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I need to learn how to utilize the use of more than two fingers, so help please!

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by The_Ryst, Apr 15, 2005.

  1. Alright, you guys are really, really fast player, so here's the deal. I'm 14 years old and I've been playing bass for 3 years. I can play relatively fast with two fingers, but I want to get really fast. As in Sheehan, Myung, Jaco type fast. I'm curious what the best way to build up dexterity using three fingers (or four) on the right would be. What finger pattern should I use (or do you use?)

    Thanks a bunch,
    Brian H.
    The Ryst.
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    the only way to build up speed is the get the technique in question right at slow speed and practice. There's no secret to it - it's all about training your hand to respond to brain signals in a more 'grouped' way. When you try something new fast, your brain is trying to send too many new commands to your fingers at once. So start slow and work up.

    However, that said, switching to three or four fingers in your right hand will probably not give you much of a jump in speed. You mention Jaco - only ever used two fingers as far as I know. My cohost here, Mr Manring, uses two fingers for all his fast twiddly stuff. I use two fingers, or I add my thumb and use a modified version of a technique shown on Victor Wooten's first video (thumb down thumb up first finger second finger), or a legato technique where the speed is all in the left hand.

    There are clearly some kinds of line that work well with three fingers - the Steve Harris gallop being the most obvious example - but for the most part, two fingers will get you where you need to be. :) The key is slow practice, speeding up very gradually.

  3. Widener


    Nov 21, 2004
    Aptos, CA
    Hi Ryst,

    I struggled for years trying to incorporate 3 and 4 right hand fingers into my playing style, but finally came to the conclusion that two was all I really needed, unless there was some strange effect I was after. The three-finger gallop is good for certain rhythms. If I'm soloing lines, I just use two fingers.

    I've been in lots of metal bands over the years--all grindcore and death metal bands--and it's considered hip and cool to keep up with the guitarists and their tremolo picking, and for many years I did so by picking: p-a-m-i, then when I realized it looked cool, but sounded bad, I went to an a-m-i type of pattern. It took me a few years to realize that I was largely abandoning the ROLE of the bass. I was robbing the low end of power in my quest for speed. So I started half-timing it and pumping out quarter notes underneath the tremolo guitar riffs, and even though it served the music much better, guitarists often thought it a cop out. There's lots of stupidity in the metal scene, lots of speed jock wankery type of behavior.

    Long story short: I don't go faster than my two fingers can handle; the music sounds better that way! Unless it's a solo bass type of thing and I'm playing alone, then all bets are off. I'll shove my nose on the fretboard if I have to, use elbows, that type of thing.

    Okay, I just thought of a three-finger pattern that I do whip out from time to time on an ensemble/solo type of situation: if I want to speed pick a note, usually a high pitched one in a solo for emphasis, I'll a-m-i it as fast as I possibly can--the same sort of thing that you see John Patitucci do sometimes. I tried to teach myself a-m-i-m, but I'm just too clumsy for it, curse my feeble hands.
  4. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I agree with Steve and Widener. I've worked hard to develop dexterity with all the fingers of my right hand, but never noticed much of an increase in speed by using anything other than the index, middle and occasionally thumb, pizzicato approach. I do use my other fingers for special kinds of effects, but for the most part the standard approach, which Jaco used by the way, seems to get the job done. There are some very cool methods out there for using more than these fingers - Gary Willis', Bill Sheehan's and Matt Garrison's come to mind, but I'm not sure these techniques necessarily allow these folks to play standard lines faster as much as they just allow them to do some particular kinds of phrasing. It's probably worth noting that while playing fast certainly has some advantages, most folks find the quest for speed without musicality to be unsatisfying in the long run.
  5. One thing that I find has the biggest effect on my ability to play faster is how much force I use. You might see the biggest speed increase by lightening up and using a lower action. I have spent a lot of time trying to get used to playing lighter and it has been an adjustment because I was used to playing certain rhythms with a harder style, and I had to retrain to disconnect playing force from the rhythmic element.

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