Having trouble using "arm weight" to finger E string.

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Glorp, May 12, 2018.

  1. Glorp


    Feb 10, 2016
    Victoria BC
    Hi everyone,

    I'm relatively new to the double bass and am trying to develop good technique now so that I don't have to spend a bunch of time down the road correcting bad habits. I know that you're supposed to use the large muscles in your chest and back to provide most of the force when fingering so that you don't strain your thumb and wrist by squeezing the string down to the fingerboard. This is fine for the A, D, and G strings but I just can't find a way to get the E string to the board this way without the tension rotating the bass away from me. I've recently had the bass set up by a local luthier and he says it plays well so it's not the bass itself that's the problem.
    I've tried to do my due diligence and search the site for any advice on this but couldn't find anything pertaining to this specific problem. Any tips for how to sort this technique out would be much appreciated.
  2. How do you play? Standing/sitting
    Bass in front of your vs to the side?
    Glorp likes this.
  3. Glorp


    Feb 10, 2016
    Victoria BC
    Standing with the with corner of the bout resting at about waist level. I've tried sitting while I play but one of the things I love about DB is being able to move around and adjust my posture as needed which I didn't feel like I could do while sitting. It also hurt my lower back.

    Attached Files:

  4. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    You don’t have to push the E string to the board. Pull the index finger more towards your thumb. A bit like a finger snap. You can also try a little bit rotation movement with your wrist. Also try experimenting with moving your elbow a bit. Hard to put this in words but I hope this helps.

    Sorry, I now see you mean the left hand. I suspect your setup is still too high. Have you checked other basses? Try to use as little force as possible. Also possible that you have to develop some strength in your left hand and that takes time. But first be sure that your bass is set up well before you do anything. Some luthiers might prefer a higher setup than you need.
    Posture doesn’t look wrong on that picture. Make sure you also use first finger when playing 2nd and 4th finger.
    Last edited: May 12, 2018
    Groove Doctor and Glorp like this.
  5. Is the bass at a 45 degree angle to your body when you play?
  6. Glorp


    Feb 10, 2016
    Victoria BC
    On average, yes. I tend to rotate the bass a few degrees depending on what part of the neck I'm playing on though.
    bassmanbrent likes this.
  7. jasonrp


    Feb 19, 2015
    I realize that everyone is different but one thing that helps me keep my hand in the correct position is a wrist brace. As a bonus, due to the fact that it holds my wrist nice and straight, it forces me to use my arm weight also. Anytime I catch myself playing with the wrong hand position, out comes the brace and I leave it on the rest of the session.

    The first thing I would check is your action at the nut. Also, I can start with a perfect grip and slowly move away from it until it is a painfully bad one. Make sure you are not doing the same thing (it tends to happen to me on faster songs when I'm paying attention to slaps, notes, and time so posture gets ditched)
  8. Lower tension is easier to press down. As a quick test, detune your E string 1-2 semitones to see if that sorts it out.

    I've found that pointing my thumb slightly more vertical (20°) made all the difference (& stopped my pain). YMMV.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is one of the many reasons I sit when I play. About half of my students stand, however, so I have to deal with their dealing with this issue regularly.

    By way of trying to help them, I pass on the advice that I've gotten from others (various music and martial arts instructors) that has served me well: whenever there is a roadblock to actually drawing strength from the core, move one link down the chain and see what you can do from there. In your case, this would mean that since your standing position doesn't allow you to press into the board by pulling back, try using the thumb as a fixed lever and rotating the arm around it to apply the pressure to the string.

    Here are the steps that you can try on your right forearm:
    1) hold your right forearm up in front of you as though it were a bass neck
    2) make a relaxed C shape in your left hand
    3) place it on your " right arm/neck" at about the wrist. Hopefully, the thumb will naturally rest on the back between the index and middle fingers on the front
    4) without squeezing with the forearm, rotate the left elbow higher (this is actually done at the shoulder, but is more visible at the elbow) without letting the thumb or middle finger collapse. It should feel like turning a doorknob. The leverage of the elbow raising should torque the middle finger forward against the fixed lever of the thumb. This motion works for fingering 2 or 4.
    5) To play with 1, drop the elbow/shoulder down against the thumb lever. This will place pressure on the outside of the 1st finger.

    The trick is to fix the fingers in place by extending them into shape and only using enough force to hold them in the shape, and then letting the arm do the rest. It's a lot easier to demonstrate in person!
    Groove Doctor, Glorp and Adam Booker like this.
  10. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Like playing trumpet with no pressure, using only large muscles to stop strings is an idealistic concept, not something that actually happens. Be aware and strive for it, but you're gonna be squeezing some. It sounds like you're an aware mind and on the right track, but don't overthink things and have fun. It's a lifetime journey.
    Glorp, Michael Case and Reiska like this.
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Who are you studying with? It's these kind of questions that are best answered by being in the same room with a live human being. I didn't start understanding things about physical approach at a visceral level until my teacher would start manipulating my stance and approach. And there ain't no book, video, Skype lesson, and/or typing to strangers on the internet that will replace that.
    Glorp, hdiddy and lurk like this.
  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Agree with Ed but here's my $.02 anyway.

    Try with the bass more vertical and less leaning into you. Look at Michael Klinghoffer's approach to stance and allow the bass to fall away from you. Let some of the bass weight do the work. Once you start to get the hang of it, you can try dialing it back so it's not so extreme.

    Having the bass rotate into you more may help. When someone says to use back muscles, for me it's more of the feeling if you clasp you fingers together and try to pull it apart with you your back muscles.
  13. Glorp


    Feb 10, 2016
    Victoria BC
    Wow! Thanks for all the great advice, everyone. I've got a lot to dig into here. I'll try to answer/ respond to your questions and comments all at once here.

    Using a wrist brace is a cool idea. I already sleep in one because as a full time carpenter and a full time bassist I figure my wrists need as much relaxation while I sleep as I can possibly get. The action at my nut is about 0.35mm(0.014in) one gloss business card holds in there snugly which is just about right, as I recall.

    I certainly wouldn't mind lower string tension.I bought some Spirocore Mittles to replace the rather quiet Belcantos that came with the bass before I was really aware of the ergonomic considerations of DB strings. For my next set I'll definitely try a weich set.

    Thanks for the great, step by step advice, Chris. This feels like it's going to help a lot once I get the hang of it. Also, thanks for all the great content you have here and on YouTube. Your stuff has made learning how to play DB, and jazz in general, a lot less intimidating since I started out. Keep up the great work, man. I and, I'm sure, everyone else on this site really appreciate it.

    I figured this would sort of be the case. If there's one thing 15 years of bass guitar playing has taught me it's that playing music is often an exercise in compromise.

    The lessons I'm taking are sort of more holistic 'how to play jazz' lessons than straight up bass lessons. My teacher is fantastic but he taught himself how to play bass while he was enrolled in Berklee as a drummer and makes no claim to know the instrument's formal technique. I've been looking for someone to take more technique based lessons off of but haven't had too much luck yet.

    That's actually what my teacher suggested. It's helped a lot with the higher strings but the E string is still trouble for me even when the bass hasn't got any lean at all.
    Last edited: May 13, 2018
  14. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    You could raise your bass one notch on the endpin. That would enable you to have more arm weight "hanging down" on the E string. I find I get a better sound in 1/2, 1st, 2nd position if the bass is a bit higher that what you had pictured.

    It's a tradeoff though. It's easier to get into thumb position when you have the bass lower like it was in your picture.

    Maybe Skype with one of the pros on the forum here. They should be able to sort it out for you if your local teacher can't figure out the issue.
  15. Definitely do not lock out your knuckles. It looks like the 2nd knuckle on your left index finger is locked. Keep "the claw" shape going at all times for left hand fingers; not a rigid claw, but a more relaxed curve to the hand. Develop that habit intentionally now and you'll have an easier time getting those notes to play cleanly.
    Glorp and lurk like this.
  16. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Just tried this to test it. Never thought about it that way. It feels odd though and doesn’t make very much difference to me. And it only works when standing. But maybe it helps when you just started playing. It can’t hurt to try it.
  17. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    If it's good enough for Gary Karr...
    Les Fret likes this.
  18. Yo are you studying with John Lee by chance? That dude is a BEAST!
    Glorp likes this.
  19. If so his approach of "just make your hands do it" seems to work for him. He clearly listens to his body and doesn't do anything that hurts too much. He is much more concerned about the music itself. I guess if the sound isn't constricted/ painful then the body probably isn't either... Looks a little unorthodox at times but man what a killer player.
    Glorp likes this.
  20. Glorp


    Feb 10, 2016
    Victoria BC
    I am! We used to play in a jazz fusion band together when we were in high school. When he found out I'd bought a double bass he offered to show me the ropes.
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