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Newbie Question - Fretting Hand??

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by nula, May 1, 2010.

  1. nula


    May 4, 2007
    I'm confused about the fretting hand position.

    Most tutorials tell me the position should be pretty much as for regular guitar: finger tips on the fretboard, fingers arched, wrist as straight as possible.

    But when I watch other players, they seem to be not arching the fingers at all, but rather the fingers (and all or most of the hand) seem to be laying flat across the strings, not arched using fingertips. I know a bit about muting, but if this is the reason (a) wow, that's extreme muting, and (b) why are we always told to arch the fingers, without mention that later we often won't?

    Here's an example from a master to show what I mean. Look at how flat his fingers/hand seem to be on the fretboard...

  2. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Sir Paul is a master at groove and creativity when it comes to bass playing, but he's definitely not the most "technically correct" player. Of course, if his way of playing works for him, that's what really counts in the end. But if you are looking for advice on what's considered a "correct" technique, that's not the best example to follow.

    There are exceptions for many situations (specially regarding the "one finger per fret" technique), but that's the basic hand position you should acquire as a foundation for your playing (IMO and IME, of course).
  3. victor wooten: whatever works for you works, as long as the pitch and your ability to maneuver aren't being compromised
  4. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    I would add to this and say: if what you're doing doesn't hurt or make your hand sore later on, you are probably ok. I try to keep my thumb in the middle of the neck but it drifts.

    About 18 months ago I returned to stage playing after nearly 17 years' absence. I had the strap for my Ricky 4001 bolted to it after a horrific dropping incident (way back in the 1980's) and I had adjusted it for my comfort at the time when I weighed about 140 lbs. I had gained some 30 lbs since then and the position of the bass wasn't right anymore. After that first show I found my right hand was in some pretty serious pain. Looking at myself I realized the bass needed to drop a couple of inches and once I did that, all was fine. So, pay attention to how comfortable your hands are and if something is bothering you, you have the "official" technique to guide you to make it stop hurting. Damaging your hands playing with bad technique will make you miserable and ruin the pleasure you get from music, as well as your health.
  5. Learning the correct technique means you'll be comfortable when its absolutely necessary for more complicated parts but you'll find a lot of advanced players will slouch when playing simple stuff. It's a bit like Ussain Bolt walking to the supermarket.
  6. Chris K

    Chris K

    May 3, 2009
    Gorinchem,The Netherlands
    Partner: Otentic Guitars

    IMHO we should be reluctant giving newbees the 'whatever works for you'. That's definitely masterclass material.

    For newbees: claw grip, thumb pointing to the ceiling, wrist rather straight, but not cramped. No concessions until they have gotten somewhere. The problem is: novices ;) may acquire flaws/bad habits that are no problem for beginners, but will turn out to be barriers to progression later on.

    If you strap your bass to a 30 - 45 degree angle, you should be fine.
  7. wade_b


    Jul 8, 2008
  8. RockStarsMusic


    May 1, 2010
    Huntington Beach, Ca
    Bass Instructor: RockStars Music Studios, Huntington Beach, Ca

    It definitely depends on what type of line you're playing whether the fingers should be arched or flat. If you're slapping, most of the time you'll want a flat hand so you can mute the string you don't want played. Also, if it's a line that mostly stays in a few frets, keeping the fingers flat helps you stay relaxed, which prevents cramping. Unless it's a really complex line, moving across strings, using scale patterns and all over the place you can use a flat hand. It's good for muting purposes, keeping your hand relaxed, and making your fingers long (if you've got short fingers like me) to be able to reach across the whole neck if you've got a five string... that's just what I've picked up. It's called economy of motion... and curled fingers use muscles, flat fingers don't.

    Good luck!
  9. Chris K

    Chris K

    May 3, 2009
    Gorinchem,The Netherlands
    Partner: Otentic Guitars
    A weird argument, IMHO.

    Press hard on your strings, first with curved fingers, then with flat fingers. Which way gives you a sense of power en control?

    What you say about techniques with flat fingers is true, certainly for slapping, but all of that is for advanced players. The OP states the guy is a newbee. Let's try to give him tips fitting his state of development.
  10. queevil


    Aug 6, 2009
    Start slowly and pay attention to what you're doing and how it makes your hand feel. Concentrate on relaxing your hand. You can't? Try lowering your action. If that doesn't help try lower tension strings. You want that hand to be as relaxed as possible. Pay attention to the height of your bass when you're wearing it. Using a strap everytime that you play will help keep the bass at the same angle and height everytime that you pick it up. Avoid extreme wrist angles in either hand. I play fretless mainly so I play more with the tips of my fingers so that I can have more control over my intonation. When I play a fretted bass I usually play a little more flat fingered.

    I've heard other bassists talk about how crappy they think McCartney's technique is. None of them have and probably never will have a career in music.

    It's possible to use the wrong technique in a given situation. As an example, straight downstrokes using the thumb usually won't work well in a technical death metal band. Of course, their are exceptions to every rule.

    I think the only purely bad technique is one that is detrimental to the health of your hands. You're new so start slowly to figure out what works and what doesn't and most importantly, have fun.
  11. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Experienced players will violate "good technique" all the time. but for beginners establishing healthy habits is worth the energy. Classical bassists and pianists are always taught to curve the fingers...over the centuries, there is probably valid reasons for that...

    I believe that curving your fingers forces you to fret with fingertips, thus encouraging a focus on accuracy, whereas flat fingers might allow you to barre without thinking about the exact note you are aiming for.

    I also believe arching the fingers is healthier in the long run, but I have no medical or ergonomic expertise to cite, personally.
    the best argument I have heard goes like this:
    every bent knuckle puts stress on your joint and tendon at that knuckle.
    The more knuckles you bend , the more evenly across the whole hand you are distributing that stress. \
    bending at one knuckle means more stress on that knuckle than you need.
  12. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Chris K you have hit it right on the button.
    Mambo4 you have it spot on curved fingers is the best technique. It is about loading stresses through the joints not about loading them over or past them.

    Example stack a pile of pennies up nice and square and even, now pick them up and pinch them in between your thumb and forefinger right down the middle of them.... they stay stable. Move you fingers to the edges or get some of the pennies out of line...they explode. That force they explode with is called loading stress.
    Most finger injuries caused by loading stress concern joints, and saggital band failure to handle the loads.

    The link is not for the squeamish by the way.


    Since the fingers are the slimmest part of the upper arm line, and are controlled by the big muscles in the forearms, and can be maneuvered by the bigger muscles of the the upper arm and shoulder, then they will come under large load pressures in there lifetime.
    So minimise this with correct technique from the start, develop that habit now because at the start is when the hands are at their most vulnerable, because they are about to try something new. :)

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