Finger Style Bass

Finger Style Bass

By Daniel Herber
In Jun 7, 2010

There are many different styles of playing the bass guitar; most prominent among rock bassists is the use of a pick, or plectrum, to get a more clearly defined sound out of each note. Jazz, Blues and funk styles favour the use of plucking the four (or five) strings of the bass guitar with one’s fingers to create the sound of each note known as finger style bass.

All In The Fingers

In terms of pop music bassists will use whatever sounds best for the sound of the group as a whole, favouring either finger-style or picked bass depending on the specific sound required for each song. Picked bass tends to be a bit harsher on the ears, but as such cuts through recorded mixes quite easily and provides a more booming and driven live sound, and as such this style tends to lend itself well to rock music. A good example of this sound would be one that is found in most punk bands, such as Green Day pop-punk bassist Mike Dirnt’s distinctive Fender picked bass sound.

True control of the dynamics of each and every note played, however, comes from playing bass with one’s fingers. The reason for this being that when you play bass with your fingers you are more sensitive to the feel of the vibrations through the strings that create the bass frequencies that you hear from your amplifier. When you play a note too hard with your fingers, for example, a trained bassist can feel when he has struck the note too hard; when this happens the string will buzz against the bass guitar’s frets and produce an unpleasant tone from the note that has been struck with too much force.

Practicing Your Finger Style Bass

A great exercise that acclaimed South African jazz bassist and music lecturer at Wits University, namely the great Carlo Mombelli taught me, was to fret one note and then to play the same note repeatedly with each one of my four fingers. Make sure that the volume and tone from each note produced is exactly the same. This exercise requires your bass to be plugged into an amplifier and also requires constant adjustment from you as the bassist to each of your fingers striking the strings, depending on their thickness, to produce the exact same volume and consistency from playing, for example, your low E string with your index finger through to your pinky finger. Check out his band ‘Carlo Mombelli and the Prisoners of the Strange’ and you’ll see that when it comes to bass this man definitely knows what he is talking about. One of his main influences is a bassist by the name of Jaco Pastorius: if you are a bassist and have not listened to Jaco yet please do yourself a favour!

Slap Me

Slap bass, as used in funk, requires a fingerstyle too, although it is a completely different application of your fingers to the instrument compared to the smooth bass tones produced for the jazz or blues genres respectively. A slap bassist literally slaps the strings with the side of the thumb to produce each note, while the other fingers are used for what is termed ‘popping’, or pulling the string a little outward away from the fretboard then releasing so that it produces a very bright sound once the string reaches the fretboard once more.

This is a style that I am currently undertaking to get more acquainted with after hearing the great work of the popular bassists Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke, and Marcus Miller respectively. While each of these men are legendary bassists in their own right, any interested bassists out there should check out their collaboration album called ‘Thunder’, with the group being named ‘SMV’ after their individual initials- it is probably the best example of finger style bass that one could hope to listen to and is utterly amazing. Personally, I think a good bassist should ideally have a good grasp of both the picked and fingerstyle bass techniques – happy practicing!

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* Is a trained vocalist * Plays with the alternative band "Your Name In Neon" * Has been gigging and playing for 9 years * Is a former pupil of Guitar Excellence * Teaches Bass and Guitar * Is a beginner specialist * Can dance and play at the same time * Can synchronise his head banging and playing at the same time.

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