Rest strokes have killed my speed!

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by CJK84, Jul 25, 2004.

  1. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH
    After fingerstyle plucking with free strokes for years, I began using rest strokes almost exclusively about 3 months ago.

    I like the muting and raking that the technique provides. Initially, I felt like I was a more advanced bassist for using rest strokes.

    However, although I still play with a light touch, I have lost a noticeable amount of speed and I now think that I might have found the reason.

    When playing rest strokes, each of my plucking fingers is perfectly straight when it comes to rest on the adjacent string.

    And the fingertip extends well past the string - perhaps up to 3/8 inch - so that the pad of the finger is resting on the string.

    I think this is probably not the best technique and has been the source of my slower-than-desired movement.

    So ... is maintaining some curvature to your plucking fingers at all times (even when momentarily resting on a string) desirable?

    And should the fingertip be the only part of the finger that comes to rest on the adjacent string?

    Any help would be appreciated - I'm frustrated that I've hit a wall with this.
  2. I usually approach the strings from a fairly shallow angle, but still pluck them up towards my face. I end up resting a little bit on top of the adjacent string, so I can't get caught and slowed down. If you've got your wrist far from the body of the bass, like a classical guitarist, you might lower it.

    This is confusing me. I straighten out when reaching for the string I'm plucking, then I curve my finger to pluck it.
  3. AllegroNonMolto


    May 15, 2004
    I keep my fingers slightly curved(relaxed natural position) and the only actual motion comes from the 3rd knuckle from the tip of my fingers(the one that intersects with the rest of the hand). Personally though I can only consistently play 16ths at 130bpm or so having only been playing the bass for 4 months or so(I switched from classical guitar and also used primarily free strokes on that instrument).
  4. Neeto


    Jul 21, 2004
    Well, I never even bothered to think of this before...I play the way I play, and that's all there is to it. lol But I guess I have always used rest strokes. I use my pointer and middle primarliy, but I also throw in my ring finger to speed things up if I need to.
    Problem is, I can't keep it up too long. Thank goodness I don't play speed metal. If I did, I would have to get ALOT better with a pick.

    I have a tendency to play very aggressive and dig in too deep when playing, but have made much improvement all around in the last year or so as I make a concious effort to play more gently. I have found I tend to be much more accurate.

    In all honesty, I think your speed will increase with the style as you play it more. But you can also switch it up and play without the rest if you are in need of playing something very, very fast. You'll find your groove, and it'll be all good.
  5. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany

  6. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH


    Aside from maintaining curvature and resting only the fingertip on the string, should I still switch to free strokes when I want to play as fast as possible?

    Do top bassists switch to free strokes when playing fast?
  7. I wouldn't. Hitting the next string brings your finger to an abrupt halt, so you can get it moving in a more useful direction. It's quicker than letting your finger fly up into your palm.
  8. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Man! - I'm learning tons, and practicing more than ever!

    I've resisted posting 'newbie' questions every time I see a term that I don't know, and I'm definately picking-up these terms slowly, but may I ask: can I assume here that a 'rest stroke' is where your finger stops against the string above the one you sound (assuming a conventional, fingered upstroke), and that a 'free stroke' is where you 'miss' the adjacent string, and let the finger 'follow-through'?

    I can't quite picture this. I almost always hit the adjacent string (of which I'm glad, because at least that's ONE string out of five that I don't have to worry about 'babysitting' for sympathetic vibration); for times when I can't (because I want to leave the first note ringing), it's hardly a 'follow-through' - it's more like I have to pluck with more of an upward motion (like a classical guitarist) to avoid accidently bumping this previously sounded string.

    I hope you guys don't think this is more a question for a 'basics' forum!


  9. Correct, a rest stroke comes to rest on the adjacent string, and a free stroke doesn't. The classical guitar technique is to let your fingertip fly up into your palm. By letting the palm stop the stroke (or the adjacent string for a rest stroke), rather than using muscular force, you prevent excess tension. I don't free stroke much on the bass. I get the sound I want from rest strokes, and it feels awkward for me to do a free stroke with my fingertip rather than with my fingernail.
  10. AllegroNonMolto


    May 15, 2004
    Just about any classical guitarist can tell you that is absolutely not true. Higher speeds can almost ALWAYS be achieved using free strokes. During a rest stroke it requires an extra muscle movement to "change gears" after the finger comes to rest on the adjacent string. It is a much more natural movement with a free stroke. When I do free strokes the range of motion is just as small as during a rest stroke. The finger doesn't come anywhere remotely close to your palm if you are doing them correctly.

    In classical guitar rest strokes are only used for volume and tone. Faster passages are almost always free strokes.

    If you want a better explanation of why this is, try Scott Tennant's book and video, "Pumping Nylon." He does a better job of illustrating it than me.

    Or better yet, check out some videos of great classical and flamenco players. You will rarely see Paco DeLucia or John Williams using rest strokes at all.
  11. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH

    This is exactly what I've been experiencing - the "change gears" part of the rest stroke seems to slow me down.

    Thanks for letting me know that free strokes are legitimate - and fast!

    Also, is it correct to say that only the last segment of the plucking finger should be voluntarily moved when plucking the string?

    I realize that all the segments of the plucking finger move, but I mean to ask - should only the last segment be "instructed" to move (the other segments then move only in reaction to the movement of the last segment)?

    If I'm correct, this would seem to minimize motion and maximize fine control.

    Any help here?
  12. When playing the guitar, I agree. Especially when you get more than two fingers involved, as rest strokes have the potential to create a finger jam. The bass strings help me get my finger going in the right direction again quicker (they're springier than guitar strings), because the angle I pluck at makes them spring my finger where it needs to be going. I'm not changing gears, I'm letting the forces at play change them for me, with very little work on my part. So on the bass, I find rest strokes faster.

    I do agree with that. It's, as you might expect, a free feeling.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with your finger hitting your palm. You need to let your finger stop itself by running out of momentum, and not through muscular force. If it doesn't run out of momentum, it will hit a barrier. That may be your palm, or it may be your finger reaching the limits of its range of motion. I'm talking about follow through. No need to continue pulling after you pluck the string, but you shouldn't stop your finger either. If you really aren't stopping your finger before it runs out of momentum, and it travels no farther than a rest stroke would, I can only assume you don't play very loud.

    Yes. If I were playing light classical styled music on my bass (I do from time to time), I would use free strokes, and probably my nails for that matter. Usually, however, a heavy thump is more preferable on the bass. This suits the rest stroke well, and since respectable speed can also be obtained with it, that's my choice.

    These men play the guitar, not the bass. While they are both excellent guitarists, they are not bassists. Free strokes work out marvelously on the guitar, but they can (not always, but can) be a little thin on the bass. I you like the tone of a free stroke, more power to you, but just following what's common practice among guitarists is a mistake when you're not playing the guitar. Choosing bass technique based on guitar criteria is a strange and questionable practice.

    CJK84, pardon me if I gave the impression that free strokes are not valid and fast. They are plenty fast, and plenty valid. However, rest strokes can be used in fast playing just as well, which is what I was trying to explain. I recommended them over free strokes mainly because I like the sound I get from rest strokes, and I like to pluck hard. If I tried that with a free stroke I'd end up popping strings rather than plucking them. This doesn't come up on the guitar, because nails don't grab a string like a fingertip does, so I use free strokes there. Nails don't suit my bass tone.
  13. Weasley


    Jul 16, 2009
    Well, when I first started the bass I free stroked too. After a month of playing I realised I was not playing properly and was not producing a clean sound. As I got use to plucking and resting my finger on the upper string(rest strokes) I realised that my fingers were curved towards the the pick ups. I then took a RUBBER BAND and wrapped it around my index and middle finger and started playing that way. It might be akward in the first week because your fingers are so stationary, but in the weeks following you'll get used to it and may take off the rubber band. You will then notice that your fingers will reject curving to the pick ups because it was too use to getting forced to be straight by the rubber band. If you stroke with 3 fingers, this it an exellent way to fix your timing and stroke positions
  14. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I respectfully disagree. I think you're a little too black-and-white about what is or isn't done in classical guitar. Maybe things have changed now, but when I was taught classical guitar, more years ago than I like to think about, rest strokes were almost invariably used for fast scalar passages, at least in more "modern" music, and scales were mostly practiced that way. Probably to equalize the perceived volume and impact between chords and single notes as much as anything. From what I can tell, that's still the case when you want to make a single note passage punch out. You might tend to play Bach, say, with mostly or all free strokes, but not necessarily Rodrigo or Torroba.

    As for Paco deLucia, I think you're misinformed. He, like most flamenco guitarists, absolutely still uses rest strokes for fast scalar passages. You can tell by watching his hand. IME this is even more true of flamenco guitarists than of classical guitarists, because the former typically have to cut through other guitars, percussion, feet stamping, singing, and whatnot.

    But this is all by the way, because we're talking about bass guitar. I prefer rest strokes most of the time for bass because it seems I can get a better sound that way, and speed doesn't suffer. I think it's true that in the absolute sense you can play faster with free strokes--for example, listen to a good tremolo on the classical guitar, which is done with free strokes; it would be very hard and maybe impossible to play rest strokes that fast--but you can play as fast as most players would ever need to with rest strokes if you practice.

    Just my $0.02.
  15. Kevinmach


    Dec 7, 2008
    I think the speed your suffering has less to with the rest stroke itself and more to do with a change in technique that your just not used to get.

    When I moved away from freestrokes, it slowed me down for a bit too, and I can't say I've fully recovered after doing it for a few months (but it's not far off from where I was, and some things I can even play faster). That's why my answer may not sound as "definitive" as what some of the others have said about in not slowing you down- I need more time to practice it say before I would be whole heartedly endorse for it for guys where speed is the primarily component of their music.

    What I can tell you is pretty much what Rich said- the consistency in my tone and volume of the notes played- as well as the over all sound and ability to mute the instrument- has improved dramatically. To me, that's FAR more important than outright speed, because at the end of the day, you want the music to sound good- period.

    That being said, I am fairly confident the dexterity will return for both of us.

    I think it's also worth adding that if you pay close attention, you will probably notice your fair share of "slow downs" in your freestroke playing brought about the inaccuracy of not having a consistent stopping point for your fingers. I did. (For example, you draw your finger back a little further on a stroke you normally would on some random note in a sequence, and it throws off your cadence for the subsequent notes you were about to play). Because you motor through what is already a fast measure, it might not be as obvious.

    Lastly, one thing I don't hear a lot of people mention-but when you draw back to that stopping point on your next lower string, it's slightly audible percussion sound that's picked up, that momentarily thickens the note you just played and give it a nice little "thud" or punch. Whether or not it comes through as much when playing live will probably dependent on the style of music you play, but I notice it and I really like it.

    If I sound like am a "rest stroke" fanboy, I am. I would say this is the single biggest thing to improve the quality of my playing out of all the techniques I've experimented with (the floating thumb is a close second, and these two techniques compliment each other nicely)
  16. DerBass008


    Jul 3, 2009
    It's all about of followin the great advices here, there's no place else to go if you get your technique together and make your playing style unique.
  17. Gary Willis on rest strokes. Check out the whole video:
    Walking and running are different tasks, not only in speed. But you can't run as slowly as your slowest walk, and you can't walk as fast as your fastest run. Perhaps it's the same with rest strokes and free strokes. In my case, I have used the Willis three finger technique for the last 4 years and the string spacing in my basses force me to use free strokes. I haven't lost any speed or accuracy (just the other way round).