How Does One Learn a Lighter Touch?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by CTC564, Dec 13, 2014.

  1. CTC564

    CTC564 Supporting Member

    Mar 7, 2011
    Toms River,NJ
    Seems that I "dig in" and play more aggressively than most. Many of my brethren have hinted that this is a bad habit that prohibits my ability to increase my fast and fluid playing

    Anyone have any recommendations that might help?
  2. Keep in mind I've only been playing bass for a couple of weeks, so this will likely not help you. I learned to play with a lighter touch as soon as I developed blisters on my right index and middle fingers. Ouch. I'm now also working on not using a death grip with the left hand as it keeps throwing the notes out of tune. :(
  3. I'm also pretty aggressive. When I want to play something smoother and lighter, I usually crank that amp right up to a volume that makes me have to play light. Or else the world will split down the center, releasing the hoards from the abyss to ravage humanity and worship the most aggressive, loudest, most rockin' bass dude alive.

    Le female is a complex species. I've learned about their behaviours from Game of Thrones and My Little Pony, so I'm kinda an expert. - Kohntarkosz

    Fender jazz club #1323, EBMM Stingray club #561
  4. 20db pad

    20db pad

    Feb 11, 2003
    I been everywhere, man...
    None. At all.
    The "it seems too simple to be true" answer is to simply do it. It will help to turns up the volume up on your amp so you will overcome your natural inclination to dig in to get volume, especially with a band. You can also play figures, riffs, and lines that you already know well with a lighter touch, just to get your head and hands used to it.

    Essentially, you have to condition yourself to lighten up and work on it every day until it becomes second nature and you have to measure progress in weeks, not days. The old classic practice idea of playing fast figures slowly using a light touch and then gradually ramping up the speed is a big help too. Repetition really is the key.

    The master and lead proponent of light-touch playing is Gary Willis - he occasionally mentions the time he had to spend relearning technique and changing his physical approach to get at the level he is at now.
  5. I take for granted you practice plugged in. Let the amp work on the sound you do not need to do a lot of helping with the volume. Run your scale patterns till they are in muscle memory and you do not have to think about the notes. Think patterns instead of individual notes - I think this may help. I use the major scale box -- it's listed below.

    Bass Patterns based upon the Major Scale box.

    G~~|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E~~|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    Want the C major scale. Find a C note on the 3rd or 4th string.
    Put the box's R over that C note then play the spelling for the major
    scale. That spelling is listed below.​

    Scale spellings:
    • Major Scale = R-2-3-4-5-6-7 Home base
    • Major Pentatonic = R-2-3-5-6 Leave out the 4 & 7
    • Natural Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 Major scale with the 3, 6 & 7 flatted.
    • Minor Pentatonic = R-b3-4-5-b7 Leave out the 2 & 6.
    • Blues = R-b3-4-b5-5-b7 Minor pentatonic with the blue note b5 added.
    • Harmonic Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-7 Natural minor with a natural 7.
    • Melodic Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-6-7 Major scale with a b3.
    Let the major scale be your home base then change a few notes and you have something different. No need to memorize a zillion patterns. Let the major scale pattern be your go to pattern - then adapt/adjust from there.

    Basic Chord spellings
    • Major Triad = R-3-5
    • Minor Triad = R-b3-5
    • Diminished Chord = R-b3-b5
    7th Chord spellings
    • Maj7 = R-3-5-7
    • Minor 7 = R-b3-5-b7
    • Dominant 7 = R-3-5-b7
    • ½ diminished = R-b3-b5-b7
    • Full diminished = R-b3-b5-bb7
    See a chord and play it's chord tones. As every key will have three major, three minor and one diminished chord it's a good idea to get your major, minor and diminished bass line chord tones into muscle memory so when you see a chord your fingers just know what will work. Now the song may only give you enough room for the root, or root five - adapt and get as many chord tones into your bass line as needed. Root on 1 and a steady groove from the other chord tones plus something to call attention to the chord change is what we do.

    Generic Notes - for your bass line.
    • The root, five and eight are generic - thus R-5-8-5 will work with any chord. Remember the diminished has a flatted 5.
    • The 3 is generic to all major chords. So R-3-5-3 will fit under any major chord.
    • The b3 is generic to all minor chords. And R-b3-5-8 will fit under any minor chord. Why the 8? Well the 8 is just another root in the next octave.
    • The 7 is generic to all maj7 chords. Yep, R-3-5-7 fits nicely.
    • The b7 is generic to all dominant seventh and minor seventh chords. G7 = R-3-5-b7 or Gm7 = R-b3-5-b7.
    • The 6 is neutral and adds color, help yourself to 6’s. Love the sound of R-3-5-6 with a major chord.
    • The 2 and 4 make good passing notes. Don’t linger on them or stop on them, keep them passing.
    • In making your bass line help yourself to those notes, just use them correctly.
    • Roots, fives, eights and the correct 3 & 7 will play a lot of bass.
    Putting these spellings into muscle memory should lighten your attack. Or at least I hope so.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2014
  6. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    I would recommend using the floating thumb technique. There are plenty of threads here to tell you about it (several with liked instructional videos) if you are unfamiliar with it, but it primarily helps with muting, making it automatic. But it also makes a lighter touch natural; as opposed to anchoring, which naturally makes you want to dig in.
  7. Thomas Kievit

    Thomas Kievit Guest

    May 19, 2012
    I'm not sure if this will help you, but I tend to pluck a bit aggresive. One reason is that I keep my wrist slighty bend, so that my fingers dig a bit deeper when plucking the strings. What you could do is keeping your wrist straight and then basicly only hit the top and a little bit of the side of the strings, giving your plucking technique less agression.
  8. When playing bass, it's nature for both hands to use the same amount of force, so if you are fretting really hard, you tend to dig in with your right really hard too. One of the biggest reasons that people play to hard is because their action is too high - it causes then to use lots of force to fret, which makes them play too hard.

    Lower your action, it'll help.
  9. mpdd

    mpdd neoconceptualist

    Mar 24, 2010
    i didn't figure this out until i got an extremely high output bass that buzzes if played too aggressively, i'm still playing at the same volume just not ripping the strings off the bass with my fingertips now
  10. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    Just practice playing more lightly. There's no trick really. You just have to play that way if you want to. I play so lightly that I have to have an amp with a lot of headroom in order to be loud enough. Maybe if you turn up your amp, you'll be forced to play with a lighter touch.
  11. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    I always turn my amp up ridiculously loud in practice, so that I have to play with a light touch. It saves on finger wear, and enables me to be a better player. That said, there are times when you would want to dig in, but you should have all tools available to you.
    Scot and Whousedtoplay like this.
  12. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Great point! Also, if your action is low, and you do dig in, you will make a lot of noise.
  13. Is this why my E string is always banging against the frets and pickups? Clang clang kerang. :***:
  14. RumbleSteve

    RumbleSteve Guest

    Dec 3, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    I can not claim yet to have mastered the light touch. My first two basses were passive, i was younger then, and played metal. so digging in was an understatement. My main bass has active EQ, and my hard fingering was just killing me. I use to break sttrings, anymore now is just a freak incident .
  15. +1. I have my low b string at 1.4mm at 24th fret. The bass sounds wonderfull
  16. NealBass

    NealBass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2014
    This might sound weird (even for me). but here goes; My wife took painting lessons from a TV show, by a guy named Bob Ross (R.I.P.). I used to watch along, while she painted to his videotape. Whenever he wanted to 'blend' the paints together on the canvas, he would very lightly move the brush over the canvas. So lightly, he would hardly touch it. He would say "Left to right, ever so softly, use (on your brush) 2 hairs and some air." Lol. So now, whenever I catch myself digging in on the bass too much, I say to myself; "ever so softly, just 2 hairs and some air." Usually my hand relaxes and my touch on the strings lightens (both hands). I know it's weird, but a little mantra like that, when you catch yourself doing something you don't like doing, can help. The real trick is, to catch yourself doing it. That's a much longer discussion...
  17. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    PVG Membership
    I encounter this quite a bit from teaching so I adapted an idea (stole it) from a lesson I read Barry Green use on double bass students.

    Play the bass as you normally would, for clarities sake lets call this a 5. Now what you want to do it is gradually increase your grip and tension until you reach a point you can no longer grip the instrument or pluck the strings with anymore strength, call that number 10. So from that point on you want to keep plucking the strings and gripping the neck gradually down to 9 then 8 etc etc until you reach the point where you are as light as you can go and still make a sound. You'll find that that happens way earlier than the 5 which you started at. To make matters easier call 0 the sound where your hands aren't touching the instrument. What you will find is that it takes a lot less pressure than the 5 you started at and tends to lighten up your grip.

    You may have to do it a few times over the course of a few days to get used to the change of how light you can be it shows how little effort you really need.
  18. For a lighter touch with the left hand, I practice open string hammer ons. First single notes up a scale, then triads, always returning to the open string. For the right hand, I practice string crossing exercises in various combinations using harmonics barred at the 7th fret.

    I find that it helps to turn up the volume and play quietly, too, and work without compression.
  19. Polfuste


    Sep 10, 2010
    South France
    First thing: active bass with a great preamp > preamp that allow you to have a maximum and reactive dynamic range to your attack. (I found it: Ken Smith Burner)
    Then, a combination of floating technic, ramp, and 40-95 strings is helping a lot.
    More accuracy, more velocity when being more relaxed in playing.
    Attention: this set up is not for slap guys. That doesn't work well for that.
  20. SteveC

    SteveC Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    NE ND
    Aggressive at times, I tend to dig in, I can play fast. Sto listening to your brethren and just practice for speed.