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Fretting Hand Specifics

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For this installment, I’d like to get back to basics and share with you some tips that address the mechanics of hand technique. We will focus on the fretting hand this time around as we continue to work at developing and refining the way our hands work together.

If you have ever watched a great classical musician perform, you have probably noticed some key elements in his/her playing. World class classical musicians are some of the most disciplined players with respect to technique. Much of the music they perform demands intense focus, dexterity, and consistency. In spite of the excellence demanded of them, however, a great classical musician stays very relaxed and composed, and these traits allow him/her to remain expressive, dynamic, and musical throughout a performance. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of classical music, it is hard not to appreciate the level of technical mastery demonstrated by its performers.

Obviously, there is a lot to be gained as a bassist if we are to emulate the technical discipline of a classical musician. Interestingly enough, our basic technical approach as an electric bassist virtually mirrors that of a classical guitarist. For example, look at the way a classical guitarist holds his/her hands. Right and left hand positioning is virtually identical to ours. The main difference in the plucking hands is that a classical guitarist plays using his/her fingernails instead of the fingertips. The technique of the fretting hand, however, is basically the same. In this lesson, we will attempt to incorporate the relevant aspects that apply to our fretting hands, specifically.

In most applications, the basic technique of our fretting hand remains unchanged. For example, whether you are using a finger style, slap & pop, or muting approach with the plucking hand, the fretting hand is essentially doing the same thing. I’ve put together a list of 3 general guidelines to follow when working to clean up our fingering

1. Avoid using a “flat fingered” approach.

In other words, try to play more using the tips of the fingers. This involves keeping the fingers of the fretting hand slightly curved. See figure 1:

The reason for this is so you can effectively minimize the surface area coming into contact with the strings and the fingerboard. The result is better intonation and greater accuracy with your fretting hand. To demonstrate this, think about how a fretless bass is played. Playing in tune requires one to pay particular attention to where the string contacts the fingerboard. A move in the slightest direction forward or backward with the fretting finger will pull the pitch out of tune. The more narrow the contact point on our fretting finger, the easier it is to play pitches accurately. Although a fretted bass affords us the room to play in between the frets without fear of pitch variance, this concept is still valid; a flat fingered approach presents a greater risk of our notes “fretting out” if our fingers are too far forward or backward. (Obviously, this rule does not apply if we need to “bar” a chord or some other shape on the bass. In instances like these, it becomes necessary to flatten the fingers at least temporarily.)

2. Keep your thumb generally at the back of the neck.

Whenever possible, try to avoid bringing your thumb over the top of the neck. The higher your thumb is, the more inhibited your reach will be for your fretting fingers, especially when playing the lower pitched strings of your bass. A good place to keep the thumb is somewhere midway at the back of the neck so you can maximize stability and reach. See figure 2:

Although your thumb effectively becomes an anchor for your fretting hand, you DO NOT want to squeeze hard with it! There shouldn’t be any excessive force coming from your thumb when fretting notes on the fingerboard. A good way to test this is to try dropping the thumb off of the neck while your playing. See figure 3:

Ideally, you should still be able to fret the notes using only your other fingers. If you’ve ever felt pain in the thumb joint or palm of your fretting hand, try this test and see just how much you are depending on the squeezing force of your thumb. Just as the plucking hand can benefit from using a movable anchor, so can the fretting hand. While you play, try allowing your thumb to freely slide over the back of the neck in all directions so that it is basically “following” your fretting fingers. This will insure that you are staying relaxed and subsequently offer you maximum reach in all positions.


3. Maintain space between your palm and the back of the neck.

The main purpose of this is to maintain consistency in hand position, regardless of what string you are playing. You will notice that if your palm meets the back of the neck, it naturally pulls your thumb over the top of the neck and turns your fretting fingers to a position less perpendicular to the strings. See figure 4:

This position makes it much harder to play with curved fingers and contributes to a lack of reach because of the raised position of the thumb. To get a feel for a more beneficial hand position, try placing your fretting hand in a relaxed open handed position away from the bass… See figure 5:

…and then simply raise your hand to meet the neck of the bass. As your hand meets the instrument, your thumb should naturally move into position about midway at the back of the neck, and your curved fingers should lay naturally over top of the strings. See figure 6:

This is a great basic hand position to get used to using, and you will want to maintain this position regardless of what strings you are playing on.

Here are a couple of other more general points to keep in mind that will aid you in your technical development as a bass player. (These philosophies can be incorporated into your plucking hand technique, as well):

Avoid sharp wrist angles.

The importance of this can not be overemphasized. Sharp wrist angles, combined with tension and fatigue, significantly contribute to bass players’ hand injuries, and these injuries can sometimes be irreversible. Although problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injury, and tendonitis are beyond the scope of this particular lesson, their prevention is aided by the avoidance of excessive stress on the wrists. In general, you want to keep your bass at a height that allows a moderate wrist angle for both hands. You will find that if your bass hangs excessively low, a sharper angle is incurred by the wrist of the fretting hand. If you wear your bass excessively high, the wrist of your plucking hand will incur the sharper angle. Even if a player wears his/her bass somewhere in between, most end up struggling with wrist tension when they are playing in the lowest register of the bass, closest to the headstock.

The problem is exaggerated when a player tries to maintain a large finger stretch in that area, for example the 5 fret stretch from F to A on the E string. See figure 8:

Figures 7 and 8 are examples of the types of wrist angles you should constantly avoid. An alternative solution to covering this distance with an uncomfortable stretch involves “reaching” into each successive note while maintaining the same fingering. Don’t worry about holding your hand in a stretched position; instead, leave your hand in a relaxed state, and as you play your notes in order one at a time, allow your thumb and hand to slide into the next note. You can still maintain a completely legato feel as long as you reach smoothly and quickly. if you use this approach you will protect yourself from injury while maintaining consistent hand position and proper technique.

Stay relaxed.

The benefits of relaxation should be obvious to us as players. The tensing up of our bodies robs us of our endurance, dexterity, and technical agility. However, staying relaxed while playing is often easier said than done. Relaxation begins with the shoulders. Most players that struggle with tension in their playing usually carry most of their tension in their shoulders. Next time you are performing or practicing, take a moment to analyze the height of your shoulders, as well as the level of tension in your forearms and hands. When you stop to take a break in between songs or exercises, relax and analyze this again. If you discover a significant difference in the way your shoulders, arms, and hands look or feel, you probably are playing with too much tension. The only way to get out of this is to “practice relaxing.” As silly as it sounds to “make an effort to relax,” you’ll find that the key is to simply maintain a constant state of awareness of how much tension you are carrying at any given time. You can put this to work for you immediately by incorporating it into your practice routine. While you are practicing, as soon as you recognize that your shoulders or other parts of your body are tensing up, stop playing immediately. Drop your arms to your sides, relax completely, and then lift your hands to the bass and start playing again. As soon as you feel yourself start to tense up again, stop playing and do the same thing. By doing this, you are teaching yourself to become more in tune with your body while becoming more adept at staying relaxed.

I hope that these points will help you to get to the next level in your playing. Please remember that not all of these skills can be developed overnight. Therefore, it is vitally important that you exhibit patience as you work on these. What we don’t want to do is fall into our old habits out of frustration. Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes as you are developing, and above all else, make sure to have fun!

Until next time-

Gear News

New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

New from Elrick Bass Guitars, Headless Series added to Custom Lineup…

Elrick Bass Guitars is excited to announce the addition of a headless option on hand-carved series bass guitars. Initially previewed on the 2023 Gold Series SLC MkII bass of prolific solo bass practitioner and educator Steve Lawson, a headless bass option is now available to all. According the Elrick, “The excitement surrounding Steve’s MkII SLC bass at 2024 NAMM confirmed that the time is right to add a headless option to our extensive range of custom options.” To date, Elrick instruments have only been offered with traditional headstock construction but, in response to market demand, custom features will now include a headless option in 4-, 5- and 6-string models.

Headless bass guitars share these features with the traditional headstock series:

24 frets + zero fret
exotic wood top
hand-rubbed oil finish
2-way adjustable truss rod
custom Bartolini pickups
custom Bartolini 3-band preamp
fully shielded control cavity
Hipshot bridge
Dunlop Straploks
Elrick Fundamental strings

The headless option can now be selected when submitting custom order requests via the form on elrick.com, contacting the Elrick Sales Office directly, or working with your favorite Elrick dealer.

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)…

Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel the Elder probably had many things in mind when painting his Hunters in the Snow in oil on oak wood in 1565. This masterpiece tells plenty of little stories about winterly pastimes and precarious livelihoods in the Early Modern Age. What Bruegel presumably did not have in mind was that this painting would, several centuries later, become one of the most popular ones in fine arts globally, displayed in a permanent exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) Vienna. The painting’s popularity was lately taken to a different level as it was replicated by hand to design an exclusive BITE bass.

An international art collector and bass player who regularly visits Vienna to immerse himself in the wonderworld of Kunsthistorisches’ Bruegel Hall asked BITE to replicate the painting on a bass body. BITE Guitars, an Austrian premium manufacturer exporting most of their basses to the US, has become renowned for colorful artwork basses, offering a range of manual and digital techniques. The firm’s art director Peter, a trained scenic painter of Oscar and Palme d’Or rank, specializes in photo-realistic reproductions. He also painted the bass for Robbie Williams’ 2023 world tour by faithfully replicating Robbie’s own stage design onto the tour bass.

Peter copied the Bruegel motif onto the bass body in minute detail, little twigs even by one-hair-brush. Positioning the rectangular image section on the body shape proved to be a special challege that he met by repositioning little elements, a bird here, a horse and cart there.

It all came together in a memorable video shooting in front of the original painting in the Museum’s Bruegel Hall: venerable fine arts, premium handicraft and groovy jazz tunes.

View video at the museum: www.youtube.com/shorts/2evdqfR6gUE

What’s the conclusion of BITE’s client, our Vienna, art and bass lover? “It’s a magical bass! When I touch the strings, I feel warm inside.”

Specs highlights:
Bass model: BITE Evening Star, the proprietary BITE premium model with inward curved horns
Pickups: 2 x BITE 1000 millivolt passive split-coils (PP)
Neck: roasted maple neck and roasted flamed maple fretboard

Price tag incl. insured door-to-door express shipping:
New York: 4726 USD
London: 3645 GBP
Berlin: 4965 EUR

Full specs available at bite.guitars/old-master-bass/

Bruegel Hall at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: 
khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/the-best-of-bruegel-only-in-vienna/

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

Bassist Ciara Moser…

Ciara and I sat down for this interview a few months after the launch of her debut album, “Blind. So what?”

Blind since birth, she is a powerhouse of talent; she is not only a professional bassist, but also composes music, and is a producer and educator. I am just blown away by her talent and perseverance.

Join me as we hear about Ciara’s musical journey, the details of her album, how she gets her sound, and her plans for the future.

Visit online:

www.ciara-moser.com 
IG @ moserciara
FB @ ciara.moser

Photos by Manuela Haeussler

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Gear News

New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar…

Black Ice Enterprises introduces Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort, small, battery-free devices that can be easily installed in a bass or guitar.

Black Ice Boost offers two selectable stages of up to 7 dB of boost, broadly concentrated in the midrange frequencies to add humbucker-like qualities to Strat®, Tele® and other types of single-coil pickups. Black Ice Distort is an overdrive module that can be configured to offer anything from slight overdrive to distortion. Both models are compatible with all passive guitar pickups and electronics (they’re not compatible with battery-powered active pickups).

Black Ice Boost (SRP: $119.95; MAP, $79.95) can be installed using several wiring options, including a simple “stealth” install that utilizes a single push-pull pot, and a dual-switch option that allows users to select between two different levels of boost. For those using the boost along with Black Ice Distort, a second push-pull pot or switch can be used to select a clean or distorted boost.

The Black Ice Boost module is approximately 2/3 the size of a 9-volt battery, and can be easily installed in most instruments with no routing or permanent modifications required. The tone of the instrument remains completely unaffected when the boost is bypassed.

In addition to use with popular single-coil pickups, Black Ice Boost can also be used with other pickup types. Use it to fatten up a P-90 style pickup, or add girth to a low-wind humbucker. Jazz Bass® players can use the additional midrange content provided by Black Ice Boost to produce a sound that’s reminiscent of a P-Bass® or soapbar-type pickup. Black Ice Boost is not recommended for use with high-output humbuckers and other dark-sounding pickups.

Black Ice Distort (SRP: $27.95; MAP, $21.95) is an overdrive module that can be configured for just a touch of grit, or a more aggressive grind, all the way to a 1960’s-flavored fuzz. While its battery-free circuit will never replace the more refined sound of a well-designed pedal, it provides handy, there-when-you-need-it access to a variety of fun old-school flavors, and is a great way to add additional textures to an already overdriven amp or pedal. Bass players will especially dig its raw dirty grind.

Like Black Ice Boost, the sugar-cube-sized Black Ice Distort provides a lifetime of tone with no maintenance or power source required. A variety of wiring options are included that let you activate the Distort via a switch or push-pull pot, or by easily converting your guitar’s tone control into a control for the Black Ice Distort circuit. It can be used in conjunction with the Black Ice Boost for a wide variety of useful tones.

Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort are now shipping.

Visit online at www.blackiceoverdrive.com

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @loritabassworks @meridian_guitars @alpherinstruments @phdbassguitars @mgbassguitars @mauriziouberbasses @utreraguitars @sugi_guitars @branco_luthier @blasiusguitars

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