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Technique Decision

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by DrBone, Apr 14, 2009.

  1. DrBone


    Oct 25, 2007
    Jersey City, NJ
    I've been rather unsatisfied with my playing recently and wish to increase the fluidity of my playing, mainly right hand technique. I've been playing for around 5 years or so with a standard two finger + floating thumb technique. I've been watching some Gary Willis videos and it seems like the three finger technique he uses is really efficient and powerful, especially when it come to octaves and other string skipping licks. On the other hand I listen to other players using just two fingers who seem to rip it just as hard.

    I'm about to go on an extended technique/exercise but I can't decide if I should adopt the Willis technique or just stick with what I'm using. Picking up a new technique would set me back for a while but ultimately pay larger dividends. Training my current technique will have more immediate pay-offs but might reach a limiting point well below a three finger technique.

    Any input would be helpful, I stuck right on the fence right now...
  2. tobie


    Nov 26, 2008
    How sure are you of this? I have to ask, as some of the best guys out there are using your current technique... :meh:
  3. Mikio


    Feb 21, 2009
    Santiago de Chile
    I switched from 3 fingers to 2, because it sounds better, and I can go pretty fast with only 2 fingers x)

    PS: floating thumb sucks.
  4. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    I'd say try it and see what results you get, but also be prepared to find it unsuitable for your style and have to abandon ship.

    2 fingers + floating thumb is sufficient for an entire career of fantastic playing, i.e. Todd Johnson and a whole constellation of others, so I'm not sure you'd be out too much if the new technique doesn't work for you.

    I don't agree that you're likely to hit a wall that'll put you far below a 3 or 4 finger technique. Even Stanley Clarke did most of his stuff with just 2, Jeff Berlin is strictly a 2 finger player, Bunny Brunel is 95% 2 finger, etc.
    There's loads of improvement and ability left for 2 fingers only.

    My philosophy is use whatever you got on your body to mash the strings down and pluck em........

    I tried a 3 finger technique for a while only to discover I could barely play with only 2 after 25 years of playing. I went to the floating thumb and haven't come to close to seeing the bottom of the pit of improvement I still have to make with the 2 fingers. So I dropped that pretty quick.

  5. BillMason

    BillMason Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2007
    Three fingers is no faster or more fluid than two. Listen to James Jamerson, master of groove and tone, all on one famous finger. Just stick with what you are doing, but when practicing use your ears not your brain, don't focus on your muscles, focus on the sounds you are creating, and just let you right hand do what it wants to do to get the sounds out of your head and into your amp. Seriously.

    When I actually pay attention to my right hand, I notice that at times my index finger will strike several notes in a row, then one by my middle finger, and then alternating 1-2, 1-2, etc. It doesn't matter, what matters is the sound you get out of it. And that you're not hurting yourself.
  6. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008
    Before adding more fingers, make sure your attack is very light and gentle. Increased efficiency via a light touch will go a long way towards agility (i.e. the ability to change directions quickly) and might improve your fluidity.

    Watch some of the great BG players and note how little and how softly their plucking hand fingers move:

    Gary Willis (you mentioned him):

    Economy of motion will probably do more good than adding in another finger, initially at least.
  7. Whatever choice you make, it will come down to your practice routine and how consistently you adhere to it.

    I don't think exploring and incorporating new techniques is a potential speed bump - it's just incorporating another tool in your kit. Now if you are gearing up for an audition next week, I wouldn't be trying to alter what you're comfy with right now. But if there's no hurry, then there's no hurry and you shouldn't worry about the hurry.

    Start the exercise and see how it feels for you. You may get into it and the new technique simply may not sit right with you. Anything new will be awkward, but you should be able to determine if it's "right" for you after you give it a go for a bit.
  8. paul_wolfe


    Mar 8, 2009
    Another few bassplayers who are pretty fast with two fingers...

    Geddy Lee - Rush
    Rocco - Tower of Power
    Steve Harris - Iron Maiden

    Jaco was also a two fingered bassist - and he could play pretty fast.

    Though that's not to say you won't get better results with three fingers. I think you need to be aware that Gary Willis's 3 fingered technique will require a lot of work to have it really down - and yeah, he really kicks butt too. Some of his tribal tech groove stuff is awesome.

    Personally I'd try and improve your existing technique and build your speed up...see what happens.
  9. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Asher beat me to it. I've seen Gary Willis and Billy Sheehan both use the 3 finger technique. They are amazing players but they seem to pluck so lightly! I play mostly "regular" bass lines and they wouldn't sound as good to me with such a light attack. But that's just me.
  10. machine gewehr

    machine gewehr

    Sep 17, 2005
    I went from 2 finger to 3.Gary Willis technique is very good but its almost undoable for me.

    The reason I went 3 fingers was because of an injury and to spread the work-load on fingers a bit more.If you are good with 2 I'd suggest sticking to 2.Lately I realized I almost never use 2 fingers anymore,went back to it and man do I love 2 fingers.

    More then two years of 3 fingers,still not good enough.With me,skipping string is easier with 2 fingers.the 3rd gets in the way if you don't really work hard.

    Its your technique and up to you,but if it ain't broken don't fix it.:)
  11. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Here's the thing about finger picking techniques, just using the forefinger you have just one considerations that really applies and is fundimental, where do i swing from?
    Aside from all the other issues, this is the one to address as it is the last link in the chain because they touch the strings, as are all the positions i will go through.
    Do you swing from the knuckle joint or the 1st joint ( if we assume the fingers have the knuckle joint, a 1st joint and a 2nd joint in each finger, in each hand) or is it a blend of the two. As there is only one finger involved there are no real problems, its just playing on the up strokes.

    Introduce the middle finger and its much the same thing to address but now with alternating fingers if so desired. The issue of which finger to start on is one for the brain to sort out, its not a co-ordination thing.
    Some people find it easier to start on the index finger, some on the middle finger, it makes no difference to your hands or fingers which one you start with.
    It is a back and forward motion and that's how the brain will perceive and deal with it. Regardless of which finger you favour to start with, if you start with the one you don't favour your brain will give you that one for free and carry on with the motion of back and forward.
    This is most noticable if you start with the middle finger, after one stroke you are back on to the forefinger and alternate playing, and that's the point do you play alternate finger style 100%.

    Introduce the ring finger and now its a different game, you have a new choice, left to right or right to left, and your brain will want to get involved to add to the confusion.
    Is it easier to start ring, middle, index, and continue that way, or should you go index, middle, ring and contine that way, or start ring, middle, fore, middle, ring and continue that way, or fore, middle, ring, middle, fore and continue that way.
    How about a two finger style and the ring joining in on say changing strings or octaves, or triplets etc. The two finger style can be any mentioned, or add a new one.
    Index, ring finger is a good option as it still is perceived as a left to right or right to left by the brain as well as an alternating style by the hands and fingers.
    Why, well the ring finger and the index finger have a different nerve and muscle group to call upon, but will share action when the middle finger is involved. The hand has a great way off "shutting off" the influence of the ring finger on the middle finger.
    As the ring finger and the little finger share the same nerve and muscle group the action of curling them in to touch the palm of the hand will stop there influence. Thats why if you have something delicate or tricky to do with your fingers that requires control and precision you will approach it with your thumb, index and middle fingers with your ring and little finger tucked out the way.
    If there is a pen or pencil near by pick it up and see the action for yourself. That action is why the nerves and muscle groups are split in the hands with power and strength coming from the other side which is the little, ring and middle finger.

    Now add in that little finger and you have a definite left to right, right to left motion to contend with in four fingers.
    The motion is always easier coming from the little finger as that comes from the power side with the dexterity side following, very much like a wave crashing onto a beach, the fingers roll in after each other, a bit like galloping as used by Steve Harris of Iron Maiden.
    The one digit not mentioned is the thumb, it can blend in with any of the techniques mentioned as it is opposable to all the fingers.

    As for exercise there are two main ways to work each will target different muscle actions so give you very different results
    these are called twitch exercises and fall in to to groups, fast twitch and slow twitch response. These exercises are part of Plyometric Training.

    Slow twitch fibres are fibres that are responsible for the strength and endurance of a muscle only, and not the speed in which a muscle contracts. And a slow twitch response is defined as one where your muscles can undergo extensive repetitive contractions before fatigue, that is, before getting tired.
    So playing your bass can be considered a slow twitch exercise as it is preforming set movements with in the range of the technique being used, i.e.; the fretboard and the plucking hand. This will build up stamina and strength. This is because the fingers never get to preform the full extent of their motion, which is from a relaxed state to a fully extended state. it can be liked to training in sports where strength is foremost not speed and agility. How many weight lifters, shot putters, etc can out run an high jumper, runner gymnast etc, and vice versa.

    Fast twitch fibres are responsible for the speed of muscular contraction, and a fast twitch response is the ability of a muscle to rapidly contract to a specific distance over a short period of time.

    These exercises are target specific to speed and movement. Martial artists, boxers, sprinters, gymnasts etc., have trained these muscle groups for that purpose, thats why the do not have the muscle bulk of sportmen and woman who use predominly slow twitch exercises.

    So to your hands the most effective fast twitch exercise is to warm up you hands with some slow stretches and for five minutes. Now support the forearm of the hand to be exercised with the other hand, and hold it in front of you at a comfortable level. Now close the fingers and as fast as you can, fully open and close the fingers as fast as you can. The object is to count how many times you can do this in say 10 seconds and stop. Repeat the process with the other hand. The object is to count how many you have done in the 10 seconds and improve how many you can do, it is not about going for longer, that takes you into slow twitch territory, its about getting a faster response in the set time.

    Once you reach your optimal level and and can easily repeat the amount you can do, add 5 second to the time and now repeat the process for 15 seconds. I would say 20 seconds for each hand should be the max. for this exercise for bass players.
    If you want more info on these techniques, do a search on-line for Plyometric Exercise or Twitch Response. It goes without saying that these exercises should be pain free and done with a responsible attitude as part of and exercise programme specific to the player using them. If it hurts stop and get medical advice.
  12. deckard


    Apr 4, 2003
    Playing with 2 plucking fingers doesn't seem to slow Michael Manring down at all.


  13. The Factory

    The Factory

    Mar 8, 2009
    Don't be discouraged from examining alternate right hand techniques. Great players are ones that stand out from the crowd and strive to be unique and different, if you want to be yourself then do what you want to do. Try a new technique on for awhile, you may find yourself loving it, you may loathe it, but that's the fantastic thing about learning, if you don't like it you can move on, just because you begin a path doesn't mean you have to see it through, so I say experiment, find out what makes you happy and what gets the tone you want.
    Experimentation shouldn't be so discouraged, it should be encouraged.
  14. I say go for it. I've been using Willis' method for a long time and it blows everything else by a long margin IMO. I call it a method instead of technique because it's nothing "special", it's all about how you do it. It can be applied to a two-finger technique. If you've heard that bass guitar technique is still is in infancy, I say this is the biggest leap forward for standard fingerstyle technique and should be taught in school to newbies.

    I guess you're familiar with Willis' instructional videos on youtube. #2-3-4 are gold, from positioning to dynamics.

    Some important points:

    - Always keep your unused fingers on the strings to mute them and your fingers are ready to play. People usually start slow and increase speed gradually. Plucking speed is secondary to muting speed. The faster you can mute the string, the quicker your finger is ready to play.

    - Practice dynamics, especially playing soft. It's easy to play hard but playing soft while keeping a solid groove is another matter. That's also when you hear all the unwanted extra noise.

    - Forget about plucking direction. RMI, IMR... it's pointless. That, with strict alternating, is like telling a violin player they should never push or pull more than one note. Instead, take a piece of music and think of the best fingering and write it down on the chart like students do for bowing. You want to write down which finger will pluck but also which one will mute according to what follows. Soon enough, you'll have covered evry situations possible.

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