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Left hand basics every bassist should know

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by chicagodoubler, Aug 18, 2007.

  1. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    I usually charge 50 bucks per hour for this stuff, but there's so many questions here regarding LH basics, I thought I'd just share with y'all some basic left hand concept that works astonishingly well.

    1. Play on the tips of the fingers. Especially important on fless and upright, but by far the most efficient method for all string instruments. More accurate, and less painful than playing on the pads, which should be reserved for barring.

    2. Arch the hand always, making a "C" between the tip of the thumb and the first finger. As soon as any of the joints collapse, you have lost strength and stability. And speed...

    3. Play right behind the fret. Eliminates fret noise, and makes playing much easier. Also preps for fless playing with accurate intonation.

    4. Use the non-active fingers to help. When pressing with middle, brace with index. All the way up to (most importantly,) when playing pinky, press with ALL FOUR FINGERS. Your ring and pinky are weaker than the other two, and need support from the stronger fingers.

    5. Traditional upright technique (1-2-4 for 3 frets) is very strong at the bottom of the neck, and will allow you to groove harder with less L.H. strain. Even Jaco used this for stuff on the bottom, and of course, slappers all know how much easier it is to play octaves 1-4. The bass is as long as a guitar from the 5th fret up. Bellow that, use the technique of the instrument it resembles in that range.

    Some people will argue about the 5th point, but look closely and you'll see professional players using 1-2-4 on the bottom of the neck all the time.

    Whereas RH technique is debatable and perpetually evolving, the left hand is a fairly well defined system, with centuries of trial and error on our parent instruments, the guitar and the upright. Use the tried and true methods mentioned here, and you will avoid injury, groove tighter, and yes, even learn how to play faster.

    Good luck, and practice hard.
  2. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    I dunno about about the need for bracing with other fingers, unless you have a very badly set-up bass or ridiculously high action. I find it unnecessary. Plus its going to slow you down if you have to move two and three fingers around the fret board rather than just one at a time. On double bass its pretty standard technique but Its not needed on electric.

    I normally use one three four on the first 3 frets but I can use a fret per finger too, it depends on the situation. It's useful to be able to apply the fret per finger whether used commonly or not
  3. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    shadow- beginning students, esp kids, aren't strong enough to fret with pinky. Also, bracing doesn't slow you down at all. If you don't believe me, come to one of my gigs and I'll show you... Carefully watch Jaco, Matthew Garrison, Janek, etc and you'll see bracing all over the place. Personally, I wouldn't try to argue with those three!
  4. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    Replied about what you mention here in point 4 also in another thread started by mudcricket... I don't get why it would be very important to support the pinky by the other fingers. You generally press down the strings at least a little with the other fingers when you play, and I can see that being helpful. However, to help the pinky with the job to press down the finger just seems unnecessary.

    The fact I'm lefthanded and use that hand for fretting righthanded basses might have something to do with my non-existing problems using my pinky alone, but I'm not sure it's the whole truth...
  5. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    I never needed any bracing on electric bass even as a beginner.
    Upright sure but on a properly set electric instrument even the pinky shall have more than enough power to move the string onto the fret after a few months of playing.
    Pressing the string harder will surely get you out of tune AND slow you down at the same time.
  6. Otso


    Mar 6, 2006
    About point 4, I rest my other fingers against the same string I'm playing on while using the pinky/ring finger/middle finger. This way my hands stays a lot more relaxed, instead of trying to keep the fingers off the string.
  7. I know it's not proper technique I don't use the tips of my fingers and I play just fine. I don't use the entire pad either though, I press right between the tip and the pad, and I get decent sound and speed from it. Again, I know it's not proper technique, but I taught myself how to play and it's a hard habit to break and I see no reason to if it's working.
  8. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Just watch some top level pros on youtube or in person and you'll see what I'm talking about- the other fingers are lined up behind the pinky, helping out. If you don't need to do this, good for you. Alot of people do, and I personally tend to follow the advice and example of players who are better than I am. If you know better than Jaco, then by G*d, can I get a lesson with you the next time you are in Chicago?


    FWIW, I haven't had a day gig since the early 90's, and I have students on major releases out of New York, and studying at Berklee. You may disagree with my advice here, but these techniques seem to be working just fine for me and my students, and 100's of other professional bassists...

    Of course I'm happy to clarify if any of this advice is confusing, or if my flu-influenced terminology is less than clear.
  9. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    Say you're playing a F# scale on 1st position, all the way up 2 octaves.
    How would bracing help your speed, assuming each finger is powerful enough to move the strings onto the frets ?
    It sounds like an embarrasment to me.
    Would you have a video example of somebody bracing on a quite fast line ?
    You talk about Jaco, I see him spreading his finger across 5 frets to gain speed, can't think of a moment I saw him bracing his fingers.
  10. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    When he's not applying vibrato, when the pinky hits the fingerboard, there are fingers lining up behind to support it. Given, he's not exactly in his prime on this vid!

    Watch closely. I'm not making this stuff up.
  11. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    well its not as if you'd get your other fingers out of the way if they're not in use...in that video, i'd say that a lot of the times he has more than one finger down, he's not doing it on purpose. it takes a lot of work to make sure that only one finger at a time is down. more about what the hand naturally wants to do, i'd think.

    and i think that fretless vs. fretted should be taken into consideration. i think that the fact that the fingers dont spread out perfectly even (for OFPF playing) makes that kind of supportive fingering on fretless very difficult to do. your fingers get pulled out of place by the extra tension in your hand. on fretted bass, that uneven spread of the fingers isn't really a problem (personally, my middle and ring tend to stick together when i spread my index and pinky apart).
  12. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Bracing is useful in my opinion mostly for teaching the hand to stay in position for every finger rather than just for helping out the pinky. For fast stuff, you don't really have the time to brace the pinky/ring finger, and you have to rely on individual finger strength. Ideally, all the fingers should be working at the same strength, so what the index finger can do without bracing, the pinky should be able to do without bracing. This of course is never the case, but it should be what you aim for.

    That said, I do brace in 124 position, and when appropriate in OFOF. Keeping the fingers all in one place helps with the general principle of economy of motion as well.
  13. I still don't see the point of bracing.
    I mean you can throw all these big names at me that use it, and all these videos.. but until you explain to me what it would improve on an electric, I'm not really seeing the point.
  14. Poop-Loops

    Poop-Loops Inactive

    Mar 3, 2006
    Auburn, Washington
    I do this on guitar, but it's impossible for me on bass. My hands are just too small, and routinely I'll want to mute higher strings, so I just lay my finger across the ones I'm not playing up until the one I am playing. The lower strings are muted by my thumb via floating thumb technique.

    Moreover, I just got a nifty 6-stringer. No way I can curve my fingers to play the lower strings on that.
  15. Now I'm confused about a few things ;

    1 - I never brace , and never seem to need to . I'm able to pull out string bends with my pinky . I dont know whether it was all those Melodic Metal techniques I tried out to get my fingers in shape , but **** just works .

    2 - I barre with the pads of my fingers , and also while sliding use the pads rather than the tips .

    3 - Finger per fret all the way , even on the high regions of the neck where the frets are further apart . I have normal size hands , it's not like I'm the hulk or something , and I never seem to have a problem , whereas trying 1-2-4 for me is kinda awkward as it forces me to shift around a lot during melodic basslines , and I usually just forget the entire positioning and end up using the 1st 3 fingers .

    Now I'm confused whether I'm doing stuff right or not ??
  16. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Regarding bracing- It's really not such a big deal. If you line your fingers up, your hand moves more efficiently. Almost any teacher is going to tell you at some point to keep your fingers from flying around. Watch the pros. Regardless of what weight bearing heroics you are capable of with your pinky, there's no reason to work harder than you need to. That's all there is to it. As I mentioned re: the Jaco clip, when he vibrates, the fingers become isolated. You can't wiggle when you're locked in a hand position. Watch great cellists and you'll see the same thing.

    Magnus- read the OP again. 1-2-4 is used mostly at the extreme bottom of the neck for simple, repetitive basslines like Mustang Sally, etc...

    Sorry but I'm still amazed that people are bragging about how strong their pinky is. Isn't there a Zappa song about that? :p
  17. TFunkadelic


    Apr 9, 2006
    If you use that Jaco video as evidence in support of finger bracing, you should also note how the vast majority of the time he's NOT doing it.
  18. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Can't believe we're even having this discussion.
  19. it's true, he barely does it at all in that video. I noticed him doing a couple vibratos with his pinky and ring finger, and all times he wasn't bracing at all..

    just because you're not bracing doesn't mean your fingers are going to be flying around the place, if that's the case than maybe you own left hand needs some work.

    without bracing you save time here and there, while your other fingers are free they can prepare and position for the next movement.

    You've yet to actually give a reason why it helps. you've claimed that jaco used it, but in the video he didn't.. you claim that it helps you hand move around, but you haven't explained how. I'm starting to think that you don't even know why to use it..

    It's seems to me that it's a meanlingless technique that was adopted from the upright. but the upright is a completely different animal than the electric, and not all the methods from upright are necessary on electric..
  20. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Lemme explain. Perhaps if I can clarify the situation, the desire to burn me to death in town square will dissipate.

    The process I call bracing is simply the practice of lining your fingers up on the string. It's clearly the most efficient way to play on one string, as your fingers are already in position for all 4 (or 3) notes. When crossing strings, you don't lose any speed since two fingers can move just as fast as one. The main benefit of this is that your two weaker fingers don't tire out as quickly since your hand is being used efficiently, and the stronger ones are helping out.

    Watch the Jaco video carefully and you'll see that with the exception of applying vibrato, he's using at least the ring finger to reinforce the pinky on all adjascent string licks.

    Even though you may not "need" this sort of technique on the EB as much as the upright, I find that bracing is a great way to play naturally and comfortably without compromising any speed. My typical week involves at least 5 gigs, as many as 20 students, and hopefully some practicing too, so injury prevention is always on my mind. For career longevity, pain prevention, etc..

    Plus, when you can play longer without getting tired you can concentrate on the important stuff. Rocking out for the ladies.

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