Bass techniques: Jack Stevens

While we’ve looked at a whole range of scales and arpeggios and their related left-hand fingerings, the right-hand approach is extremely important in allowing us to execute these patterns smoothly and efficiently. In my final year at music college, I studied under bass guru Steve Berry of Loose Tubes, who immediately identified my right hand as being a weak link. Ideally, we don’t want our technique to get in the way of executing our ideas, so the more ways you try playing the same idea, the less you will trip yourself up finger-wise.

We’re going to revisit some of this column’s earlier exercises to look at suggested right-hand (RH) fingerings. Figure one shows a C major arpeggio. I’m referring to index and middle fingers numerically, for ease.

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The first thing you should notice is that while the right-hand pattern starts by alternating fingers, on the way back down we use two twice followed by one twice. This is what’s known as a rake, as you rake through the strings. Rakes can be really useful and often the logical choice. As an exercise, you should try to do the same pattern with strictly alternating fingers.

Figure two is a C minor arpeggio. Assuming you do this with the left-hand fingering detailed in my earlier column (starting on your LH index finger), there’s the option of raking across three strings to come back down the pattern.

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Let’s look at our one-octave scales again. Playing these at a slow tempo can be a good way to warm up. Try the suggested fingering first and then try starting on your middle RH finger instead. The first approach is a standard ascending- descending major scale with the notes in consecutive order. The second is a slightly different permutation, moving up in thirds. You should try this particular variation with your minor scales as well.

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If you’re a rock fan, you’ll no doubt have heard a whole host of players who use plectrums over fingerstyle when playing the bass. The plectrum is by no means exclusive to the rock genre though. Just explore Anthony Jackson’s playing: as well as being an overall bass legend, Jackson has worked the plectrum into fusion music. Check out his plectrum work on YouTube with Hiromi’s Trio Project.

Plectrum use is well worth experimenting with, as it offers an array of sounds and tones that the fingers don’t. It also allows you to play certain ideas a lot faster and with more attack, once you’ve mastered the technique. Try playing the different  plectrum patterns I’ve notated for you. Downstrokes are marked with a V symbol and upstrokes with a ^.

Hold the plectrum between your RH thumb and index finger. Find a comfortable spot between the end of the bass neck and bridge, where you get a pleasing sound with the plectrum. Try and avoid any overtones (notes ringing out unnecessarily) by using your left-hand or RH palm to mute strings after you’ve played them.

In the next instalment of this column we will be looking at some basics of slap bass, so in the interim make sure you have a listen to the likes of Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten to get a taste of that playing style.

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