Yet another pizz technique thread

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Alvaro Martín Gómez A., Aug 28, 2005.

  1. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Hi everybody.

    We started talking about this on the BG side, but it was like hijacking another thread (my fault) so I decided to start a new one in the right place.

    This is about the pizzicato technique. I'm primarily a bass guitar player, but I studied double bass during five years at the university with a Polish master and he taught me the most important things for a classical DB player (with German bow), but never talked about pizzicato. Only when the repertoire had some pizz passages he told me how should I play them, but never told me about playing jazz or something like that, so I'm kinda self-taught on DB pizzicato technique.

    I've always seen that most jazz players anchor their thumb on the back of the fingerboard and play with their fingers parallel to the strings. I've tried that and I feel really uncomfortable. I know that it can be solved with a good training, but again, I never had it. In this thread I'm posting a link for downloading a video with an excerpt of a gig I played at the beginning of this year with a chamber group and let me know your opinions about my pizzicato after watching it (no arco here). I'd like to know if it's definitely wrong or if that's a valid approach (I know that nowadays hardly anything can be labeled as "wrong" in music, but at least take into account the minimum standards). Some of you may say that I pluck the strings the same way as on bass guitar, but I disagree with that because on BG I pluck with a downward attack, like pushing the strings towards the fingerboard. The sound produced by this is unpleasant to my ears on double bass (at least with my fingers). For DB I pluck with an upward movement, like popping the strings but not so hard so they won't snap against the fingerboard, or just a little at certain moments.

    Some warnings: The piano isn't well tuned, you can get a glimpse of my uncontrolled (awful) vibrato and the audience claps at the end, which shouldn't be since this is a chamber suite and this isn't the final movement. The public is just starting to know about that stuff here. (I'm pretty sure that most of you have heard this. I won't tell you what is it - surprise)

    There are many mistakes during the performance, but the most notable (for those of you who know the piece) happens at 2:35. There's an unexpected 4-second bass solo part because the pianist's brain just blanked and almost made me lose my control.

    This is a 5:41 long performance and the video is 56.8 MB big, so please be patient. Aside from your opinions and/or criticisms, I hope you enjoy it. Thank you in advance! :)


    Please notice that the file will be available for seven days only and for a limited number of downloads (I don't know how many).
  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    It sounds good for that (Bolling?). In my opinion it wouldn't be meaty enough for jazz. Your BG technique is more along the lines of standard jazz bass playing. Eddie Gomez uses a more perpendicular approach to the string and I believe uses his 1st 2 fingers together when walking.
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Looks like classical pizzicato with no follow-through to me. Because my sound card is kaput, I'm guessing that you're probably getting a thinnish, thumpy sound (if you're pulling hard enough). I'm also guessing that you can't get much speed that way, especially at at any usable volume.

    You're best bet is to get a lesson with a jazz player, and one that plays your sort of setup -- either steel string or high-action gut. From learning to pull a proper sound out of the bass you'll have the breadth to get any kind of sound that you want.

    It also looks to me like the bass is a bit too low, causing you to hunch over quite a bit to play it. Also, you seem to put all of your weight on the one foot, which probably causes you a sore foot at the end of the night (for now) and hand and back problems down the road if you keep at it. The strict arm position and Simandl hands are admirable, but if you were studying with me I'd be trying to get you to loosen up a bit.

    You also appear to have some tension when you play. This could be partially habit as well as attributable to your body position.

    My 2p.
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I just noticed your location, so my 'get a jazz teacher' advice might be a little hard to follow. Apologies for that.

    If no one else jumps in, I'll write out what it is that I do. I have a social enagagement and have to run out right now, though.
  5. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Thank you for the quick responses (please keep them comin'!). Ray, many people have told me the same, but I just follow my master's directions: "You get the right height for the DB by sighting the instrument's nut when standing straight and in playing position: It should match your left eyebrow". I think it's hard for me to change that right now.
  6. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    I know this thread isn't about playing position, but I had to respond to this part. I too used to line up my eyebrow with the nut. Then I read an article by Gary Karr (need I say more). He says to adjust the height of your bass by hanging your right arm straight down (no bow). The right hand knuckles should line up with the bridge in good playing position. This will get you a little closer to the bridge when you play, but your sound will project more. Listen to his recordings and you will know. ;)
  7. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    That seems pretty low to me -- it's how I used to do it. Since then, I've put the bass up higher and it's far more comfortable now. I just got back from a 4 day jazz camp, and out of the 4 other DB players, including faculty members John Geggie and Kieran Overs, NONE of them had their bass as low as I had it initially, and for good's just too damn low, it'll screw with your technique.
    Only problem I've encountered is playing bossas with open strings for a extended periods of time -- eg, playing Little Sunflower and going root-fifth on Dm for 20 bars, when the arm just gets tired. Solution? Play the fifth up in 3rd position :D. Nicer sound anyway!
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I see how you are pulling the strings. Some what like a rock Bass Guitarist combined with Classical Orchestral Pizz.

    It's a bit useless for straight Jazz. Find something by Ray Brown. He has the best 'angled' on finger approach. Watch as many Jazz players as you can as the play 'time'. Dont' worry about solo technique yet.

    You have a good start with the left hand, now you need to get the right hand with it. I play Classical and Jazz on the Double Bass and switch Pizz technique as needed. Start by playing at the end of the fingerboard with one finger at a 45 degree angle pulling the strings hard with only quarter notes. Then work with 2 fingers. You have a flute player in the Band already so your main job is the Bass. I use either one or two depending on what I am doing. Three fingers is good to play the flute part (or Bass solos)but that might bother the others if you do it

    Most of the Bass world uses 1 or 2 fingers. Back to bassics would be best for you.
  9. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    I don't know about instrument height. The method closest to what I do is the Gary Karr one. But for me, when I am playing with the bow, I stand the bass up straight, make sure I stand straight too. Then I relax my right arm in proper bowing position. I let the bow hang across the strings, and it should be in the right place between the fingerboard and bridge. That's how I know the height is right: by relaxing and letting my arm hang where it's most comfortable, and making sure that's on the right part of the strings. Gary Karr I think plays a little bit too close to the bridge for everyday applications. Plus, he spends a lot of time in thumb position, so bringing the instrument higher is advantageous for him. But for jazz pizz especially, I wouldn't overdo it. Stand everything up straight, hang your arm, and make sure your fingers are down right by the end of the fingerboard. Otherwise you will: A) have to hunch over the bass or stretch your arm, or B) have to bend your arm to get into proper playing position. Either scenario will give you difficulty if you try to play a 4-hour gig.

    In terms of pizz technique, I agree with Ken on this one. Sorry to have derailed the thread a bit.
  10. Try this. First make your right hand into a "C" (a backwards one). Then holding that position lay the side of your thumb against the side of the fingerboard, with the tip of your thumb being even with the end of the fingerboard. This should make the "curve" of the "C" lay against the strings. Now using your first finger, pull the strings. This should give you a lot more power. Now, you can still alternate the first and second fingers, but try walking primarily with your first finger. Your instrument should be resonating very differently. If I weren't being lazy right now (the baby's watching the Disney Channel, the other kids are in school, my wife's at work, my dog ate my homework, etc.) I'd attempt to put this on video and upload. Good luck.


    P.S. The hall that you're playing looks like the concert hall at the english school in Lima, Peru. Where are you playing?
  11. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Thank you for your tips, Ramon. Just two things that aren't clear to me: 1- What do you mean with the thumb being even with the end of the fingerboard? Is it like following the FB curvature or placed exactly over the very edge? 2- "Pull the strings". OK, but in what direction? Upward, or like trying to close the "C"? Please excuse me if the answers are obvious. I just want to make sure I understand well.

    The venue is the most important concert hall in my town (Bucaramanga, Colombia), called "Luis A. Calvo" after one of the most important composers, not from the same city, but from the same state (Santander). This hall is in the biggest university of the town, and one of the most important in my country. Thank you for your interest!
  12. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    I would suggest getting a copy of Rufus Reid's DVD.
  13. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    But, you're not standing straight -- which is the problem.

    When you are playing or just holding the bass, your body position should be the same. That is what I seek with myself and students. How high the bass is on the pin, how far it is leaning toward you, how high the nut is in relation to your eye-line, etc, is all dependant on a zillion factors, including the size and shape of the bass, the size and shape of you, how long your arms are in relation to your body, etc, etc, etc.

    In short, I start with the bow. You should be able to comfortable reach a full down bow on the G string while holding an open fifth on the low F (E and A strings) without contorting at all. Now, if you're short and chubby like me, this may not be completely possible, but this is where I start and work out from there.

    With the bass like this, which will be MUCH higher than what you have, you can comfortably reach anything anywhere on the bass with a little 'body english', meaning that you'll be dancing around a bit, moving the bass in relation to you rather than hunching over to reach things. For instance, you make a small step or two back when in thumb position and the bass tilts back and with a small bend at the waist you can then reach the top of your upper range. You can tell when the bass is getting too high when your left had becomes difficult (tension from your left arm reaching up too far) and you find yourself backing away from the bass to relieve a bass that is too high. You can tell when it is too low when you find yourself bending over and reaching into the bass a lot.

    Now, with the bass in its best position for you, you'll find that you can play the bow the full range from over the the end of the fingerboard all the way down to the bridge without much change in the position of your body or bass, the left hand can play anywhere from the bottom of the bass well up over the body with no change of bass or body position, and you can get a 45 degree or better angle with your right forearm against the strings for REALLY efficient pizzicato playing.

    Now, with the bass this way, there are a whole range of options that you have for the right hand. For normal thumping/max volume playing, you hook your thumb under the fingerboard and use it as a fulcrum against the weight of your arm and the big muscles of your back. Rufus Reid calls this 'The Duck' or something along those lines and is a pretty good description of it. You don't quite lever from the elbow, but it does look like it from the listener's seat.

    For the fingers, this changes from player to player. I tend to put my first finger on top of my second finger and do the heavy lifting this way, especially for really loud playing. At medium to softer volumes, I'll use first and/or second finger or the hook described above. Then, for faster and solo type pizz, I bring my thumb up against the E string (or A!) like you would when playing Slab and then use a combination of hand muscles along with the arm and shoulder muscles. This last bit is kind of like nitro and drag racing. You can do it for a while but you'll get tired (burn out) pretty quickly. Other common uses of the fingers are first and second finger (and sometimes one, two and three) together, side by side, and just first finger playing. A lot of this has to do with the way that you're built and the sound that you want.
  14. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Oh -- and you want a fair good of right-hand meat on the strings to help get you that big, warm sound. Finger tips give you articulation. You're gonna have to find that balance that you need to get a big sound that has a pronounced enough beginning that'll both cut through the band and give you enough bottom. Also remember that you can't hear yourself (even when you can hear yourself) as it takes a lot of distance for the sound of the bass to complete (long, low sound waves), and so a good general rule of thumb is to get a more obnoxious sound right where you're standing, trusting that the low end meets up with the high end out front.
  15. Not to derail the thread but has anyone checked out Ramon's website? Spend a few minutes reading, watching, and listening.

    Welcome to TB Ramon.
  16. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Wow. Let me tell you all that I feel overwhelmed by your kindness and interest in helping. Thank you! I just wanted to say that we started talking about this stuff in the BG side because one guy mentioned that he uses the side of his fingers to play DB and I replied that I've tried that but never noticed a difference in tone. He said that maybe I'm missing something. I've just come home for a moment and tried to do it following your advice and I think I'm starting to get the difference, but I don't know if I'm doing it the right way. I'd like to have a detailed close-up of the technique, so I think I'm going to order the Rufus Reid DVD through It's called "The Evolving Bassist", right?

    Just for making things a bit clearer to me: That "finger side" technique is just for walking lines, as far as I understand (please correct me if I'm wrong). According to Ray's post (Quote: "for faster and solo type pizz, I bring my thumb up against the E string (or A!) like you would when playing Slab and then use a combination of hand muscles along with the arm and shoulder muscles"), should the fingers be more perpendicular to the strings for fast passages? I tried to play the "Manteca" intro (not the Bb in octaves, but the fast Ab-Bb-Bb-Ab-Bb-Ab-Bb-F-Bb part -hope you know what I'm talking about-) with the hooked thumb technique and can't do it. I have to put my thumb against the E and A strings, as I do all the time right now.

    P.S.: Yes, I briefly checked Ramon's nice website after reading his post. Tried to leave a message in his guestbook, but the link doesn't work. I'll check the videos and audio tonight.
  17. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    None of the techniques are set in stone and there are grey areas in between the 'power stroke' and the 'speed stroke'. Your ear and your hand will tell you what's working and what isn't.

    > after fussing a bit on the bass <

    In 'speed stroke' mode my fingers are anywhere between perpendicular and slightly at an angle, depending on the sound that the ol' ear wants...
  18. When you watch some of those videos, you will see that the "finger side" technique can be taken wwaayy beyond just walking.
  19. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Yes, that's the one. I've watched it many times. There's also a concert on it too.
  20. First, the idea is to get power out of your instrument. This doesn't mean that the bass is to be beaten into submission or something. It suggests that from this position at the bottom of the fingerboard that a lot of personality can be developed, either soft or loud. Your questions aren't dumb. With the "inside" of your thumb against the side of the fingerboard, and with your right hand down at the bottom of the fingerboard (this is where the measurement came from, the tip of your thumb being even with the end of the fingerboard) pull the string, closing the "C". Now, if you pull the G string, let the D string stop the motion. Let the A string stop the motion of pulling the D string. The E string is tricky as you can imagine. There's nothing to stop the motion. This one you must measure. Leave the "curve" of the "C" close to or touching the strings. With a metronome, practice whole notes, then halfs (I don't think that halves apply to jazz), quarters, etc., as far as you can go.
    The reflective wooden surfaces that cover the walls in the concert hall in your town and in Peru where I've played are so cool. They sound great. Maybe they do this all over South America.
    Thanks, Steve for your kind words. I'll be watching you with interest.


    P.S. Sure got a lot of web traffic today!