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Regarding A Light Touch

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Dpk126, Oct 25, 2013.

  1. Dpk126


    Oct 25, 2013
    Hey everybody.

    I've been having issues lately with too much friction between my fingers and strings. I'm trying to play decently fast hard rock/metal/punk music fingerstyle but it's difficult to play any especially quick sections when my fingers keep getting caught up.

    Obviously one solution is to just run my fingers over my forehead a few times and lube up the strings. But I have a sneaking suspicion that, while this works, I'm more or less just covering up a technical issue in my playing. Better players than I could do these sections without needing to lube up their fingers.

    I've searched the forums before, and often I hear the advice "Use a light touch". And however sound this advice may be, I have an issue with it: I don't know what it means to play with a light touch! :help:

    Can somebody quantify what this means? What does a light touch entail? Striking with a smaller surface area of my finger? Hitting the strings with less velocity? Reducing the height to which I raise my fingers before striking?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. wild4oldcars


    Jan 22, 2012
    Garner, NC
    I know exactly where youre coming from, and I too have seen this ambiguous term thrown about. As far as interpretation, I have always pressed down on the strings toward the body to pluck them, with great force. Light touch to me means, using less force, and more plucking the string (toward your face) that attacking the string (toward the pickups)
  3. zxcvbs


    Mar 8, 2009
    Rise the volume, and play softer with the fingertips, try to use the fingers straight, dont tense too much, nor bend the joints.
    Closing the pinky and the ring finger gives more tone on the playing,

    If you feel that are sanding your fingers, the action is a little higher.

    This is just an opinion, but playing fast, kills the bass. You could lower the speed and be more on sync and compact with the kick drum, to sound more blunt and punchier.
  4. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    It's definitely easier to play faster when using a lighter touch and, no, you're not the only one who has trouble doing it. It's a lot trickier to lighten up than it would seem.

    For me, playing lighter means both hitting the strings with less force and releasing them with less force. It really depends upon what you're playing style already entails. Just try to do what you're doing now, but more quietly.

    As zxcvbs stated, turn up the amp. If the amp is turned up much louder, you'll need to play with less force to acheive the same volume - in other words, you'll be playing with a lighter touch.

    I try to remind myself to play as lightly as I can, but it's hard when you're playing a gig and getting into it. Also, there are times when the sound of a harder attack is what is needed. I'd suggest trying to play as lightly as you can when practicing so that you can lighten up as needed when you want to play faster.
  5. eyvindwa

    eyvindwa Supporting Member

    Aug 1, 2007
    Oslo, Norway
    For me, playing with a light touch adds a very different characteristic to your sound. And I don't like that characteristic (when I'm the one playing).

    So, if digging in prevents you from playing lots of notes, I'd say: play less of 'em!

    YMMV, of course.
  6. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    A lot of people just beat the s*** out of their bass ... me ? gently caress her and let her moan with pleasure no need to beat her unless you like it harder.

    Playing harder also means you have a lot of finger noise and clacking from the string beating the s*** of the frets which also means you'll have to replace them sooner.
  7. castlev


    Mar 28, 2010
    New Jersey
    Personally I like to use the Dunlop guitar care kit every string change. I never used to use the "string conditioner" but if I let a guitar sit for a while, and I try to play it, my fingers fatigue and get hung up on the strings. In those cases I've started to use the string conditioner, and found that it's not a gimmick after all.

    Little maintenance issues like lubing the nut and saddles are very important as well, and are often overlooked maintenance tasks that can make a 50 dollar instrument blow away a top of the line instrument thats been sitting on a wall at guitar center.

    The fret polish cloths are amazing as well, all the oxidization is removed from the frets, and the strings bend easy and don't get caught up. The fret board cleaning/oiling especially helps to prevent your fingers from the dreaded dry fretboard friction.

    I am in no way affiliated with any instrument accessory manufacturer. You can buy that stuff from ANY of the accessory manufacturers, they all make it. The first time I actually did all of the above to one of my instruments, it was seriously a night and day difference, it felt like a brand new instrument, like glass, and my frustrations of my fingers getting caught up, then slipping, and sharping or flatting notes has ended.
  8. Moe Monsarrat

    Moe Monsarrat Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2006
    Austin, Tx.
    Endorsing artist:Regenerate Guitar Works Carvin, Micheal Kelly Guitars
    I play strictly with fingers but use a lighter touch. It took quite awhile to develop the right technique. I like high tension strings and use Ernie Ball flats on most of my basses.Digging into the strings causes a loud but squashed sounding note. Turning up the volume a little and hitting it softer produces big full warm sounding notes. It's a better blend with the other instruments IMHO.
  9. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    I can assure you, this concept isn't ambiguous in the least bit, as it means exactly what it seems to mean: Simply attack (i.e. pluck, strike, whatever) the strings with relatively little force, rather than greater force.

    That's it. No complex, esoteric, hidden meanings. :eyebrow:

  10. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    But the OP is trying to figure out exactly what a light touch means in terms of implementing it. Let me be clear that I have never, ever, ever, used a light touch when playing in rehearsal or in performance. I do however, know what it is, having used it in practice. I just can't back off on the adrenaline when in rehearsal or gigging. This after 33 years of gigging on bass. Keep in mind that digging in often = more tone, as long as you don't over-do things. That's a subjective statement for sure.

    Dpk126: a light touch is primarily executed through using less of the finger pad and in a less aggressive manner. I suppose if you are really backing off on the attack, you could use as much of the finger pad as when you are playing aggressively. But this could lead to timing issues if the finger gets caught up on the string.
  11. thewildest


    May 25, 2011
    About the implementation of "light touch", it seems we back off from wacking the strings when the volume of the bass is high. In other words, as it was suggested above, bring the volume up (beyond what you play normally with your amp/preamp) and bring it down by playing smoother, lighter, less aggressively. Just a thought, you will help your dynamics and be conscious of the pressure you give to your strings.
  12. hsech

    hsech Work hard. My Social Security needs a raise.

    Jun 27, 2012
    Central Iowa
    I get my action as low as possible and play with as little force as possible. You need more volume, turn up your bass or you amp or both. To me that is a laid back style and is comfortable on the hands all night long. I find if I use a more aggressive plucking style, it's harder on my hands over the course of a gig.
  13. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    IMO, the OP is way overthinking this thing. And he's not the only one. This thread has already shot past OCD, and gone full-blown Monty Python. :p

    However you get there, and whatever you do once you arrive, the bottom line is to just not hit the damn strings very hard! In practical terms, plucking with the full pad of one's finger is almost never acceptable technique - whether you play hard & heavy or soft & light. But that's ultimately a separate issue.

    IME, the keys to playing with a light touch - consistently - are:

    - relax
    - turn up at the amp so you'll be forced to play lightly without overpowering everybody else
    - relax
    - lots & lots of practice
    - relax
    - keep your playing action low so you can't dig in too hard without fretting out (fretlessing out?)
    - relax
    - get a nice clean "touch" on the note by fretting exactly where you're supposed to: right over the top of the fret (for a fretted bass), and just in front of the line or proper position (for a fretless)
    - relax

    Oh, and there's just one other thing:

    RELAX! :smug: :ninja:

  14. deathsdj


    Sep 18, 2010
    Wichita, KS
    Definitely something that is easier to do with a pick.



  15. Try light gage strings. They sound just as good. Like a 95 gage E string. Then get the action down low, real low. And ya don't need no pick.
  16. Don't know what rig your using, but try to play with the amp set at a higher volume than you would actually need, then control the volume with only your plucking fingers, this will help remind you to keep a soft touch, it also helps to give you more punch, but do prevent everyone in the band from turning up, or it'll become a big mess, but I guess you already knew that....
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  17. Finger-wise I'd say there are 4 ways: 1)light towards the neck gives the round sound like a string bass 2)light towards the bridge gives a smooth rich harmonically laden tone 3) hard towards the neck gives thwacky low metal 4) hard towards the bridge gives taught midrange precision- that's the one I like but why not use them all in order to be musical. I like to use a pick too and there's a lot of different ways to do that.
  18. find a right hand position with your thumb, wrist and arm that make you keep distance from the strings... When you are too close your fingers naturally are too curved, so you dig more
  19. Dpk126


    Oct 25, 2013
    Thanks for the great responses everybody, I think I get it now haha :p

    Time to go hit the practice!
  20. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I'm pretty sure that any teacher would tell you that it's important to be able to vary your attack, not only between songs (e.g., for different tones) but to create dynamics within songs by accenting certain notes more than others.

    A couple of good exercises that I've found (probably at scottsbasslessons.com) are: (1) playing a scale so that each note is progressively louder than the previous, and then back the other way; and (2) playing a riff (or even a single note) such that every fourth note -- say, "the one" -- is accented, then doing the same for the two, the three, and the four.

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