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Expanding Your Voice on Bass: Inflections and Articulations

Inflections and articulations

Q: I notice bassists adding what I would call a “slur”, but I think the correct term would be trill at the end of lines and phrases. I really dig the effect, but my hands and mind are not naturally inclined to do this. What would you recommend to help me work on this?

A: As with any technique, the best way to practice it is slowly and with intention. I recommend combining melodic exercises with technical ones so you can a) get more bang for your buck with your practice time and b) get used to using the technique in a musical context.

My experience with this started with exploring different ways to articulate notes because, although I always preferred the feel of an electric bass, I’ve always thought that acoustic basses had more “life” contained in each note. To overcome my sense of inadequacy of feeling in the life of a note, I explored what could be done with a note by virtue of simply paying attention to how I played each note and what I did with it while it was ringing. I’ve always said that a single note has a full life span (i.e.: a beginning, a middle and an end). Exploring that life span can really bring a new level of “feeling” to your playing.

While slurs always came fairly naturally to me, the trills took a bit more effort.

Try this: begin practicing various scales and melodic patterns slowly, and adding a trill (quick fingering back and forth of a half-step) to every note. Practice trilling notes at various rhythmic groupings as well (8th notes, triplets, as fast as possible, and so on). You’ll likely discover that every method had a different sound or effect.

In addition to experimenting with various rhythms, focus on expanding your intervalic leaps (trying not just semi-tone trills but whole steps, minor 3rds…)

As you go, remember:

  1. Start slowly and develop your abilities with intention and control.
  2. Explore every possible variation you can think of in this exercise.

This simple two-part methodology applied to anything that you may want to practice will most certainly lead to a development of your abilities as well as your understanding of various musical contexts. Good luck!

Readers, as always, I welcome your excellent feedback. Have a trick you want to share on this topic? Let us here from you. Post your suggestions/experiences in the comments.

Photo by Raúl!

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