Johnny Cox reading music

Left Hand Techniques

Wednesday 30th April 2014

For me practicing techniques is all about learning to play in the most efficient way possible. Whether I’m working on my left or right hand technique, I’m always trying to find the simplest way to play the notes that involves the least amount of movement in my hands. As far as I’m concerned all unnecessary movement slows me down.
For my left hand I like to use the “one finger per fret” system. This can be practiced and mastered very simply by using the following exercise.
V5E1This is a very common exercise that bass players (and guitar players) have been using for decades. If you add the open strings to this exercise as shown in Example 2 then you can play the chromatic scale from the open E string to the B on the 4th fret of the G string without shifting position. V5E2Example 3 shows how to practice the “one finger per fret system” on a single string, and you can practice this way on each string individually. The benefit of this exercise is that it teaches us to shift positions up and down the neck whilst maintaining good technique in our left hand. V5E3You can alter this exercise by changing the order of the fingering. For example instead of playing 1st, 2nd, 3rd then 4th finger you could try 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 4th as in Example 4, or any other pattern you can come up with. V5E4If you’re not used to using the “one finger per fret” system then I would strongly recommend spending some time working on the above examples until you get used to it. Once you get used to the system, use it to practice some scales and arpeggios because they are great for mastering techniques. The following examples are just a few scales and arpeggios you can use. V5E5 V5E6 V5E7 V5E8V5E10If you want to take your left hand technique a step further then there is another thing you can do. As you get further up the neck of the bass the frets get closer together which means that the stretches needed to play “one finger per fret” get smaller. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t restrict myself to “one finger per fret” in areas of the fingerboard where my finger span could be much greater than 4 frets. So when I get above the 5th fret of the bass I use my 1st finger to cover 2 different frets while my 2nd, 3rd & 4th fingers still play “one finger per fret”. This allows me to cover 5 frets in a single position which gives me access to the entire chromatic scale without having to change position. Example 9 demonstrates how I play a Eb major scale using this technique starting on the 6th fret of the A string. In this case my 1st finger can play the 6th or 7th frets, my 2nd finger plays the 8th fret, my 3rd finger the 9th fret and my 4th finger the 10th fret.