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Softly, softly...

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by yawnsie, Jul 2, 2001.

  1. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    I was reading a thread in Dann Glenn's forum, where people were talking about their practise scedhule. Anyway, Dann mentioned that he played for up to six hours a day, but didn't get tired, because of his light touch. Which got me thinking...

    How hard or light would you say your touch is when you play bass? I've been deliberately trying to play a lot softer, and I can see a lot of advantages to it. I'd like to hear some people's thoughts on this - what sort of setup do you have (i.e. a very low action?), and does it help you play better/faster

    Thanks in advance for any replies.
  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I'm a typical light touch player:
    .035-.095 string gauge, low action, light touch

    I found that when using a lighter touch you're able to play faster and you won't tire as fast. When I dig in harder my fingers and hand tend to 'lock' or cramp.
    Your tone will inprove also, because the overall volume of the played note will be more even. When you play hard, the attack phase of the note overwhelmes everything else.
    Gary Willis explaines all this very accurately in his video.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    There is some truth to that, but like most stories, there are two sides to it. For certain styles, it is advantageous to play with more force, and for others it benefits you more to play softly. Ditto the string gauge issue....thicker strings will get you a stronger tone with less "flapping", allowing you to dig into a groove without nearly as much fret noise. A lot also depends on where you are playing with your right hand as well. Since I've been playing DB as well as BG, I've noticed that certain grooves can only be gotten by digging like crazy, while others sound clumsy if you pull too hard. There's a lot of ground to cover with this issue.

    One thing I will say, however, is that no matter how you play - even if you dig hard a lot - you should strive to feel physically relaxed while you do it. I got to watch Rufus Reid warm up last night, and he was digging in like a mother****er, but looked as relaxed as if he was standing there waiting for a bus.
  4. How light is my touch? Well, compared to when I first started playing, MUCH lighter. But overall...not quite as light as I'd like it to be, but I'm still working on the whole light touch thing. Heck, compared to my guitarist/drummer/aspiring bassist friend, I've got a touch lighter than a speck of dust. Every time he tries to play my bass he gets TONS of fret buzz, and keeps asking me "How the hell do you play so CLEAN?" :D

    It always brings a smile to my face, knowing that whilst he may know a little more theory than me, and he may be able to play more instruments than me, I can still play a bass & hold a groove better than he can. ;):)

    Also, I use the same gauge strings as JMX. I used to love fatter strings...until I realized how tight they were and how tired they were making my fingers. Me being the little Chinese kid that I am :)D) I...well...I guess being a little Chinese kid doesn't really have much to do with it, but oh well. :)
  5. How light?

    About 0.0001 nanogram per square inch.:)

    No really. I don't pluck my string, I pet them. I often practice so softly that the notes are barely audible. I don't think action has anything to do with this. I play just as soft on my friend's bass which strings are sitting 1 cm above the neck. Since I play mostly over the pick-up, one thing that helps me is to have the pick up has close to the string as possible. This means when fretting the highest frets, the pick-up is about 1 millimeter or less from the strings.

    Advantages: even, fatter sound; less fatigue; less buzz; more speed; more control over dynamics; looks cool.

    disadvantes: still looking.
  6. mikemulcahy


    Jun 13, 2000
    The Abyss
    AHHHH Yawnsie dear lass, how light is my touch, how deep is my love....I can show you better than i can tell you.

    KIDDING!!!! I couldn't pass this one up.

  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    It was only when I started reading things like this in Bass Player and on TB that I started doing this and I have noticed a huge difference in playability, with lower action, lighter gauge strings and a very light touch. There were bass lines I heard on records and thought - that's just impossible, I'll never be able to play that - but now they are within reach.

    One of the things that suprised me when listening, was hearing things played fast on the lower notes of the B string and I used to find that this was just impossible to reproduce. But with light gauge Bs and a light touch I find that this is a unique tone that can be used and is actually used on a lot of recordings.

    I don't find any problems with tone - my bass has active electronics which give more than enough "bassiness" - I never put the bass on full and I nearly always use my amp settings on flat. When I was using a passive bass, I just played through a Sadowsky out board pre-amp and got wonderful tone.

    I also find that lighter touch and lighter strings help with muting techniques and things like ghost notes.
  8. rob_d


    Jun 14, 2001
    Lightness of touch is a must in developing as a bass player IMHO. It's something I struggled with and something I have to conciously force myself to do to this day. For me, when Im playing my energy takes control and I naturally push harder on the frets..almost like adrenaline forcing my fingers. But if you lay back and do the whole light touch thing you'll find you can rip out some slicker fills in your parts..and if youre into soloing you really need to use light touch. It almost seems natural, the more force you push down on the strings with the more force you need to pull it back up. That takes extra time which in reality may only translate to fractions of fractions of seconds..but when youre doing a busy funk line complete with string skipping and postition changes on the fret board, at say 140 BPM it all counts. To help me practice lightness of touch I go back to basics..pull out the ol' scales and modes, up and down 2 octaves. As you feel comforatable speed it up and focus mentally on playing with a lighter touch. Make sure to keep your playing in time. You'll notice a difference as you're able to more effortlessly skip up and down the fret board. Start applying this to any technique exercises you do, whether its doing scales in 3rds or whatever you may cook up. Then as youre playing grooves either in practice or with bandmates try to keep it in mind and if you find the music taking your adrenaline up that's when you start thinking light touch. That's what I do and it's helped my playing.
  9. i think that choosing to play with a light or heavy attack would depend on the situation you are in musically. hardcore/punk players would probably want to dig in for a real aggressive sound, while someone playing Jimmy Buffet covers may want lean toward the light/medium end of the spectrum for musicallity and flexibility. i remember reading in an old bass player magazine one time that Jeff Berlin said he once played with a very heavy attack and switched to a softer one.
  10. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I'm not so sure if some gauges or lighter or heavier touch are better suited for certain styles of music.
    Judging from my experience, light strings and light attack can do it all. I played a lot of styles with bands or projects, from punk, metal, progressive rock, blues, pop, jazz-fusion, funk, soul, drum and bass, trance and I always was able to get the sound I wanted or was required of me.
    IME, with a good bass the string gauge hardly matters SOUNDwise, and you don't have to dig in hard to get good attack.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree with that totally - with my Tobias the acoustic richness of the body wood and the active electronics more than make up in tone for any gauge of string and since I bought it I have realised that lighter gauge strings (as long as they are of high quality) don't make any difference to the tone and have been searching for lighter and lighter string sets on the Web.

    I find no disadvantages and feel that I can get more tonal variety and hugely better playability with lighter strings and lighter touch. The low B can still be earth-shakingly bassy (potentially bassier than I could ever use!) , while the G is exceptionally bright and snappy.
  12. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    Thanks for the replies, everyone. I've been practising lightening my touch for a while now, and I think I'm getting there. I can understand what Chris and Cephas are saying about certain songs or styles needing more attack, but I do think that more subtley will add to my playing.

    One thing I like is the extra command of dinamics I've got - playing softer and at a lower volume allows me to play louder if needs be, which is something I want to use in the future. However, I can barely hear my amp as it is, and one of the reasons I play with so much attack now is so that I can actually hear myself from time to time. So, I don't think I'll be making major strides until I finally get a bigger amp.

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