Lighter Touch?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by ROCKBOBMEL_old, Jan 17, 2001.

  1. I used to play bass since I was 10-or11 until I was 25. I was severely off track for another 15 years and did not play at all.At 40 I picked it up again. Now I'm 46. The old me played a Rick with a pick only.
    The new me plays with my fingers, a very little pick, and my thumb. I also now play a 5 string F Bass fretted, and a 5 st.MM stingray fretless. My point is, I think I dig in too hard. I like to play the dynamics with my touch, and when hit hard, I like the agressive, almost over the top sound. Now I hear a lot of players say they play light and use the volume of the amp. I feel that limits the "dynamic range" because if I dig in, it will surely blow everything up, or at least sound like crap. Can I use a lighter touch and still get the wide dynamics? I know this sounds elementary, but I know I have bad habbits and would like some input in this area. Thanks
  2. theJello


    Apr 12, 2000
    You actually have better control of dynamics if you use a light touch. It just takes more control and awareness of what your right hand is actually doing. It also takes practice because it will feel very unnatural when you first start.

    You have numerous benefits though. More control of dynamics, better tone, hand is relaxed( so will allow for much faster playing without tensing up. Less prone to injury. Try to listen and watch Gary Willis if you want to see what light touch is all about. Mike Dimin from this board also endorses light touch.
  3. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Exactly. You can go from a whisper to scream without touching your volume control. A by-product of that is (IMO of course) better articulation, less fatigue and the ability to play faster if needed. You can still dig in, provided your setup allows for that (strings not set "too" low). Instant control of dynamics without a pedal or rackmount device...what a concept:D

    You can play as loud and aggressively with a light touch, your tone doesn't have to suffer.
  4. I'm much more inclined to agree with the original post. I'm pretty much against having an ultra light touch in general and just turning the amp up. For me, if I have my basses set up with high enough action, it allows me to play very firmly (which is usually louder) while lower action will seriously limit how hard I can pluck. It's always easy to play extremely light with just about any kind of setup, so maximizing your potential to pluck really hard (loud) will obviously give you the largest dynamic range.

    Since I spend the bulk of my time playing double bass (in orchestra) without any amplification, I am entirely responsible for the volume of every single note. I have no amp or effects to compensate for anything. I have to produce all the dynamics myself. If my double bass is setup too low, when I try to play loud, the strings will rattle against the fingerboard and choke - it will actually really limit my upper volume. With higher setups, I can feel free to really go after it to get the volume I need.

    I like to use the same approach with electric bass. Reasonably high setup, so I can play as hard as I need to. Playing light is no problem either.

    Now I'm not suggesting that everybody beat the crap out of their basses, but if you have your bass setup high enough, you can pluck really hard if you need to. You can also pluck just a soft as you need to.

    Being able to pluck very hard and very soft will definitely give you a greater dynamic range than only plucking up to a medium amount of force. Even if you turn your amp up, the "range" will not be larger if you aren't plucking harder. The only to increase your dynamic range by using a lighter touch would be to ride a volume pedal - but if you did that, you'd get an even BIGGER range if you also allowed yourself to pluck harder at times.
  5. theJello


    Apr 12, 2000
    Well, I thought we were talking about electric.
    I dont think double bass technique has anything to with

    If you like your action high and like to pluck hard
    that is fine. Since you play double bass also I can understand your thinking. But im talking economy of motion and tone, not just dynamics. But, I still think you have more control of dynamics with a light touch. You can always pluck even lighter or harder. If your normal touch is very hard how are you gonna go louder? Pluck super duper hard and possibly hurt yourself? I think the hardest you play should still be relativly light. Believe me you have great control of dynamics this way. Plus your tone is MUCH better.
    It just takes time to get used to. I think alot of people discount playing lightly because its so different from what they are used to. If you have played hard all your life your probably wont be able to just jump in and sound good playing lightly. Its takes time.
    Just listen to Gary Willis. He explains all the benefits on his site.

    [Edited by theJello on 01-18-2001 at 11:03 AM]
  6. Thanks Guys, Jello, you ponted out that you get a much better tone with a lighter touch. This interests me because sometimes I get tired of my tone. I even think sometimes the wall voltage is robbing the fullness, so I dig in harder. Other times I feel I have great control without having to. When someone else in the store is playing, I usually like their tone, and envy it, and think I'm playing wrong or something.I also have tinitis and I think it effects my perception of the tone.
  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    What I guess some people don't realize is that it's not that hard to play hard with a low but not super low setup. If you pluck in a motion to have the strings vibrate parallel to the fretboard instead of perpendicular it can make a big difference.

    As far as how hard to play... that's entirely up to the player. Light works for me.

    BTW there's a huge difference between playing electric bass and an upright. They have a lot in common but I've never come across an acoustic that could be setup to play as fast and easy as my fretless. The scale is a factor, too, isn't it?:D
  9. theJello


    Apr 12, 2000

    I can respect where your coming from and agree with
    alot of what you said.

    You said you play upright more than electric and
    I think that has alot to do with our different views.

    I think upright and electric are completly different instruments. The only thing that is the same is that they are tuned the same and are plucked. The strings are different, the angle of your hands are different, the scale is different, the sound is different, amount of force required to play is different, on and on

    What Im seeing here is someone applying double bass concepts to electric. Which is fine if that works for you but it is not the best way. Please dont take that the wrong way.

    What you said Gary Willis said is out of character for him.
    He is very humble. I have never heard him make a condesending comment. Im not saying your liar but I would have to see it myself to believe it. I have read most of his interviews. Are you sure you are not confusing him with Dan Glenn? I know he said some things about pick playing that pissed people off. Not that it would bother me either way. Jaco was known to be extremely arrogant and people still listen to him:D Anyways, Gary Willis is one the most creative, talanted AND amazing jazz/fusion players on the planet.
  10. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999

    I think I can speak for many upright players in saying that there is a lot of overlap and if you like it is easy to let one influence the other.

    As for the light touch. It can't hurt to be able to do this well. I like to have options better than limits, so I do a varity of things with touch.

  11. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    ROCKBOBMEL- I'm in my 40's and started out with a pick. Still use them occasionally. I am naturally inclined to a hard attack but am trying to get used to a lighter touch.

    I wonder if you only use the flatter, underside of your fingers, like on your fretting hand.

    My playing is decepetive because I play in front of people and know that a lot of them want the visuals. So, while my right hand isn't quite having an epileptic fit like Flea, I use a lot of hand motion for show, even though I'm attacking the particular string lightly with the very tips of my fingers.

    As you, I like to dig in but in a good room that isn't all linoleum/vinyl and doesn't have rafters in the stratosphere, it is much more satisfying to let the amp/bass do the volume work and let the details of my techniques get beyond the stage apron.
  12. I do play double bass more than electric these days, but I will say that I started out as an electric bassist and didn't really study the double bass until many years later. I do play quite a lot of electric bass still, it's just that I find it easier to make a living with the double bass (many more union gigs with good contracts, radio recordings, multi service runs - if I play an opera, there can be 10-14 reharsals/concerts).

    So just because I may play more double bass now, doesn't mean I don't still play a lot of electric. In fact, I still average about one electric bass gig a week in addition to my double bass gigs.

    I still insist that there's not so much different from double bass to electric as one might think. I would certainly agree that someone who plays only electric trying to pick up a double bass and play right away is in for a shock, but I think it's a little easier to go the other way from a technical standpoint. Sure the finger angles, etc. are different, but anyone who has a very solid technique on double bass should be able to apply almost everything (but the bow technique) to electric. Sure you might have to adapt slightly for angle and string length, but I've sorted out a lot of very severe technical problems with my electric bass students by using what I've learned from double bass teachers. Basic principles like left hand organization, shifting, pivots, right hand placement and finger angles, etc... In fact, a great deal of my fretless technique owes heavily to my studies on double bass and I strongly believe anybody playing fretless could probably learn some pretty useful technical things from taking a few lessons with a very good double bass teacher.

    Conversely, I will admit to using a lot of what might be consider more electric bass technique in my classical double bass playing - things like string dampening with either hand (which most double bassists are notoriously oblivious to!), left hand string muting, and 'radical' fingerings.

    Obviously there are things than can be done on one that can't be done on the other, and each has it's own unique techniques. The double bass is primarily played with a bow (unless of course you're one of those Jazz cats!) while the electric bass can also use a pick, slapping, tapping, etc. But still at the end of the day, to me, they are both still basses, but in slightly different forms. I feel if you have some pretty solid technique on ANY stringed instrument, there's certainly going to be A LOT in common with just about any other stringed instrument. I'm sure a good viola player would be able to apply a lot of what they learned to the electric bass. In the case of electric and double basses, the fact that they are tuned the same and are of 'similar' string length makes them pretty closely related in my book. You may have to adapt a few things, but the fundamentals of good string playing are pretty much the same regardless of instrument.

    The reason I mentioned the double bass in the first place was to demonstrate what one has to do when one doesn't have the option of cranking up the amplifier (or turning it down) to control dynamics. It's all up to you - in your fingers. I strongly believe the electric bass should be approached the same way. Know your instrument - know how hard you can play and how soft you can play - pretend the volume control doesn't exist so that YOU control the volume of every single note.

    When I said one should play hard, I certainly didn't mean all the time. I just feel you should be able to go after it when needed and your setup must allow this. Logic dictates (regardless of what instrument you are playing) that if you are able to play an instrument to its maximum volume without buzzes or rattles, only then will you achieve the largest possible range of dynamics. One can always play softer. If your setup won't allow you to play really hard, then the only way to increase your upper dynamic range is artificially by riding the volume control.

    Ceratinly I advocate playing in a much more moderate dynamic for general playing. In this case you have the ability to go much louder and much softer.

    The original question was will turning up the amp and playing lighter affect the dynamic range. I suppose not, in theory - your loudest will be louder BUT so will your softest! In effect the range will be the same - just at a higher overall level. I do suspect that one may be more reluctant to pluck their hardest (when required) while the amp is at the higher setting for fear of putting the speaker through the grille or something like that. That seemed to be the concern of the original poster and I have to agree with concern.

    I know lots of you feel like you can work less hard if you turn up your amp, and that makes sense too, but if you NEVER dig in all the way, your dynamic range will be smaller regardless of your amp setting. Again, I'm not saying you should play hard all the time - but for maximum dynamic range, you have to be able to play your loudest when you want to.

    On a related note - I pretty much never use compression even when recording. That is surely the quickest way to mess with your control of dynamics.

    Regarding Gary Willis - you're right, I was confusing him with Dan Glenn and I apologize. I feel kind of stupid about that so I certainly retract that part of my earlier statement. (I will edit it out above)
  13. theJello


    Apr 12, 2000

    You dont have to apologize, honest mistake.:)

    I agree double bass is much more technically demanding.
    Although I have no desire to play that instrument, I have
    respect for anybody that can do it well. If I did play
    double bass Im sure my views on electric would be different.

    The stuff we are talking about is so subjective.
    I dont think either one us is wrong or right. What is light playing to you could be hard to me. Its up to the individual to figure out what is right for them.

  14. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    "The original question was will turning up the amp and playing lighter affect the dynamic range. I suppose not, in theory - your loudest will be louder BUT so will your softest! In effect the range will be the same - just at a higher overall level. I do suspect that one may be more reluctant to pluck their hardest (when required) while the amp is at the higher setting for fear of putting the speaker through the grille or something like that. That seemed to be the concern of the original poster and I have to agree with concern."

    Not sure I understand the logic there, Rob;)

    With a higher amp level the loudest would be louder but the softest (as usual, IMO) will be just as soft... slightly louder than nothing, either way.

    I think the assumption is being made that if you play softer, generally, that you can't still play hard. You can. This as opposed to someone who goes from hard to harder.

    I also think there's a difference between doing a big Louis Johnson-style haymaker attack vs. playing aggressively with much less motion visually but maybe not sonically.

    I agree, this is highly subjective and I'm not saying you're wrong;)

  15. Well, the limit of your soft playing will be just how lightly you can pluck the string, right? The absolute range from the lightest you pluck to the hardest will be EXACTLY the same regardless of the volume setting. If the amp is louder, the loudest dynamic will be certainly louder - but so will the softest (be louder). The range is determined by how hard and how soft you can pluck.

    If your amp is turned up more, do you actually think you can pluck any less hard as a minimum? YOU are the limiting factor - not your amp. There's only so lightly you can pluck the string either way.

    Let me give you another example - you say with a higher amp level the soft will be just as soft. How do you explain that? What if I don't even turn my amp on? Do you still insist I can play just as quietly with the amp cranked up up vs. when it's turned off?! I think I can play quieter with my amp off.

    The way I see it, each of us are responsible for the available range in dynamics by way of our plucking technique. It is up to you to determine where on the scale of plucking force you want your average stroke to be, and set your amp volume accordingly.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    To go back to the original question, I think that you can. I tend to go for economy of movement and fairly low action; but will use different techniques for dynamics. So for quiet passages, I might start off playing with my thumb and palm-muting. To increase slightly, I will switch to fingerstyle and if I really want to get volume I will pull under the strings - like "popping" without the slap. Slapping also gives you more volume without having to play very hard or have a high action. So if I slap at the 24th fret on my B string it is very loud, but without any effort. My view is that for most of these techniques the important thing is that you have reasoable string spacing, so you can get inbetween, rather than a higher action. I do believe that economy of motion can allow you to play faster, more easily on electric.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree that if you use a lighter touch you can have more effect on tone and if you are just playing at the hardest al the time, then you are only going to get one tone.I often feel that tone is more down to how you actually play than any settings on the amp, for example.
  18. To Rickbass & Brad J.
    I usually play from moderate to heavy, and when needed, very light. I use the tips of my RH fingers somewhat diagonally downward. This seems to allow me to really dig in without bottoming the string. Also, when I pluck closer to the bridge, I can play harder. Sometimes I want "not" to play economically- I mean my agressiveness can come through better if my playing technique is more difficult. I think this is inclusive in the term dynamics. More projection of mood, rather than technical, maybe at the cost of better tone- I don't know!? I also use my thumb for a real sharp B or E string tone- When I mean Business! I love variety. That's why my original question on softness came up. I also incorporate Humbucking/Single coil/tone settings for different "feels".
  19. Playing with a lighter touch and balancing volume is something I am constantly working on, I have very strong hands and it is easy to just play so hard thet the string bottoms out and I drown out the band, finding that magic number some nights is hard. IMO there is some creedence to playing hard enough to have enough oomph to get a good tone and have some sustain and still have room for playing dynamically.

    Bearing down too hard with the left is just as bad a problem for me.
  20. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings