was able to put into words what I believe to be a very important
principle about bass playing recently. It has to do with the amount
of strength we use to press the strings down on the fingerboard
when playing the acoustic bass (of course, the same principle holds
when playing electric bass - but playing electric bass doesn't cost
nearly as much strength). I was telling Peter Pot (a diatonic accordion
player I've been performing with for years now) that I noticed that
I have to use less and less strength to press the strings down as
years go by. Suddenly I understood how I did this. I think this
must be an interesting subject for a lot of double bass players.
The double bass is one of the hardest instruments to play because
of all the strength you must excert with your left hand and left
arm if you're technique is less than ideal - and there are only
a few bass players in the world whose technique is ideal. So fellow
bass players, let's share our insights on this subject. Please send
me an e-mail if you would like to share information about this subject
with me and other bass players, I'll add your insights to this lesson.
This is the principle: you should start pressing the string down
in a very early stage, probably earlier than you presume necessary.
If you're this early, you can press the string down relatively slow.
The later you start pressing the string down, the faster you'll
have to press it down or else you'll risk being to late. If you
press the string down at the very last moment, you'll have to bring
it down very quickly and you'll press hard - probably very hard
- against the fingerboard because of this. Therefore this method
will cost you (much) more strength than necessary. If you start
earlier (while you're still playing the note before the one you're
about to play), you won't need to press that hard at all to bring
the string down and and keep it down. This sounds very simple, but
it took me some 25 years to realise this principle anyway. If you
don't do it this way and start pressing down the string on a late
moment, you'll get cramp in your hand and fingers after a while,
or just give up playing quick notes altogether. This is not a good
idea. I believe technical problems are there to be solved and not
to be neglected.
you go on playing this way and press down the string on the last
moment, bass playing becomes a real tour de force and something
of a (distracting) mind game. You think: who is stronger, my cramp
or me? And you'll go ahead, hoping and praying the saxophone player
doesn't play another chorus and the tune will come to a quick end,
so you can give your fingers some rest. I know for sure that every
double bass player who reads this recognises this situation, this
is a terrible past all of us jazz double bass players share, but
I'm telling you: it's not necessary to prolong this miserable situation!
If you start bringing down the string of the next note in an earlier
stage, it will become apparent that it's not necessary to press
that hard at all. If you have to play 4 notes in a row on four different
strings, this means you'll have to press down two strings for each
and every note you play, as you have to start pressing down the
string of the next note while playing the first. This may sound
very tiresome, it may sound like it costs a lot of strength, but
this is not the case. As you have to press much less hard, it will
cost you less strength than otherwise. And there is a nice bonus
to. Because of the fact that this method costs you less strength
and because of the fact that you've already brought down the string
on which you're about to play your next note while playing the first
note, you'll be able to play much faster than you were used to.
It takes less time to bring down the string of the next note when
you start earlier!
I want to conclude this lesson with a few e-mails, a question asked
by a student about his left hand and my answer.
Joris, the student, wrote:
When I play in the lowest positions on my bass guitar, I'm not able
to play with four fingers in four positions. My ring finger hurts,
it's not relaxed), but I have an even more serious problem: I can
do almost nothing with my little finger. I'm never able to play
with my little finger in the fourth position and I've practised
this a lot. On top of this, it's hard for me to use my middle finger
and my ring finger. Because of this, I use my forefinger and little
finger when I want to play the C and D on the A string, for instance.
Does this sound familiar? What can I do about this problem so I
can use my fingers in a relaxed way in the lower positions?
It's not necessary to force and strain your fingers like this at
all. It's not necessary to use four fingers in four positions. It's
much better for you to use a technique that is common for acoustic
bass players: use your ring finger and little finger as it were
one finger, use the together to press down the string for a certain
note. When you play a F on the E string with your forefinger, you
now use your ring finger and your little finger together on the
same moment to play the G on the E string. Don't believe teachers
who say you should strain your fingers like you thought was better!
You'll risk cramp and injuries. It's much better not to strain your
fingers and play in a relaxed fashion, even if that means you'll
have to move your left hand around (much) more. The more relaxed
you play, the easier playing becomes. Usually people want to play
with four fingers in four positions because they think they'll be
able to play much faster. This is a misconception: if you want to
learn to play fast, you'll have to learn to play as relaxed as possible.
This I believe to be the absolute law of fast playing. It's not
the moving around of your left hand that will make it impossible
to play fast. What makes playing fast impossible, is tension. Bass
lesson three is dedicated to this subject.