1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Left hand technique for small handed?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by phii, Jan 3, 2013.

  1. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    I have been playing the bass for about six months.

    Studied the bass through instructional videos from artists like Scott Devine, Flea, Dave LaRue..., I learned that most Western bass players covers their left hand on four frets (index on the first fret, middle on the second fret, ring on the third fret, and pinky on the fourth) .

    As an Asian, I have lengthy fingers, but small hands. So I found the four fret stretching quite hard (esp. the first 6 frets). Yes I have done alot of stretching exercise, chromatic scales, appregios... and got used to stretching chromatically. At first I always feel strain, but slowly gain comfortableness over time.

    However, by meeting my teacher (who is also an Asian), he instructed me to cover my hand on THREE frets on the first 12 frets (that means pinky on third fret, ring finger is used situationally) and chromatic on higher fret. I found the 3 frets positioning much more comfortable to play, but earlier got used to chromatic already.

    So I'd like to hear some opinions from you guise. Should I strictly follow teach's instruction, or mix both technique on proper situations?
  2. anonparrot


    Aug 19, 2012
    There really isn't a right or wrong way. I find that until I get to the 5th fret I find it hard to cover 4 frets. After the 5th fret 4 fingers / 4 frets isn't to bad.

    Find what works for you and keep at it.

  3. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    Do what works for you. I have really big hands and never liked long scale basses, so I bought a short scale model. The truss rod has major problems, so I stopped playing that one for a long time before buying an Ibanez fretless, which is long-scale. Oddly, I find that I spend a lot of time playing in the lowest fret positions.

    Watch Eric- he has small hands and plays all over the neck-

    He plays 5-string a lot, too, as seen in this link.

    It will happen when it happens- be patient.
  4. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Thanks for replying guise.

    ~ As I hate limiting myself, I do not prefer modified instruments for comfy use, rather adapt to commonly used bass. That means no short-scaled basses ;)

    ~ What I intend to do is learning all the techniques and use the right one at right time. I also found problems with plucking (raking vs alternative) and I just thought it's best just to mix both techniques. Hope that will work out.
  5. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Everyone goes with raking because it's easier at first, but practicing strict alternation till you have it down is a must when playing fast stuff IMHO. And a 3-fret stretch is perfectly OK, and so are short scale basses...Stanley Clarke has giant hands and fingers and I can't recall ever seeing him play anything but short scale.
  6. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    On the upright bass, the 3rd and fourth finger work in unison, not independently. But, that is largely due to the scale length vs the average sized hand. I tend to play this way on the first 5 frets on a standard 34" scale, as it's just more comfortable to move than make the stretch. But all that said, there is nothing inherently wrong with a short scale bass. If it's more comfortable in your hands, you will end up much more comfortable playing it. And that's a consideration that would be ridiculous to ignore. Especially as a beginner, I highly recommend you try some short scale basses.
  7. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    ~ Joe: thanks for your recommendation. So far I have laid my hand on four basses (a vintage aria pro II, a fender jazz, a warwick corvette and a streamer). All of four have normal scale and I play just fine. In fact I have never played a guitar before playing the bass, so I have learned to adapt myself to the bass from the very first day I play music. I love playing up the very first frets, cuz' the tremendous fret size is how a bass is different from the guitar. I love the bass so I just love the stretch! But anyway, thanks for your opinion anyway. I humbly appreciate it!

    ~ JimmyM: Yes, I also find it natural to rake at first. Later I found out that raking mess up my accenting, string skipping and octaving. After all, my teacher advised me to strict alternate and I have been alternating since. I only rake in the situation of 3 or 4 strings (Money - Pink Floyd for example). Is that healthy, I wonder?
  8. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    I'm 5'7 with tiny hands. Flea's 5'6 with tinier hands. Buy a bass with a thin neck and only go 1-2-3-4 if you're playing music that requires it. If you're just playing pentatonic, there's no reason to be using it heavily or at all actually. If you look at the way Flea constructs his basslines, a four finger spread is almost never necessary because it's all pentatonic.
  9. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Flea is a four fretter right? I can convert some of his songs (like Dani california) to three-fret just fine :D
  10. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    +1 on double bass fingering. I have small fingers, playing one finger per fret works okay but nothing I could do all night long so I go with the more comfy technique, switching to OFPF when required or above 5th fret.

    I myself am a big fan of raking, but as Scott Devine also says, no matter what you choose to do, stick with it.
  11. kevteop


    Feb 12, 2008
    York, UK
    I don't like having to stretch to cover 4 notes. I'm 6'3" and have pretty big hands, but if I'm playing an ostinato pattern that requires my hand to be in that position for a long time it's uncomfortable, and I certainly wouldn't want to do it every night.

    Look up double bass pedagogy - Simandl's system particularly. Practically all double bass players cover just one tone with their hand in all the lowest positions (with some pivoting rather than changing position to get an extra semitone within reach, but certainly not 'stretching'), the instrument is just too big to be played any other way.

    I think if you watch most bass guitarists you'll find most of them don't stretch to cover 4 frets very often. In metal maybe they do it more often, but they always look pretty unhappy about it. ;)
  12. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    I have to say this is a very very stupid way to think. Every fretted bass you play will have access to play 12 notes, you only limit yourself if your bass has less than 12 notes.
    Short scale bass is just the relation of the scale. So if you have small hands a short scale bass will give you the same relationship to those 12 notes. My Ibanez's are short scale, the many Hofners are short scale, the Galaxy a good substitute for a P or J bass (on that point they never seemed to restrict or reduce McCartney in any way when he used and made the violin bass such an iconic instrument). Gibson EBO basses are short scaled and again used by many great players.
    The point is it is in relation to your hands that you work with the instrument you play. Up-right basses are mainly 3/4 size, not many players I have ever met use a full size model, for them the practicalities of playing those 12 notes is what it is all about.

    So if you struggle because the instrument is to large use a smaller scale model, do not let the choice of instrument limit the choice of notes you have under your finger, they are the same notes on all basses with the same relationships to each other....short scale, medium scale, long scale, its the same 12 notes on all.;)

    You can if you want use a number of fretting techniques, one finger per fret is not the only option.
    Most players will when learning not be able to use one finger per fret under the 7th fret regardless of hand size. So use a combination of the many techniques rather than any single one, I will use many techniques, as well as short scaled basses, depending on what I have to play, and I have been playing over 40 year, and never found any of them to be a problem when used in the correct context.
  13. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Agree with your second point, cuz that's what I am doing right now. For me it's best just to learn all the techniques, as many as I can, and use the right one at the right time.

    But about the short scale thing, thanks but no thanks. When I say limit my self, it's not about the sound. It's like in a random gig, supposing I'm a short-scale player and my short-scaled axe snapped right before the show, being lent a Fender jazz bass of a fellow bassist, will I have to say: ”sorry but i dont play lengthy scale”? And when I want to buy a bass, do I always have to care about the scale first, but not the sound or the look? Nope, way too dependent and limited. I want to be a versatile bassist, and most of all, I love stretching my bass ;)
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    I have noticed that players with big hands tend to not use the 4th finger very much and players with small hands tend to not use the 3rd finger very much.

    Also a short scale bass is a good option for smaller players.
  15. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    It does not work that way, there is no change you have to get used to when changing between bass scale lengths.
    But i can gaurantee you this if you learn on a short scale, your hands have a much gentler physical demand to play it. Once you have the demands of playing under your fingers, then you can swap and play any bass...fretless included, because you do not have the physical demands you have when learning.

    Think on this, how do guitar players play with altered tunings on a various style of guitars, how do players transpose parts without thinking?
    It is all to do with the relationship of intervals and knowing the relationships between them, not the physical shape or size of the guitar they are played on.

    How can you be sure the line you are learning was not recorded on a short scale bass, some of the most iconic songs ever recorded had short scale bass lines.;)
  16. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Agree. So much to learn ^v^
  17. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    Until he went to music school he did 3 fingers on everything he could it pull off with. Watch. Nowdays, he seems to even play octaves with his third finger and it looks terribly uncomfortable. Ouch! Even worse when you wear your bass low like him.

    The fingers used don't matter, the fingers used in a spread does. Geddy uses his first three with the thumb over guitar style, and Flea used 124 with his thumb on the back of the neck. People with big hands seem to get away with having a four finger spread all the time. TM Stevens and Les Claypool wear their basses low and only use four finger spreads. I have no clue how TM can play difficult jazz with his bass so low.

    I didn't know that Stanley Clarke plays short scale... there is hope :hyper:
  18. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Well, just to simplify all of this, I say to the OP, play 124 with 3 alongside 4 unless it's needed for a note. I've been doing it that way since 1971 on upright and since 1988 on electric. It's very relaxed, with no strain.

    And I agree, nothing wrong with a short scale bass.
  19. hernameisrio


    Sep 27, 2011
    Berkeley, CA
    I play a 35" scale Peavey Cirrus and I am not a dude, nor am I a large person in general, so I inherently have small[er] hands. That said, if I don't roll my wrist on the lower frets, I kinda start to feel the burn after a couple of hours. When you do use one finger per fret, make sure you're doing it in a way that's ergonomically correct for your whole hand, sort of center your wrist accordingly and keep it loose. Use your whole body to support your left hand so that it doesn't have to do its job all alone. Don't play harder than you have to. If people wanna pound on the darn frets and strings, that's their business, but I don't wanna hear it when they get tendonitis! :p According to my buddy Bernie, who's played with Paul Simon and therefore knows his stuff, "It should be like butter." And I don't even eat butter!
  20. repoman


    Aug 11, 2011
    Kinderhook NY
    That's what I did and never looked back. My playing abilities and comfort level increased ten-fold (I have no idea if it increased ten fold, but you know what I mean.:D )