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Revelation: RH Technique and the Pocket

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Kevin Hsieh, Oct 1, 2008.

  1. It's obvious that the right hand is the time keeper, but what part of the right hand technique keeps the time?

    I've assumed that it is merely the attack of the note at the right spot that is the time. Where the right hand pulls and makes the note come out is where the time is. However, it is a lot more than that.

    IMO, The process in which your hand pulls down the string and gets ready to pull the next note is where the time actually is. Your hand pulls the note and must dampen the string right before the next note in order to play. The rhythm in which you pull (note rings) and dampen (note stops) is where your time feel and your swing actually resides.

    I'd like to compare it to the drummer's ride cymbal. For example, drummers can hit on merely the 1 of the beat and leave out the triplet. Here their swing is implied. once they start hitting the first and the 3rd triplet, their swing is evident. This must be the same in the bass. Your finger pulling the string and your hand dampening the string must have a rhythm (which once you get it down sounds very much like the drummer's ride cymbal).

    Moral of my story? There's a lot more going on than just the note you play. The way your hand acts in between the notes and the length of your note is what really keeps the time and helps the swing.

    I just had a lesson and was basically told that my time is not as together as it should be, so this post is more for me. this discussion of right hand technique with my teacher and the space and motions in between notes completely opened a can of worms on me. i'm going to leave this open to discussion since i feel that this is a big issue for many of us in the rhythm section.

    p.s. the pull and the dampen shouldnt be exactly like the ride cymbal. i just used that as an analogy.
  2. gmarcus

    gmarcus Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2003
    Very good point. Don't forget that you can also end a note and create dead (ghost) notes with your left hand. The interplay between both of your hands creates rhythm. When I started to learn how to play Slap style this all really hit home. Left hand muting is used quite a bit. Its kind of like you are playing a multi toned drum. Try taking some conga lessons it will really open your eyes.
  3. Will Yager

    Will Yager Supporting Member

    May 7, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    IMO, you keep time with the left hand.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    While I agree that the right hand has a lot to do with timekeeping, I don't agree with the stopping and starting part... at least in my own concept of timekeeping and swing. For me, I strive not to stop the time by dampening the string at all with the right hand; rather, the goal is to make the velocity of the right hand motion of striking the string quick enough to be below the threshold of human perception. Some ideas about the threshold of human musical/rhythmic perception/differentiation can be found in studies like This one, although this is just the first one I googled and found.

    If the right hand moves quickly enough through the string, the illusion is one of total legato, which is always my ideal starting point for building connected sounding lines - IMO, it's easier to break up a connected rhythm into rhythmic patterns and articulations than it is to create a truly lyrical line of connected legato notes. One exercise I do with many of my students involves recording them into an audio editing program (like Audacity, Sound Studio, Amadeus, etc.) that displays a visual spectrum analysis of what they sound like when walking. One of the ideal goals to be able to get closer to is to play a line where the spectrum displays no interruption of sound.

    By way of example, I'll use a recording I did of "Isfahan" for a gear review, which can be found Here (it's the first clip).

    Here's a picture of the analysis of the rhythmic double stops section of the tune (about 1:09 of the recording, or where the double stops section starts).

    I might be misunderstanding you, but when I think of stopping the string rhythmically, this is kind of what comes to mind. Here, the soundwave definitely clips in between attacks, (hopefully) in a way that swings in part because of the release of the notes as well as the attacks.

    Next, here's a picture of the spectrum analysis of the beginning of the walking line, starting at about 2'16" of the recording (beginning of the walking line).

    Notice that when the intent is for legato connections between notes, there's a solid blue channel through the soundwave; when there are rhythmic devices thrown in, the channel narrows or closes.

    Again, I might be completely misunderstanding what you were trying to say in the OP, but since this is a subject that fascinates me, i figured I'd chime in with my .02c. :) As always, YMMV.
  5. I agree. I was focusing on the right hand part for this post. Time is kept in the synchronizing of both the right hand and the left hand. You can't have solid time without one or the other.

    I totally agree, Chris. I was focusing on the most minute parts of the right hand technique. I'm talking about the instant that the string is dampened by the finger contacting the string and getting ready to pull it for the next note. I found that my rhythm between the pull and the short instant of stopping is inconsistent, resulting in my time being inconsistent.

    What I'm working right now is condensing my right hand movements to just the basics and making every movement consistent. It's surprising how much training these right hand muscles require. I feel like we concentrate so much on the left hand and hardly worry about the right hand once we got the basics down.
  6. jweiss

    jweiss Supporting Member

    Jul 5, 2007
    Park City, Utah
    Wow, perfect timing on this thread!

    I've been working on this issue for the past few weeks. I did an audition for a combo again this year, and the audience was my bass teacher and the head of the jazz program. Although they liked my playing, the jazz program head said that my timing needed work. At my next lesson, I discussed this with my teacher and he said it wasn't my timing, but my "legato" feel - i.e. the dead space between notes. He recorded my playing to show me what he meant.

    (not sure if it matter, but I play fretless electric, not DB...)

    Anyway, as was said above, there is a small fraction of time between when your finger first touches the string to pluck and when the note rings out. If your timing is ok, your brain forces you to strike the string slightly before the downbeat so that the note rings at the right instant, all without much thought on your part. But that gap gives your sound a choppy feel. Take a look at this recording from Audacity - top track is drums/piano and bottom track is me playing. It shows two beats. The red line indicates the ride cymbal (downbeat).


    In my case, I was spending too much time with my finger on the string, so the gaps were too big, just like Chris said. It's been a difficult thing to work on for me, but you've probably been told before to think about plucking "through" the string - that seems to help. Also, it helps me to visualize my plucking finger striking the NEXT STRING UP on the downbeat (e.g., if you are plucking the G string, visualize your finger hitting the D string on the downbeat).

    This is definitely taking a lot of consious effort on my part, but I am definitely making progress. Any other tips for working on this would be greatly appreciated.


  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Not to me. The physical motion is different, but the issue is the same.

    First, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one using Audacity to help visualize this issue! It's really helpful. The thing that has helped me to deal with this issue started as a bit of a conundrum: how can it be that on one hand (no pun intended) it makes perfect sense to try to make bigger motions at slow tempos and smaller ones at faster ones, while on the other, to strive for a consistency of attack at any tempo?

    The answer (for me, anyway) was to think of there being a "snapping point" at which point the right hand (and by connections, wrist, elbow, and even shoulder) comes through the string very quickly. A good analogy is in archery, where there comes a point where the fingers must release the bow string quickly, consistently, and smoothly. This can be done after a quick draw of the bow, or after a more calculated and slower draw. In either case, the release should be the same, or the flight of the arrow will be thrown off.

    To bring the analogy back to the bass, at slower tempos, the right hand makes a fairly large orbit (either a circle, or as I like to think of it, an ellipse) and then releases quickly at the right time to come through the string; at faster tempos, the same thing happens with a smaller motion for the return of the plucking finger to "attack position", but in both cases, the release motion should be the same and with the same velocity. The volume and intensity is then controlled by the downward angle/force of the arm weight as it goes through the string. I try to play "through the string" by making sure the plucking finger starts on the fingerboard right before striking the string, then carries through the string and remains on the fingerboard until it hits the next lower-pitched string. In addition to creating a consistent motion and tone, I feel this also helps the string vibrate in a consistent axis to the shape of the fingerboard and allows it to vibrate more freely. Not everyone agrees with this concept, but I like the way the results sound.

    Of course, for fretless electric, this won't work because you're typically not playing over the fingerboard, but the rest of the concept (size of motion is variable, but the release and "snap" is consistent) could still apply.
  8. Snerek


    Jan 12, 2007
    very interesting thread.
  9. jweiss

    jweiss Supporting Member

    Jul 5, 2007
    Park City, Utah
    Hey Chris - thanks for your advice!

    Yeah, having a cheap, simple recording interface and Audacity has been incredibly helpful. I've gotten in the habit of practicing something I'm working on for a while, and then when I think I have it, I record myself a few times on the computer. Since I practice through my computer using studio monitors, it's really easy to do. Amazing how many times I think I have something down until I listen to the recording :)

    I think the same idea applies for electric - try to make that string plucking event the same duration regardless of tempo and thus regardless of your motion before/after you get your finger to the string between notes/beats.

    I can reduce that gap to close to zero now on the recordings, but the change in my technique needed to play "through" the string faster is causing me to tend to pluck too hard - for some reason my brain seems to think that pluck fast means pluck hard too :) So now I'm going back and working on that.


  10. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I dunno guys. Academically, it's important to acknowledge that the string rings out later than the pull. OTOH, it seems like you're putting the cart before the horse. IMO, a good pulse needs to come from the internal drummer, and the note that rings out must match with the downbeat. String pulls are dynamic and dependent on the tempo, volume, and touch/feel you're trying to impart. Sometimes the pull is slow, sometimes it's fast. To me, the key is that the note that rings out much match with the pulse. The string load (or pull) that precedes it must be accounted for automatically and dynamically to match the pulse. I think I would completely miss the boat every time if I thought of the string load at every down beat. My consciousness needs to sit at where the string gets released.

    Adjusting to the types of string pulls needs to happen automagically with the intention of lining up with the pulse. It's very similar to martial arts to me. A microcosm of distance and timing at every note played. I think Chris knows what I'm talking about.
  11. Oric


    Feb 19, 2008
    Georgetown, Kentucky
    I don't understand, why would you want your hand in your pocket while you play bass?
  12. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
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  13. This is a great post! It is why I like this forum. Thanks Kevin for starting this post and thanks to Chris for some very valuable info.

    Although I don't teach music, whenever someone asks me for help or how do you do this or that, I always suggest that they record themselves.. Recordings don't lie, they are a great way to get a reality check as well as positive feedback.

    The program that shows the wave forms is great! Visual and auditory pedagogy at the same time!
  14. My Metronome broke last night while practicing. Seriously? My time is that bad?!
  15. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    I've posted this in other threads, but if you are looking for ways to record, the Oct. '08 issue of BP has a roundup of eight handheld records.

    Kevin, some of them have a built-in metronome. :)
  16. Panurge


    Oct 12, 2007
    London, England
    Rufus Reid seems to advocate ( I'm not his spokesperson and would dream of speaking on his behalf) that the time is actually in your elbow, as in your whole arm swings in time, and your fingers follow. He called it the "Chicken Wing", and I've found in time that he was entirely right. I start practicing by warming up my "wing" at 60 BPM, playing the beat, and then keeping the same "wing" motion I double up the tempo, so I pluck twice as fast as this arm movement I'm making. The whole Rufus Reid DVD is really good to explain this, and as far as sound waves go, all I have to say is that Ray Brown and most other outstanding players never analyzed their playing to such an extent. If you can't hear it, friends, then maybe you should reconsider your involvement in music. Not that you can't play, but, really... analysing your wave-lenghts? Come on...
    When you walk, notes should have full value. If you play funk or rock, I'm a strong believer in leaving a gap for the snare-drum, but in jazz, generally, you'd aim to fill all the gaps, as much as is possible on upright bass. That being said, and perhaps achieved, your soung is yours to create, and there are definitely instances of short notes that are quite tasty.
    You are the judge, in the end. Don't trust any of us wankers on the forum...
    Take it easy...
  17. jweiss

    jweiss Supporting Member

    Jul 5, 2007
    Park City, Utah
    My teacher's suggestion, and it was a good one. Give it a try, I"m sure you'll learn something about your playing that your ear never noticed.


  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    It's a teaching tool I use with my students to make them more aware of their note length. For many of them, being able to see the length of their notes compared to other players is a very effective way to get a point across. If I risk appearing fussy or ridiculous to others in order to get my students to become more aware of their degree of sustain, connection, and the release of their notes, that's okay with me.
  19. Panurge


    Oct 12, 2007
    London, England
    Can't this be achieved by just listening to yourself play? Or even to a recording of yourself, in context? I'm not being arrogant here, gents, I'm just saying that the process of looking at a schematic representation of your wave lenght is a long way to realise your notes should be longer or shorter. Should we add that low freqencies travel slower, and so in the same line of though we can produce our sound 36 microseconds quicker so it is perceived at the same time in the listener's ears? I'm pretty sure a comparative graphic representing the sound at the source and the sound as perceived by the listener could help us with this...
    Students need to learn to use the one tool that makes a difference in the long run, the one that is their worst critic and their best friend, ladies and gentlemen, THE EAR.
    That being said, I have been guilty in the past of lining up samples using their wave representation, so...
    Make of my opinion what you will, in the end... it's only my opinion...
  20. of course listening to ourselves is important, but the human ear can be deceived. also, if we have multiple ways of analyzing our own playing, from mathematical to pure instinct, wouldn't it be for the better?

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