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Left Hand Curved/Collapsed Fingers

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by David Abrams, Mar 25, 2003.

  1. I know that traditional classical bass technique is to always have the left hand fingers curved, never collapsed. However I've noticed that some very exceptional players occasionally collapse the knuckles, sometimes in the high register as well as elsewhere. I am wondering if their rationale is to collapse the knuckles in order to be able to place more flesh on the string than is possible with curved fingers? Or is it simply poor technique? Finally, I am wondering if there is any evidence that playing with collapsed fingers can cause physical damage to the fingers?
  2. imo, playing anything with collapsed fingers just leads to sloppiness and the reason people do it is because they either have never thought about it or they don't have the strength to play with the fingers arched. I don't see any reason to use the collapsed finger "technique" and I wouldn't be surprised if in the long run it does contrinbut to some kind of damage or injury.
  3. I think a lot of the talk about curved fingers is often in support of encouraging flexibility to help gain speed and fluidity, but there is a much more important reason to do it as far as I'm concerned. Tone.

    We're trying to press the string firmly against the fingerboard, right? The best way to do this is to maximize the force pressing downward on the string. It seems to be simple physics to me. Flattened fingers transfer a good amount of force from side to side rather than mostly straight down. That's a loss of force that could otherwise be concentrated downward. Keeping the fingers curved (especially the last joint of each finger) will maximize the downward force without much lateral "loss".

    Try this: take your left middle finger, flatten it out, then squeeze it against your thumb. Now curve your left middle finger and squeeze it against your thumb. You should be able to feel a lot more downward force on your thumb from the curved finger - and it is a much more concentrated force.

    With the greater force, pressing the string to the fingerboard should stop the string much more effectively giving a clearer tone.
  4. Right again. Conversely, for the same degree of force, curved fingers require less muscle effort than flat.
  5. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Lot's of classical teachers say that curved fingers are the only way to go, and even some jazz teachers too.

    I think that is total crap, no offense to anyone's simandl sensibilities, (or lack thereof), but I have seen a lot of great players, including Edgar Meyer (who may sometimes say he always tries to use curved fingers- I'm not sure of his philosophical position) and Francois Rabbath (who does not seem to think curved fingers are neccessary, especially in thumb position)

    Personally, I am much more effeicient, fast, clear and have better tone in thumb position when I use "collapsed" fingers. I do use my arm weight to hold the string down, adn typically only collapse the joint closest to my finger tip. I feel it also helps me play without tension and vibrate better in that area of the bass, and play more in tune, and play wider intervals without shifting.

    My point here is don't limit yourself.
  6. Oh. I guess all my teachers are wrong.
  7. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    do they play like edgar meyer or francois rabbath?

    no, really Don, I think there is a great deal of facility tied up in curved fingers.

    Have you had any experience with the Crab Technique exercises in the third Rabbath book?
    Impossible with curved fingers.

    Have you heard Renaud Garcia-Fons?
    I don't think it is possible to play like that with curved fingers either.

    I don't know you have more experience than me-
    but are you flying around the top positions of your bass across all four strings using curved fingers? If so, please contact me and send me a video. Anyone?

    I am mostly speaking of thumb position here.

    question authority, respect tradition that works
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Each hand is different. My fingers are incapable of collapsing, even when my teacher has asked that I try collapsing my index finger in TP. I have a student whose fingers are almost the opposite, they're so double-jointed. She gets around pretty good in spite of this. To me, this says that the "rules" are relative, and that exceptions must be made in light of personal physiology. I have another student that I am 14" taller than, and whom I outweigh by 95 lbs. Surely her body cannot be expected to relate to the bass as mine does and vice versa? This (IMO) is basic common sense. I recommend a grain of salt with all advice of this nature.
  9. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Maybe, but I really had to work to get my fingers to collapse the right way-
    maybe two years

    can you make your fingers collapse on a table top, or by squeezing your index finger against your thumb?
  10. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    sorry, forgot to read carefully

    David- you won't get hurt if you are not tense, you can get tendonitis just as easily if not more with curved, tense fingers

    I find I can get more flesh, actually my strings cross my fingers at an angle, for maximum flesh-which I try to maintain in the lower positions as well.

    facing my palm, the string crosses up through the upper right corner of my hand at about a 45 degree angle.

    I also feel I get a better weight transfer, very helpful in vibrato.

    sorry, I just get worked up over this stuff because I feel so strongly that it is a big mistake of "traditional bass pedagogy" -whatever that is- simandl? to use the curved finger

    I just don't feel there is much traditional bass rep worth confining you rtechnique over- there is so much better modern bass technique

    Rabbath, petracchi sp?, etc.

    rabbath has an excellent cd rom out that I suggest you use to supplement your lessons. pick up his books too- especially two and three
    they have great pictures that are extremely illustrative.
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    No. They will straighten, but not collapse. When I was studying out of Rabbath, it was no problem, and it's no problem in Petracchi - I just have to make a few simple adjustments from how my teacher does it. I don't feel that any one method ever has all the answers either, only that each has a different perspective to offer.

    In regard to the physiology aspect, I agree that some flexibility can be gained, but that some is "preset" by nature. My experience with Aikido supports this belief - the rest of my body acts as my fingers do: both my arms and legs have good forward and lateral flexibility, but neither has much in the way of backward flexibility. Upon reflection, it's not surprising that my fingers are as they are. The dojo where I studied had two different people acting as sensei on a rotating basis. One was extremely flexible in the "backward" sense (hamstrings, elbows, etc.), and one was more or less as inflexible in the same sense as I am. Both were excellent, and adapted their art to what their body would allow. I won't bore anyone any further with the many parallels between this art and musical technique, but I see each as a microcosm of the other.

    In short, I believe that if you are hearing the music well and have examined the various techniques available to get that music out of your instrument, you can easily find a way to speak with a strong, clear voice regardless of which type of finger joints you might have.

    My apologies for using quotations yet again. :)