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Forked Fingering: A Guide to Comfortable Double Stops for Bassists

Playing fourths across strings on the upright bass can be fraught with problems, especially when we are playing double stops. Sometimes it is appropriate to “bar” the notes using the same finger like this:

Forked Fingering example 1

However, this can create a clamping of the hand and needless tension, which in turn limits our facility and ability to adjust quickly. Intonation can also be suspect while barring and we may need to tilt our hand clockwise toward the bridge to adjust. Certainly not an impossible task, but should be noted.

While barring is certainly a necessary technique for bassists to have in their arsenal, it is often more prudent to use a “forked” fingering such as this:

Forked Fingering example 2

With a forked fingering, intonation can still be an issue if we don’t make adjustments to our hand position. With the forked fingering we may need to tilt our hand counter-clockwise toward the scroll. Fingers should remain curved and fingers not in use should remain loose. A forked fingering is often a more comfortable solution to fourths in double stops. Additionally, it is a required technique for fourths in the upper positions (i.e. traditional thumb position)

The forked fingering is not only good for double stops, however. I use it often for quick passages to ensure facility. For example the following excerpt from Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony 35:

Forked Fingering example 3

If you have never used a forked fingering before it may take some time to become comfortable with it, but the benefits to skill are worth it. Play chromatic double stops (in fourths of course!) up and down the fingerboard and incorporate the forked fingering into your scale practice. Then, take a look at some of the passages that include fourths and see if a forked fingering can make your life easier and the music cleaner.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at www.donovanstokes.com and check out the Bass Coalition at www.basscoalition.com.

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