Technique Tip: Drop Anchor

I’VE NOTICED A BIG DIVIDE IN fingerstyle players’ right-hand technique.
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Fig. 1


I’VE NOTICED A BIG DIVIDE IN fingerstyle players’ right-hand technique. There are those whose thumbs are just locked to the pickup, no matter the part (Fig. 1). To be sure, pickups provide a convenient anchor. But for the most part their position as a thumb-anchor is incidental—not a product of an ergonomic design challenge. The second camp moves the thumb constantly, using the strings as temporary anchorage points (Fig. 2). This offers a few advantages over the pickup anchor technique. First, it preserves the fingers’ angle of attach relative to the strings more consistently. If you’re a pickup anchorer, imagine how much your plucking hand shape changes as you move across strings. The angle between your thumb and first finger is much more acute for E-string notes than for notes on the G string. Moving the thumb with your plucking fingers mitigates this by preserving a relatively constant angle.

Fig. 2


More important, perhaps, are the speed and touch benefits of a moving anchor point. Since the distance between the thumb and plucking fingers is closer, the muscles seem to respond more quickly, with greater precision. There’s a reason why Jaco played this way. If you’re not currently doing it, try integrating it into your practice regimen.



Technique Tip : Anchors Away

Teaching beginners always forces me to confront my so-called comfort zone. It happens to all of us: Once we feel like we’re beyond beginner status, we tend to take the fundamental stuff for granted. I was teaching the student about fingerstyle pluckinghand technique. I reinforced the alternating-finger concept, pointing out the importance of a solid thumb-anchor. I had the student pluck a few notes with his thumb free-floating, and then with the thumb anchored on the pickup (Fig. 1). The immediate difference in strength and control is obvious.


Technique Tip: Poor Patterns

THERE ARE A FEW REASONS LYRICAL SOLOING SEEMS to come easier to horn players than bassists. First, by default, horn players spend a lot of their musical time playing melodies, thus burning melodicism deep into their musical DNA. Second, and perhaps more important, the saxophone is nowhere near as pattern-based as the bass. There’s something about the bass’s frets, dots, and strings that makes the fingerboard look like a big checkerboard to our pattern-craving cerebral cortex: Instead of allowing the deeper concerns of harmony and melody dictate our lines, the fingerboard’s visual and digital patterns easily seduce us, corrupting our note choices. One way around this is to seek opportunities to break out of our habitual, pattern-oriented playing by forcing our left hand to confront familiar sounds in unfamiliar ways. The most common major scale shape starts on the 2nd finger (Fig. 1). Try starting the scale on your 1st, 3rd, and 4th fingers, too. Since these shapes may be

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Technique Tip Fingertip Talk

IT WOULD SEEM THAT WITH JUST FIVE fingers and 4-6 strings (oh, alright, sometimes more), there’d be a relatively short list of potential right-hand techniques. But if there’s one thing my incessant Lockup on MSNBC habit has taught me, necessity breeds invention. Take the Funk Brother himself, James Jamerson. Everyone knows that he played all that phenomenally dexterous stuff with just one finger, “the Hook,” as it came to be known. We’ve all wondered how he pulled it off, but sitting in on the Motown mastertape listening session for this month’s cover story made this question more urgent than ever. With Jamerson’s tracks soloed, the near physical impossibility of some lines was striking. So, capitalizing on the rare opportunity, I asked fellow listener James Jamerson Jr. Sure enough, James confirmed what I long thought: On uptempo tunes, Jamerson Sr. would occasionally pluck with both sides of the Hook—fingerpad and fingernail, like in Figs. 1 and 2. It was a rare occurrence, but ap


Technique Tip Tasty Chords

UNLESS YOU’RE A SOLO BASSIST, YOU probably spend most of your time playing single-note lines. Sure, there’s the occasional delicious double-stop, but the more dense chordal content is generally left to your piano- and guitar-playing bandmates. Being strong, simple, and supportive is pretty much the gig. That said, I’ve stumbled on a pair of chord shapes that are easy to grab, are harmonically supportive, and have a rich and ethereal quality that works well in certain contexts, especially trios. Figure 1 shows the major, add9 shape, which works well over most major chords. From low to high, the intervals are 1, 5, 9, 10(3). Figure 2 shows the shape’s minor alternative. Its intervals, in order, are 1, 5, 9, b10(b3). I think the chord works particularly well arpeggiated. Figure 3 shows a plucking-hand fingering that uses each finger, classical-guitar style to cycle through each note individually. One final note: try this shape around and above the 12th fret. Any lower and it’ll hurt an

Technique Tip: New Tricks

GETTING BETTER AT BASS INVOLVES DIGESTING HUGE AMOUNTS OF new information, but it’s just as important to unlearn the bad stuff. Most of us picked up the bass without much initial guidance, and even though subsequent study can illuminate a better path, our individual approach is often cemented in those early moments of discovery. One extraordinarily common habit is to rest the forearm on the bass’s body, like in Fig. 1. I do it almost all the time if I’m playing with a traditional fingerstyle technique. Unfortunately, this is a perfect recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition that occurs when the passageway of bone and ligament at the base of the wrist compresses the median nerve. If that weren’t scary enough, the forearm muscles weakened position seems to rob the plucking hand of strength. Try the approach in Fig. 2, lifting the forearm off the bass. For me, it feels a little awkward, but I believe it’s technically a better option.