Re-evaluating Your Technique

Bassist right hand

Q: Do you ever re-evaluate your technique (posture, strap height, string height) or do you feel it’s just set?

A: At this point, I feel like I am pretty well set-up and understand my physical relationship with my instrument. This, however, is because I spent much of my life experimenting and studying what others had done or were currently doing.

Generally speaking, I never really explored alternatives to whatever it was that I was doing until a problem presented itself. For example, I explored strap length and ultimately, double shoulder straps because of fatigue and numbness while on the road. I explored palm muting and discovered how useful a thumb could be in finger-style playing because my bass at the time sounded too “tinny.” I discovered my happy place with tone and string height because I wasn’t happy with my tone and decided to explore what kind of difference string and pickup height made to tone (a fair bit, actually). I explored ergonomics because I used to get uncomfortable when I played for more than an hour at a time.

I’ve also learned a lot reading articles, talking with players and just generally trying to be involved in all things bass as well as all things growth related.

My general rule of thumb is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, if you’re comfortable with your instrument and like your tone, I wouldn’t worry too much about doing things differently but if there are areas in which you seek an evolutionary step, dig in and learn as much as you can. Talk to musicians, read about what your favorite players are doing, try different things with your technique, posture and playing style. The fact that you wrote in with this question suggests that you are curious and possibly looking for something new or different.

Most every way in which you change the way you play will also affect your tone. If you are experiencing pain, I would suggest reading up on body mechanics, posture and hand position as well as possibly talking to a doctor who specializes in that sort of thing. Here are some things that you might explore that will not only change the way you play but will likely affect your tone and style as well:

  1. String height
  2. Pickup height
  3. Hand position
  4. Proper setup of your instrument (neck relief, etc.)
  5. Hand position, how many fingers you use on your plucking hand
  6. How hard you attack the strings
  7. What part of your finger you use to attack the strings (angle of your fingers, how much meat plucks the strings, etc.)
  8. Posture
  9. Strap length (I set mine, so it’s just about the same sitting as standing)
  10. Plucking techniques (hard, soft, slapping, floating thumb vs. anchored thumb, two finger, three finger, more fingers, etc.)
  11. Fretting hand position and grip (how hard you grip the fretboard)

You get the idea. There is a lot that goes into getting a sound from your instrument beyond holding down a note and plucking it. Get to know your body, your instrument and the relationship between them. The more you know, the better your connection to the instrument will be and the better that connection is, the easier it should be for you to make music and develop your voice.

I hope that helps!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

Get daily bass updates.

Get the latest news, videos, lessons, and more in your inbox every morning.

Share your thoughts