reflecting on the non-musician's questions...

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by deepbob, Oct 3, 2001.

  1. deepbob


    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    i played horn for several years in my youth, and have been screwing around with drums for several now since leaving the horn. i do not consider myself a musician, just an amateur who uses music creation as more of a religious exercise.

    i got a good grounding in basic music awareness by playing the horn in various school and organised groups for almost 10 years, but never found the overwhelming love for the horn to go very far with it.

    i picked up a practice pad and a pair of sticks later in life and have since self-taught a somewhat bizarre, extremely loose, but effective, rock/latin/funk trap set ability, now using roland's vdrums, after progressing through much old tech for almost 10 years.

    i've been slowly piecing together a small studio of equipment to keep pushing the capabilities of the VS-880EX i have (which is the funnest thing i've ever had the pleasure of using).

    so went out a month or so ago and bought a cheap dean bass and a $99 amp. with that alone, i've found myself laying down all kinds of fun tracks to drum to, even using 5 or more bass tracks side by side to create really fun and effective bass patterns with.

    i'm practicing much the way i did with drums, by playing to favorite CDs, often side by side on the vs-880 and listening to them in between takes.

    but as i sally forth down this dangerous path of self-teaching, i understand from my proper music days there are real dangers of developing habits that become impossible to change later on, while also greatly limiting your physical ability. eg robert plant's voice.

    i have already developed a habit with my right hand technique that i am fearful will cause problems down the road should i continue to enjoy playing the bass the way i have, so i'm hoping you lot here might have some thoughts to bounce off me.

    in a nutshell, i found it very natural to play the strings by side-swiping with my thumb (perhaps this is a guitar technique? i've never played a string instrument really), and using the forefinger pad to work opposite when needed.

    and for songs with a lot of long tones, i'm finding myself using that thumb for almost every note, because of it's natural ease to produce the richest sound.

    now i understand the physical efficiency of using two fingers in stereo action, for serious 16th, 32nd note riffs, it's practically a requirement, especially in excessive areas.

    i also understand the unspoken rule in music that if it works, then do it (ala dizzy's cheeks).

    but i'm wondering if i am really setting myself for failure by coming to rely more on using my thumb and forefinger as the two appendiges to drive the right hand - which is what's happening. i tend to be wanting to play quick high stuff with the thumb and forefinger, and slow long tones with the thumb, even in the highest ranges.

    the result is a very raw uncontrolled sound in the higher, quicker stuff, which doesn't really bug me, and a lot of personal comfort in producing confident, rich, long tones.

    bear in mind the more i play, the more i find myself wanting to play stuff like jamiraqui on the aggro side, steely dan on the milder side, and lots of reggae.

    but the more i play, while it is not easy, the more i find my convoluted style seems to be workable, i continue to amaze myself in terms of getting terribly awkward stuff to eventually work itself out. the only pain i seem to have over time is in my neck and back from staring at the frets so intently, so i'm assuming the lack of pain or stamina problems in the fingers is a good sign.

    but i don't want to put another year into it only to find it totally blocks progressing to thoughts like charlie hunter, phil lesh, fishbone, etc.

    can two styles be learned side by side?

    any thoughts on any of the above would be greatly apprecaited.

  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    That's very deep bob! Nice intro! :D

    I think it depends on what you want to do. I think that there are going to be things you can't do this way. Like fast muted funk groves with ghost notes etc, really require the alternating finger technique. And there are quite a few Steely Dan and Jamiroquai lines that fall into this category.

    I play a lot of things with my thumb - especially when I'm going for an upright Jazz walking bass line - kind of vibe. I will also play double stops and chords using fingers and thumb. I don't think this stops you learning other techniques and it is just a question of practice - probably best to get a teacher look at what you're doing though - even if it's just one lesson, it could really help make things easier .
  3. Yvon

    Yvon Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2000
    Montreal, Canada
    welcome to talkbass Bob,
    Like Bruce I often use my thumb also, when I want a biger deeper sound. I will also play 8th notes with one finger only, I think it sound better.

    The best would be to learn to use the 2 finger technique and the 1 finger technique, and pick and slap...

    The more technique you have the more sound possibility you have.

    Like Bruce said you could have a couple of lesson with a teacher who can sho you basic technique.
  4. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Welcome to Talkbass DEEPBOB,

    George Porter, Jr., famous funk bassist for The Meters and now with The Running Pardners, uses an almost exclusively thumb technique similar to what you describe. Anything that you can use, ergonomically, to create the sound that you are hearing in your head is a good thing. Make sure that what you're doing is comfortable for your body, avoiding injury is key. If it is comfortable and safe, than you're fine. Keep on with it. There is no rule saying that you have to play finger-style, although it is the most superior of all techniques, (just kidding ;)). Many different players have many different right-hand techniques, including using a pick. If you have found the necessary practice techniques to produce the sounds in your head, you're doing well.

    Good luck.
  5. I'm a converted guitar player, and I hated every minute of learning fingerstyle. I could play with the pick four or five times faster, and far more easily. I also had trouble with the balance of my instrument.

    But I knew I had to have 'that sound', so I sat down with the stereo every day and played along to songs, just muting the strings at first. I'd make sure to keep the fingers moving lightly and cleanly. After a while fingers were easy and I moved on to coordinating the two hands.

    After about a week I was playing fingerstyle. It was shaky but that's to be expected. Moral of the story: "BehindTheMoon is really good!"

    Oh no, wait a minute, that's not right. It's "Nothing's as hard as it seems. And BTM is really good." ;)

    If you want to learn fingerstyle just sit down and do it. Put on the radio or something so you don't get bored to death concentrating on alternation, consistency, string skipping, blah blah blah. Start slow. Keep hands relaxed. Stop if it hurts (the usual drill).

    And keep the thumb going, there's nothing wrong with that technique. I love that fat tone.
  6. deepbob


    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    thanks for all the tips guys, it really puts my mind at ease.

    i do understand what it is going to take to train myself to use the two finger method - which i understand very well now from reading other posts here.

    with a horn you can vary up how you train yourself, but doing so has serious ramifications that can be devastatingly hard to overcome. you not only have to retrain yourself a new set of muscles, but you also need to unlearn all the habits of the previous method - and many of the components of technique are interdependent in a way that can really be overwhelming when you hit that point.

    i guess i could have asked in a sentence now with hindsight: will i be able to learn the two finger method, if i already develop another method entirely.

    and from what i'm hearing here and elsewhere, i'm actually lucky that i'm doing what i'm doing now because i'm not using a pick yet (should be a lot easier to pick up later), and am adding to the diversity of my abilities by starting with an unusual method in the first place.

    this is good news. the way i approach learning instruments as a 'for fun excercise only' is to find activites with the instrument that will engage me, and that often means sloppily working thru a comfortable style, which over time draws me into the instrument, building the desire to work through the hard stuff later.

    with horn i had the opposite experience where everyone was trying to teach me how to be the tiger woods of horn, starting with highly regimented and terribly boring excercises that made me abhor the task of picking up the instrument in the first place.

    same with physical exercise. i hate situps, but i'll play soccer, tennis or swim in a pool all day. and after a few months of falling in love with the activity, the drilling is easy and something to look forward to.

    anyway thanks for the chat lads, hopefully others might get some help in the above too.


    Apr 13, 2001
    Kent, England.
    I also taught myself to play fingerstyle. I've been playing for about 4 years and for the first 2 -3 years I played exclusively with a pick. But as I progressed I realised I could play certain musical phrases and styles easier fingerstyle. The only thing now is deciding which to do, sometimes I find myself switching mid-song during practices.
  8. UK session bassist Paul Westwood mostly uses a thumb and index finger (sometimes adding the middle finger) technique- I've got his instruction video, and he manages to play fast 16th note funk lines this way - odd.

    when I started playing I used my thumb for the E string, and each finger for each of the others, as I didn't know any better :oops:

    I couldn't get enough speed and a consistent attack (the thumb gives a softer attack, I found, anyway) so I learnt conventional fingerstyle, using 2 and later 3 fingers- I found I could get much louder note volume this way too.
  9. Bass Guitar

    Bass Guitar Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2001

    Of course you can. You can always learn different techniques - it may be slightly harder, because you have to overcome your brain because it would want to do things the way it used to, but that's okay - the more methods of playing, the bigger repertoire you have to use when you play.
  10. yeah, a lot of things about the horn make it hard to play.I've been playing it for about 5 years, and I haven't quite figured out the correct way to do things that will make it sound the best. You CAN change the way you play instruments (I know, I've done it many times), but it is just harder after you've been doing it one way for a while
  11. I am also a "thumb " player, and I have been told I should try to use finger style because it looks more professional. I really dont care how it looks, as long as it works. However there have been some weekends where I have played a blister onto the side of my thumb, which got me switching to finger style out of pain relief