Bass Lesson 4 Plucking: there is more than one way to do it!
Develop your own technique
Bass Lesson 4 Plucking: be open!
Bass Lesson 4 Plucking: plucking the string is a relatively new technique, for in classical music, as you know, the bow is used almost constantly. You only have to watch the ‘elegant’ way classical bassist pluck the string with one finger and listen to the sound they produce, to realize that plucking is completely underdeveloped in classical music (sorry classical bassists, but come on!). In jazz, new techniques are developing all the time, and if you search the internet, you’ll find a lot of different solutions presented by my colleagues.
For more than the first half of the last century, amplification was a serious problem, so most bassist were mainly interested in making as much noise as possible acoustically. To achieve this, they usually pulled the strings as hard as they could with one finger or with two fingers at the same time, curling them slightly around the string or hitting the string hard.
Some romantic, orthodox jazz bass players still think this is the only way to play the bass, and they believe that everybody who plays differently does not really understand the instrument. I totally disagree with this viewpoint: I’m very glad that we bass players don’t have to play this energy draining way anymore, now the biggest amplification issues have been resolved, and we can choose for an approach to the instrument that makes the music we play more beautiful because we can do so much more on the bass. Something I find very important: the traditional makes it nearly impossible to play very fast.
Most bassists develop their own plucking technique. That’s probably not such a bad idea, considering all the nonsense that is being broadcast about this subject. It took me years to discover that the following advice: after plucking the string, you should let your finger come to rest against the next string, is not always the best method. Chances are you play this way, for this method is very popular. If you play this way and like it, please keep doing so, but I believe that it is not always the best technique, especially not for playing fast notes.
Almost resistance free plucking
1. The less resistance you encounter when plucking, the more relaxed, easily and fast you can play. Touching the next string means that you encounter resistance. This costs time and strength. Not touching it means your finger can complete it’s swing easier and faster and initiate a new movement more quickly. It is very important that you learn to move your fingers as relaxed and freely as possible. The double bass is a demanding instrument and the less energy playing costs, the more energy you have for playing what you want to. Of course, it will take some time to learn a new technique, but the benefits are huge!
Blurry fast notes
2. You make a sound when you touch the next string. It may be difficult to hear this, but I can assure you this is true. Touching the next string has an effect on your sound: you sound less clear. If you don’t mind that, go on playing the way you do, but if you want to sound very clear, it may be time to learn a new technique. When playing fast, notes can become a blur when you touch the next string. This is no problem for long notes. Long notes can sound extra full and warm when using the traditional technique, so that is what I use that technique for. But I also want my fast notes to sound clear, so everybody can hear what I mean.
Do you still have power? Yes!
Some bass players believe that it is only possible to have a powerful sound when you pluck the ’traditional’ way. That is not necessarily so. I found out that if you play with ‘sticky’ fingers without touching the next string (by which I mean pressing the string down ever so lightly when you touch it) the result is a full, powerful tone. Playing with sticky fingers does not impede your fast playing; I can assure you that I can play really fast that way. you cannot call this plucking. My fingers swing over the strings.
My tone is getting more powerful and full as I practise this technique longer, for this is really a technique that takes practising – but the same goes for the traditional technique There is a lot to discover!
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