Hal Leonard Bass Method: three fundamental questions about left- and right-hand technique

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by andrew73249, Feb 21, 2016.

  1. andrew73249


    Feb 21, 2016
    I've played for a few years, learning mostly by occasionally reading reference books. I finally resolved to go through Hal Leonard Bass Method from page 1, especially for learning sight reading. However, three major things in the book immediately seem strange to me. I'm hoping the experts here can clear them up, and it's OK if you're not familiar with the book. (I'm right handed and use fingerstyle.)

    1) What are the advantages and disadvantages of the 1-2-4 fingering method?

    This is what the book calls the method of playing chromatic scales with only the index, middle, and little fingers of the left hand and shifting your hand up and down the neck as necessary. Isn't it far more efficient to use all four fingers? Although it's an unpleasant stretch from the first to fourth frets when you're starting out, it's no longer unpleasant for me, and it's possible to cover the complete chromatic scale from low E up to B (on the fourth fret of the G string) without having to shift. Am I missing something?

    2) Is there anything wrong with holding the rest of my right hand well away from the thumb?

    I plant my thumb on the pickup like the book says, but the book also says that the right hand should be held close enough to the thumb such that after plucking the E string, the index or middle finger comes to rest against the thumb. When I do it, the index or middle finger comes to rest against the body of the guitar. This feels much less awkward to me than bunching up my hand as the book recommends.

    3) Does anybody really move their entire right hand when moving between lower and higher strings?

    The book recommends moving the right thumb off the pickup and placing it on the E string when playing the A string, and moving the thumb to the A string when playing the G string. I simply keep my thumb on the pickup and stretch the other fingers a little bit more for the higher strings. This feels far more natural and efficient to me than moving my whole hand around, thumb included. Am I missing something about right hand placement?

    Last edited: Feb 21, 2016
  2. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I'm generally of the opinion that it's nearly impossible to learn proper technique from a book or from an internet forum. A lesson with a qualified instructor is your best bet.

    Having said that:

    1) I use "one finger per fret" most of the time. Sometimes near the nut I'll use 1-2-4. It's not a sin to use 1-2-3-4 and I frankly don't understand all the aversion to it, either.

    2) having trouble following you on this one.

    3) On a 4 string, you can probably get away with leaving the thumb on the pickup. Still awkward, IMHO on the G, and harder to incorporate right hand into muting. I'm with the book on this one. FWIW, I use something like Adam Nitti's "movable anchor" technique.

    All these need to be adjusted to your personal physiology. That's why you need a qualified instructor.

    If it hurts, don't do it. Relaxed is better than tense.
    lfmn16 likes this.
  3. MrLenny1

    MrLenny1 Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    1.) I use 1 2 4 on the lower frets especially when you have a long repeating lick. Chromatically 1,2,3,4.
    1 2 4 is used and preferred on upright bass but that is a much wider stretch.
    2.) No, nothing wrong with that. That's the way I do it.
    3.) No, usually stay anchored on the pickup. Only exception is playing a 5 string bass then I
    anchor my thumb on the low B string.
    You're OK with you're approach. There are many ways to place you fingers & hands.
    My buddy is a killer player and his right hand thumb floats all the time, he never anchors just because it
    is natural to him.
    One hand position I practice and preach is keep the left hand thumb behind the neck in the
    middle, never hanging over the neck.
    Good observations man.
  4. andrew73249


    Feb 21, 2016
    Thanks for your reply. I think I will seek out lessons, at least at the start, to make sure I don't develop too many ingrained bad habits

    I'll explain what I'm asking in 2) in a different way. Let's assume it's a four string guitar and that your thumb is anchored on the pickup. When you pluck the E string with your index finger, does your index finger come to rest against your thumb? Or does it come to rest against the body of the guitar, or maybe neither? In your opinion, are any of those good or bad ways to position your hand?

    Thanks! I was afraid that I've been developing some bad habits, but it's good to know I'm probably not doing anything drastically wrong.
  5. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    There's more than one way to do it. I don't see a reason not to do that, but OTOH, I leave my thumb to the side of my plucking fingers. Not sure how to describe it, but I'm overall a much more relaxed player than I used to be. I don't really pluck into anything, and the thumb isn't really anchored, either. It kind of combines the light touch of Todd Johnson's Floating Thumb with Adam Nitti's Movable Anchor. Not advocating, just pointing out there are different approaches that all work.
  6. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Advantages: less muscle strain, more comfort at lower frets.
    Disadvantage: None, practically speaking. 1234 might be faster in rare circumstances.

    It is important to note 124 fingering still uses all 4 fingers - It's just that 3 an4 function as unit.
    Actually when finger 4 is down you should have all 3 other fingers down as well, finger backing it up.
    The point is to use the hand's hands biomechanics to minimize stress.

    Only if it is uncomfortable or leads to long term injury.

    That fingers -close - to - the - thumb position has a biomehcanical purpose.
    try this:
    hold your index and middle finger up like in peace sign.
    alternate them, as if plucking steady eight notes
    now touch those two fingers lightly to your thumb and do the same
    It should take noticeably less effort as you fingers curve closer to your thumb
    (at least it does for me)
    using the hand's hands biomechnaics to minimize stress.

    Ah. I think forcing your index to come to rest on the thumb may not be necessary - but the direction you pluck should be toward your thumb and not down onto the body of the guitar. The 4 strings form a plane and your plucking should be along the surface of that plane, perpendicular to the strings.v Imaging the direction an Upright Bass bow is moving the stings.

    Yes. My thumb often rests on the string below the one I'm plucking, especially if speed or steady rhythm is required.

    This reduces the amount of rotation your fingers must undergo in order to pluck
    using the hand's hands biomechnaics to minimize stress.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2016
  7. andrew73249


    Feb 21, 2016
    Thanks! I didn't realize that there is an entire sticky thread related to question #3 here called "floating thumb technique," so reading your reply and that thread have been very enlightening. It also seems like question #2 is likely to become a non-issue once I'm used to a floating thumb technique.
  8. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    I think you've got some good answers on #1 and 3, but I have an additional comment about 2.

    I typically practice the "rest stroke" technique meaning this: When I pluck the G, my plucking finger comes gently to rest on the D. When I pluck the D, it comes to rest on the A. And when I pluck the A, it comes to rest on the E. This is an efficient and economical way to pluck. My finger has to travel only a small and predictable distance.

    The idea between using your thumb as a rest-point is that is makes the motion of plucking the E string identical to the motion of plucking the other strings. If you imagine a 5-string bass, your thumb is roughly where the B string would be. So, by using the "Hal Leonard thumb-rest" method, you are preserving a consistent stroke from string to string.

    If on the other hand you are plucking the E string differently from the other strings, so that your finger travels to come to rest against the body, then that is an inconsistency. It means your E-pluck has to move farther than plucking the other strings, so you will struggle to be as smooth from string-to-string.

    I think this is the logic behind the Hal Leonard method. I am not suggesting it is the "best" or "only" way to play, merely that it may be worth considering as one tool in your musical toolbox.
  9. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    1-2-4 is the preferred double bass technique according to the Simandl book. Bille uses 1-2-3-4 in all positions.
  10. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Albuquerque, NM
    I've also happened to have used the HL book.

    My responses are:
    1) For about 28 years I used one finger per fret. That's how I was taught. If I did it Any other way I felt I was "cheating" and would berate myself for doing it "wrong". However, given the size and shape of my hands, it never felt very comfortable and, at times, would hurt my hand when doing using that method on frets 1-5. I just assumed I needed to stretch more, even after all those years of playing.

    After using the HL book I now use 1-2-4 on frets 1-5. It feels SO much more comfortable and easy for me and 1-2-3-4 from frets 5 and up.

    Once in a while I will still use 1-2-3-4 on frets 1-5 if it makes a particular passage easier to play, however.

    I see 1-2-4 and 1-2-3-4 as two different tools to do the same thing, using whichever is best at that particular moment.

    2) As long as your hand is not in an awkward position that will lead to pain and damage, if your method works for you, use it.

    Eventually, though, you'll likely use different methods to accomplish different things.

    3) I move when necessary for speed or muting. Other times, I don't move at all.

    I hope this helps.
    Howlin' Hanson likes this.
  11. Hawk600


    Dec 19, 2015
    Nashua, NH
    How bad is using 1-2-3 instead 1-2-4?
    Reason I asked is because I am starting and my pink is too short not that the other ones are long) and I have very low flexibility on the wrist, basically a challenge to me and I starting to think I was not made for playing musical instruments with neck/frets :).
    If D and G I kind can reach ok but E and A are just too hard on my wrists to reach with the pinkie so number 3 takes place :)
    By the way I on exercise one of the book.
  12. andrew73249


    Feb 21, 2016
    Thanks! Just to clarify some more: my issue in item #2 is not that the plucking motion is different between strings. My issue is that the plucking fingers are always "far" away from the thumb, regardless of which string is being plucked. A picture would be worth a thousands words here, but my description of how the plucking fingers come to rest when plucking the E string is just a way of describing how close the plucking fingers are to the thumb (assuming the thumb is anchored on the pickup):

    A) If the plucking fingers are "close" to the thumb in general, then when plucking the E string, the plucking fingers will come to rest against the thumb.

    B) If the plucking fingers are "far" from the thumb in general, then when plucking the E string, the plucking fingers will come to rest against the body of the guitar or just into thin air.

    Whether A is better than B or not, this concerned me because in the Hal Leonard book and most videos I've seen of pros, plucking is best described as A above, but my playing is more accurately described as B. I'm less concerned about this issue that I was, because now that I'm not anchoring the thumb on the pickup and am using the floating thumb technique (or trying anyway), my plucking fingers are naturally "close" as in A.

    Thanks again for all the replies, I really appreciate it.
    GKon likes this.
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