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Fretting hand technique dev - just passing something on


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Years ago I studied flamenco with a really good player at El Mundo Flamenco in London. About the fretting hand, and I think this applies just as well to bass (or guitar) etc.
A practice routine is to watch your fretting hand (even film it playing) and watch for ANY unneccessary finger movement. Being aware of wandering digits helps working to eliminate them.
The main exercise was to make chord or passage changes whilst hardly lifting fingers at all - I mean just enough to allow strings to sound, no more. The approach is a common one of minimising finger movement, but taken to an extreme, where you start by hardly lifting fingers at all during changes, even if notes are damped/muffled.

Sounds minor but it inverts what you are telling your hand to do. We all start by learning to put fingers down to fret a note. The idea here is learning the opposite - all fingers are down or like 1mm off a string, all the time. 

For some reason, all these years later I still have an index finger that tends to wander - but at least I'm aware of it and can work it away.

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The theory of this is sound. For many players though putting it to practice is another thing.

When I started out I had the flappy pinky syndrome bigtime, which in turn made it harder to properly use the ringfinger.

 

Once you learn how to position your thumb correctly behind the neck (and this depends on where you are moving your fretting hand at that current time - thumb position does vary) the following things will happen:

  • You won't overly lift your fingers anymore.
  • The flapping pinky thing vanishes.
  • You do grab your minor thirds on the same string where your root note sits.
  • Playing a five or even six string bass becomes MUCH easier.

Speaking of flamenco technique, I do strum chords using fingers for downstrokes and my thumb for upstrokes much in a flamenco guitarist way. This works like a charm on bass! And considering I was always playing with a floating thumb (on a six string you kinda have to) swiching back and forth between that technique and regular fingerstyle or slapping is easy as 1-2-3.

 

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Gary Willis has a great exercise on his old tuition video (when I looked a few years ago it was on YT) about pressing the strings down lighter and lighter until the string just starts to buzz, then pulling back ever so slightly. It’s amazing how much more facility and fluidity you gain just by not pressing as hard. It does take quite a bit of practice, though.

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Every day for the last year and a bit during my warm up exercises, I've been practising permutations to the metronome at a current 200bpm, keeping each finger as close to the fingerboard as is possible while applying the absolute minimum pressure before fret buzz occurs.

I think a lot of the technique for this transfers into other areas of the bass. As rightly stated by DiMarco, it really helps to make  the flying finger disappear (within 6-12 months it will). The less the fingers have to travel, the less fatigue over time. It trains the fingers to develop equal strength (there is a tendency for people to concentrate on their strengths rather than developing their weaknesses, so often this means that people will avoid doing things that use their little finger, preferring to use the simandl technique instead)

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  • 5 weeks later...

I'm a very average bass player who used to play guitar. My left hand, when playing bass, looked very ugly on the neck. I went for a lesson with a local bass pro who plays in West End musicals in London (when such things were on pre-pandemic) who got me to play something and immediately said: 'You used to play guitar, didn't you? You're fingering the neck like a guitarist.' He said double bass players keep their middle, ring and pinky fingers together (I imagine '60s bassists like Bill Wyman did this; and Jack Bruce originally played cello, I think). I started doing this and immediately my left hand felt more comfortable and looked like a unit. 

 

Incidentally, I've noticed that Nick Beggs (who plays wonderful bass, fretted and fretless, as well as chapman stick for Steven Wilson and was originally - and is still - in Kajagoogoo) plays fretted bass (the only bass I can play) by resting the flat part of his index finger across the whole neck rather than pressing the tip down behind the fret. 

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