Raking when descending ?

Discussion in 'Ask Adam Nitti' started by jelpo, Aug 28, 2009.

  1. When I move from higher pitched string to a lower string, I almost always rake. I use the same finger from the high string to the low string. How bad is this? It seems to work well for me, and when I try not to do it, that slows me up. But is this a bad habit I should work to overcome anyhow, and if so what's a good way to break this habit?

    Oh and thanks for joining TalkBass, it's really great that you are here.
  2. adamnitti


    Nov 29, 2001

    hi jelpo-

    thanks for your post. any of you who have followed any of my technical articles in bass player or online will probably already be aware that i believe in working hard at developing technical 'headroom', the idea being that you have more technique available to you than you will need in most situations. with respect to plucking fingering alternation, i really strive to shoot for perfection when it comes to working on this in the practice shed. as i always say when asked about technique, you should practice technique 'for technique's sake' in the shed, but when it comes to performing or practicing your performances, you should not be thinking about technique at all. when you perform, you don't want to be conscious of or distracted by things like your hand positions, alternation accuracy, wardrobe awareness, etc, etc... instead, you want to be free enough to play in a way that allows each note you play to be spontaneously inspired and executed. there should ultimately be purpose behind every note you play, but of course, this is something we work towards over the long haul. we work on technique religiously in the shed so that the benefits manifest themselves naturally in our playing over time.

    ok, so that's the basic philosophy, but let me try and answer your questions more specifically. let me first start by saying that raking is never a "bad" technique, per se. it is a technique that lends itself naturally to descending motions across the bass strings because it follows the natural motion and direction of the plucking fingers when we sound the notes. however, it should never become a limitation. in fact, _most_ bass players employ raking when moving in descending motions across the strings. however, my goal in practicing is to always try and eliminate obstacles and limitations. i happen to be really obsessive and anal-retentive when it comes to practicing. i always try to make sure that i am executing every exercise perfectly before moving onto the next iteration, variation, etc... in the area of plucking hand fingering alternation, i decided a long time ago that i wanted to address both raking and alternation as separate entities in my practice routine. in other words, i wanted to have enough control and mastery of each technique so that i could freely choose between either, regardless of the shape of the line or phrase i was playing. in order to come to grips with this, i had to first realize that i didn't have enough competence in my alternating yet to NOT be able to rake descending. so... i embarked on a campaign to become equally adept at both.

    now for those of you wondering, 'why would this even matter in a performance setting?', that's a fair question. the answer is that there are benefits to using both techniques, and limitations to both techniques.

    for example, it is nearly impossible to play a phrase that utilizes string-skipping while descending across the strings by relying on raking, for example if you played a phrase that included notes on the G string that were followed in sequence by notes on the A string. at fast tempos, there is no way to rake when string skipping without hearing the 'hiccup' of your raking finger brushing against the D string in between that is not being played. this becomes even more evident when you have to skip not just one, but 2 strings in a phrase, for example, if you had to play notes on the G string that are followed in sequence by notes on the E string. most of us have never even practiced lines like this, so we would have never realized that this might expose a weakness in our technical facility. on the other hand, raking is often a superior technique when it comes to phrasing, because even though you could play the same notes using strict alternation, the sound and feel of the line is actually influenced by the way in which we rake. raking does, in my opinion, possess its own sonic 'attitude' that is hard to duplicate with strict alternation. these are just 2 examples, and i could mention several more, but suffice it to say that this is further evidence why you should have mastery of both approaches so you can accommodate ANY situation or technical challenge.

    for most of you, the raking will come to you more naturally than the strict alternation will. that means you have to elevate the level of your alternation chops to the level of your raking chops for starters. so... how to practice? well, i would recommend that you start with simple permutations or scalar approaches that are already familiar to you, only instead of paying most attention to the fretting hand, now watch your plucking hand and make sure you are alternating strictly in both ascending and descending directions. if you do this properly without error, as long as you play each note in the pattern only once, you will end on the same plucking finger you started with. i guarantee, you will be surprised how difficult this will be to do perfectly. but you have to force yourself to slow things down TO A CRAWL so that you can monitor your plucking hand as closely as possible. in fact, i STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT YOU KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR PLUCKING HAND DURING EACH ENTIRE EXERCISE. i promise you that in most cases you will not even be aware that you are making alternation errors with your plucking hand at slower tempos unless you watch your hand.

    jelpo, the fact that alternating 'slows you up' means that you just need to practice it more, and this will require some discipline. however, i can assure you that the technical payoff will far exceed your expectations.
  3. OrionManMatt


    Feb 17, 2004
    I totally need to sign up for a few Skype sessions with you. My word.
  4. adamnitti


    Nov 29, 2001
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