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Left Hand

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Josh McNutt, Jun 3, 2003.

  1. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    Yes, I am aware of the gripping the neck thread, but this is different, and yes, I do have a teacher. I can't figure out how one can possibly not use their thumb for all of the force to press the strings down when the bass is turned sideways and balanced on the hip. When I try to use my back/shoulders the bass just turns because it is being pulled without any support from behind. The only alternative apparent to me is using the thumb or turning the bass forward in front of me like a cello, thereby supporting he bass sufficiently for it to be pulled with the shoulders. Someone please explain.
  2. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    open it up more like a cello.

    It doesn't have to be completly open, but not sideways either.

    You might try the stool thing to see how it feels, then move that to your standing position.

    I put the corner of my bass right where my leg meets my torso, and put my left foot about where the endpin meets the ground.

    I am kind of tall, but I set the endpin low, about to where the nut is below my eyebrow, and hold it a little more upright then slanted, so there is not as much pressure on my left hand.

    There ws a pretty good ISB article on this,
    you can check their website, I think.

    Good luck
  3. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Well, maybe you can look at all this from a different perspective - it's all really about being able to make music. If you've got a solution that works for you, and it entails using your thumb like a c-clamp to stop the strings on the fingerboard, then who am I to say that you're crazy?

    But I do think I understand your perspective...it's much the same as mine when I'm able to articulate a problem I see in my technique without having any idea what to do to resolve it and move forward.

    Alex is providing an excellent starting point for you - have a seat, play the bass as if it was a cello (or however you see fit), and see if you can work out stopping notes without relying on your thumb so much. If you can't do that then your luck resolving it while standing will be more difficult (but only you can answer that, I'm just trying to help you too).

    I resolve the thumb issue by working hard on my ability to shift quickly and accurately, having complete control over my vibrato, learning to work successfully in thumb position, and learning to play more and more songs. In other words, techique issues get resolved naturally for me as I work to become a better bassist over time. Make no mistake, standing and playing is a technique issue just like playing in tune is a technique issue.

    So if I can offer anything in addition to what Alex has given you, I'd say be patient with yourself and pay attention to your teacher when he/she plays while standing. I'm going on 9 months with lessons, and I'm still learning to stand and play at the same time...
  4. In the best left hand posture in Simandl technique I have heard from some teachers that you should think of the posture as a series of curves or arches like the bass itself. Hence, the left arm follows a natural curve from the should through the fingertips. Does that mean that the knuckles should be slightly pointing up or should they be kept more straight?
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Good thread topic. I use a stool for two reasons, one of which is quite similar to what you describe:

    1) When I stand, I don't feel that I can make full use of my left arm weight and shoulder in stopping the strings, and consequently tend to use too much thumb pressure;

    2) I'd like to be able to walk upright by the time I'm 60, assuming I make it that far. My back can't take standing next to the bass for 3-4 hours at a time without some pain, and when I sit, I'm pain-free. Works for me. YMMV.

    FWIW, I sit in a "cello-style" position which only works for pizz playing: both legs up on the highest rungs of the (standard, AFAIK) barstool, with the left leg sticking out slightly from behind the upper bout, and the (bent) right leg sticking out from the cutout on the bass side. Thank god for gamba corners!

    If you have your heart set on standing, you might want to try looking into some of the angled endpin options...I know that both Rufus Reid and Lynn Seaton use versions of these to help balance the bass, and swear by them. I've played both of their basses briefly and found that they still slid right off of me, but that's probably more due my lack of facility in playing while standing than anything else. If interested, I think you'll find at least one and probably a couple of threads about angled endpins on this site. Good luck.
  6. IMO it's a lot about balance and a lot about the setup of your left hand.

    If you are standing, the bass can be very unstable as we all know. I always get my students to stand with their weight on their right foot. For one thing, this causes the hips to shift sideways (to the right) creating a space on the left side of the body for the upper bout of the bass to fit into.

    As far as the left foot is concerned...with your knees bent, put both heels together but turned out to make a 45 degree "V" shape (this includes turning out the whole leg, especially the knees). Now (remember, with the weight on the right leg) slide the left heel forward slightly while keeping the same leg angles (i.e. don't change a thing other than just sliding your left foot foward slightly). This will create a nice flat plane that back corner of the bass can rest on. Your left knee should now be supporting the back corner of the bass, and the instrument should be sitting at a 45 degree angle rather than being flat on your side (if you are flat on the side of the bass, you will have to reach around further with the left hand and will have less leverage to press the strings down).

    Now, at this point, your bass should at least not be able to turn inward on you. This helps, believe it or not, with how you can help it from falling the other way (outward, or backward). If you lean a little bit forward and inward (especially while shifting, gravity will go a very long way to conteracting the force of pulling the bass over with your arm/fingers.

    Combined with keeping your fingers nicely curved (to help maximize downward pressure on the strings), you can almost fully depress the strings with gravity by leaning the bass INTO your fingers. The weight of the bass can almost press the strings down for you. Now, remember the above advice about the left knee resting on the back corner of bass, or the bass will simply spin inward on you when you lean forward which isn't much help.

    I'm not saying you can fully rely on gravity to press the strings down, but it really helps during shifting (especially from higher positions to lower). It will reduce a lot of "drag" on the left hand and really free you up.
  7. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    I tried the sitting thing and it certainly does seem to take away all of my problems. I even made work arco, and I'm playing german. After seeing his name enough times, the name Fitzgerald makes me think cat.
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    This is enough to make any jazzer proud. :)
  9. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I think the Fred Zimmerman Simandl book asks that the left foot be favored rather than the right. I prefer to do the same when I stand, and I transfer my weight to the right foot only when I'm leaning the bass forward, especially in thumb position. There's something about that approach that I like, but I'm not sure why yet...maybe it's about not staying stagnant and letting the weight distribution wander.

    Thinking out loud here, but isn't there something about tennis technique that asks for a person's weight to be placed on a particular foot as the racket makes contact with the ball? I can't remember how that goes or if it is relevant to bass playing.
  10. There may be varying opinions why some players/teachers might advocate the weight being on one foot over the other.

    My rationale for the weight being on the right foot is mostly to allow the neck of the bass to be closer to the body (by shifting the hips to the right and creating a cavity). With the neck closer, I find it easier to get leverage downward on the strings. With more natural leverage, one can reduce the amount of "squeezing" required to depress the strings.
  11. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    You can say that again about varying opinions on standing options. I've even heard about how Ludwig Streicher liked to remove the endpin and hold the bass up with his foot when he played!
  12. I used to put the weight on my right foot, but I started to develop hip and back problems.

    I find it easiest on my body to keep my feet about shoulder's width apart, with the weight evenly distributed. I've recently lowered by endpin a notch as well, and I've found that I'm able to use the weight of my arms more effectively.
  13. In many musical styles ( especially latin )I find myself "dancing" with the Bass...shifting my weight from foot to another, rocking the Bass up and back, and so on. Mostly I do this without noticing it, but sometimes my bandmates ( and the audience ) find it amusing. I´ve been figuring out that my body movements kind of help my playing the natural way, ´cause when I watch ( the very few ) videos of me playing, the more I dig in, the more I seem to "dance". So, it does not prevent my playing ability, but enhances it.
    Also to proove this, I can play for hours without any fatique if I ( and the others ) have a good thing going on, but if something sucks ( I have to pull the drummer for example ), I get stiff and tense, and one set can make me hurt like I had just been through a physical excersize.
    What I feel in my body is equivalent to how my left hand works. So, tense body = squeezing, relaxed moving = fast and relaxed left hand and good support to fingers from my whole body.

    More to that, it helps me keeping time!
    For example, in medium-slow tempo ( triplet feel of eights ) I notice my whole right arm moves in "triplets" to keep that swing, and so does my body...it´s hard to explain, but that´s how my body works when I play ( or hear ) music I dig .

  14. One of my greatest influences in my desire to play upright bass was Martin Rivera, who used to tour as a duo with pianist Junior Mance. Martin often used the Ampeg Baby Bass, and usually do quite spirited, hip and very enjoyable dancing, as he played. I find myself also moving to the beat at times, which helps playing in time and playing more relaxed, as Arto explains. Another great bassist, who moves his whole body very fluidly and expressively as he plays the bass is Francois Rabbath. He moves, gestures and dances as he plays like a Russian gypsy violinist or magician pulling rabbits out of a hat.

    It would be terrific to see a video of Arto dancing. Could you post this on your website, Arto? I have already been convinced that you are extremely talented musically by how amazingly you express yourself in English and do word play and puns in a foreign language. Now that we learn how your bass technique is a natural form of dancing. So I can't wait to see and hear your playing!
  15. What´s wrong with You, Ibrahim...You´re such a nice guy! Being that nice is not normal!

    Now, seriously talking, I´m embarrassed. Never used to take compliments...but what You said made me very happy. Thank You.
    I love playing the Bass, and have many friends ( some of them musicians ) with whom I only share two mutual languages, English and Jazz. That´s the simple reason for my lingual skills in both.
    I try to be creative, dig? Ain´t that why we want to play?

    On the other way, I do not like computers ( except for visiting Talkbass ) and don´t have a home page for that reason. I have no idea how to put a video in the net, but someday if someone will help me to put some sound clips or videos in any server to download, I´ll put the address in my profile.

    "Dances with wolves"

    PS. looking at Your own posts here, You seem to have excellent knowledge about recordings, videos, books, transcriptions, methods and general information about playing the DB. So you must be some bad cat, too.
  16. I am greatly enjoying the terrific jazz trio video of Ray Brown with Monty Alexander on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar and a couple of numbers with John Frigo on violin. The video is called, "Triple Treat", which can be bought from the International Society of Bassists (you have to call their telephone number to order it).

    Like some of the world's most musical and most enjoyable bass players, Francois Rabbath, Martin Rivera, and our own Arto Alho, you see the great Ray Brown first tapping one foot, then tapping the other foot, tapping his heel up and down, later tapping his toe up and down, moving his whole body to the beat, and happily smiling and dancing as he plays.
  17. Ibrahim,
    you´re doin´ much better already. Sarcasm and irony makes me feel I´m back on solid ground.


    PS. Agree with the company, and dancing. Smiling is not included in my stage habits.
  18. Crime Dog -

    It's not really pulling. Think of it as more of an energy flow down through your arm, like a gush of water. To get an idea of what it should feel like, sit on a stool with your bass in playing position. Play with your thumb completely off the back of the neck. Then stand and play using the same technique you used to stop the strings but with your thumb in place now. Your thumb should be relaxed, balancing the bass, acting as a passive support.
  19. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    If I sit or support the side of the bass opposite the one braced against my hip I can effectively use my shoudler, but I can't do it with out some sort of force supporting the bass from both sides. I'll discuss it with Señor Alex on Monday.
  20. Reread my post. There isn't that much pulling involved, it's gravity, and your left thumb is the support.