Rest Stroke Technique

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Jul 4, 2003.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Hello, Michael and Steve. I'm a jazz double bassist who doubles occasionally on a Smith 6 string. I was originally trained as a classical guitarist, and have applied most of my classical guitar technique directly to the electric bass (but not to the double bass). As a classical guitarist, I found free strokes far more useful than rest strokes because of the need for multiple sustaining strings in the repertoire. As a result, I got far more proficient at free strokes than rest strokes, and I have carried this tendency over to the bass as well.

    I would like to improve my rest stroke playing, as I feel it's a bit clunky at the moment, and I'd like to be able to get a more percussive sound when the music calls for it. To this end, I was wondering if you could describe your right hand position and motion when playing rest strokes so that I might be able to modify what I'm doing somewhat in imitation of a proven technique. I'm also curious as to how much you both allow yourselves to "dig in" while playing rest strokes, and how you control the extraneous noise that results from hitting the next lowest string with the finger that just played. I find that with free strokes, I can dig in as hard as I want as long as I make sure to make the string vibrate parallel to the board, but I'm not quite sure how to accomplish this with rest strokes.

    Any light you can shed on this will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Chris,

    I'm not quite sure how to describe what I do - if you were here, it'd take you two minutes to get it... ;)

    Anyway, the salient points with rest strokes are the angle at which you play the string - whether you play 'across' it or 'through' it. Also, what you do with your thumb - I tend to have my thumb resting on the string below (the one that the rest stroke comes to rest on), and turned slight towards the neck, if that makes any sense... My index and middle fingers are then angled slightly towards the bridge, with the intention that they are sitting at a more equivalent angle on the string - if you hold your fingers at right angles to the string, your middle finger is much longer, and has to bend a lot to compensate. If you're turn your hand slightly towards the bridge, the relative lengths of your two fingers is evened out a little... I'll see if I can sort out some photos of this at some point...

    Having my thumb on the string below also helps with muting any other lower strings (using the heel of my thumb) and also means that my hand position remains the same whichever string I'm on, rather than needing 4/5/6 different techniques if I left it anchored on the pickup. It also means that the angle I'm playing at on each string remains constant, so the rest strokes are more even in velocity and tone... at least, that's the idea... ;)

    WRT digging in, the biggest factor for me is where abouts along the string I am - I'm constantly shifting my hand in relation to the bridge - it's my primary tone control. Firstly, I have an arc of attack, I guess, where my hand moves further towards the neck as I move across the 6 strings, in order to even out the tonal differences inherent in strings of differing mass. but I also then change it for tone, and depending on how hard I'm playing. To really dig in I move it nearer the bridge.

    With right hand technique in general I apply a principle that covers a lot of areas of my playing - that of parameter and permutation - what are the parameters, and how many permutations of them are there? Work it out mathmatically, or physically, and then work on the stuff that works musically... you find there are loads of variations on standard technique that serve to offer alternate sounds as well as ways to remain more consistent - sometimes using the same technique on different strings is an inconsistency rather than a consistency... ;)

    have fun!

  3. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    Great post Steve! Even though I'm pretty comfortable with my rest stroke, that was very informative and well put. :)
  4. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Good question, Chris! Steve has described the technique very well so I'll just add a few things. For me using rest stroke is am important factor in keeping unused strings muted, so I use it pretty much all the time except when I'm playing chords. It seems to me that muting is more critical for electric bass than classical guitar, as bass can be pretty resonant – especially on a loud stage. I don't usually have too much trouble with noises generated from my finger coming to rest on the string, post-stroke. Perhaps this is because my stroke is pretty much parallel to the fingerboard as opposed to downward so the rest string doesn't come into contact with the board even when I'm playing pretty hard. Your free stroke training should be very useful to you in coming up with a personal style, though. I hope you'll continue to develop it along with rest stroke technique.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Michael and Steve,

    Thanks very much for the detailed responses. Unfortunately, I won't have a chance to see my Smith until next week because of teaching obligations, but I'm looking forward to trying some of the positions and concepts you have mentioned in your posts. Especially interesting to me is Steve's comment about the angle of the index and middle fingers, which sounds suspiciously like a modified version of DB technique (which would be a good thing for me!). I wonder, though, how to achieve the proper arm/wrist angle in my right hand to pull off this "angled finger" approach without putting too severe a strain on my wrist. If the bass were sitting at a more acute angle with the neck pointing a bit more upward, it would make sense...I guess I'll have to just wait until this week is over and try it out when the time comes. Thanks again!
  6. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    it is very much a modified DB technique - the question of wrist angle is an important one - some people get round it by angling their bass skywards (John Deacon, Alain Caron), others like me just find a way to make it work... ;)

  7. permagrin


    May 1, 2003
    San Pedro, CA
    Mr. Lawson,

    Very nice response, being self-taught a few years before lessons, I fortunately didn't develop too many bad habits. I worried about my 'floating thumb' (vice anchoring) since I never seemed to see other guys play that way live or on TV or anything. I've since found it's quite acceptable, and having a pro verify it is, well, comforting. Also nice to say how your right hand is the primary tone control (and volume I'd add), the angle of your two fingers to the strings, where on the string to play, tips or meaty part of the finger, etc. - all stuff I employ without thinking much about it.

    Anyway, I've never heard the terms 'free stroke' and 'rest stroke', could someone offer a quick explanation so that I might be able to get more from this thread?
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    The terms come from classical guitar technique. A "free stroke" is a stroke in which the finger which plucks the string touches only the sounding string and no other. A "rest stroke" is a stroke in which the finger which just played comes to rest on the next adjacent lower string. Both are quite handy for different reasons. Glad to hear you've got your rest strokes together!
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Rest strokes... yep, I'm still working on this, it's a suprisingly difficult techniqie to master if you spent 10+ years playing accorss the strings with a very stacatto such as I did.

    I'm getting the hang of it more and more every time I play, same with the true floating thumb thang (i.e. not at all anchored to a string or p/up).
    Toughest thing I find is playing rest strokes lightly - for some reason i really wanna dig in when I use them?

  10. I was just wondering how exactly one would use a free stroke or a rest stroke for different reasons?

    When I play, unless Im chording, my fingers always hit the string under it. Is this a rest stroke? How would one go about using a free stroke? Thanks for the reply's as Im pretty confused.
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As you mentioned, one time you would use them is when chording, or any time you want multiple strings sounding at the same time. Yet another time you might use them is when you wanted the sound of a free stroke, which is a bit less percussive and more "bell-like" to my ears.
  12. Thanks for the reply Chris, after reading your posts I started experimenting a little bit. Your right, the sound of a free stroke is a little more open, I like it.

    Something to put into a bassists bag of tricks.
  13. Justyn


    Jun 24, 2002
    Richmond, VA
    ..the magical thumb offers a host of tonal possibilities, both slap and otherwise. As I've been experimenting more and more with looping I've been trying to address the need for tonal variance in order to keep parts seperate and distinct ( I think Steve addresses that in a different thread) and I've been finding that thumb picking yields a wonderful blossoming tone for melodys and a nice muted thud for dubby bass parts. Combine it with a finger or two for some free stroke chords!

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