After hearing of the recent loss of Deftones bassist Chi Cheng, I combed the internet to find something positive to remember him by. I came across the article he wrote in early 2000 about his love for the instrument and a mutual analogy of sex, as he both admitted a love for the two; while accepting that he wasn’t a master of either. It was a great read and put a smile on my face.
I have had a similar tryst with both of those interests myself, and concluded that my bass playing will never reach the upper echelon of the talent pool, nor will I magically wake up tomorrow with a quarter pound of salami in my pants. It’s the love we have for the “art” and the execution that makes it real. Conviction and effort will always have purpose.
So two years ago, after twenty plus years of playing, I decided to go “back to school” so to speak. I had hit that majestic and completely transparent wall that people invent. So I decided to seek out a bass teacher who could also play the guitar like he invented it! I mean, this guy could shred and make it look effortless. He was very gracious, which is also extremely important in a teacher. Yeah, he was ten years younger than me, but ego is something for lead vocalists, right?
We began with some intermediate stuff and some sight-reading and scales/modes, but I hastily approached him with more practical but complex ideas. The stuff we we’re into seemed so basic.
Before I got any further though, he questioned what was going on with my right hand technique? Well, I thought at first, he must be talking about how nimble and seamless my index and middle finger flow over the strings! No, that wasn’t it. Second thought was that he couldn’t believe how well my thumb was anchored and in great position to drop triplet patterns while everybody’s jaw dropped in disbelief! Not so much on that either. So what he said was nothing close to what I wanted to hear: “Your fingers are mess, you lead with the pointer and (selectively) use your middle finger and your thumb has you so locked in tight and stiff, that it honestly looks uncomfortable!” Wow. If I had any bravado left, it was stifled and sent back to the days of woodshedding in my parents’ basement. The days when I was convinced I could play Anthrax or Iron Maiden, mainly because my friends didn’t have the heart to tell me I blew. It was a humbling moment.
I think I needed to hear it and he introduced me to some concepts that may have escaped me over the years. This was the reason I came to a gifted guitarist and bassist, and someone who did not have bass as his primary instrument. We tackled the rotation of pointer and middle with finger alternations; string crossing and floating the hand and not “thumbing” the E string or pick-up (Watch me play “Wrathchild” now!). It was how I originally learned, and it reinvigorated my playing and allowed for smoother transitions and consistent plucking. I have modified what he gave me to a hybrid of floating for speedier runs and anchoring the thumb for harder strikes when there is a need for accents. And I use a pick from time to time as well, because versatility is a must! I’m happy he opened up my eyes. We’re never too old to learn.
A lot of my favorite bassists look different to me now and there are so many greats out there. I have a few personal favorites and sometimes I notice that the pointer finger is carrying much of the load. Check it out for yourself next time you see a band live or on TV. The middle finger isn’t there just to tell off other drivers! You’re a musician and bass player! Don’t be afraid to give em’ the finger!
Visit Tim Risser online at unheraldedbassists.blogspot.com