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Incorrect Fretting Hand Technique?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BeeLamp, Dec 23, 2019.

  1. BeeLamp


    Dec 23, 2019
    Hi there, (new here :])
    I’ve been playing bass guitar for a few years now and I have a one-on-one teacher. I’ve only recently realised that the way I use my fretting hand might not be correct, but my teacher has never said anything to correct it so I don’t know if it actually even is a problem like some online sources say it is.

    I have relatively small hands (but not abnormally small), so I often press down on the strings with more the pads of my fingers than the tips. The callus-y skin on my index finger has actually formed on the side of my finger, not straight on. I also occasionally use my distal joints and other parts of my fingers to press down in the more fast-paced songs. It doesn’t sound wrong when I’m playing and feels natural and comfortable, but I’m wondering if playing like this will potentially bite me in the a*s down the line.

    Are there any real problems associated with this kind of technique? I do also use the tips of my fingers but not predominantly; I kind of switch without thought between the pads, the tips, joints, etcetera depending on what I’m playing.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Like you, I predominantly use the "pads" of my fingers to fret.

    If you'd like to share some photos or a video of your playing, I'd be happy to give you my opinion on your technique.

    You mention playing the bass feels "natural and comfortable" so I'd say you're off to a good start. :)
  3. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    My default is the tip, but there is nothing inherently bad about using more pad, and on a fretless instrument it adds options to the tonal palette. Also, I sometimes use the entire distal phalange to barre 4ths across adjacent strings. The only thing to be mindful of, whether its pad or the whole phalange, is to not allow the joint to collapse backwards under pressure, which is where injury or long-term damage leading to future problems might occur. So, provided your fingers maintain some degree of 'unlocked' form, you should be fine.
    gebass6, PeaveyPlayer and Nashrakh like this.
  4. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    I use the pad. Using the pad seems to put the wrist in a good position, and this seems to eliminate any CT pain.

    You mentioned that the pad, tip, joint, etc. just kinda decide which will get the next note. I think this is a good thing. I use the four notes per fret method and the fingers have decided to get the note they want instead of following the "rules". I let them do what they like and it has not caused any problems. Understand it took years for them to take over, I'm not thinking about it. It just happens.

    Relax and have fun.
    smtp4me likes this.
  5. Scottgun


    Jan 24, 2004
    South Carolina
    Just avoid collapsed fingers, which are really hyper-extended fingers.
    RattleSnack and SteveCS like this.
  6. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    The height of your instrument and the angle of the neck can affect how you fret notes. Also where on your neck you are playing. There aren't a lot of hard fast rules, just guidelines to keep your from hurting yourself, or that might get you from point A to point B.
    Possibly the only "rules" would be no to strangle the neck. Relax your grip so you don't tire out your hand. Also, avoid hooking your thumb over the top of of fretboard. Kind of a noob move.
    gebass6 likes this.
  7. White Beard

    White Beard

    Feb 12, 2013
    More and more these days, left hand bass guitar technique is based on comfort, and not forcing your body to do things that it just physically should not be able to do.

    Because we're this odd bastard instrument, we've adopted different things from different instruments, mostly electric guitar and double bass (even though mostly guitar). And, electric guitar adopted techniques from classical guitar that weren't really suited for electric guitar playing.

    The whole concept of left hand thumb behind the middle of the hand was designed so classical guitarists could pivot to find individual notes and do a minimal amount of shifting while reading music. I hold my thumb behind the index finger and even as far east as between the index finger and middle finger. As I go up the neck, I can place the thumb closer to the middle of my hand, because it's closer to my body. As far as pads vs. tips, I actually use in between.
    BeeLamp likes this.
  8. BeeLamp


    Dec 23, 2019
    Thanks for the reply,
    I guess I was worried that how I play would either cause issues physically or that I would get called out for being “amateurish” but I can’t really think of another way of playing that would feel right to me, so it’s good to know that there’s not really one set way to play bass.

    Like I said I’ve played for a few years so it would probably be hard to break habits now, but I can’t even really give a specific description of how I play because it’s kind of all over the place. Not in a sloppy way, but my hand just has a mind of it’s own. I only really notice what it is I’m doing when I start consciously thinking about it (which usually leads to me making more mistakes because I’m overthinking) but I use the pads, fingertips, half-way between pads and tips, joints, occasionally the fleshy part between joints for the bottom string, etc.

    I like the idea that it’s based on personal comfort/style rather than a universal rule. Music would probably be very dull if we all played the same way :)
  9. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    As you get into more advanced technique, and especially more strings, you'll discover the tradeoff between fingertip fretting, which is more like classical guitar technique) and flatter fingering, which is the essence of left-hand muting. Collapsed joints is generally thought of as 'bad' especially in the DB world, but they typically have only 4 strings, higher action, and more tension. You do have to be conscious about what you're trying to do. String muting is good -- unless you're trying to play chords or double-stops.

    Fretting with the fingertips is probably important to playing fast, especially on fretless. Playing with the flats can be useful for those suspended fourths with a string higher, and fifths a string below. You really need to be aware of what both hands are doing, purposefully. It comes with time, and practice.
    gebass6 likes this.
  10. BeeLamp


    Dec 23, 2019
    It’s more when I’m playing something I’ve played before that I don’t think about it. If I’m doing something for the first time and trying to figure it out I’ll be more meticulous, but when I’m just jamming I have fun with it and just kind of let it happen (it hasn’t presented any problems for me in the past years, I’m always able to play notes clearly). I’m not really a performer, I just play for myself or with friends. When I was a beginner I was constantly doubting myself and worrying about making it all perfect but it just slowed everything down and made it unenjoyable, but as I’ve gotten more free with it, it’s a lot more fun.
  11. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Worrying about injury is a legitimate concern. Worrying about appearing amateurish really isn’t. If you’re willing to try anything, but keep what works for you, and listen to what your body is telling you, you can’t go wrong. Some of the best bass players you’ll ever hear have their own unorthodox style of playing. But it works for them and their music. And at the end of the day thats all that really matters. :thumbsup:
    BeeLamp likes this.
  12. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    None of this is true:
    1) Classical guitarists keep the thumb in opposition to the fretting fingers, not in the middle of the hand.
    2) Holding the thumb here keeps the rest of the hand more relaxed and with a natural curve to make fretting easier.
    3) Classical guitarists tend to pivot off an anchor finger, not the thumb when needed.
    4) Classical guitarists frequently shift positions while reading music.

    Anyway, TalkBass, but I do get tired of some weird thoughts about classical guitar technique. Once I read that the wider string spacing was because they don't Barre chords!
  13. It can be smart to use the same technique on all fingers in all situations, and it can be smart to practice it from the beginning. The same type of touch (and where you press the string on the fingerboard) makes it easier to get a consistant sound, and may make it easier to play new passages. But, don't worry too much about it.
  14. smtp4me


    Sep 30, 2013
    Philadelphia, PA
    If using the pads works for you, and you get the tone you want, then don't change anything. It wouldn't hurt to practice using the finger tips, so that you are able if/when you need to. IMHO, using tips vs. pads changes the tone, especially on fretless, and on fretted bass I almost always use tips. However, the price of using tips is that you have to change your muting technique and rely a little more on your plucking/picking hand.
  15. White Beard

    White Beard

    Feb 12, 2013
    I'm just repeating what I've been told by legit guitarists, so by now that info is by way of third hand.

    I will defer to your expertise.
  16. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Makes me wonder if your left wrist is significantly bent...that should be avoided.
  17. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Makes me wonder if your left wrist is significantly bent...that should be avoided.
  18. BeeLamp


    Dec 23, 2019
    Nah my wrist is fine, doesn’t look bent when compared to my right wrist. What I mean when I say I use my joints and other parts of the finger is when I have to jump strings really quickly (like if I’m playing something on the E string and have to quickly move to the G string for one note before returning, that sort of thing). I’ll play the majority of notes with the pads or tips of my fingers and occasionally will use other parts where it makes it easier for me to play, but I certainly wouldn’t be playing entire songs with the joints
    SteveCS likes this.
  19. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    What you are describing is called a "barre" and is a totally normal and valid technique on guitar-family instruments including the bass guitar.
  20. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    Using finger tips is more appropriate for the narrow spacing and thinner strings of a guitar. Using the pads of your fingers on a bass is fine.

    The one bad habit I see in many players is to anchor their left thumb and stretch for notes. Your thumb should never be static and you should never stretch your fingers. Always move your hand so your fingers are above the note you want to play. If that means you move your hand for every note, that's what you do.
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