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View Full Version : How hard / firmly should you pluck the strings?



Mr JJB
08-23-2009, 10:50 PM
Hi everyone

I'd been playing the guitar more or less seriously over the past 4-5 years, and decided to take up the bass on top of it to broaden my skill set, but also because I feel I have more personal affinity with lower pitches (including taste, musical inspiration).

While I knew that the bass was a bigger instrument vs a guitar, with wider frets and therefore more travelling with my left hand, I didn't think the finger picking would be very different. I was mistaken, and learnt from my bass teacher (whom I also learnt the guitar from) that I ought to pluck the strings with my index and medium a lot more firmly than with a guitar. I.e. by not flexing my picking ingers (except at the junction of the fingers and the palm of course) but keeping them slightly arched in the same way all along, and getting a firmer hold with my right hand thumb onto the instrument.

However, I've now got a big blister on the tip of my index, after only playing 40min 3-4 times a week (+ the class) for 4 weeks.

On top of that, I also noticed that to get the proper angle so I can keep my fingers arched in the same way constantly, and not flex them, I'm better off playing standing up, with my bass hanging from a shoulder strap, than sitting. In the latter position, I have to lift my upper right arm quite high so that my lower arm is in the right place.

Is that expected (I remember it took my left hand's fingertips a while to get used to metal strings when I originally took up the guitar.), or does it look like I'm trying to pluck too hard?

Thanks.

fingerpikingood
08-23-2009, 10:55 PM
It's normal, but you should give yourself time to heal before playing more, that way you'll be more impervious to that type of wear and tear.

basically you should pluck as hard as you need in order to make sound/the sound you want to get, so like slap technique requires stronger plucking than just regular finger bass for example.

Malcolm
08-24-2009, 02:17 AM
Turn up the volume and save your fingers. I too have just taken up the electric bass. It's different and I just had to get used to this new instrument. Been with the bass about two months now. Do as your instructor says.

I elected to go with a thumb pick and I play my right hand much as I do with the 6 string guitar - playing notes. Our bass is helping me and he plays this way. Getting the volume took some practice.

Practicing plugged in will help with the volume and backing tracks have been a big help.

Grab a basic 12 bar blues progression and play a long;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmPyYLfELp8&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isl1Lk_-yw8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rfqEyXu2pk&feature=related

Backing track with a jazz feel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEQ0nM1As6M&feature=related

I've found that a basic R-5 or a R-3-5-3 does what I need right now. Chromatic runs back to the tonic have crept into my bag of tricks and are not all that hard to pull off.

Good luck.

JonR
08-24-2009, 10:51 AM
Hi everyone

I'd been playing the guitar more or less seriously over the past 4-5 years, and decided to take up the bass on top of it to broaden my skill set, but also because I feel I have more personal affinity with lower pitches (including taste, musical inspiration).

While I knew that the bass was a bigger instrument vs a guitar, with wider frets and therefore more travelling with my left hand, I didn't think the finger picking would be very different. I was mistaken, and learnt from my bass teacher (whom I also learnt the guitar from) that I ought to pluck the strings with my index and medium a lot more firmly than with a guitar. I.e. by not flexing my picking ingers (except at the junction of the fingers and the palm of course) but keeping them slightly arched in the same way all along, and getting a firmer hold with my right hand thumb onto the instrument.

However, I've now got a big blister on the tip of my index, after only playing 40min 3-4 times a week (+ the class) for 4 weeks.

On top of that, I also noticed that to get the proper angle so I can keep my fingers arched in the same way constantly, and not flex them, I'm better off playing standing up, with my bass hanging from a shoulder strap, than sitting. In the latter position, I have to lift my upper right arm quite high so that my lower arm is in the right place.

Is that expected (I remember it took my left hand's fingertips a while to get used to metal strings when I originally took up the guitar.), or does it look like I'm trying to pluck too hard?

Thanks.Your instructor is right - you need to be much firmer with the picking fingers than on guitar. Bass is a rhythm instrument, and its technique derives from double bass. You basically need to forget a lot of what you know about guitar.
Like you, I came to bass guitar from 6-string (although I used to play washtub bass in my youth... :rolleyes: ), and I taught myself. But then when I finally had lessons with a bass tutor, the first thing he corrected about my playing was my right-hand: I was playing too weakly and relying on the amp too much for volume. What that means is you don't get the requisite "thump" from the bass that gives it the necessary rhythmic impact. To get the best attack sound, you do need to "attack" those strings. Otherwise the sound is woolly and indistinct. (I knew that from listening to recordings of my playing, but had been too lazy to correct it.)
The other thing he made me do was cut my fingernails! As a fingerstyle guitarist I was attached to them (too literally :D ) - but they got in the way of a good attack on the bass.
Still, I managed to avoid developing blisters, so I can't offer advice there.
I do agree that a seated position can feel awkward for the right arm. But my tutor manages it OK, and I don't have too much trouble. Again, he showed me a better way to sit, with legs apart and feet firmly planted. It's a matter of developing a whole body sense of "rootedness".
I had similar instruction once from a double bass player, in terms of how you stand with that instrument. Bass (of any kind) is a BIG instrument and you have to kind of confront it, grab it in a big way, handle its full weight and balance it properly. Then you're ready to pump out that funk... :)
Speaking of blisters, I have had that experience with double bass - I developed them after only playing one for 15 minutes... it kind of put me off taking up the instrument seriously.
But I imagine it's just a stage you have to go through, like the blisters you get on your left hand as a beginner guitarist. You stop and let them heal, over and over again, and eventually the skin toughens up.

Despite all this, Malcolm's advice about using a pick may be good. Many rock bassists use a pick, esp on the punk/heavy rock side. It's part of that style, so is not a "wrong" technique. Using a pick, of course, gives you a more "pointed", toppy attack sound, suitable for fast rock playing. But I've never seen a jazz bassist use a pick, and you don't tend to see it in funk/soul bass playing either. And those are the guys who know what the bass guitar is FOR...

fingerpikingood
08-24-2009, 03:20 PM
ya to sum it all up, use the firmness you need to be heard and get the tone you want.

a pick is a way to go for a certain tone, but you can't pick slap bass, which is my favorite part about bass, and this is mainly why you don't see it in funk/soul.

a pick gives a sharp attack, people who play abss often want a round attack, but in rock and stuff, and if you're going to put distortion on your bass, pick is a common way to go, but really for any music if you like the sound of a pick on your bass then pick away.

and don't forget to heal. when the body heals it heals stronger. when it's injured it is weak. you don't want to make long term damage or anything.

let it heal and then let it rip.

Mr JJB
08-25-2009, 12:26 PM
Thanks gents, that makes sense overall.

And I'll have to look further into finding a different sitting position.