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I learned how to finger pick the "wrong" way!

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by DanCanBASS, Sep 17, 2016.

  1. DanCanBASS


    Aug 17, 2016
    I'm a newer bassist (guitar convert) and my friend pointed out to me a few nights ago, that I was finger picking wrong. I made the argument, that everyone plays differently, yada, yada. Then, I try his way, or the standard way, and holy camoli the different in power surprised me. Prior to that event, how I fingerpicked was by curling a small amount of my finger tip under the string and plucking it up, opposed to him pushing the string down and letting it pop back up on its own. There is much more umph in his playing style, nothing that I couldn't have "added" to mine through a mixer, but regardless I've started retraining myself to use the way he fingerpicks as it could be much more quicker when I become better at it, it just feels so uncomfortable for now!

    I'm just curious, has anyone else started out with this (I don't want to call it a problem, but) problem?
  2. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    I usually shoot for plucking "across" the strings (parallel to the top), rather than up or down (helps avoid fret buzz when playing hard). But my position and angle vary depending on what sounds / feels good at the moment.
    DanCanBASS likes this.
  3. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Seriously, it is important for you to either take some lessons from a bass player, or study some quality videos or other online sources, to learn proper left- and right-hand techniques for bass. It's not just an oversized guitar with a couple of strings missing; it has to be approached in a physically differently manner than a guitar. This is not just to help you be able to play better (and faster) -- although it will do that -- but to avoid injury (especially carpal tunnel).

    With respect to your specific question, your friend's technique doesn't sound right either. Maybe you just didn't describe it clearly, but you definitely want to being pulling across the string, not pushing it down, as @bholder said. The most common plucking technique is a "rest stroke," which involves doing this in such a way that after your finger releases the string you're plucking it comes to rest (gently) on the next higher string. Apart from being efficient energy-wise, this has the effect of muting the string on which your finger comes to rest, so it doesn't ring sympathetically with the one you sounded. (This muting thing is something else you have to learn to do on a bass, using a combination of both hands, that you didn't have to worry much about on guitar.)

    Also, if you are accustomed to playing with a pick, by all means feel free to do so on bass. Again, however, you'll probably need to modify your picking technique somewhat to do it effectively on bass and without risking injury.
    bholder likes this.
  4. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    I once knew a guy who played bass like a classical guitar, one finger per string. Struck me as odd, but why not if it works for you?
  5. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Because what works for you now, in the short run, may prove detrimental in the long run. If you develop poor technique now, you are likely to eventually hit a wall if you work to improve beyond your current level of ability. For example, you'll reach a limit where you just can't play any faster, no matter how hard you try, without un-learning bad habits and developing new ones. And more important, playing with certain kinds of bad technique, such as plucking/picking/fretting with severely bent wrists, is a recipe for developing carpal tunnel over time. So if your goal is only to play bass for a short time, and what you're doing is working, go for it. But if you hope to play for a long time, and continue to improve as you do so, you don't want to be looking back several years from now and regret not having learning proper technique from the start. Now is the time to get it right, before developing bad habits that will be difficult to break later.

    By the way, let me be clear that I'm not saying there is only one "proper" technique. However, there definitely are some "improper" techniques that are important to avoid for the reasons noted above.
  6. levis76

    levis76 Seconds from getting ba... Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2007
    Metro Detroit
    Welcome to the wonderful world of bass. It's good advice to check out some instructional videos or pick up some lessons, but don't be afraid to be your own player with your own style. Also, don't clutter your thoughts with the plethora of useless advice and opinions on TB, esp mine.

    Sounds to me like the OP learned how to play using the hooked finger method, or popping every note. I wouldn't worry too much about injury, if it caused serious long term injury then every funk soul and gospel player would have suffered the ill effects long ago. I'm self taught and have plenty of bad habits that would make others cringe, but it works for me and to heck with what others think.
  7. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Actually, it seems to me that a lot of those funk/soul/gospel guys are the worst when it comes to regular two-finger plucking technique: They always seem to have their right arm (assuming right-handed) laying perpendicular across the top of the bass body, with their wrist severely bent downward so the fingers can reach the strings. We don't know how many of them have their careers cut short by carpal tunnel, but I'll bet it's more than you think. Plus, plucking with that severely bent wrist not only risks injury, but reduces the strength and dexterity of the fingers.

    Of course, I don't know exactly what OP is doing, but this is the kind of thing I was trying to warn him about.
  8. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    I had to learn how to play more like what the OP describes. I normally play with my fingernails much like how a fingerstyle guitarist or banjo player might. I find it gives me more speed and control than traditional bass finger playing technique.

    Neither way is incorrect. If it sounds good it IS good. Also having a good command of various playing styles only increases your worth as a player.
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    As I said in a previous post, I am not at all saying that there is one single "correct" technique, and I completely agree that the more techniques you have at your disposal, the better. But I strongly disagree with the statement that "If it sounds good it IS good," because some things that work in the short run can be harmful in the long run -- and that's not "good" if you hope to be playing for a long time.

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