How to Hold and Finger Your Bass – Part One

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 22,803
    Professional bassist Percy White demonstrates how to hold and finger your bass guitar.

    Percy White

    Percy White is a professional bassist living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. He is originally from Philadelphia, Pa. He started playing bass when he was 10 years old after trying unsuccessfully to play guitar. As he puts it, "It just made sense. The bass has four strings and I have four fingers to play them with." He started playing by ear but after hearing Stanley Clarke he realized that he had to take lessons and so he did. After graduating high school, he joined the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Engineering Program but his musical education also continued with his study of jazz and music theory. After serving in the military, White moved to Chicago to begin an engineering career that was short lived due to his love of music. He began taking bass lessons with Nick Schneider (former bassist for the Tonight Show Band) After playing in numerous jam sessions, he began his career as a full time musician. He played with notable jazz artists like Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Brown, Jr, Roy Ayer s, and Ronnie Laws. He has jammed with Buddy Guy at his famous blues club in Chicago. White has been a founding member of two rock bands, two blues bands, one latin/jazz band, and one contemporary jazz group. He has played for the Chicago City Colleges Jazz Band, and was a winning member of the 1996 Chicago Blues band competition. In 2000, White relocated back to the east coast to broaden his musical experiences. He shares his musical knowledge by teaching privately in the DC area. After one of his outstanding performances in DC, White was asked to audition for the 257th Army Band and he recently joined the ranks of the elite performers of the Nation's Capital Army Band. White feels it's an honor to serve his country through his musical talents and is glad to have the opportunity. Although his full time occupation is being an application engineer for a worldwide water treatment company, White can still be seen playing in the Washington, DC area at least five nights a week doing what he has been doing for the last 30 years.

    Percy White: Hi, welcome back. My name is Percy and this is another part of the series on playing bass. In this segment, I am going to show you how to actually make notes on your bass. Now, first thing you have to do is be comfortable holding your instrument and I have straps on because this is very heavy bass, but if you are going to be standing up, you would be seeing down you need to adjust the bass so it fits comfortably and you feel relaxed when you are playing. You have to hold your bass, there is a better way of holding, I dont want to say right or wrong because you have to be comfortable, but they are the traditional ways if you will. Traditional way is for your left hand or for whatever hand is holding the bass because you maybe left-handed which means right hand will hold it, but for whichever hand thats holding the neck of the bass which is this part, if you are holding the neck, ideally you want to place your thumb behind the neck of the bass, so you cant really see it and that gives you a pivot point for your hand. So, it is around the bass and you can pivot off of your thumb. Ideally you would like to keep your middle finger of the hand that is making the notes, you want to keep that as close to the thumb as possible and so if my thumb is here on this fret here then I want my bring my finger around, some little fingers right there too. So, if you want to try and keep your thumb behind the bass and keep it around the position of your middle finger as you move up to neck that might not be as easy to do but around at the first five frets or so it should not be that hard to do. So, thats how you hold the bass and I am going to show you this.

    When you doing it, if you know this my hand, this part of my hand does not rest on the neck, its extended away from the neck and I will show it to you so you can see, so even when I am reaching around, this part of my hand doesnt touch the bass, you want to have space there, that allows you to have maximum dexterity when you are playing. So, well get to other things that affect your dexterity, but thats an important part. So, you have your neck hand which is right here and then you have your strumming hand. Now, you want to make the notes as cleanly as possible, clean is nice, speed in wonderful and speed will come, but you want to be clean when you playing the bass and thats where your right hand comes in or whatever hand you strum the strings with. Now, what I do is, I like to mute the strings that I am not playing and there is a technique for doing that. You can rest your thumb across the string that you arent playing with and the other fingers will strum the other strings and I will get into that. First, what you do is primarily you want to use these two fingers, you want to alternate these two fingers at all the times and how you making a note is, I am going to start here on the highest string. What you would do is you strum your fingers across the string like so, and you let the string behind it stop your hand. Notice that I am not plucking at it like this. What I am doing is, I am taking the middle finger and I am just running it across the string. What makes the sound is that the pickups will pickup the vibration of the string.