The stretch/shift boundary of fretting hand technique.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BehindTheMoon, Nov 11, 2001.

  1. A lot of times I have seen the nice simple slogan, one-finger-per-fret. And keep-your-thumb-behind-the-neck. But most people don't do that when they play. All of the players I most respect use shifts and slides to get where they are going, and have their thumb either hooked over the top of the neck or close to it.

    I have always thought this is bad technique, but since then I have seen John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Geddy Lee and any number of lesser names doing precisely that. And sounding fantastic, of course.

    So, my question is, why is it that the one-finger-per-fret myth is continually pushed when a completely different approach has been used to play so many of the great bass lines?

    Obviously for some lines one-finger-per-fret is the best approach to take, and equally obviously most of the time this is not the case. And the don't-hook-your-thumb-over-the-neck-at-all "rule" has been shown absolutely unneccesary by players who play and sound better than those using the "correct" technique. If you are stretching four frets or playing scales with no shifting it's necessary to keep the thumb at the back of the neck, but for many lines it's simply wrong.

    My approach at the moment is to use a three-fret reach and shifts to play many lines, and use one-per-fret for anything I can't do that way.

    Your thoughts, please.

    Disclaimer: I'm not claiming in any way that one-finger-per-fret is bad technique or in some way inferior. I can also see how it may be necessary for players of extra-string basses to play with the thumb on the back of the neck always.
  2. ya, i just got my six string yesterday, and have no chance in hell of playing any note on B(beside open) with my thumb poking its tip above the neck. its just to damn big!

    and, about your question, i dont really know. i just think play how you wanna play. if you find a new way to play that better, easier, better sound, etc. start playing like that. music is an art, and there are no rules to making art.
  3. the people you mentioned above as not using the one finger per fret technique also play moslty 4 strings or 5 strings at the most. i'm not saying that a 4 string is easier it just doesn't demand as much from your fretting hand technique as an extended range instrument does.
  4. My opinion:
    one-finger-per-fret: most of the time but not always
    keep-your-thumb-behind-the-neck: yes, except when the lower horn gets in the way

    I do keep one finger per fret most of the time, but I don't limit myself to just that. Where the frets are far apart, I only cover 3 unless I have to cover more. Where the frets are very close, I often cover 5 or more frets.

    I prefer to keep my thumb behind the neck because I find it to be more flexible, although I can't really do it up high because the lower horn gets in the way. I first started paying attention to this after playing 6+ stringed basses in music stores. I noticed that after playing a Conklin GT-7 for a few minuets (which forced me to keep my thumb behind the neck) I could play faster and more comfortably on my four string (a Fender P). Now I play a six-string, so it's pretty much a necessity.
  5. air_leech


    Sep 1, 2000
    the bassists mentioned in your post are damn rich.
    I assume that you don't have the money for a good chyropract as theirs and thus I recommend you to play with your thumb behind the neck.

    now really, I guess theres no rule of thumb (ah, you got it, it's like a word game...) as to how to play but you could prevent injuries if you follow certain rules.

    also, keep in mind that these bassists you mentioned started playing bass before the outcome of inproper technique was medically researched.
    don't get me wrong, any of the guys you mentioned could eat me up for breakfast and still have room to swallow a horde of Fieldy wannabees, but I don't think that fame and success can justify everything a person does or else we'd all be doing drugs all day, playing like the bassist from Travis and getting [email protected]*&#s from a fat girl in a blue dress.
  6. Matthew Bryson

    Matthew Bryson Guest

    Jul 30, 2001
    I think that this was explained well in a beginers bass book / CD that I have - (re: thumb on the back of the neck) something to the effect of: You should always practice this way, it is good form that will serve you well for _almost_ all of your playing. (not an absolute rule - a guideline if you will) Personally I have found that when my fretting hand gets very tired , but I want to finish the song, if I allow my thumb to come off and keep my palm against the back of the neck, using my thumb to fret on my 5th string. the different angle causing my fingers and muscles and tendons and such to be in different positions gives my aching hand a little rest without stopping playing. When I had first started playing I was watching a buddy play a gig and I noticed his bass player doing this late in the night - in their third maybe that's what he was doing. It's an ergonomically incorrect position that is generally less comfortable but at times is more comfortable just because it's different. So I think of it as lazy technique- I wouldn't play that way as a style, just when I need to.
    I think my rant on one finger per fret would to similar to get into ;) but I will say it's a good way to practice technique - doesn't mean that it's the only way to play though.
  7. If I'm learning a song, reading a chord chart or trying to read notation, I will keep my thumb behind the neck and use the 'finger per fret' technique. I have a better chance of catching the next note coming at me when I use this technique.

    Once I have the song down, I'll do what ever is comfortable. This usual means more slides and position shifts for added effect. I'm not as concerned about the next note because I know what it's going to be and I have a better idea how I'm going to get there.

    As far as getting carpsal tunnel -- it seems to me you would have more of a chance to develop wrist and hand problems if you stuck stringently to just one technique. Using the 'thumb behind the neck, finger per fret' technique is probably more demanding than resting your palm against the neck -- at least that way your wrist is straighter. Anyway, I think the main key is just to keep your arm, wrist, and hand relaxed.;)
  8. This seems to make the most sense to me, if I play 'finger per fret' style for an extended period of time my wrist will be sore for hours. I end up playing this way a lot out of necessity but when I can get away with it I play with my palm against the neck.
  9. if you're using the thumb behing the neck technique and become sore all you have to do is counterpose it. if it's bent back at you then stretch it in the opposite direction.
  10. Two things from upright bass technique have been helpful for me: 3 fingers in the first few frets and pivoting on the thumb (behind the neck, naturally).

    I do strictly one-per-fret except up around the 3rd/4th fret. Then I switch up to 3 fingers, but using the thumb like an anchor and pivoting up to get the next few notes. That way it's like one-per-fret, but you just have to rotate your hand around the thumb. Then when you want your lower notes back, you just rotate the hand back up and you're in position.

    I play fretless, and this matters a lot more there. But it can't hurt for fretted either, no?
  11. Thinking about it, I am growing increasingly more convinced that I need both techniques, and the ability to swing between them without any change in feel.

    More practice!
  12. I stick strictly to the thumb on the back of the neck technique. When I switched from guitar to bass all those years ago, and for right or wrong, I looked at classical players - violin, cello, etc - for technique inspiration. They all play like that so I concluded if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.

    OK, those instruments are not bass guitars. But guitar / bass tuition always calls for that technique so I set about learning it. I couldn't play with a hooked thumb now even if I wanted to.

    I also think the left hand technique is governed by how high a player wears a bass. The lower down the body it is, the more difficult a "correct" technique becomes: a bass slung waist high makes this all but impossible. Also, a longer top horn puts the majority of the fretboard across the player's body because the body of the bass is further away. That makes covering the majority of the f/board with the "correct" techinque that much easier. Likewise, a neck angled towards the shoulder of the player's fretting hand makes "correct" technique easier. All this is, of course, IMHO and each player naturally has his / her own preference.

    I always use 1 finger per fret from 4 upwards, covering 1,2,3 with all four fingers.

    The real difficulty with "correct", IMHO, is that the wrist has to be bent at peculiar angles when fretting low down and high up, putting strain on the wrist joint.

  13. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    If you have problems with your wrist while using the behind-the-neck technique, you wear your bass too low IME.
  14. No. I don't have problems. But I don't think I explained what I meant too well. I was just saying that with a bass worn lower down coupled with the technique itself, the wrist bends at peculiar angles. I'm sure that's given many bass players CT Syndrome and other problems.

    I wear my bass chest high to counter that and because it feels most comfortable and natural there.


  15. Regarding the thumb on the back thing, after a nice practice session today where I did a lot of looking and thinking, I do keep the thumb on the back of the neck all of the time. What changes is the angle of the thumb and the angle of my fingers, and the position of the palm to the back of the neck.

    If the bass is kept low, the only sensible technique to use is to have a small reach (2-3 frets) and do the rest using shifts. Then the wrist angle isn't a problem.
  16. red-hot-bassist


    Sep 18, 2001

  17. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Good technique is the result of paying attention to ergonomics.
    When you understand how the muscles, bones and tendons work, you can use that knowledge to optimize the mechanics of your playing.
  18. I like what you're saying, JMX, that's super advice for us all.:D

  19. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    my bass teacher hates it but in main position i use 1 -23-4 finger [2&3 together] but then up higher i play 1 finger per fret. Thumb in back of the neck though-ever since i got my 5 thats pretty much i have to play. thats all
  20. I don't know about the rest of you, but my position seems to switch rapidly. Whatever lays the least stress on my wrist is the position I play. If its a quick song I make sure I always use the one finger a fret position.

    If I am new to a song I will ALWAYS use the 1 finger a fret position and stick with my thumb in the "correct" position.