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upright bassist moving to electric - Technique help

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jarop, Sep 7, 2008.

  1. jarop


    Sep 7, 2008
    hi :),
    I'll try to keep the introduction as quick as possible, but basically i'm an upright bassist (playing everything from classical to jazz to rock on it) moving to an electric bass, mainly for jazz and rock. My main problem is - my technique is shocking which is causing 2 big problems.
    1) Buzzing frets - I recently purchased a yamaha RBX-375, which is a fairly decent 5-string bass. I'm playing it basically as i bought it and while i think that the somewhat terrible strings may be contributing to the buzzing fret problem (as well as incredibly low action, which i need to get fixed), i have a feeling that my technical work may be contributing to this in both right and left hands (picking or plucking). The worst contributor to this would have to be my plucking, which in all honesty is shocking when there are frets there. What would be a good way to get around this? how should i be looking to adjust my bass?
    2) Quick AND strong left hand movement - Now, i'm pretty confident with my playing around an upright, i can play virtually everything up to thumb position (only around Bb) with very strong fingers that don't collapse or anything, but i'm finding it really difficult to give my fingers the strength they need to hold down the notes properly on an electric (this links in to the first problem again), at all parts of the neck, while allowing for difficult and faster things like hammer ons and quick bending. What would be some good pointers for my left hand technique? Are there any good web lessons or videos i can look at?

    Thanks (and sorry if i've missed any obvious threads pointing all this out)
  2. Make sure your not pressing on the fret or in the middle of the frets - you should be just above it (e.g. look at the talk bass banner haha).
  3. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    One of the things I've seen in upright players who play electric is they approach the new instrument with the same sort of technical intensity and power that's required to play the old one. Because electric bass is solely an amplified instrument, you don't need to worry at all about volume production - that can be created by the speakers. Acoustic instruments don't have this luxury. Technique, therefore, is primarily concerned with getting a "clean" sound, or a "big" sound" or being able to control the quality of the sound rather than the volume of it.

    Let's assume your bass is in working order (new medium-light strings, medium-low action) Play a major scale (no open strings, though), using whatever fingering you're comfortable with, and play it slowly. Focus on your right hand first, and try and see how lightly you can play on the strings. Remember, you shouldn't be thinking "softly", because if the volume coming out of you amp is too soft, you can just turn the amp up. You don't need to dig into the strings at all with your arm like you might an upright bass with high action (chicken wing), the technique is all in the fingers. Being able to play each note clean and legato while also playing lightly is going to be difficult at first, but its an important goal to shoot for. All of your tone production comes from the right hand, and so it's a very important aspect of technique to cultivate.

    The same principal then should apply to the left hand. On a fretted instrument, there isn't any timbral different between a death grip in the left hand vs. a dainty touch - all there is, then, just just your ability to move around on the neck. The amount of pressure you'll find that's required to fret a note without it "fretting out" is VERY small. A whole heck of a lot less pressure than is required on upright. Practice playing that major scale now with focusing in on getting your left hand to play with the very minimum amount of pressure. Remember to fret the note only slightly behind the fret itself, not directly on top of it. Once you get both the left hand and right hand working like this, you'll plainly see that the amount of pure physical strength to play electric is exceptionally minimal. Gary Willis says that because of this, he thinks of electric bass as a "finesse" instrument.
  4. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    An adjustment in the action i.e. raising it, may make a huge difference in addition to using a lighter touch with both hands.
  5. Juniorkimbrough


    Mar 22, 2005
    Mississippi / Memphis, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland Basses
    IMO, thinking backwards since I just picked up playing DB after playing electric for years. Pluck with a slightly lighter touch and since you have played DB for a long time I'd recommend raising the action. I prefer a higher action than most people in order to have some room to dig in without fretbuzz which allows me to play with a bit more dynamics than if I had low action.

    About fretting, personally I'd recommend not trying to fret hard...like the above poster said, play closer to the fret itself instead of in between the frets. this way you should be able to use a lighter touch allowing your fretting hand to move faster.
  6. E2daGGurl


    May 26, 2008
    I'm concerned about Point 2 (the finger strength issue). You've got to have strong fingers if you can fret a DB, so it's troubling that you're having this problem with your bass - maybe it is set-up. I have two basses, and I'm a girl, and don't have that problem at any point on the fretboard. My notes sound like they're supposed to, even if I can't play them quickly (or I play the wrong one!) I can fret a Bb easily on my Fender Jazz. It was a little harder on my Ibanez, btw, and I've played some basses in stores where I couldn't do it - so maybe that's your bass. But if you're talking about basic pitch and intonation - well, you should be able to fret a Bb, I'd think, without feeling like you're clamping down. One thing I love about my Fender Jazz (yes I love it) is that I can use such a delicate touch. My fingers aren't exactly weak (years of piano and typing and finger exercising) but, well, if you can play DB, you shouldn't have this prob. with your electric. Others may know more about this, just my opinion.

    As to plucking, I eventually learned to basically roll my fingertips around the string in a plucking-motion (most of the time), and I'm not really plucking much, per se. I've tried to play DB and there, I had to PLUCK. For some songs and styles, I do pluck harder - but that is actually sort of rare now. I play mostly jazz, blues lines, basic rock and roll, folk - no special effects or shredding here.

    Not that some people don't use a strong plucking style (see threads on styles) - I can see that some people reach around that string and really pull it out on their electric basses, but when I do that, it sounds like teeth gnashing. I'm trying to sound like a big ole double bass, but I don't have the stamina or stand-up ability to play a double bass.

    One thing to do is to go to a music store and try again on a bunch of other electric basses and see if you have the same problem on all of them. Just a thought.
  7. jarop


    Sep 7, 2008
    I tried a few of those points and I'm fairly confident that it was things such as pressing too hard combined with the dodgy yamaha strings and the incredibly low action (as i was getting fret buzz even on open strings) That was causing me greif. I tried easing up on how hard I played and that made a world of difference. It's amazing how being able to press so little gives your hand shape so much more freedom. Once i get my bass restrung and the action raised (by the sounds of things a high(er) action sounds right for me) hopefully this will fix the problem. I'm glad to hear that it wasn't just my technique causing me to play so poorly :p

    My plucking seems to be more of a hit rather then a pluck, but i've seen some threads around that may give me some general guidelines so that won't be something that big to worry about.

    Thanks a lot for the feedback :)
  8. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Coming from DB, the "Floating Thumb" technique might come naturally to you. There's a "Sticky" about it at towards the top of this forum.
  9. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Floating thumb has virtually nothing to do with upright pizz technique. It'll certainly help with his right hand, though.
  10. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    I always thought the straight wrist technique used in the FT was "borrowed" from the technique used by DB players. It certainly looks similar to me.
  11. one thing to focus on as well is practising it slowly and then get up to speed,...

    if you can't play that line cleanly slow it down until you can then just work it faster bit by bit (metronome helps)

    I'm trying to learn metal/ fast jazz bass lines, the harder and faster I try it the more it ends up a sloppy mess,... relax and just go what your comfortable with (in this light, watch some youtube of victor wooten,... he does some crazy things all whilst looking like he is just floating his hands without any force at all...)
  12. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Having a straight wrist and relaxed wrist is just having good form, no matter what instrument you play. Beyond that, the fundamental mechanism of the playing is very different. An upright bassist uses his entire arm to pluck the strings, and unless he's doing a lot of complicated soloey stuff on a bass with low action, he's not going to be using his fingers much at all in the actual plucking. Floating thumb on electric requires you use ONLY your fingers, and don't use any of your wrist or arm in the plucking. The arm and wrist are used to "guide" the fingers into position, nothing more. Furthermore, an upright bassist's arm and entire plucking mechanism are usually held at about a 30 degree, 45 degree angle to strings to get the most "meat" of the fingers into the string as possible. This is impossible on electric for a straight wrist, and the entire arm has to compensate by playing at a 90 degree angle, where a lot less of the meat of the fingers can dig in
  13. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Thanks for that. :) I knew the DB technique was different from the EB, but had n't realised it was so different.
  14. Grinky


    Oct 16, 2007
    You've got strong fingers, confident on a DB but you've trouble fretting on a EB? I'm pretty damn sure the action is way too high on your EB. There is no way a properly set up EB can be harder to fret than a DB.
  15. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    DB is a much more physical instrument to play.
    You can relax, and work a lot less.
    You don't have to maintain "claw hand" with your left hand, and in fact that can be counter productive. As you've noted, electric bass setup can be much lower than DB; therefre, you can easily fret several positions at once, or very close to-depending what your personal style allows.

    I find myself "overplaying" electric after speing a bunch of time on DB; and the reuslt can indeed be your over-zealous (for electric) right hand technique causing strings to bounce off the end of the fingerboard.

    Play light and easy!
  16. huckingfuskie


    Aug 4, 2008
    i reccomend studybass.com

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