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julietgreen

left hand technique for small hands (and moving from electric)

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Hi guys. I'm an electric bass player and I've acquired a double bass. I've done a good deal of online searching and yes, I have tried to find a teacher, but obviously that's a bit tricky currently. As someone who already plays bass, the normal 'beginner' advice slightly misses the mark (there's a serious market niche for a good book just for eb players who want to play db). What I need is some advice specific to the db technique. I know about the Simandl style left hand fingering technique (that great book is available online for free!), but I have average hands for a female (quite small) and so the full stretch with fingers all on the fingerboard is nigh impossible. I'm not going to risk injury by stretching exercises. Additionally, when I put all fingers down  I don't get as much pressure on the fourth as I do when I allow myself to lift the other fingers and so I get string buzz.

Basically, do you have experience of playing or teaching under these circumstances? What advice would you give? What other advice would you give for the transition? I play rock, pop and jazz on the electric. I know I can't just transfer what I know on the eb to the db. Is there a way or should I give up if I can't make the stretch? How do female db usually manage?

J

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You'll develop better finger strength with practice, but when I started out I found the critial element for playing a clear note without strain or injury was getting the bass at the right height (the nut should be approximately level with your eyebrows), keeping your left elbow up and using the weight of your arm and your shoulder muscles to exert the pressure on the string through your fingers.  The thing you really want to avoid from the start is gripping/pinching the neck between the thumb and fingers, the thumb should be used as a pivot rather than a way of exerting force.  Keep your fingers arched and stop the note with the tips rather than the pads, don't let your fingers collapse as that puts too much strain on the hand muscles.

 

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Probably late in the day, and thus unhelpful, but have you considered a 5/8 (rare) or a half size bass?

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How do you play electric?  Some of us use all four fingers on an electric bass .. but it's not possible on my 4/4 db; had to learn some proper simandl (and rabatt) techniques wher you use only 1st, 2nd and 4th finger a semi tone apart ( with occasional pivots to reach a finger down or up an extra semi tone)...if you already do that on electric then you're half way there.

I just find the two instruments are quite different and didn't really manage to transfer much from one to the other .. tho it helps that the notes are (relatively) in the same place.

NB: I have pretty short fingers too .. my female double bass playing friends have smaller hands but the same length fingers ..they also tend to play smaller basses ( mine is a whopper ).

 

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It would be worth having your bass checked out by a Dbass-playing friend if you haven't already as the action or string type might be making your life harder. If the action is even a few mm too high it will make a huge difference, likewise if the strings are high tension it won't help...

Ditto the above advice, also make sure your third (ring) finger is planted when playing with your fourth. Hand size doesn't make as much difference as you might think on DB...

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15 hours ago, TheRev said:

You'll develop better finger strength with practice, but when I started out I found the critial element for playing a clear note without strain or injury was getting the bass at the right height (the nut should be approximately level with your eyebrows), keeping your left elbow up and using the weight of your arm and your shoulder muscles to exert the pressure on the string through your fingers.  The thing you really want to avoid from the start is gripping/pinching the neck between the thumb and fingers, the thumb should be used as a pivot rather than a way of exerting force.  Keep your fingers arched and stop the note with the tips rather than the pads, don't let your fingers collapse as that puts too much strain on the hand muscles.

 

Great advice. When I transition from EB to DB I have to remind myself it’s a completely different technique and act accordingly.

Its really worth taking a look at Discover Double Bass. I know Geoff is a member here and that resource is wonderful, particularly during lockdown!

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7 hours ago, TwoTimesBass said:

It would be worth having your bass checked out by a Dbass-playing friend if you haven't already as the action or string type might be making your life harder. If the action is even a few mm too high it will make a huge difference, likewise if the strings are high tension it won't help...

Ditto the above advice, also make sure your third (ring) finger is planted when playing with your fourth. Hand size doesn't make as much difference as you might think on DB...

I saw a virtuoso jazz double bassist at a gig BC and she was very small, but her playing was exquisite and the covered the entire length of the instrument. Certainly didn’t struggle with small hands!

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John Clayton's Youtube videos are worth checking out for some of the fundamentals, i've been using them to correct a few bad habits while on lockdown.

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On 20/05/2020 at 16:32, TheRev said:

The thing you really want to avoid from the start is gripping/pinching the neck between the thumb and fingers, the thumb should be used as a pivot rather than a way of exerting force.

See, now that's really good advice. I don't want to do further damage to my thumb. (an old speaker cab injury!)

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21 hours ago, bassace said:

Probably late in the day, and thus unhelpful, but have you considered a 5/8 (rare) or a half size bass?

No. This is the one I've got. I either learn to play it or I stick with eb, alone.

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8 hours ago, Burns-bass said:

Its really worth taking a look at Discover Double Bass. I know Geoff is a member here and that resource is wonderful, particularly during lockdown!

Yes, I have been looking at DDB and also Zoltan's site. This is primary why I'm on here asking, because the technique which seems to be required is what I'm struggling with - namely using the split fingers, all on the fingerboard at the same time.

 

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8 hours ago, Burns-bass said:

I saw a virtuoso jazz double bassist at a gig BC and she was very small, but her playing was exquisite and the covered the entire length of the instrument. Certainly didn’t struggle with small hands!

This is what I need to hear. It must be doable - I just don't know how. I think perhaps I need to do more searching for female db players on youtube.

 

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(This is caveated with the fact that I'm an average DB player who is also working on improving their technique, but this might come in helpful)

One piece of advice that's been useful is to practice in front of a mirror. If you're looking at the position of your left hand then you're twisting your body and head around distorting its natural shape. In front of a mirror you can face forward and see exactly what's happening with your fingers.

In terms of techniques to help improve, chromatic scales are great. What you're probably finding is that you're attempting to use the 3 finger technique close to the nut where the gaps are biggest and the string pressure is at its highest.

What you can do is to move up the fingerboard and try the 1 - 2 - 4 fingering at, say, C, C# and D on the G string for example. This has the added benefit of the D string as an anchor to help to ensure you're hitting the right note. You can replicate this exercise on the strings below. This should help build a solid technique. 

When I practice the Simandl exercises in specific keys I use a drone behind me (low level) which helps improve my ear for notes and identified any dissonance (I do this through headphones so my family don't kill me!). This can help you with ear training but also in getting the gaps right. 

If this is of any use, I've been given more advice. But I will defer to the experts on here!

 

 

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I think this is something that would be best addressed by in-person lessons (pandemic permitting). Lots of women play double bass. I have have been taught by two female teachers in the past, and they had no problems at all playing a 3/4 sized instrument. One was average height, and one was very short, probably about 5 foot tall.  

Some good points have been made above. I would add the following:

1. Your hands get used to the stretch over time and you will be surprised, if playing with good technique, of how well your hands adapt to the full tone they cover in half position (in Simandl terms).

2. The strength in your arms, shoulders and back takes a few months to build up. This too will help.

3. The set-up of your instrument is key. A teacher or luthier can advise on this. It makes a huge difference. 

4. Get a teacher, if only for a handful of lessons (once lockdown is over) - this instrument requires some formal instruction in the early stages. Some do without, but the easiest, quickest and most effective way is to have someone observe you and give you real-time pointers. 

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Like you, I don't have big hands, and am primarily an electric bass player. The best advice I can give is find a good teacher. I took a lesson with Steve Berry last year, and lockdown permitting, I'll be going back in the near future.... He took my technique back to the egg, giving a massive amount of constructive criticism, and gave me the tools to address the faults, a lot of which were down to muscle memory from playing the electric for so many years. I came away from that one lesson with a lot of hard work ahead of me, but also with the knowledge that if I applied myself, I could do it.

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20 hours ago, mart3442 said:

Like you, I don't have big hands, and am primarily an electric bass player. The best advice I can give is find a good teacher. I took a lesson with Steve Berry last year, and lockdown permitting, I'll be going back in the near future.... He took my technique back to the egg, giving a massive amount of constructive criticism, and gave me the tools to address the faults, a lot of which were down to muscle memory from playing the electric for so many years. I came away from that one lesson with a lot of hard work ahead of me, but also with the knowledge that if I applied myself, I could do it.

I don't want to undermine my electric bass playing. I'm presuming from what I've seen of bass players who double that it's possible to do both without negatively impacting on either?

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It is entirely possible. I have taught many people who match your description. There has to be someone out there who will do some on-line work with you.

Is there anyone else following this thread who could recommend someone?

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On 04/06/2020 at 17:09, owen said:

It is entirely possible. I have taught many people who match your description. There has to be someone out there who will do some on-line work with you.

Is there anyone else following this thread who could recommend someone?

I already mentioned the teacher who has been helping me with a similar BG -> DB transition and is doing online lessons at the moment. Here's his site in case it's of interest to anyone else:

https://pauljefferies.com/

 

On 04/06/2020 at 11:45, julietgreen said:

I don't want to undermine my electric bass playing. I'm presuming from what I've seen of bass players who double that it's possible to do both without negatively impacting on either?

From what I've seen so far it's possible to continue with both; I certainly don't want to miss out on BG playing - fretless BG is my favourite instrument.
The only problem I have noticed is sometimes if I spend longer on the BG I have to remember to do longer stretches on DB to avoid being slightly flat, but it soon comes back. The opposite problem doesn't seem to apply.

 

On 21/05/2020 at 08:30, Burns-bass said:

I saw a virtuoso jazz double bassist at a gig BC and she was very small, but her playing was exquisite and the covered the entire length of the instrument. Certainly didn’t struggle with small hands!

The house bassist here matches that description: http://www.oxfordjazzkitchen.com/
She's very good, and probably not much more than 5' tall.

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Take A look at this @julietgreen

She’s not tall and managing fine 

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Yeah, but she is clearly not a proper bassist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing bass and singing? Just not right. Singing and playing will get you into trouble with the bass police.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or maybe I am just bitter.

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8 hours ago, bassace said:

Do you mean Esther?

I do indeed. Excellent player. 

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, owen said:

Yeah, but she is clearly not a proper bassist.

Playing bass and singing? Just not right. Singing and playing will get you into trouble with the bass police.

Or maybe I am just bitter.

It worked out for Sting ...maybe it’s okay because he is already in the police ?

Edited by Geek99

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As a fellow (petite) woman-with-little-hands, I'd recommend making sure the action is comfortable for your hands, and the strings are 'soft' enough, even before you start applying any fingering method at all. Nothing worse than having to work with a set of steel rods sitting half a mile above the fingerboard.

FWIW, I had a couple of one-to-one lessons at the very beginning. I was recommended Simandl, which I profoundly disliked and dropped as soon as my fingers felt strong enough to. I am of the opinion that you simply should use your fingering hand in the way that makes you feel more comfortable/less uncomfortable. Do try to have your muscles learn and memorise the right places on the neck for producing the correct notes. At first, to get used to it, you'll have to look at your hand all the time, but you'll soon be free. :)

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Also, I know you are specifically asking about your 'left' hand ('right' hand for us lefties), but do make sure you are also plucking the strings in the correct way for a DB. With correct DB plucking the strings will be easier to finger.

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