The Ergonomics of Bass Guitar Part 2

The right hand is nearly as important as the left.

Finger Style vs. Picked

Personally, I am a finger style player 99% of the time. In my current band, I use a pick on only one song and it is solely for the purpose of emulating the muted sound of early bass guitars. All early Fenders came stock with a cover over the bridge that contained a foam mute that lightly touched the strings to mute sustain. Rickenbackers had an adjustable mute that could be cranked up or down. Most of this was due to the fact that early bass guitar strings were all flatwound and had little sustain. Also in the early days, it was considered important to emulate an upright sound. That upright sound was based on gut strings which just “thudded” when plucked.  On the Tommy James song “I Think We’re Alone Now”, I emulate the muted sound by placing the outside of my right palm against all four strings and plucking with a stiff pick.

The Tone Comes From Your Fingers

I personally play either Fender Jazz basses or similiar style instruments. I like having the 2 pickup option. So, on most basses, I rest my thumb on the upper edge of the bridge pickup. Using fingers 1 and 2 is best for almost all situations. Fingers 3 and 4 travel along to mute the unused strings (more on this in a later note). When playing on the A string and higher, I generally move my thumb to rest on the E string (or B if using a 5 or 6 string).

Now try this:

  1. Rest the thumb on the on the upper edge of the pickup.
  2. Extend your second finger to the A string and place it on the A string on the pad of the finger tip
  3. Push into the string to get just a bit of bend in the first knuckle of the finger.
  4. Now drag the finger across the A string with it coming to rest on the E string. At the same time, move the first finger to the a string to stop the note you just played and prepare for the next.
  5. Now do as above with the fingers reversed -first finger plucks the string and comes to rest on the A string, second finger moves up to mute the A string and prepare to pluck the next note. In the language of classical guitar, these are rest strokes (the finger comes to rest on a string and does not let it vibrate freely but stops the one just plucked at the end of the desire note value.

Practice this very, very slowly. Speed comes with time but requires that the basics be perfect.  

The Free Stroke

The opposite of the rest stroke is the free stroke. Instead of the finger which was just used to pluck a string coming to rest on the next lower string and the next finger muting the string just plucked, Free Strokes allow the note to ring out for as long as you desire. The idea is basically the same except the string is allowed to ring and sustain. The plucking finger comes to rest on the next lower string but the next finger does not mute the just plucked string. Free strokes are used for various things in music but the point to remember is that they should be used sparingly in a change of pace as dictated by the music itself.

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About Dwight Mabe

I've playing music since the age of 5...a really, really long time. I've been teaching bass guitar and double bass for over 30 years, writing about music and bass guitar for nearly as long.
This entry was posted in Basics, Ergonomics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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