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General introduction and technique question

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by j_alan, Jan 4, 2003.

  1. j_alan


    Jan 4, 2003
    Phoenix, Arizona

    I am new to bass and this forum and wanted to introduce myself. I have previously played guitar, drums and some keyboard; now I am learning the bass. Bass is easier for me to handle physically now due to an injury I suffered to my right arm. The funny thing is I think I enjoy bass a lot more than I ever enjoyed guitar, and I have only been playing bass for a few weeks :). As far as style, I am currently learning from rock, punk and reggae cds and someday I want to learn jazz (if mid-30s isn't too old to learn jazz). Too bad I didn't discover bass when I was a little younger.

    Anyway, enough about me, on to my technique question. What is the proper right hand technique for plucking the strings? Having previously played some classical guitar, I am used to the "free" stroke alternating the index and middle fingers. My fingers stay bent somewhere around 90 degrees when I play. Am I doing anything wrong? Is there a "correct" right hand position for the hand and fingers? Also, sometimes I catch myself anchoring my thumb on the top of my neck pickup as I am playing. This gives me more speed, but I am wondering... is it a bad habit that I need to correct? Or is anchoring okay?

    Any help is greatly appreciated as I do not have access to an instructor right now.
  2. Play however you need to play to get a sound that you like. If it works and doesn't hurt, while you still sound good, then by all means, keep doing it.

    By the way, anchoring is fine. Just don't drop anchor on my foot. ;)
  3. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Generally speaking, the most effective, and safest, way to play is with alternating index and middle fingers. I suggest that you follow through with the stroke, so that the finger stops on the string above it. This meatier approach gives you a thicker tone.

    Some preach the "floating" thumb technique, (where your thumb rests on the string above the one you're playing, and on the pickup if playing your lowest string). I've always rested my thumb on the pickup, regardless of which string I'm playing, and this technique has served me well, (with no injuries).

    However you do it, spend a lot of time with it. Right and left hand technique is probably the most important factor in establishing your tone.
  4. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I've tried both the floating thumb idea Jazzbo mentioned, and leaving my thumb on the pickup. The trouble is other strings ringing in resonance with the ones you're playing. If you don't damp the other strings they'll ring in sympathy with the one you're playing, and it sounds sorta messy. But, if you do the floating thumb thing, I've found, when you rest your thumb on the string, it damps it, *but*, when you take your thumb off the string to 'float' to the next string, that sets the string off, giving the same problem...
  5. Chris A

    Chris A Chemo sucks! In Memoriam

    Feb 25, 2000
    Manchester NH
    Really should be in Technique.....

    Chris A.:rolleyes:
  6. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    I've played both ways Moley and Jazzbo mention here--thumb anchored on pickup and thumb lightly damping the string above the one I am playing.

    I learned the anchored thumb technique from a Billy Sheehan video. He firmly believes that the thumb must be anchored, so as I worshiped him I did that for a few years. Trouble is I had a tendency not to just anchor my thumb, but to really jam it on the pickup. Don't know why.

    An instructor I had later asked me to try the second method of moving my thumb because I had a problem with ringing strings. Though it was a challenge to switch, I came to prefer moving my thumb because for some reason I felt more relaxed and the ringing string problem improved greatly. By the way, string ringing is very apparent at high volumes such as at a gig. If you are just playing with a small practice amp, you may not be so aware that your strings are ringing.

    This same instructor also taught me the tecnique Jazzbo mentioned. He called it a "rest stroke." That is when you pluck a string, bring that finger to rest lightly on the string above as you complete the pluck. I came to like that technique too, once I adapted to it. ( By "string above", I mean, for example, if you pluck the A-string, bring your plucking finger to rest gently and momentarily on the E-string in the follow-through of the pluck.)

    I'll just throw in this one last comment. When I first started to play bass I had a tendency to really dig in on the strings as I plucked...almost a grab or jab. I don't know how to describe it. A teacher taught me to pluck much more lightly, just rolling my fingers over the strings or brushing, I guess. Anyway, that turned out to be far less strenuous and tiring and sounds much better, too. Nonetheless, my tendency to "grab" each string is one that I have to fight continuously, especially if I am nervous or tired.

    Lastly, I am glad you are enjoying your bass guitar and hope it is just the start of a long, long relationship. Don't be discouraged by your age. I was 49 when I first picked up a bass guitar.
  7. Well, I'll share some of my experiences too. I started playing bass one year ago; started on a Gibson Ripper (4-string). I needed a place to anchor my thumb so used the neck pickup and got along well with that technique. About four months ago, I bought a BTB405 (5-string) and found I had difficulty stretching out to the G-string; even had difficulty finding the D. That's when I started using the B string as a rest. Actually, I use all the strings below the one played as a rest. I slide my thumb back and forth across the strings as needed and that has helped my muting technique as well as my speed. I haven't noticed that removing my thumb from a string has caused any umwanted ringing; perhaps because I don't remove my thumb from a string until the precise moment I'm plucking it. I've never thought about timing the duration, but am guessing that it's in the 100ths of a second range. When I've removed my thumb from the B-string to play it, I just raise my thumb off. I haven't found the need to anchor anywhere else at that moment. I, too, used to dig in heavily while plucking, but have learned to use a much gentler touch. It's a pluck that just rolls my fingers across the strings. The softer touch has helped my tone, speed, possibly prolonging the life of my strings, and causes less fatigue. There has been a mention about age here. I started when I was 52 and really enjoy the bass. Wish I had done it much earlier.
  8. bluemonk


    Dec 17, 2002
    Just a comment about the age thing: I started playing bass when I was 13 (I'm 45 now) and weighed about 90 pounds. The school had a Precision, so that's what I played. Now, I have back and neck problems from using such a heavy bass (thank whomever that there are lighter basses) on such a small person. Starting later in life cuts back on the injuries, so there are some advantages to starting later!;)
  9. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    I play alternating 1st and second fingers, using the rest stroke. For triplets, I will add my third finger to the mix.

    As far as anchoring, it is a good idea to anchor somewhere, but if you anchor on the pickup, you will always be stuck there.

    I use floating thumb, and play mostly 5 and 6 string basses. When not playing the B string, it is my thumbrest. But I do find myself moving my thumb over to the E and A string as I play on the higher strings. The secret is to lay your thumb across all of the strings below the one that you are using for an anchor. This will allow you to mute all of them.

    Another advantage of floating thumb is that you can take advantage of the variation in sound that you get from plucking the strings in different places.

    Pluck near the bridge, and you get a very tight, growly tone. Pluck near the end of the neck, and you get a very deep, dubby, almost upright tone. And there are tons of variety in between, as well.
  10. j_alan


    Jan 4, 2003
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Hello again,

    Thank you all for your responses. And sorry about posting this in the wrong forum to start off with :oops: (Oh well, I was bound to make a mistake sooner or later). Anyway, I have been trying the rest stroke as described in this thread and I am having a few issues with it. First, my fingers seem to assume a straighter position in the joints and it feels quite awkward. Should the fingers be straighter in the rest stroke motion? Second, my fingernails strike the string when I do the rest stroke. Should the nails be hitting the strings? I find the high ring from the nails to be a somewhat irritating sound. I just want to be sure I am doing it right. The floating thumb thing is coming along a little easier and I can hear the difference in tone. It also makes it easier for me to play the G string. I do notice that the upper joint of my thumb tends to rest on the face of the guitar (instead of the tip of the thumb on the pickup) when I play the E string using the floating technique. But I think with enough practice I will have it down.

    Thanks again for all the help. I am really learning a lot. (BTW, thanks also to Boplicity, KeiBau, and bluemonk for making me feel better about starting at 33 years old :) ).
  11. j_alan


    Jan 4, 2003
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Ok ,

    A lot of reading, searching and messing with it and I figured out what I was having trouble with on the rest stroke by myself.

    Thanks for the answers to my additional questions though...:D .

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