left hand techniques

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jimclark68, Jun 21, 2001.

  1. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    I've been playing bass on and off for the past 16 years. I'm self-taught, and I'm trying for the first time to really learn some technique. I have always played scales/arpeggios/etc using all 4 fingers of my left hand. However, some sources suggest using primarily the 1st, 2nd, and 4th fingers for most stuff. In particular, I recently read some tips from Carol Kaye's website, and she really encourages this technique, citing that the 3rd finger is too weak in most circumstances. I am cursed with very small hands and fingers, so I'm willing to learn new techniques if it's really going to benefit. I am curious to hear from others out there about what left hand techniques they use, pros/cons, or any other helpful or interesting information.
  2. I never liked the 1, 2, 4 idea. Your third finger gets stronger as you play.
  3. I say do what's comfortable to begin with, and if you aren't satisfied with what you can do with that, start trying to do something else as well.

    As for me, I tend to use mainly my 1st, 2nd & 4th fingers of my left hand most of the time, but if I need to, I can use my 3rd finger without too much of a problem, if any at all. :)
  4. furtim


    Dec 12, 1999
    Boston, MA, USA
    I use 1-2-4. This is mostly because I was trained to play like this on the Double Bass. However, I have discovered recently that the middle finger on my left hand is rather oddly bent towards the ring finger... it's gotta be at least a 20 degree angle. Just don't ask why I've never noticed it before. ;)

    But, umm, yeah. There's absolutely nothing wrong with playing 1-2-4. It's a solid technique which has been used for years. You just need to recognise its limitations compared to the 4-finger left hand style and adopt those into your technique, not as limitations, but as simply part of your style of playing. The difference is really just slightly less speed and a lot more shifting when you use 1-2-4.
  5. furtim


    Dec 12, 1999
    Boston, MA, USA
    I just re-read the original post. If you can already play with four fingers, stick with it. There's nothing to be gained for you by switching to 1-2-4 right now. You'll probably find that using all four fingers is much more convenient in most, if not all, situations.
  6. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    I use both the 1-2-4 and 1-2-3-4 left hand techniques depending on what I'm doing. Basically, whatever works -within reason- works. There's no inherent advantage to either on electric bass, and now that I'm playing a good deal of EUB I still find myself using the 3rd finger for quite a bit of my playing. I disagree completely with Carol Kaye's opinion on left hand fingering, the 3rd finger isn't too weak, but it can be tricky to get it coordinated with the 2nd and 4th sometimes.
  7. wynnguitars


    Jun 20, 2001
    Straight up bad technique equals bad problems down the road.An major scale covers 4 frets play it 2-4 then 1-2-4 then 1-3-4 you'll cover 3 strings going straight down in the direction f/low E to high G. concentrate on that 1-3-4( or the 6,7and8th note of the scale.
  8. wynnguitars


    Jun 20, 2001
    Hey Gard i have a correspondence course iI teach with tons of helpful facts and techniques.E mail me
    wynnguitars@aol.com. I'm not soliciting just tryin to help.peace.
  9. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK

    Yeah, Gardly. Take some lessons wouldya? We're tired you of sucking. :D

    I hope his playing is better than his punctuation though...;)
  10. furtim


    Dec 12, 1999
    Boston, MA, USA
    And his choice of internet service provider, for that matter.
  11. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars


    lump, thanks for your concern, I'm tired of suckin' too!! :eek:

    furtim, take it easy, I've got an AOHeLL account meself, ok? ;)
  12. B-Note Cowboy

    B-Note Cowboy Guest

    Jun 13, 2001
    Tulsa, OK
    I'm self taught too, and this is the first I've ever heard of not using the ring finger. I use it and never the pinky and it's never been a problem for me.

    Actually, it isn't even an option for me as my pinky finger was dislocated during a basketball game loooong ago and didn't heal right. It tends to "lock out" which is inconvenient during the middle if my bass solo!

    I say whatever works for you. The brain and body are pretty adaptable. Hey, if a guy with no hands can paint with his feet, you can use your ring finger to play a bass.
  13. Gard,
    I'm guessing you must've jumped at the offer for lessons, 'cause I see you're going to Paris with Tito Puente, Jr. , and there's no way you could land that gig the way you've been playing!
  14. furtim


    Dec 12, 1999
    Boston, MA, USA
    Gard: I am so, so sorry to hear that...
  15. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    X-man -

    Yeah, 4 years of lessons with Dave LaRue, and no dice, one correspondence lesson with wynnguitars and I'm packin' my bags for Paris...amazing, huh? ;)
  16. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    I'm just suprised Dave La Rue didn't tell you about WINDUP GUTROT before, seeing as they're close personal friends.

    Anyway, to get this thread back on topic before Pacman comes and closes it, if you've used all four fingers in the past without any problems, I don't think that you would need to use the 1 2 4 technique - I would have thought your third finger would be quite strong after sixteen years. I personally incorporate my third finger into my playing without any difficulties. (Not that that's any great endorsement - I think it's likely that all my fingers are equally weak.)

    However, Carol Kaye has been playing for a lot longer than me, so if she recommends 1 2 4, maybe it is something worth looking into.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well this has come up many times on this board and other like the FDP. There are a lot of people who disagree violently with Carol Kaye's teaching and aren't shy in saying so!! ;)

    I don't think that just because somebody is a great player you have to agree with everything they say or do - you have to find the right teacher/inspiration for you. I have seen a lot of Jazz players whose style and playing I admire but don't actually like - like Steve Swallow for example. So I wouldn't try to play like them.
  18. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Carol Kaye is a great lady, and this is by no means intended as disrespect, but she proposes some things that are debatable, to say the least.
    That she speaks about the 3rd finger as being too weak fits with her tennisball gymnastics idea for the left hand.
    But I think Gary Willis is right - you don't need strength but good technique and dexterity. In his video he states that you have all the finger strength you need since you were 3 years old (see his video for more info).
    Strengthening exercices are no help but potentially dangerous. It's really nonsense in my opinion(!).
    Improve your bass' setup and use a lighter touch - tone, speed and endurance will improve. Use all four fingers on your left hand - there's really no need (or excuse) not to.
    Finger problems are usually cause by bad technique. Don't forget to place your thumb behind the neck, not on top of it.

    Carol developed her technique more than 30 years ago. Things progressed since then.
  19. Gard is right. But there are advantage to both.

    1-2-4 will let you play in the lower register with less fatigue, if any.

    1-2-3-4 will obviously cover more frets. 4 frets and 5 frets with a little streching.

    1-2-3 is bad technique, unless you only have four fingers like the Cowboy, or the Simpsons.

    When using 1-2-4, pinky and ring are working together. When fretting with the pinky, it has to be backed-up by the ring finger.

    I use 1-2-3-4 for scales, 99% of everthing above the 9th fret and fast (really fast) stuff below the 9th.

    For everything else I'll use 1-2-4.

    In resume, learn both. The better bass player knows how to use both.
  20. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    I'll chip in and say that while CK is indeed a talented and prolific musician, she is not ALWAYS 100% correct. The 1-2-4 LH fingering method was developed over hundreds of years of playing/studying/teaching the upright bass and it's predecessors, culminating in the Simandl method we hear so much about over in the DB section.

    Now, the URB/DB has a scale length of ~41" (more or less depending on the size of the bass and the setup preference of the player), whereas the EBG has one of under 35" generally, and 34" most commonly. 1-2-4 makes perfect sense in the lower positions of the DB, the notes are pretty F A R apart, compared to the lower positions on the EBG. Further, due to the construction and design necessities of the DB, you can't play in the higher registers with the same technique as lower positions, so you never do really get into 1-2-3-4 land, you end up in "thumb position" (unless you got an NS DB like I did :D).

    I believe Carol's teachings are based on the older Simandl/DB ideas, coupled with the fact she's got smaller hands than a lot of other musicians. As I've said, I do use the 1-2-4 method for some things, just to kind of take it easy (particularly those R-5th-octave lines I play most of the time in latin stuff), but for scalar and arpeggiated stuff, I use the 1-2-3-4 method. I will even use the 1-2-3-4 method for those things on my EUB, and I DON'T have big hands by any stretch. Now, I don't use the 3-notes per string on all strings technique on EUB that I do on EBG :eek:. That would require Shaquille O'Neal size hands (what species is he anyhow? :confused: ).

    The end of my story is what Erick said, learn both, and use them at the appropriate times for your personal style. Also, JMX's Gary Willis quotes are dead on, learn to play with touch, strength is completely useless.

    I'm reminded of Mick Goodrick's excellent book "The Advancing Guitarist" (yes, I know, but he's an excellent musician, and the book is one we all should own). He speaks of "focusing" your finger pressure as one focuses a camera. It's easy to "see" when you're not using enough pressure, the note is all buzzy and indistinct. The true trick is seeing when you're using TOO MUCH pressure. Mick gives a great exercise to work on this:

    Start out with a very light pressure, too light, so the notes buzz. You then proceed, while repeatedly plucking one note, to apply pressure slowly, until the note clears. Then, you keep applying pressure, until you're pressing as hard as you possibly can. After that you start backing off again, go until the note starts to buzz once more, then apply just a touch of pressure until the note JUST clears up. That is the proper amount of pressure to use, just enough to get a clear note. He then suggests that you "play around" with this point, getting fuzzy, then pressing enough to clear it up, then a bit too hard, then fuzzy again, and so on, just to get a good idea of the right amount of touch.

    It sounds goofy, but it's a good idea to play around with it, and do it for all your fingers too. You'll probably be surprised to find you use WAY more finger pressure than you really need to, and that that makes you work much harder on the actual fretting of notes than is necessary. All that energy is wasted, and could be used for something else...