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What's so bad about using four left fingers?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by JimmyM, Apr 28, 2005.


  1. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Coming from electric bass to upri...er...double bass, I learned how to play with a four-finger/four-fret span. As I'm used to it, I find myself using all four fingers. Yet, everyone says you shouldn't use the ring finger. I understand that it helps you stay in tune in the lower positions, but if you can play in tune using all four fingers, why wouldn't you want to use them? Is there some sort of hand cramping thing that can happen? Or is it a matter of tradition?
     
  2. People who say you shouldn't play with all four fingers are just jealous, there is no real reason why you shouldn't play with four fingers except for over the octave break (12th fret for us electro's). Unless you're in an orchestra and your principal's a jerk and demands exact fingering synch and plays only three fingered, don't be afraid to kick ass. Sure, the positioning and tuning ideas are semi-valid, but why limit yourself?

    While I was in University my co-bass player would always be confounded by my ease of playing swift passages in Mozart and his ilk. His general phrase would be "damn you and your electric bass transfer powers!"
     
  3. If you have Andre the Giant's hands you can probably comfortably span 4 notes. For those less endowed, either you will have to ssttrreecchh or constantly make a series of shifts to play in tune. Either way greatly increases tension in your hand and the possiblility of playing out of tune. Whereas with the more orthodox 1-2-4, you are comfortably over 3 notes and can cover the 4th with one small shift which decreases tension and the possibility of playing out of tune.

    There is always room for innovation. However, some fundamentals have remained virtually unchanged for generations for a reason--it works better than any other way. The wheel has been improved a lot over the centuries but it is still round.

    Of course, if playing in tune is only "semi-valid" then . . .
     
  4. LaurenBell

    LaurenBell

    Aug 10, 2004
    Cincinnati, OH
    I second the intonation problems and extra tension in the hand. Tendonitis anyone?
     
  5. I would ask three things:
    1. What is the mensure of your bass?
    3. How big are your hands?
    3. Are you really using all four fingers, without moving your hand at all?

    I played BG too for about five years, when I was a teenager, and naturally used all four fingers. It worked so well, in part, because the hand never had to move. I am of very average height with average hands. However on my 41.5" mensure bass (very average) I couldn't play with four fingers in half (or open) position, without rocking up and down the fingerboard, to stretch for the outer notes.

    I see nothing wrong, however with using four in the upper positions, until thumb position. It is just not the technique I was taught, and relearning all my scales and arpeggios for four fingers is a daunting task, after being away from the BG fingering for almost forty years.
     
  6. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Bass: 3/4. Hands: the smallest male hands I have ever seen. And no, I don't do a 4-finger span. My hand does move a little. A lot of the time I will use the 3-finger approach, but if I do a 4-note climb up or down, for example, going from Gb-F-E-Eb on the D string, then I will use 4 fingers and slightly adjust my hand. I figure I'm going to have to move my hand anyway, so I might as well just use 4 fingers. Instead of a shift, I do more of a roll. So far no pain, and I can do it in tune.

    You guys are giving me food for thought, though. I don't want tendonitis or CTS.
     
  7. Trying to do a four finger span at the low end of the neck on a 3/4 DB is asking for it for most people. One of the big problems is that the 3rd finger doesn't work the same as the others regarding the tenons and stuff. Carol Kaye found this out the hard way on electric bass. You really run the risk of tenon related problems if you try to maintain a stretched four finger position at all times. Around the root of the neck though, it is no worse span-wise than electric bass or 'cello, except for the increased pressure required to stop the strings. I employ a quasi-four finger approach sometimes involving a stretch plus a pivot even in lower positions if speed requires it when I do something that spans a minor 3rd like a whole followed by a half, etc. but never leave my hand stretched like that for very long. BTW I also use similar fingering in the lower end of the BG as well for similar reasons. Playing one octave major in position would yield the fingering 14/12-4/1-34. The 34 fingering helps with leading tones.

    Jon
     
  8. To put it simply, many 4-fingerers and traditionalers have made quick conclusions about eachother some time or another in their careers. Even though I used all four starting out, I am mostly a staunch supporter of the 3 finger technique. I have said in the past that the 4 finger technique is always inferior to the traditional method, but I have seen what people can do with it, especially in the areas past the fifth and before the 9th on each string, in that middle area when soloing, and I have since taken back that prejudice. But don't think for a second though that most, or at least a good portion, of traditional style bassists see no merit in the 4 finger system. Heck, I'm now fairly slick on BG and I now see the possiblilities for using the 4 finger technique on my double bass myself. The thing is, though, that I have developed my traditional method a little too much to want to change now.

    I see it as the same arguement as playing BG with fingers or a pick. I use fingers because I am a much stronger player with them, but I've tried using a pick, and dang, I can go slightly faster on one note with it than I can with fingers. However, playing a scale, it takes about a second and half to get a maj scale in if its morning and I feel fresh, but with pick, it takes about 3 or 4 seconds. Its just all a matter of how much one has perfected their individual technique.

    Or another example: There are many martial arts, but what decides who will be victorious is not what martial art, but how well the martial art is refined.
     
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Doesn't sound like the greatest idea given what you just posted. I have a goodly sized hand (9 3/4" from thumb tip to pinky finger tip), but I injured my left wrist early on trying to do what you are talking about. At this point, I use the 3rd finger to do some things down low, but it almost never involves stretching the hand. Whatever you do, be careful not to hurt yourself. I think a lot of the "don't do this" stuff you may be picking up on is not people trying to play "bass police", but rather more experienced players trying to keep you from hurting yourself. I had to wear a makeshift cast for about 3 weeks after my "accident", and that was NO FUN AT ALL. :rollno: Good luck.
     
  10. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Well, that's why I asked about it. Believe me, nobody wants to be pain-free more than me! Thanks to everyone for their opinions.
     
  11. dex68

    dex68 Guest

    May 5, 2005
    My 3rd finger serves only as backup for no.4. IOW, when 4 goes down, 3 goes down behind it (and 2 and 1, if available). This is what I was taught by Cecil McBee. Does everyone else do it this way, too?
    It seems to me that when the hand is too spread out, aside from wrist injuries, the sound will not be as good. So much sound production is about the left hand and how hard is can press the string (comfortably, now).
    Here's a little anecdote, slightly astray from the subject:
    An acquaintance of mine had the opportunity to play for Ray Brown for just a second, and asked, "How do I sound?" Ray said nothing, but just grabbed his left hand, which was still on the bass neck, and squeezed.
     
  12. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    Jimmy,

    I play both electric bass and upright bass and started playing both of them in my 40s. Being female and not super strong, I have had to pay close attention to correct technique on both basses. I do not experience pain playing and never have. Well, maybe from carrying all this stuff around, but that's another story.

    I am fortunate enough to be well grounded in Carol Kaye's electric bass techniques and you can check out her website for some good, solid playing tips and reasons for not using the ring finger that much on her website. Besides being the weaker finger, at least for me, the major problem occurs when one turns their wrist using the third finger. Some professionals believe that this can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, and you don't want to get that. The techniques I use on electric bass as well as the one's on upright (Rabbath's techniques) all involve more a 1 2 4 finger focus with less use of the ring finger. Using the ring finger in thumb position is okay because you are not particularly twisting the hand but you might be in lower playing positions. It also involves a degree of skill in pivoting, i.e. anchoring the thumb in one position and pivoting, vs. stretching, in order to play whatever one wants to play. I tried the finger per fret ideas briefly just to see what they were like and my hand was very uncomfortable and cramped. Just would not want to play bass that way.

    Have seen several people talk about playing in pain and I don't think that's the way it is supposed to me. If something does hurt, then it is best to stop doing it. You probably want to play for many years, so best to get some good techniques from the beginning. Suggest you also find a good teacher for playing upright as well. No book or DVD can really take the place of communication with a good upright teacher who can point out all the fine points of correct playing position.
     
  13. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    Jimmy,

    I play both electric bass and upright bass and started playing both of them in my 40s. Being female and not super strong, I have had to pay close attention to correct technique on both basses. I do not experience pain playing and never have. Well, maybe from carrying all this stuff around, but that's another story.

    I am fortunate enough to be well grounded in Carol Kaye's electric bass techniques and you can check out her website for some good, solid playing tips and reasons for not using the ring finger that much on her website. Besides being the weaker finger, at least for me, the major problem occurs when one turns their wrist using the third finger. Some professionals believe that this can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, and you don't want to get that. The techniques I use on electric bass as well as the one's on upright (Rabbath's techniques) all involve more a 1 2 4 finger focus with less use of the ring finger. Using the ring finger in thumb position is okay because you are not particularly twisting the hand but you might be in lower playing positions. It also involves a degree of skill in pivoting, i.e. anchoring the thumb in one position and pivoting, vs. stretching, in order to play whatever one wants to play. I tried the finger per fret ideas briefly just to see what they were like and my hand was very uncomfortable and cramped. Just would not want to play bass that way.

    Have seen several people talk about playing in pain and I don't think that's the way it is supposed to me. If something does hurt, then it is best to stop doing it. You probably want to play for many years, so best to get some good techniques from the beginning. Suggest you also find a good teacher for playing upright as well. No book or DVD can really take the place of communication with a good upright teacher who can point out all the fine points of correct playing position.
     
  14. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    jg, thanks for the info. I'll tell you though, I'm pain-free when I use four fingers, even on the upright. Sometimes I feel like an old dog that can't learn a new trick, but I'm really resisting the 3-finger approach.

    And I have read Carol's stuff about 3 fingers on electric, but I don't buy into it. If you have a good left-hand technique, you can use 4 fingers without turning your wrist. That isn't to say the 3-finger approach isn't valid...it's just not for me. Of course, you can never tell Carol that...if you dare question anything she says, she will bite your head off and spit down your neck. That's why I quit going on her forum. I love her and her playing, but I have no desire to be treated like an idiot when I've got over 30 years experience playing music.
     
  15. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Simandl taught 1-2-4 and 1-2-3 in Thumb Pos. You would figure that if he was wrong 100 years ago, someone would have fixed his mistake. Hey, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!".

    I recently watched Hal Robinson (philly Pric.) play in a Chamber Concert and he used the 3rd finger one or two times but rarely. It looked like he was using 1-2-3 to hold down one note for extra thickness in the sound. His fingers are NOT thin. He used the Simandl fingring style for the most part.

    The Bille Method uses 1-3-4. I sub the 2nd finger each time.

    If you tense up you hand stretching it for a 4-finger method, you slow down your shifting/pivot speed. That to me is much more important.

    Simandl studied with Josef Harbe'. Harbe' studied with Wenzel Hause, First Professor of Double Bass at the Prague Conservatory from 1811 to 1845.

    Check out this page; http://www.billbentgen.com/bass/bass_player_hall_of_fame.htm

    Click around and have some fun. BTW, I have a set of Books I bought while on the road in '71 by Joseph Emanuel Storch also a pupil of Harbe' (Storch-Harbe' Books exist too!).
    They are all written in German from Leipzeg. These are all Etude Books (Etuden) and one Technical studies Books. I have 5 books in all that the store had then. Heft I, Heft II, Teil I, Teil II and Technical Studies for KnotrabaB. The titles were written in English in Pencil over the Original German ones to understand. I am thankful it is mostly Notes and not Text or I would be totally lost.

    Now....... I would invite ANY 4-finger players to play any 3 excercises in these Books. These books are NOT fun. This is from Germany/Bohemia (The Prague School of Bass) from 100 years ago. Before 'Nintendo" !! ... The Real Deal.. Bring a Bag of ICE, Your hands will need it !!!!!!
     
  16. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York
    I would think that you would have to have monsterous hands to depress the string properly with a 1-2-3-4 style. If all of the joints on your fingers (most notably the second joint) are not rounded at all times you are going to get a much thinner sound as a result of the string not being depressed completely.

    If you are able to accomplish this without pivoting each time you depress a different note, I commend you - and your freakishly large hands.
     
  17. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Ken, what a great website! I'll enjoy poking around it and reading about all these greats.

    I am starting to see what you all are saying about the 3-finger technique and having to pivot to make it work. My hands definitely aren't freakishly big. They're freakishly small. Still, old habits die hard and it may take a while before I get used to it, but I guess a couple centuries of bass players before me would know better than me.
     
  18. Jimmy, do you play with your thumb behind the neck or wrapped around it?
     
  19. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Behind. I learned electric bass from Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Steve Morse Band, and he would never stand for wrapping the thumb around the neck! Besides, I would have no idea how to get any reach on the DB if I wrapped my thumb around it.
     
  20. student

    student

    May 15, 2005
    Hello Jimmy,

    probably you are interested in the new website of my bass-professor. There you can find many informations about the four-finger-technique:

    http://www.silviodallatorre.com