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Plucking techniques for tiny fingers?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by BaileyJ1221, Mar 30, 2013.

  1. BaileyJ1221


    Mar 30, 2013
    Hi, I've been playing double bass in my orchestra class for almost a year (I played cello for 3 years) and I've started jazz bass lessons. I have tiny hands which makes plucking really hard. I've tried plucking with the sides of my fingers, but since they are so small I can't get a grip on the string. Does anyone know another technique I could try so that I can protect my fingers and make a better sound?
  2. Think about playing from your whole arm and back, not simply with the finger; Rufus Reid's book and DVD are great for understanding how to go about this. Also, watch Esperanza Spalding; tiny hands and playing a whole lot of bass.
  3. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    It's good that you have a teacher because having someone there in the room with you is invaluable. That said, try using the side of your first finger. Rest that finger on the string and then pull your entire arm across and through the string. As chubbyjackson said, use your finger, hand, arm and back as a unit. Stay relaxed and use the weight of that unit to your advantage. I honestly don't know what you mean about gripping the strings because I've never thought that way. It takes time so be patient with yourself.
    Watch this:
  4. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Plenty of fantastic double bassists have small hands. The great Neils-Henning had a pair of the smallest hands I've ever seen on a double bassist, and played the bass like it owed him money.

    One often overlooked aspect of tone production is that it is not merely a physical or technical issue. If you don't have the sound in your head, your hands will never deliver. Are you actively listening to the masters, and going to hear local players in person?

    Also, the "best" sound is a combination of perfect intonation as well as focus and clarity. Don't get frustrated; this takes a long time.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I've never thought of NHØP as having small hands, but I can agree completely with the first sentence of the above. It's more about how the totality of how the leverage is applied; even the smallest of normal adult human frames have enough force in the core to produce enough force to play the bass. For a long time I worried that I was too thin and light to be be an effective bass player with a big sound because all of my jazz idols were large framed people with thick hands. Now I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

    I once saw an interesting concert with Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall playing duos all night. Mike Marshall has HUGE hands, and Edgar has smallish hands. It was really interesting watching and listening as the HUGE hands navigated the tiny mandolin and the small hands made mincemeat out of the large bass.
  6. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    this is the second time I've told this for folks who think they are challenged

    I love Eddie Gomez's playing and had for years when I went to one of his clinics at the U of Miami about 20 yrs ago

    when he walked on stage I was amazed at what a small fellow he is and even more amazed at his playing as his hands are quite small as well

    I don't think HE's challenged - go get some Eddie & be inspired
  7. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    I've got a picture on my wall of NHOP and moi comparing hand size. My hands had an entire joint plus on his, and I'm pretty average-sized. To top it all off, he played with all four fingers on the left hand with impeccable intonation. It was a revelation hearing him up close without an amp, especially playing Bach. Ju-Fang has bigger hands, and she's quite petite.
  8. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    Cherish that picture! I remember going to a lesson several years ago and telling my teacher that I felt my small hands would limit me, that I would never be as good as him. His response was to hold up his hand and putting my hand on his, discovering that they were a near-perfect match.

    The most important factor in getting a good sound is not hand size or upper body strength, but the tone we hear before we coax it out of the instrument. We must first have a strong idea about our ideal tone and then go about adjusting our physical approach, and to some degree instrument until we begin to hear it when we play. Of course, it takes time and that ideal tone develops over time as we build strength and tough skin.
  9. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings
    Take your time as you build up some callouses on your right hand. You can absolutely get ahold of the string and pull a good sound. Experiment with pulling ACROSS the bass, using the weight of your arm to help you. Think "pull" not "pluck" Don't underestimate the role of your left hand either. You must bring weight to the string in the same way that you do when using the bow. If you focus on really getting control of the string with your left hand, and effectively employ the weight of your arm, along with the muscles in your back, you'll get a great sound.
  10. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I'd take a serious gander and Chris' right hand technique vid:

    It doesn't matter if you have small hands - you need to be pulling the strings with the meat of your fingers. Watch any of Ray Brown's vids and you see him pulling with the side of his finger. It doesn't take much to get a fatter sound. Take your time and the callouses will come. Remember that blisters can be part of the game so you will have to figure out a way to manage them given your skin type. As with everything else, it should be relaxed as much as possible, and as the others say, you have to figure out how to bring other parts of the body into the mix - arms, shoulders, back, even legs.

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