less effort required to press down the strings.
  9. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    ...and your wedding band is more well-hidden from that floozy at the front table... :p
  10. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Curved fingers, to me, is a good habit because it allows them to remain above the other strings...which supports sympathetic vibrations from the other strings and makes the bass sound larger and pleasing to the ear (at least for me). Ultimately, that's what I'm going for - the nicest sound I can make. You bet I try to keep my fingers curved.

    The stronger-grip argument may be true, but I don't buy into it for my own experiences. It's never really should be about the best hand position for squeezing the neck. If you need validation for flattened fingers and knuckles being bent back from the superheroes, you can find it - just watch Yo Yo Ma, for example, playing in thumb position, or even Francois Rabbath. Some double stops in thumb position (like 3rds) are super hard for me to execute without collapsing my index finger. Otherwise, I'm playing on my fingernail.
  11. I don't think anyone is talking about a stronger grip. It is actually all about getting away from a strong grip and getting into efficiency. Ray Parker explained this very clearly in a thread a couple of years ago--perhaps even the one on his fingering system. By concentrating the pressure on a smaller spot (fingertip rather than pad), it requires much less effort or strength if you prefer the term. Easy to say, tough to implement but well worth the effort.
  12. JohnBarr


    Mar 19, 2004
    Central NY
    you're on to something there. In the heat of the moment our habits, good and bad, come through. One reason for the "practice practice" mantra is to ingrain the best techniques so they become unconscious. Then you can pull the straight-finger routine out when you need it.

    Ugh. sounds like I'm pontificating. Don't mean to. I have the worst time with this. I'm OK with the finger tips, but my bugbear is falling back on one-finger plucking. Catch myself all the time but I'm getting better.

  13. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    I always tell my students to hold a pop can in their hand
    -that's the way to hold the bass neck. All fingers curved, no collapsing joints, wrist not too flexed.

    I disagree with Savino, in that I think if your second finger is down, the first should stay in place. When your fourth is down, all fingers should be down. I like to think of this as leaving your notes where you left them. This is pretty traditional Simandl stuff. I do know players that don't do this, and it can be useful for vibrato to have only one finger down.

  14. larry


    Apr 11, 2004
    I'm no doctor, but I would suspect that straight fingers are going to lead to some health issues. When I get aches and pains from playing, I can usually trace it to some technique that has been slipping.
  15. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    Of course this is personal preference but I have spent that past few years trying to undo my previous Simandl Technique. I had a very painful bout with carpal tunnel and tendenitis that resulted from overexerting my left hand. I personally believe that stopping a string with more than one finger is unneccessary. If your are properly using your arm weight, even you pinky alone can effectively produce good tone. Pressing a note with all four fingers, also requires moving four fingers to release the note and slows your shifts. This works for me and my dexterity and intonation has improved greatly because of it.
  16. I feel that if all the fingers are down, they are all right there on the other notes in that position (assuming you have a disciplined hand in the Simandl tradition).

    This means that if you just played a D (G string) and you need the C, all you have to do is lift the fingers just used - the first finger will be on the C and in tune.

    With what you described, you will need to lift the finger that played the D and press down the finger that hopefully is still over the C.
  17. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    Exactly! but, it is not "hopefully over the C" it IS over the C. I liken it to piano technique or a great cellist or violinist. Does a piano player hold down all the notes with his/her right hand just so they know where they are? no. A great string player projects all of their energy from the body, through the arm culminating at the tip of a finger(not the tip of four fingers) to produce the best sounding note.
  18. hunta


    Dec 2, 2004
    Washington, DC
    The piano player analogy makes sense. I've only been playing double bass for a semester but I am already having clashes with my teacher over Simandl's technique. I do my best to "humor" him with things like keeping one finger down vs. all, or keeping my thumb directly across from my middle finger ala simandl. The problem is I have 11 years of electric bass experience telling me I should do things the way I'm comfortable and the way I can personally make things sound good.

    One of the other bass players at school was watching my left hand from behind while I was playing and he said if he didn't know better he would have sworn I studied the rabbath method, because I pivot on my thumb. I've never even looked at rabbath's books, although I've been interested in checking them out. Apparently I am just naturally gravitating towards the rabbath method even when I've been studying otherwise. On electric I always pivot on my thumb, not because anyone taught me to but because that's what feels right.

    I think ultimately you have to do what will produce the best sound and what will make you the most comfortable as a player. If you're getting tendonitis and carpal tunnel, my opinion is you should change your technique, whether your teacher agrees or not.
  19. i have a few added questions along the lines of this thread so i thought i would give it a shot in the arm.

    i have been shedding the simandl books like a madmen these last few months and after messin around with the rabbath method and Karr books i can't see how you can ignore his basic principles (i have really become much more secure thru perfecting his exersizes one by one).


    i have some questions about vibrato. i don't see how you can play relaxed vibrato with all the left hand fingers down. it just doesnt make sense to have to fight against the other fingers to create vibrato. also positioning the thumb behind the finger holding down the actual note really really makes for nice vibrato.

    adopting these variations seems to be along the lines of the "simandl plus" school (Gary Karr, Dr.Morton etc). kind of quite frowned upon over here in stuffy Europe.

    anyone got any thoughts on their variations before i dare venture out of simandl hand position? especially like to hear from orchestral players rather than soloists/jazzers.

    also what is the view about playing notes across strings with the same finger eg. 4th finger playing an F on the D string going to the Bb on the G string. is it OK to roll the same finger over so that it is kind of like a "bar chord" (guitar talk) type of thing or pick up the fingertip and quickly shift it to the same string? or is it just personal choice?

    sorry for the essay

  20. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    HI Mike,

    I don't know if I'm any kind of expert, but I have studied with some good teachers, including Gary. I don't lift my fingers off for vibrato. Some people I know do that, but I don't find a huge difference in sound (for me, IMHO). The key to vibrato for me, was to always practice with a metronome and keep a constant tempo. I remember in some lessons, my teacher (Ken Friedman) writing in "5 vibrations" on certain notes. Usually I practice scales with vibrato at the 8th, 8th-note triplet and sixteenth note subdivisions at the same M.M.

    I usually finger perfect fourths with the same finger across 2 strings. Works well for me. If I am playing fourths above the octave I use 3 on the upper string and 2 on the lower.