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Fret hand technique

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by AsaBass-A, Apr 23, 2010.

  1. Hi everybody! Well, I recently purchased my first upright and am curious to know if the form of my fretting fingers should focus on each individual finger (all 4 - 1, 2, 3, 4 spread out) on separate notes as I play up or down a scale or if I should focus on the fingers "clumping up." That is, the first finger on one note, the second and third finger on another, and the third and fourth finger playing another. Should I go with what is most comfortable or are there some serious pointers that I should really pay attention to on that hand? Anything from you all would be a great help! Thanks in advance.
  2. Yes, there are serious pointers... mostly to avoid injury. Read what I have to say here, but you really must find a teacher for a few lessons, enough that you can be sure you won't hurt yourself... I can say from experience, hand injuries suck and take a long, long time to heal.

    The basic hand position goes 1-2-4 by semitones, with 3rd just supporting 4th. That's called 'closed hand'. What you described with all four spread out is 'open hand', and most upright players very seldom use it, certainly not in the lower positions, because it's an invitation to injure yourself. Use closed-hand with 4th finger until your hand starts rotating as you go over the shoulder of the bass, where you start using 3rd finger alone instead of 4th. Normally that's around F or G on the G string. Then once your 3rd finger gets to around A or B on the G string, you can start using thumb position, where you use the side of your thumb (written +). Don't go there yet though, you have enough to learn for now.

    So, the other really important thing is this: DO NOT clamp the neck with your hand, that will cause you a serious hand injury. Your thumb is only there as a guide. Someone should be able to walk up and pull your thumb off the back of the neck easily while you are playing. Instead, use the weight of your arm; you're hanging your arm off the bass and walking your fingers around, rather than squeezing or pulling anything. The feeling is a bit like preparing to do a chin-up. An exercise for this is to tape a little pebble or BB to the pad of your thumb with a band-aid; if you can play like that without it hurting, you're doing it right.

    1-2-4 will feel quite limiting if you're coming from bass guitar, but there is a way around this that doesn't involve using open hand. It's called a 'pivot'. Using your thumb as a guide, it is possible to move your hand a semitone either way without losing your place on the fingerboard. That means you can play a chromatic scale without moving your thumb... it vastly increases your flexibility. You actually get a semitone more reach than with open hand.
  3. Andrew, I appreciate your write up (or type up...anyhow!). Well, I guess I've been off to the right start. I've been playing as a self-taught bassist for 12+ years now (started as a trained saxophone player in elementary school) but I am doing great! All your pointers seem to have found their way into what I have already been doing so I feel good about this. I know I have started running but I am getting the hang of this quick - man, there certainly are some different muscle groups in the forearm, shoulder, and upper back that this instrument requires for play but I am enjoying the pain! Weird as it sounds, I think that these pains are supposed to be felt - it's like doing a hardcore workout. Please correct me if I'm wrong though!

    No injuries is going to be my new mantra at the moment, remembering what you told me. Being sore is where it's at I suppose. :)

    Still learning (I suppose it's lifelong), Asa.
  4. I can't say "+1" because I have no qualifications with DB. So, I'll just say:

    Bravo, Andrew! Instead of flaming the new DBer for referring to "fretting fingers," you passed right by that triviality and dispensed patience and the needed info at the right time. If I ever get a DB, I'll follow your first-steps advice, too.

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