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peter washington's right hand

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by sean p, Aug 15, 2003.

  1. sean p

    sean p

    Mar 7, 2002
    eugene, oregon
    i just saw peter play with bill charlap here in eugene. i found his right hand technique original and curious and asked him about it after the show.

    he uses his index and middle fingers, but only in conjunction. that is, sometimes the middle finger lays over the index and the skin of the index finger does the playing. at other times they switch and the index finger lays over the middle, which does the playing. effectively, he's only using one finger at a time, but perhaps with the force (muscle) of two. for accompaniment (sp?) he plays with the index finger (on the bottom), saying it produces a darker sound, whereas for solos he reverses them, for 'speed' and because it's a little brighter.

    just thought i'd share. i like peter's recorded sound (on tommy flanagan's 'sea changes') a lot. anybody else playing with technique like this?

    sean p
  2. can't really comment on the unusual technique - never seen it elsewhere, and can't even make my own hand do it to see what it feels like.

    but very curious to hear your impressions of his sound live. I also really love Washington's recorded sound, and wonder what if he get's essentially the same sound live. What sort of bass did he have and did he use any amplification?

    BTW, he's a really good pairing with Bill Charlap. In particular, the 'S Wonderful CD is lovely stuff. Must have been great to see live.
  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I sometimes pluck using the index and middle fingers, or even index, middle and ring fingers as a single unit. It's good for getting a nice big pizz thump if you're playing Latin styles, but of course isn't meant for speed.

    I've never layed one finger on top of the other when playing that way, though.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I've seen that technique used a few times before, but I'll be damned if I can remember exactly where. What's good about that technique is that it takes the motion entirely out of the fingers and places the emphasis on the wrist, arm, and shoulder for the pizz stroke motion. This is the same basic stroke I learned from Rufus, and I use it almost exclusively now (albeit in my case with only one finger at a time).

    And the "middle finger for speed" thing makes perfect sense: something about that finger makes it balance better for faster tempos when you are drawing your motion from the wrist and arm (maybe because it's in the middle of the hand? :D ). When I play tempos up much over 300, I always use just the middle finger until I start to tire, at which point I'l mix things up and use whatever will work to get through the tune. And agreed that Peter's sound is beautiful.
  5. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    This is interesting, cuz I noticed this when I saw him w/ One 4 All in KC, and it made me feel good, because this is my basic stroke. My middle finger actually takes the brunt of the weight, with the index finger providing extra weight. I do also use the one finger index stroke as well, and can alternate on fast tempos, but the other is my default. I developed it years ago, and my teachers all said it sounded so good and it wasn't hampering my technique that their was no need to change it. When I went down to study with Lynn Seaton, I became less self-concious about it, although he encouraged me to learn the other pizz strokes for variety.

  6. really interesting stuff, this!

    perhaps someone (Chris? Monte?) who understands this type of pizz stroke could take a shot at a slightly more detailed explanation? How exactly does the backup finger bear against the business finger? how rigid are the fingers held? and how is it that this stroke tends to rely on the shoulder-arm-wrist for the movement more than on the finger? I am only sort of guessing here because I don't really understand this based on the above. Is it simply that two fingers are being bundled as one so the finger plucking motion is naturally limited, requiring one to drive the stroke from further up the arm?
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Exactly. When I see bassists playing from the finger (i.e. - when their fingers bend at the middle or even the first knuckle with each stroke), I almost never care for the tone, which seems thin to my ears. When the knuckles become immobilized, the onus to produce the motion is passed further up the arm to the wrist, then the elbow, then to the shoulder.

    Try this exercise:

    * with your right hand in pizz position, bend your index finger as if plucking a string, then go find the muscular source for the motion by feeling your forearm with your free hand. You should find the very small muscle being used at the end of the index finger's flexor (sp?) tendon on the inside of your forearm, about halfway up.

    * next, place your middle finger on top of your index finger, and move your whole hand up and down as a unit at the wrist, then trace the muscular source of the motion. You should find the source to be the large group of muscles of the forearm right inside the elbow moving en masse to produce that motion of the wrist - so at this point, you've moved from a small muscle group to a larger one.

    * next, keep the same finger position, only produce the wrist motion from an up-and-down motion of the elbow. When you do this (which is much easier to demonstrate in person, unfortunately), you've moved the muscular source all the way up into your shoulder, chest, and back, since these are the muscles that control the upper arm being raised and lowered, and the upper arm must be raised an lowered in order to move the elbow in that manner.

    Now, at this point, you are using a very tiny motion of a very large muscle group to produce the pizz stroke. Before, with the finger, you were using a very large motion of a tiny muscle group to produce the stroke. So where with the finger only it takes a very high percentage of the muscle's capacity to produce the effect of the stroke, with the shoulder it only takes the tiniest fraction of the muscle's capacity to do the same, and with plenty of gas left in the tank should you need it. Does that make sense, or does the internet make this kind of discussion pointless since no demonstrations are possible?
  8. no. your internet explanation is really clear. You have elucidated the big muscle/small movement vs. small muscle/big movement logic quite well.

    As it happens I am just now reading Gerhard Mantel's book on Cello technique, which discusses these concepts in excruciating detail. (Not this kind of bass pizz specifically, but the physiology and kinetics of big, central muscles supplanting smaller, more peripheral muscles.) An interesting book, BTW. More than a little is applicable to bass playing, with suitable adjustments to the specifics. worth a look for anyone really into this level of analysis of physical technique.

    Still, I can't seem to get my fingers to double in the manner explained above. Maybe that's just because they are too short and stubby. In particular, 1 over 2 is pretyy well impossible. 2 over 1 almost works. Will try this again at the bass in practice session later today.
  9. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    When using the middle finger and index together, imagine if the two were taped together side by side. This is my basic stroke, which uses the middle finger on the string and the first finger beside it for weight, at about 85% parallel to the string. The pull comes from the shoulder and back. When I use the standard one finger parallel, the thumb acts more in a pinch mode, which makes the majority of the work coming from the hand and shoulder, which acts like you are working a hand pump. It's a lot easier when you can see it, especially with Lynn Seaton showing you the one finger pizz.

    Neither is better, and I like having both. I find the two finger/ middle finger one serves me well with up tempo bounce, and the one finger for a rounder more sustained ballad style. I'm still working on the Mingus one finger flamenco that he did so well.

  10. tried this at the bass last night, and it works well for me. Easier to do at the bass than in the imagination or in explanation on the internet.

    thanks guys.
  11. Up-and-comer Ben Allison, who won many categories in the recent DownBeat magazine's critics' poll, also plays his right hand pizzicato with his middle finger on top of the index that pulls the string. He told me it's his trademark style, which was also done by Mingus.

    Recently, I took a couple of great pictures of Peter Washington that shows his right hand approach very clearly. If Chris or Don or someone could tell me how to post them to make them accessible here, please let me know.
  12. I've fallen into the habit of using my middle finger for walking lines, but I don't double it with the index. The index works almost as a counterweight, makes things feel looser. When I play with my index alone, I tend to tighten up.

    On fast tempos (especially about the time the tenor player is taking he 12th chorus) I'll periodically switch from index to middle as my muscles tire.

    Charlap is going to be in Chicago next week, and I'm hoping P-Wash is going to be with him. A beautiful player.
  13. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    You're asking me? How do you think I got the name Donosaurus?
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Are you still here?

    I'm afraid I must also admit that, while not as venerable as Don, I also happen to possess many of the same antiquated skill sets pertaining to computer technology. Try to get in touch with John Sprague about this - he seems to know what he's doing when it comes to attachments and images.
  15. I did catch the Charlap trio with Peter and Kenny Washington yesterday afternoon in Chicago. A great set, worth the 1.5 hour drive.

    I chatted with Peter for a while, and he confirmed the right-hand technique described in the first post. I noticed that he keeps the right-hand pinky and ring fingers curled all the way back to his palm. He used the same technique whether playing a ballad or a 300+ bpm burner.

    Peter was playing a beautiful recently acquired mid-19th century 3/4 German bass, which he had strung with Velvet Garbos. He told me that until recently he was playing a big bass with a long scale, and that he was having a ball playing this smaller bass.

    He was using a Realist going to an amp which I could not identify, but he also had a mic going to the house. The sound was extremely big and warm, but never boomy (exactly the kind of sound I would love to produce out of my bass). I was sitting in the front row directly in front of Peter, so I was probably hearing mostly the acoustic sound of the bass (this trio knows how to play soft).

    Beautiful playing by the entire trio.
  16. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    Interesting stuff Mike, thanks!!

    When I saw Peter with One 4 All in Kansas City this spring, he was playing a 7/8 (large) Hawkes Panarmo strung with Helicore Hybrids. His sound was a little thin compared to some of the recordings.

    He usually travels with his own amp, which is a SWR California Blond acoustic amp into a Realist.

  17. He wasn't playing through a Blonde -- I think it was a 12-inch combo, and the controls were on the rear of the cabinet. He had profesional recording-style mic (sorry--brand names aren't my strong point) that I assumed belonged to him, because I've never seen it used at the Showcase before.

    His sound was defintely not anywhere near thin! It had that big cushiony sound that provided a rock-solid foundation for the trio -- never "out front" or guitaristic-sounding. If there was anything to be desired, it may have been a hair more definition.

    BTW: As soon as I got home, I tried the double-finger techniques he showed me, and really it does make a difference in tone.
  18. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    Well, I wouldn't exactly say his sound was thin; just thin compared to recordings. It lacked the roundness that is on most of his recordings. I would tend to blame the strings, because he doesn't sound that way on "Live at Smoke".

    I wonder if he was borrowing an amp. I'm sure he travels with the California Blonde; he took it from a flight case.

    Peter Washington is just the man. He fits in so many situations and always has great lines.

  19. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    I met an elderly gentlewoman, kinda grandmotherly, at a gig a couple of weeks back, and she started telling me how much she loves DB, it's her favorite instrument. We talked about the obvious players; Ray, Milt, even Mingus. Then she said, "You know who I REALLY like, maybe you've heard him...Peter Washington". Kinda blew me away! We've had some good talks since then. Some hip seniors out there.
  20. rplat


    Sep 16, 2003

    Maybe i'm at the wrong place here, but i didn't see much about the right hand at the newbie-links. I play double bass for almost a year now and the first 9 months i mostly spent on my intonation by playing with the bow.

    Now i play a lot with my fingers, but i can't get to an acceptable speed, because it's much harder than on a electric bass and my arm is just getting tired.

    Is the only solution practicing with a metronome untill i reach an acceptable speed or have i missed something important?


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