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Alternate Fingering And The Plucking Hand

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Welcome back, folks! Last time around I took a momentary departure from purely technical subjects to introduce to you the importance of melody. Moving forward, I hope that you will remember to make even your technique building exercises musical. Once you get past the initial challenge of executing each exercise without repetitive mistakes or mis-fingerings, go out of your way to try and make the exercises sound as musical as possible. A great player can make even the most mundane phrases or exercises come to life by playing in an expressive or emotional manner. Even a simple major scale can be made to sound lyrical by doing such things as altering dynamics, loosening the time feel by allowing the pulse to ‘breathe’, or even altering your technique to vary your tone across the phrase.

In this installment, we will get back to the pursuit of increased dexterity and endurance, and we will focus this time on the plucking hand. One approach that will help to refine your right hand technique is the strict use of alternation with your picking fingers. Just as when you walk down the street you alternate your feet (left, right, left, right), the same approach can be adapted to your plucking fingers (1, 2, 1, 2, etc… or 2, 1, 2, 1, etc…). For those of you that use a pick exclusively, this approach can be adapted just as easily; the only difference is that you will look at your picking upstrokes and downstrokes as corresponding to the movements of the 2 plucking fingers, 1 and 2. Alternation is important because it evenly splits up your right hand workload evenly amongst your picking fingers, thereby making your picking more efficient and promoting economy of motion. Regardless of whether you use two, three, four (or more!) picking fingers, alternation is a key concept that will help you to be more proficient.

For the exercises in this installment, remember that you are to alternate your plucking fingers without any deviation, whatsoever. This will most likely require some very focused attention; I have found in the past that sometimes the best way to monitor your consistency is to practice in front of a mirror or with your eyes focused on your plucking hand. Keep in mind that our momentary concern with alternating perfectly is only a practice routine tactic designed to maximize the effectiveness of these drills. The idea is that the consistency and confidence we develop in the shed will work its way into our performance playing automatically. Let me stress that IT IS NOT IMPORTANT that you alternate perfectly when you perform on a gig or play a set of tunes. The intention is to build more headroom into our performance potential so that we are not at all hindered by technical limitations. Your goal should be complete freedom in spontaneous musical expression.


Example 1

When you practice alternation exercises, try to avoid “raking” as you move from higher pitched strings to lower. Raking is when you “brush” from the last note played on a higher string to the first note played of the next lowest string, resulting in the same finger being used to play 2 or more successive notes. (See example above)

Although it is a useful technique on its own, try not to use it at all when you are working exclusively on your alternation. This way you will develop full independent control over both techniques, and subsequently choose the best method for the job in various performance situations. Keep in mind we’re not trying to eliminate raking from your technical repetoire, just developing an independent skill through alternation.

Practicing Using Permutations

One great way to develop your alternation is to practice exercises that involve moving across the strings using deliberate, challenging movements. A very simple approach that can be developed further into more complex examples involves the use of fretting hand fingering permutations that assign one finger per fret. Using a one finger per fret approach in a closed position, we can come up with 24 different fingering permutations that we can use to practice our alternation:

1-2-3-4
1-2-4-3
1-3-2-4
1-3-4-2
1-4-2-3
1-4-3-2

2-1-3-4
2-1-4-3
2-3-1-4
2-3-4-1
2-4-1-3
2-4-3-1

3-1-2-4
3-1-4-2
3-2-1-4
3-2-4-1
3-4-1-2
3-4-2-1

4-1-2-3
4-1-3-2
4-2-1-3
4-2-3-1
4-3-1-2
4-3-2-1

Note: The numbers in each permutation correspond to the fingers on your plucking hand. Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 represent your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers, respectively.

Okay… Let’s get started! We will play through every permutation while moving across the strings in both ascending and descending directions. Let’s go over how we would approach practicing through each of these…

To begin with, place your fretting hand at a median location on your neck, for example, in 5th position. (5th position is where your left hand first finger is lined up with your 5th fret.) Now simply lay your fretting hand fingers on the neck so that you are in a one finger per fret position. (see above)

Exercise 1

Our first permutation will be: 1-2-3-4, which we will play using the basic hand position shown in figure 1. Keep in mind that your plucking hand fingering needs to alternate 1-2-1-2-1-2, etc. without deviation until you complete the permutation across all strings and back. This is demonstrated in exercise 1 above.

NOTE: If you are playing a bass that has 5 or 6 strings or more, extend these exercises so that you are playing the permutations across ALL of your strings, both ascending and descending.

The next permutation, 1-2-4-3, is illustrated in exercise 2 on the next page.


Exercise 2

Now that the basic approach has been shown to you, practice playing through each of these permutation exercises with a metronome or drum machine, making use of strict 1-2 alternation with the plucking hand and a smooth legato feel with the fretting hand. For each permutation, first choose a moderate tempo that is slow enough for you to play the exercises perfectly. I would suggest only increasing tempos only after you can play all 24 of the exercises without any errors in execution or fingering. Here are some suggestions for target tempos:

starting tempo: 60 bpm
target tempo: 120 bpm
practice duration: 30 min

These are merely suggestions to get you started, based on an average beginner’s level of technical ability. Feel free to change these to suit your own level. However, if you need to either slow down or speed up the targets, do so in a manner that allows you to play correctly and still be challenged.

Some final points to consider:

-Pay strict attention to what your plucking hand is doing as you work through these. It is easy to deviate from a steady 1-2 alternation with the plucking hand if you do not keep your eyes focused on it.

-If you are having trouble putting both hands together at first, focus on only one hand at a time, paying strict attention to the problem areas. Work them out one component at a time, and then slowly bring your two hands together, playing broken down versions of each permutation and then gradually building. For example, don’t try to play across all four strings until you can successfully and consistently play over one.

-In case you haven’t guessed already, you should ultimately be able to lead with either finger if you want to be effective with this technique. Most of us who have worked on this in the past may already be in the habit of starting with the same finger each time we begin to alternate. However, this will eventually expose some limitations when we start to get into more challenging passages that require changes in our fingering.

Until next time, practice hard and have fun!

Bass Videos

Gear News: Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning

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Gear News: Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning

Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Revolutionary Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning Technology.

Ibanez Bass, renowned for pushing the boundaries of innovation in the music industry, is proud to announce an exciting collaboration with Graph Tech Guitar Labs, pioneers in instrument technology. Together, they introduce the revolutionary SRMS725 5-string Multi-scale Electric Bass and SRMS720 4-string Multi-scale Electric Bass featuring Graph Tech’s cutting-edge Ratio® Machine Heads.

The SRMS725 & SRMS720, part of the esteemed Bass Workshop series, represent a fusion of unparalleled craftsmanship and state-of-the-art engineering. Boasting a mesmerizing Blue Chameleon finish, this instrument embodies elegance and performance.

At the heart of this collaboration lies Graph Tech’s Ratio Machine Heads – a game-changer in the world of bass tuning. Unlike traditional machine heads, (which use a single gear ratio for all strings, such as 20:1) Ratio® Machine Heads employ a calibrated gear ratio for each string position. Why? Every string reacts differently to tuning adjustments, making the Low E or B on a bass hard to dial in the tuning because they are so sensitive to any adjustment. Fine-tuning where you need it. With every string having the same feel and response, players experience unparalleled control over their instrument’s tuning, resulting in a predictable, precise tuning experience with the musician in total control. 1 turn = 1 tone on every string. This same feel and response carries over to ratio-equipped electric and acoustic guitars.

We found RATIO® machine heads to be extraordinarily accurate, and we were particularly impressed with how easy drop tuning is with them, especially when dropping to D on the fourth string and to A on the fifth.,” says Ibanez. “This characteristic makes RATIO® tuners incredibly well suited for hard rock and other heavier sounds, so we thought they’d be a perfect match for our SRMS720 and SRMS725 basses. We’re also aware that Graph Tech is entirely committed to continuous product innovation, which fully aligns with our philosophy at Ibanez. .”

Innovation has always been at the core of Graph Tech’s philosophy,” says Dave Dunwoodie, President at Graph Tech Guitar Labs. “With Ratio® Machine Heads, we’ve reimagined the tuning experience, providing musicians with a tool that enhances their creativity and expression. Teaming up with Ibanez to bring this technology to the SRMS725 & SRMS720 represents a milestone in our journey to redefine industry standards.

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Features

Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

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Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

Interview and photo courtesy of Holly Bergantino of Bergantino Audio Systems

With an expansive live show and touring, Mt. Joy bassist Michael Byrnes shares his experiences with the joyful, high-energy band!

Michael Byrnes has kept quite a busy touring schedule for the past few years with his band, Mt. Joy. With a philosophy of trial and error, he’s developed quite the routines for touring, learning musical instruments, and finding the right sound. While on the road, we were fortunate to have him share his thoughts on his music, history, and path as a musician/composer. 

Let’s start from the very beginning, like all good stories. What first drew
you to music as well as the bass? 

My parents required my sister and I to play an instrument.  I started on piano and really didn’t like it so when I wanted to quit my parents made me switch to another instrument and I chose drums.  Then as I got older and started forming bands there were never any bass players.  When I turned 17 I bought a bass and started getting lessons.  I think with drums I loved music and I loved the idea of playing music but when I started playing bass I really got lost in it.  I was completely hooked.

Can you tell us where you learned about music, singing, and composing?

A bit from teachers and school but honestly I learned the most from just going out and trying it.  I still feel like most of the time I don’t know what I am doing but I do know that if I try things I will learn.  

What other instruments do you play?

A bit of drums but that’s it.  For composing I play a lot of things but I fake it till I make and what I can’t fake I will ask a friend! 

I know you are also a composer for film and video. Can you share more
about this with us?

Pretty new to it at the moment.  It is weirdly similar to the role of a bass player in the band.  You are using music to emphasize and lift up the storyline.  Which I feel I do with the bass in a band setting.  Kind of putting my efforts into lifting the song and the other musicians on it.

Everybody loves talking about gear. How do you achieve your “fat” sound?

I just tinker till it’s fat lol.  Right now solid-state amps have been helping me get there a little quicker than tube amps.  That’s why I have been using the Bergantino Forté HP2 –  Otherwise I have to say the cliche because it is true…. It’s in the hands.  

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that you’d like
to explore on the bass.

I like to think of myself as a pretty catchy bass player.  I need to ask my bandmates to confirm!  But I think when improvising and writing bass parts I always am trying to sneak little earworms into the music.   I want to explore 5-string more!

Who are your influences?

I can’t not mention James Jamerson.  Where would any of us be if it wasn’t for him?  A lesser-known bassist who had a huge effect on me is Ben Kenney.  He is the second bassist in the band Incubus and his playing on the Crow Left the Murder album completely opened me up to the type of bass playing I aspire towards.  When I first started playing I was really just listening to a lot of virtuosic bassists.  I was loving that but I couldn’t see myself realistically playing like that.  It wasn’t from a place of self-doubt I just deep down knew that wasn’t me.  Ben has no problem shredding but I was struck by how much he would influence the song through smaller movements and reharmonizing underneath the band.  His playing isn’t really in your face but from within the music, he could move mountains.   That’s how I want to play.    

What was the first bass you had? Do you still have it?

A MIM Fender Jazz and I do still have it.  It’s in my studio as we speak.  I rarely use it these days but I would never get rid of it.  


(Every bass player’s favorite part of an interview and a read!) Tell us about
your favorite bass or basses. 🙂

I guess I would need to say that MIM Jazz bass even though I don’t play it much.  I feel connected to that one.  Otherwise, I have been playing lots of great amazing basses through the years.  I have a Serek that I always have with me on the road (shout out Jake).   Also have a 70’s Mustang that 8 times out of 10 times is what I use on recordings.  Otherwise, I am always switching it up.  I find that after a while the road I just cycle basses in and out.  Even if I cycle out a P bass for another P bass.  

What led you to Bergantino Audio Systems?

My friend and former roommate Edison is a monster bassist and he would gig with a cab of yours all the time years ago.  Then when I was shopping for a solid state amp the Bergantino Forté HP2 kept popping up.  Then I saw Justin Meldal Johnsen using it on tour with St. Vincent and I thought alright I’ll give it a try!

Can you share a little bit with us about your experience with the Bergantino
forte HP amplifier? I know you had this out on tour in 2023 and I am pretty
certain the forte HP has been to more countries than I have.

It has been great!   I had been touring with a 70’s SVT which was great but from room to room, it was a little inconsistent.  I really was picky with the type of power that we had on stage.  After a while, I thought maybe it is time to just retire this to the studio.  So I got that Forte because I had heard that it isn’t too far of a leap from a tube amp tone-wise.  Plus I knew our crew would be much happier loading a small solid state amp over against the 60 lbs of SVT.  It has sounded great and has really remained pretty much the same from night to night.  Sometimes I catch myself hitting the bright switch depending on the room and occasionally I will use the drive on it.

You have recently added the new Berg NXT410-C speaker cabinet to your
arsenal. Thoughts so far?

It has sounded great in the studio.  I haven’t gotten a chance to take it on the road with us but I am excited to put it through the paces!

You have been touring like a madman all over the world for the past few
years. Any touring advice for other musicians/bass players? And can I go to Dublin, Ireland with you all??

Exercise!  That’s probably the number one thing I can say.  Exercise is what keeps me sane on the road and helps me regulate the ups and downs of it.  Please come to Dublin! I can put you on the guest list! 

It’s a cool story on how the Mt. Joy band has grown so quickly! Tell us
more about Mt. Joy, how it started, where the name comes from, who the
members are and a little bit about this great group?

Our singer and guitarist knew each other in high school and have made music together off and on since.  Once they both found themselves living in LA they decided to record a couple songs and put out a Craigslist ad looking for a bassist.  At the time I had just moved to LA and was looking for anyone to play with.  We linked up and we recorded what would become the first Mt. Joy songs in my house with my friend Caleb producing.  Caleb has since produced our third album and is working on our fourth with us now. Once those songs came out we needed to form a full band to be able to do live shows.  I knew our drummer from gigging around LA and a mutual friend of all of us recommended Jackie.  From then on we’ve been on the road and in the studio.  Even through Covid.

Describe the music style of Mt. Joy for me.

Folk Rock with Jam influences

What are your favorite songs to perform?

Always changing but right now it is ‘Let Loose’

What else do you love to do besides bass?

Exercise!

I always throw in a question about food. What is your favorite food?

I love a good chocolate croissant.

Follow Michael Byrnes:
Instagram: @mikeyblaster

Follow Mt. Joy Band:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtjoyband
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mtjoyband

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Bass CDs

Album: John Entwistle, Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two

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Album- John Entwistle, Rarities Oxhumed - Volume Two

Album: John Entwistle, Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two

Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two is the second of the series of posthumous releases coming from John Entwistle.

Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two is a compilation that was curated by drummer Steve Luongo, who served as John Entwistle’s producer, bandmate, business partner and good friend for many years. As Luongo states, “When I agreed to do two volumes of John Entwistle rarities, I knew volume two had to be even better than volume one. It is!” The collection of songs on Volume Two are from his years with the John Entwistle Band and include re-mastered versions of studio tracks including “Endless Vacation”, alternate mixes of tracks like “Sometimes”, and live tracks including The Who cuts “Real Me”, “Long Live Rock” and an epic version of “Young Man Blues”. The latest preview track to be released is the Who cut “Had Enough.”

Listen to “Had Enough” here: push.fm/ps/hadenough

Rarities Oxhumed – Volume One was quickly embraced by longtime fans as it featured gems like “Bogey Man” featuring Keith Moon, “Where You Going Now” (demo for the Who), and a raw live version of “Trick of the Light” recorded during the John Entwistle Band’s final tour in 2001. Deko Entertainment is thrilled to have been able to bring both volumes of this unearthed music of John Entwistle to the fans and forever solidify him as one of the greatest rock musicians ever.

For more information, visit online at dekoentertainment.com/john-entwistle

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Bass Videos

Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

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Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

I am sure many of you are very familiar with Mark Egan as we have been following him and his music for many years now. The last time we chatted was in 2020.

Mark teamed up with drummer Shawn Pelton and guitarist Shane Theriot to produce a new album, “Cross Currents” released on March 8th, 2024. I have been listening to this album in its entirety and it is simply superb (See my review).

Now, I am excited to hear about this project from Mark himself and share this conversation with our bass community in Bass Musician Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Mark Egan

Visit Online:

markegan.com
markegan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Amazon Music

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Bass Videos

Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB…

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB – Hearing protection has always been front and center on my mind because I love music so much, I cannot imagine my life if I were unable to hear.

You might remember back in 2021, we had a good look at the Minuendo Lossless Earplugs featuring adjustable protection. This system has a lot of very good features but there was always the question of how much sound attenuation to choose.

Now, the great folks at Minuendo have come up with a new version of their earplugs that has a set 17dB noise reduction. You still get a lot of the great features of the adjustables but you just don’t have to think about the specific sound level. In addition, this new version of earplugs comes at a very attractive price point.

For more information, visit online at Minuendo.com

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