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the light touch

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Howard K, Sep 19, 2005.

  1. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    So, I've been playing for the past few years using the lightest touch I possibly can, and using very light action to do so. So far, so good, it sounds good, to me at least :)

    Then recently I've had two one-off lessons from great jazz teachers who have picked me up on the attack of each note, not so much the time per say (although my time always needs work of course!), but the pulse, the strength in each note.
    Both teachers said that the problem was my right hand technique when playing walking lines. They said I was plucking the strings too lightly and with an almost upwards motion, rather than than playing strong rest strokes through the string.

    The advice in both cases was raise the action on my basses and work on the solidity and consitancy of my rest strokes, to develop a stronger sense of pulse.

    Also, I think there is a clear difference between "digging in" and what I'm talking about here. Digging in is playing harder to sound like you're playing harder, I'm talking about a consistant technique.

    Of couse, I am taking this advice very seriously, and I am going to work as hard as I can to improve in this area.

    This thread isn't a "what should I do" thread (although any advice is always welcome) it's more about...

    Has anyone else had to specifically change R/H technique in this area? (I'm sure I read a related post recently, somewhere, by someone?!)

    What are your thoughts on light action/ light touch, vs higher action and playing with strong rest strokes?

    Anyone play upright too, I'm learning, how do approach getting a strong pulse in your lines there (I'm kind of aware this is a HUGE question!)

    My instrument "solution", i.e. pre the first step, has been to leave my warwick with a very low action and light gauge strings, a funky fusion type set up... and to restring my jazz with heavier gauge flats and raise the action a little. Time will tell whether this was a wise choice or not?!

    cheers :)
  2. AGCurry


    Jun 29, 2005
    Kansas City
    Well, there's a touch that's too light, and a touch that's too heavy. Moderation in all things!

    When someone sits in for me, he usually has to turn up the volume to be loud enough. Yet I am known by other musicians to a smooth player (got turned down for a gig one time because I was "too smooth"!).

    I think your teacher is on to something in his telling you to "play through" the string. It doesn't have to be a hard attack, just one that makes the statement that you WANT to play the note.
  3. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    That's pretty much bang on what he said, that other musicians, and the listener will judge you on 'how much you mean it'.

    I should mention actually, that in the lesson we (me, one other student and the tutor) swapped basses, as soon as I played a few notes on the tutors bas he said "so I hand you my bass and there's this great attack coming out!". He has much higher action, and obviously I was playing harder consciously.

    He also picked me up oneth position of the right hand, saying I played too bunched up, that I didnt have an open palm over teh strings... impossible to describe, I'm sure you know what I mean.

    I'll have to work hard at this to make it natural
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I've had the same discussions in the past with tutors on Jazz summerschool and locally - I think as you have found, it depends what you want to play!

    So - I think that for fast 16th note funk , then low action is essential to be able to get it going smoothly and also with some melodic lines - like Jaco's fretless playing.

    But for getting a good walking line it does make more sense to pull through and it's easier to do this with higher action...

    I think I decided a while ago that I would play Jazz walking bass lines only on EUB or DB and keep a BG strung with fairly low action for any funk stuff!!

    Having started playing DB a lot more, I now find that even my EUB feels to have too low an action for how I want it to be..;)

    I just now see them as two completely different things - if I want to play Stevie Wonder numbers, I use BG with low action - if it's Coltrane then it has to be DB!! :)
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Indeed, different tools of course. Dave suggetsed leaving eth thumb with the low set up and I think he's right, it's a good enough bass to still have great tone when set up really low, whereas my fender does benefit from a bit more effort.

    Actually, and this is pretty funny, Paula's exact words at Glamorgan were that my right hand technique was "wimpy" :crying:
    She did complement me on my feel on the bossa I played in the club when I bumped into her a week later in Cardiff. So it's not all bad, at least I know she meant it :D
  6. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Jaco called it "cutting the string," where you have to have an attack that makes the string vibrate enough to make a pleasing sound. I don't like clickety-clack but I can't stand to hear a bassist with a light attack because their notes never have enough definition. So for that reason, I'm squarely in the "raise the strings a little and play a little harder" camp.

    There's a time to play softly and a time to play the hell out of the bass. But most of the time you want a clear, definite sound and playing lightly doesn't give you that. If you get clickety-clack, move closer to the bridge when you play harder.

    As for playing upright, that is not an instrument to play lightly. The best sound I get on mine (not that I'm an expert but I can get a good sound out of it) is by playing about 2 inches above where the fingerboard ends, and giving the string a good pull with the side of my fingers up to the first knuckle.
  7. christoph h.

    christoph h.

    Mar 26, 2001
    from the day i began playing i used a light touch and very low action - intuitively. i also always used rest-strokes.

    later, i made the same experience. several people told me to
    "raise that action" and "dig in some more". all jazz players, by the way.

    so i think that indeed for the strong pulse that you are to deliver when walking, some more power is required. i even saw/heard people play ("walk") with one finger to achieve more consistency.

    i also believe it's important to let some of your inner confidence come through in the notes.
  8. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Interesting. I suppose it depends on the walking tone that you want- pulling through with higher action will give you a more upright-like walking tone, but guys like Gary Willis play with low action and as light of a touch as you can get, and his walking is phenomenal. It does have more of an electric bass sound to it, rather than a double bass sound, if you get me. Plenty of great tone and clarity when he plays.

    I like both. I mostly play with a very light touch and I don't use restrokes, but I occasionally will pluck with just my ring finger (it's got the most thump to it) and play all reststrokes for a thumpier tone- I do it most often on fretless.
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    There's never any middle ground with you is there? :D

    I have to admit, I like bass played with a very light touch, so you get that parpy, light sound.

    Marcus Miller has great tone and he clearly has a very light action and touch, same with some of Jaco's stuff I'd say from listening, not that I'm in any way an expert, but he sounds like he plays very light and relies on a very active sound to play tunes like teen town. Same with Nathan Watts' playing on some tracks I think?

    And yeah, I've found, from my VERY limited experience, that upright sounds need a good hard yank to sound good... keeping it up is the tough part!
  10. Ray-man

    Ray-man Guest

    Sep 10, 2005
    My dad always used to tell me (about driving, not playing the bass) that there was a HUGE difference between being aggressive and being assertive. I think your teacher is telling you to be assertive. Don't confuse that with being aggressive.

    Aggressive in my mind lacks a concept of what harm you could cause (to your sound, not your bass). :D
  11. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I guess what I'm saying is that I thinik it's very possible to play with a very light touch and get a very big sound, but perhaps with the pulse felt in the semiquavers, rather than in the crochets?

    Always exceptions tho, clearly... I'd like to hear this Gary Willis chap now :) Any album recommendations for me?

    Assertive, yes, I believe that's exactly what he meant> intersting isnt it. It's like a stage actor projecting their voice, they are not neccessarily speaking any louder, i.e. shouting, but are heard better and their voice has more impact.
  12. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Nope, there's no middle ground with me. My way or the highway. Of course there's middle ground! But that middle ground isn't a light touch when a heavier touch is needed.

    I think it's more of an illusion of a light touch so they don't make clickey-clack. I never really thought of either Jaco or Marcus as having a particularly light touch. I know they CAN have a light touch, but I always thought they had a light enough touch to not make clickeys, but not so light it doesn't cut the string.

    I will say that Gary Willis, while far from being my favorite, does sound very good with his style. But there are times I wish he'd give it a little more gas on the RH.
  13. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    His solo albums Bent and No Sweat are good stuff- he's the bassist for Tribal Tech- someone more acquainted with their stuff could make better suggestions on them than I.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I've heard Gary Willis playing 16th note funk grooves and stuff like that, but never "straight" Jazz walking lines - so I'd be intrested as well, as he is definitely soembody who recommends light touch...?
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    OK, the name is added to the ever expanding list! I'll prbably check out band stuff first, bass albums tend to frighten me :eyebrow:

    I think MM does have clickety clack a lot of the time, when he digs in at least.. I dig it. I have a feeling we're talking about slightly differnt things perhaps?
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Rocket Science by Tribal Tech has some good Gary Willis bass lines - but it's strictly fusion teritory - WR with guitar instead of sax - no walking bass lines in evidence! ;)
  17. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    When Bassically.net used to exist, you could get a free mp3 of Willis playing Giant Steps. He soloed and the bassline in the background was him walking the entire time. Maybe the mp3 is still out there somewhere.

    He does some straight walking on his video as well, IIRC- I haven't watched it in a while. In his songs, he usually doesn't walk for too long a period of time- his natural tendancy is to go into those 16th note funk grooves.
  18. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    I've had essentially the same advice from an excellent jazz teacher too. A hard or soft touch is a major tool in achieving a tone as much as anything else, in my mind. For a slow ballady thing I might turn up and play lightly closer to the neck. For driving fingerstyle funk, turn down a bit and dig in closer to the bridge. Tone, punch and drive are all affected by how hard you play, how can one approach suit all music? Another consideration is balancing your slap and fingerstyle volumes. If you like throwing in slap/pops as accents/fills, it's hard to do this without blowing your head off if your 'default' is to play with a very light touch. Action wise I go for the lowest I can get (so I don't have to whack it when slapping) that doesn't buzz obtrusively when digging in playing funk.
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Light touch is a relative term. I think some people assume that it somehow yields a light sound. Maybe, but there clearly are exceptions. There's no reason other than practice that one can't play light and very deliberately. I do it all the time. There's also no reason other than practice that one can't go effortlessly between a light touch and slapping and maintain the same volume. I do that all the time too.

    I get fret noise when I want it and when I don't, I don't. It's a control thing.

    Higher action allows you to cause the string to vibrate in a wider arc perpendicular to the pickup, which will cause a fluctuation in volume and decay. Playing parallel to the pickup lessens that effect. Dig in in a slightly less parallel fashion and fret noise can be achieved (and yes, IMO some fret noise can be a desirable effect when I want it).

    YMMV obviously