When should I use my left hand pinkie?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Cycleops, Jul 22, 2021.

  1. Cycleops


    Nov 13, 2019
    I would class myself as a beginner having come from a six string guitar which I played when younger I have now in my advanced years have decided to take up the bass, something I’ve always been fascinated by and wanted to do.
    The only tuition I can get is by looking at YouTube videos but many don’t cover the basics.
    So, do I use it as a matter of course, all the time or only when I need to? I know I need to develop strength in it so are there any exercises I can do or is it even necessary?
    I know the experts on here will have the answer.
    spatters likes this.
  2. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    That will depend on the position you are playing in and the notes you need to play relative to that position. Even something as trivial as this - the first two bars of the verse of (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay - will probably involve pinky;

    If there are notes that can be played in position with the pinky but you decide you don't want to use the pinky then you will need to either shift to a new position, use extended fingering or use a pivot, all of which will make life more difficult than it needs to be.

    But in general terms, the pinky is an equal member of the team in most established bass methods, so I would say it is essential to get it working as quickly as possible.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2021
    Bass, gebass6, Rip Van Dan and 7 others like this.
  3. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    The strength you need does not come from having a strong or powerful grip, but from having 'long levers'. The muscles that operate the fingers are actually in the forearm, not the hand. Holding down the string needs maximum pressure at the fingertip, and the idea of 'long levers' is about giving the forearm muscles as much mechanical advantage as possible. That means developing a hand 'posture' that involves long sweeping curves from your shoulder all the way to the fingertip:

    But NOT this. See how all of the fingers bunched up has shortened the levers. Here you are relying on grip strength alone, which cripples any dexterity in the hand;
    Relsom, Frunobulax, Ampslut and 13 others like this.
  4. fretno

    fretno Supporting Member

    May 10, 2009
    Los Angeles
    When flicking someone off in the Middle East. Oh wait that may be throwing a shoe.
    dr doofie likes this.
  5. squarepeg


    Dec 21, 2010
    fretno, Relsom, OldShark and 9 others like this.
  6. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    You should plan to use all the fingers on your fretting hand. Then you can automatically make the best choice for the bass line.

    I use 1, 2 and 4 predominantly. I find the ring finger is probably the least helpful of the lot and only gets used if the line can't be played any other way or for passing notes.
  7. songwriter21

    songwriter21 I have an obsession for wood. The musical kind. Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2005
    Sponsored by Hipshot
    I literally forced myself at one point, early on, to make my playing faster and more efficient (by utilizing my pinkie). It felt like a weak toothpick at first, especially as I literally would run it up and down the strings over and over, day after day, to get calluses faster (blisters weren't fun, but they hardened faster than expected). Now, I can't imagine not using my fretting pinkie.

    I slashed it at my day job once, and had to go at least a show or so without it. Well, during the second show, I put a thicker bandage on so I could at least use my pinkie a little. Making my third finger do double duty actually caused strain all the way from the fingertip all the way to my head. When my whole arm and head started aching, I said, "Okay, this sucks, it's worse than the injury pain."
    Cycleops likes this.
  8. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Here's a good YouTube video that discusses two different fingering methods, one of which ("one-finger-per-fret," or OFPF) uses the pinky as much as any other finger:

    Don't be fooled by the title: The take-home message is really that both are useful in different contexts.

    Also, if you search TB for "OFPF" you'll find lots of threads discussing this.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2021
  9. Bassclef46

    Bassclef46 Inactive

    Feb 1, 2021
    The Spider

    This one is great for strength and independence
  10. Yonni


    Oct 31, 2016
    +1 for The Spider. I still do it a couple of times a week. Up to 5th position (index on 5th fret) I use 1,2,4 and thereafter one finger per fret so the pinkie is in play more than my ring finger.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  11. Acidic Pool

    Acidic Pool

    Feb 16, 2021
    When I was younger I played octaves with my index and ring fingers but over time I've switched to using my index and pinky instead. It just feels stronger and nimbler. I even do power chords on the guitar that way sometimes, too.
    SoCal80s likes this.
  12. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    When you play bass or guitar.
    Rich Fiscus, lfmn16 and AGCurry like this.
  13. Datsgor

    Datsgor Supporting Member

    Jul 29, 2000
    East Bay, N. Ca.
    Sometimes you just have boogs that need to be addressed.
    Vitamin D likes this.
  14. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Octaves are (one) good example of a situation in which the pinky is useful: It frees up the ring finger to play the 5th between the root and octave if necessary.

    The simplest example I can think of where the pinky is necessary/useful is for playing a major scale -- or just a major pentatonic scale -- in one position.
    Acidic Pool and SoCal80s like this.
  15. As often as you can, proper technique is important.
  16. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    It's something you should develop to have when you need it. There are many ways to get things done. I might use a pinky when you may not, but it's good to have as many options as possible.

    Scotts bass lessons has a ton of free instruction videos on YouTube. He's a little folksy sometimes, but provides good info. HE has a ton of quality instructional videos on his site, but that would require membership, which may be of value to you for a couple years.
    Leigh Semmens likes this.
  17. JeezyMcNuggles

    JeezyMcNuggles Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    Just start using it. It's weird at first, but it becomes natural over time.
    Ggaa likes this.
  18. dalkowski

    dalkowski Supporting Member

    May 20, 2009
    Massachusetts USofA
  19. juancaminos

    juancaminos Supporting Member

    All the time
  20. I generally try to use one finger per fret. Not always, because that's quite a strain down in lower frets, but I do use my fingers that way when it's the best way to play certain lines.

    When I don't need to stretch to one finger per fret, I use my pinky as my octave finger (2 frets + 2 strings higher, pitch-wise).

    So I guess I use my pinky all the time, now that I think about it.
    For scale forms etc though I do one finger per fret, mostly.

    Be ready to adjust to whatever you need at any given time.

    Like every instrument when you're highly trained, it's about not straining, being flexible (in your choices, not only physiologically), and do whatever is easiest YET sounds the way you want. If stretching reduces shifting noise in a place where you don't want shifting noise (or don't want to have to shift back again after), then stretch your fingers/hands briefly to play the part instead.
    SoCal80s likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jul 30, 2021

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