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Right hand technique - which fingers to use

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by skryptus, Oct 7, 2013.

  1. skryptus


    Sep 14, 2013
    So, I'm new to the bass. I've been playing guitar for a while (first in a church group, but the guitar-bug got to me fast and I've expanded far beyond church music) and have recently taken the plunge to bass (after being introduced to it in the same church group, which also got the bass-bug into me).

    So I'm now trying to define my technique, practicing some cool riffs and get the basics into my mind and muscle-memory, so I can get to the good stuff. One aspect I'm trying to evolve is my right hand technique. I know pretty much everyone advises to alternate between the index and the middle finger, and eventually add the ring finger. It's what I was advised to do when I played my first song in the forementioned church group too.

    But when I looked at my hand and the way I placed it in relation to the strings, it got me thinking - given the fingers' sizes and their position, wouldn't it be more logic to use the middle and ring fingers instead?

    When I'm playing, my hand's slightly slanted position makes those two fingers roughly the same distance from the strings, which is why I'm thinking it would make more sense. Also, when trying it, I found I could get more consistent results (hit both notes the same way) when using this technique - although I'm sure this one is more from the skill I still lack, it still makes me think it's more natural this way.

    I reccon there's a big disadvantage, specially from my background as a guitarist - even if I have my ring finger slightly developed from playing arpeggios, it's nowhere near the strength and dexterity of the index and middle fingers. But that is one of the many things I have to work on.

    My first, big, question is - is there any special reason NOT to keep on playing this way? I know eventually I should use all 3 fingers independently, but I'm asking more regarding which 2 fingers to use in the beggining.

    My second question would be - what do you guys think?
    And did you ever encounter any issues regarding right hand position and the distance between fingers and strings?
  2. Maraki


    May 2, 2012
    People have done the way you're describing before, it shouldn't hurt your development at all. Also, eventually you can also play with your pinky as well, just throwing that out there :bassist:
  3. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    My ring fingers are the least articulate, and weakest finger on the hands. I never use it to pluck.

    However, there's no best way to do it, IMHO. There's just the best way for you.
  4. I've experimented in the past with using all three fingers in strict rotation, but it's not something I do continually. I will often use my ring finger if needed, though. Playing chords, for example.
  5. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    The main reasons are anatomy, your ring and little finger use a separate nerve, muscle and blood supplies from the thumb index and middle fingers.
    The middle finger shares certain tendon functions with the ring finger. The main reason for not crossing the line, if we assume the line is between the ring and middle finger, is you are trying to meld two different groups and many different functions to operate as one.

    The main way is to develop one side then add the other to support or augment the use.
    Since learning bass music is a low demand function, the use of two fingers is questionable, never mind three fingers. Many players can use one finger, normally the index finger, or many use the thumb.....even the use of a pick is a single function use.

    If you are comfortable using your middle and ring finger then do so, just remember that the wrist to forearm line should be as comfortable straight as you can, and the angle of which the bass can played at means that finger length does not come into it. This applies to both hands. The absence of un-wanted tension is the key, that is in the hand, arms, neck, back, hips and legs.

    Posture and wrist angles are more important than fingers used when learning, finger use becomes more involved as the player develops, the two grow together through development of need rather than the notion of any particular technique.
  6. Well said, FF. There are also some bass players who approach the instrument more like classical guitar. I'm thinking of Dean Peer on Ucross.
  7. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    That's cool because a bass guitar is a guitar that plays bass, so all and any guitar techniques can be used.....if a player wants to.
    Bass parts can be sub-divided down, so actually plays the bass part is not about whether it is played on a bass guitar.
    Some bass lines are more Baritone based, and there is room to play another lower line more defined as a bass line under it......two bass guitars being used but only one is playing the bass line.:)
  8. If it works for you, do it! I'd wager it'll be much faster to go from this to playing with 3 or 4 fingers, than it is to go from index-middle to 3 or 4 fingers.
  9. amerbs38

    amerbs38 Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2012
    Santa Cruz, CA
    I played some classical guitar before ever playing bass so I was use to using thumb and 3 fingers and even the pinky on descending runs...it's whatever feels comfortable.
  10. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    If you get your hand in the right position, your index, middle and ring should basically be lining up in a straight line and be equally able to reach the strings (unless you have weird hands).

    working on independence of all fingers is good (unless you are straining and hurting them).

    Ultimately, different fingering techniques will work better for different 'feels' of bassline - throw them all in there and don't get too obsessed about one right way.
  11. G-MonRV5

    G-MonRV5 Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2008
    To me, this does seem to be largely subjective. Two bass guitar greats that come to mind - James Jamerson and Geddy Lee - are known for their predominate use of an index finger-only technique.

    I would suggest developing what feels comfortable, but also keep in mind that some techniques are more efficient than others, and some might have an inherently different sound in certain situations. (For example, an eighth-note pulse using one finger versus two or three, or picking with all downstrokes versus alternating, etc.)

    Play with it. Go with what feels comfortable, gets the sound you want, and allows for efficient movement.
  12. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    This is the key issue to me. I can see reasons to use almost any combination of digits on a given song.
  13. skryptus


    Sep 14, 2013
    Ok, so on a curious note, I'm now trying to play with the index and ring fingers, sort of for the same reason - the finger length is similar between them. Every now and then I go for the index-middle combo, to compare, but it often feels worse, with the middle finger being a few centimeters closer to the strings (which feels like either the attack or the intensity ocasionally changes between them - again I say, probably also due to my lack of technique).
    The middle-ring combination which I started this thread to discuss revealed to be a little uneffective in speed development, probably due to the shared tendon.

    Also, on a side note, I'll try checking with someone who's played bass for a while (I have a few friends that do, although I don't see them that often) about my right hand position - in order to keep my right wrist as straight as possible, I end up not being able to rest my arm that much, which strains my shoulder a bit more than while playing guitar. I'm not sure if there's a better position (I'd read that the Fender Jazz basses might not be the world's most confortable, maybe that's why), or if I just need to develop some strength in my shoulder - but as always for those of us that would like to keep playing for a long time (and who got the fear of having to quit by a wrist tendon inflamation a couple years back), I'm a bit wary of unnecessary strain.
  14. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Finger length has nothing to do with playing, it is a non-issue of sorts.
    Try this, hold you hand up in front of you and look at the palm. Now bend the fingers in......the tips of the fingers all level out at some point as the hand curls in to the palm.

    Your knuckles take any length issues out of the equation, so finger length is not an issue unless your fingers are straight....which they are not supposed to be.
    Your fingers should have a certain amount of curl in them, this is a natural position when the hand is relaxed.
    To find your ideal playing curl just bend the fingers in till the tips are level and you will not be far away from what you need to use.:)

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