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A Guide to Harmonics on Bass – Part 1: Natural Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary 34

Play Harmonics on Bass Guitar – Part 1: Natural Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary – 11th December 2018

I use harmonics a lot in my bass arrangements, so I thought I’d do a complete guide to playing harmonics on bass. It’s too much information for just one video, so I’ve split it into two parts, natural harmonics and artificial harmonics. This video contains everything you need to know about natural harmonics on bass. Including the harmonic series and advice for making chord voicing using harmonics.

Natural Harmonics

I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of the terms natural and artificial harmonics. To me, they are all just harmonics, they follow the same rules and principles. The distinction is that natural harmonics are created from open strings, whereas artificial harmonics are created from notes that are fretted with the left hand. Calling them natural or artificial makes as much sense as calling notes played on open strings ‘natural notes’ and notes fretted with the left hand ‘artificial notes’.

There is nothing artificial about artificial harmonics, all harmonics exist naturally. However, there is a difference in the techniques that you use to play natural verses artificial harmonics, which I will look at across these two videos. So, I’ll continue to use the terms, natural and artificial, even though I’m not sure they’re ideal.

So, natural harmonics are created by touching the open strings very lightly with your left hand and then plucking the string as normal with your right hand. For the harmonic to be clear, you must avoid the string making contact with any fret, and you should remove both hands from the string immediately after plucking with your right hand. The string should be left to ring as if it were an open string. The difference is that the note you will hear will be much higher than the open string.

The Harmonic Series (Overtone Series)

In order to properly understand and use harmonics, you must first become familiar with the harmonic series. The harmonic series is a sequence of tones that make up a musical note. Musical notes are not simple sound waves. In fact they’re very complex and they comprise a whole sequence of overtones that we call the harmonic series. We can explore this sequence on our basses by playing harmonics.

The harmonic series is, in theory at least, infinite. So it’s impossible to learn or play the entire harmonic series. As you go further up the series, the harmonics become harder and harder to hear and to find on your bass string. So, I’m only really interested in the first few notes of the series.

The series always starts at the exact half way point of the string. This means the halfway point between the nut and the bridge. On your bass, the halfway point is marked by the twelfth fret. You will always find a harmonic at the halfway point of any string that is pulled tight between two points. It doesn’t matter what note you tune the string to and it doesn’t matter what instrument you are playing. The harmonic at the twelfth fret will produce a note that is exactly one octave above the open string.

So, the harmonic series starts with an octave and then is goes up a fifth and then to another octave. This will be a note two octaves above the open string. These harmonics will both occur in two different places on each string. One on the left side of the centre of the string, and one in the same position on the right side of the centre.

The next note in the sequence is a major 3rd above the previous note. So the harmonic series up to this point gives us a kind of major arpeggio.

Natural Harmonics - Harmonic Series on G
Natural Harmonics – Harmonic Series on G

Here is the sequence written out on the first string of a four string bass. So, the sequence is written in G. The sequence goes, G, D, G, B.

Creating Chord Voicings with Harmonics

The same major arpeggio pattern will repeat itself on any open string, Root, 5th, Root, 3rd. Which makes it fairly simple to work out what notes you’re playing when you play these harmonics.

Once you know what the notes are, you can start to combine natural harmonics and normal fretted bass notes to create chord voicings. I gave two examples in the video, both using the harmonics D and G played on the fifth fret of the first and second strings.

When you add the root note Eb to the harmonics D and G it creates an Eb major 7th chord. G is the major third and D is the major seventh. I’ve done that by fretting the Eb on the 6th fret of the third string, but there are other ways you could play this chord. If you change the root note to E, you get an E minor 7th chord. The G and D become the minor 3rd and 7th.

Ebmaj7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics
Ebmaj7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics
Em7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics
Em7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs on Bass – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary 32

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary – 27 November 2018

Someone asked me recently to do a video with some Hammer Ons and Pull Offs exercises. I don’t usually do videos based on suggestions, but this time I thought it was a good idea. Because practising Hammer Ons and Pull Offs is a great way to improve your Left Hand Technique.

Having said that, I believe that there are a few basic things that you need to get right if you are going to improve your technique by practicing hammer ons and pull offs.

Left Hand Techniques

The first thing is to come up with exercises that use four fingers on your left hand. If you want to play with good technique in your left hand then you need to be able to play evenly between all of your fingers.

I see so many beginner and intermediate bass players favouring certain fingers and trying to avoid other fingers on their left hand. It’s very natural to play like that because when you start, everyone has stronger index and middle fingers than ring finger and little finger. But that’s the reason you practice left hand techniques, in order to overcome that.

If you play hammer ons and pull offs using the same two fingers every time, then you are actually making your left hand technique more uneven when you practice.

So, Rule One of left hand technique is practice with four fingers. The only exception to this is when you are specifically working on strengthening a weak finger. As I demonstrated in the video with my third finger.

Hammer Ons

The second thing that you need to get right is, when you hammer on, you need to hammer on to the fret and not in between two frets. For example, if you want to play the fifth fret on the first string, you need to hammer onto the fifth fret, not in between the fourth and fifth fret.

You need to be very accurate because if you go even a little bit in front of the fret, you will lose the note. The sound is created by striking the string against the fret. So, if you don’t hammer on accurately then the sound will be weak and quiet.

Many bass players struggle with this because they don’t spread out their fingers on the left hand. If you play with your fingers too close together, you won’t be able to reach the frets with your third and fourth fingers and your hammer ons will be weak.

So, Rule Two is spread you fingers wide and hammer on accurately onto the frets.

Pull Offs

The pull off technique is a bit easier. But make sure you don’t just lift your fingers off the strings. You need to excerpt a gentle pull on the string as you pull off. If you don’t, the notes will die out as you repeat the exercises. If you pull too hard, the notes will sound uneven as your pull offs will be much louder than your hammer ons.

When you get the pull off technique right, you should be able to keep all of these exercises going continuously without needing to play any notes with your right hand. The pull off technique is easiest to execute on the first string.

So, Rule Three is practice these exercises on all strings, not just on the first string.

The Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises with Bass TAB

This is the first exercise that I played in the video.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 1
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 1

I would recommend that you don’t spend too much time playing the same exercise the same way. You should keep coming up with your own little variations. And try to focus on the things that you find difficult.

If you practice the same exercise too much, you will become very good at playing that one exercise. But if you keep varying the exercise you will eventually become very good at the technique, which is what you want.

Here is the second exercise from the video.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 2
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 2

In this example you keep your first finger held down continuously. Now here is a variation in which you hold your second finger down continuously.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 3
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 3

Make sure you hold your second finger down on a string that you’re not using. Because you won’t be able to pull off with your first finger if your second finger is held down on the string you’re playing. You can vary this exercise again by holding down your third and then fourth fingers. It gets harder each time.

Rule Four

Rule four is the most important rule, and it should apply to everything you practice. The rule is, focus on timing and not speed. Use a drum beat or a metronome and practice everything you do by playing in time.

Hammer ons and pull offs are relatively easy to play fast, but they’re much harder to play in time, and it’s hard to get all the notes to sound even. So my best recommendation is start slow, play in time, make it even and then gradually increase the tempo.

 

 

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary 15

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary – 31st July 2018

This week I’ve been looking for new and interesting chord voicings on my 6-string bass. Suspended chords tend to create a modern sound and I’ve demonstrated one particular voicing that I like and has proved to be quite versatile.

When I found this particular voicing I started moving it around to different positions and playing it over open strings, which created other chords, mostly major chords. What you see in the video is me improvising using this chord voicing.

It isn’t particularly structured practice, but that’s ok, because sometimes when you’re practising an impulse takes over and you just play for fun. That’s what’s happening in this video. And as soon as I’d shot the video, I pulled out my fretless Warwick Thumb SC to play a bit of melodic improvisation over the top.

If you’re interested in that kind of melodic improvising with fretless bass then check out these two recent posts. Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies and Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar.

What Are Suspended Chords?

Suspended chords or sus chords are chords that omit a third in favour of using either the second or fourth or both. The absence of a third makes the chords neither major or minor. It’s the third that defines whether a chord is major or minor. And sus chords have a neutral sound as a result of not having a third. Listen to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage for an example of the suspended chord sound being used in jazz.

The chord symbol for a C suspended chord can be written as Csus. I sometimes see it written as C11. I don’t like the 11 chord symbol because, although a 4th is the same as an 11th, the 11 chord symbol implies to me the presence of a third, dominant seventh and a ninth. So the sus symbol is more accurate.

Csus2 is C, D and G (root, 2nd, 5th), Csus4 is C, F and G (root, 4th, 5th). You can think of C7sus as Bb/C. The Bb, D and F from the Bb major triad function as the dominant 7th, 2nd and 4th and create a suspended sound when you play them over a C root note. You could also call the same chord C9sus because the 2nd and 9th are interchangeable in the same way that the 4th and 11th are.

The Opening Chord Sequence

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence
Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence

The opening sequence in the video is played over an open A string until the final chord which is played over an open E. All of the voicings are built by playing an interval of a sixth between the D and G strings, and an interval of a second between the G and C strings. Try making your own chords using the same voicings. You can adapt them onto four and five string basses by playing over the open E string and voicing the chords on the A, D and G strings.

Due to the improvised nature of my performance in the video, many of these chords are no longer sus chords. Many of them are major chords. What started off as an exercise in finding suspended chord voicings became an improvisation using the same chord voicing against open strings.

The Chord Theory

The first chord in the opening sequence is a suspended chord, but the second has a major sound. It contains a C#. Which is the major 3rd of A. If you listen carefully in the video I don’t play the top note on the second chord. It would have been a D. I was improvising and I’ve no idea what I was thinking in the moment. But I may have thought that C# and D would clash, being a semi-tone apart. In hindsight I slightly regret this. Conventional jazz theory says don’t include a major 3rd and natural 11th in the same chord voicing. But I think it works in this context. So I’ve included the note in the TAB even though it’s not in the video.

The third chord creates a lydian sound with the sharp 11th D# and major 3rd C#. You can check out my video on lydian sounds by clicking here. The fourth chord creates a straightforward A major sound with an added 9th. And the final chord creates an E major/Esus sound. Again, I’ve included the major 3rd and natural 11th, which I think sounds cool. Even though the two notes clash if you play them simultaneously. Notice that I’ve finger picked each note individually to cut down on the impact of such clashes. The final note that I’ve included is tapped with my right hand index finger.

The Closing Sequence

The closing sequence simply uses the last two chords of the opening sequence and repeats them. I hope you have some fun with these chord voicings and you’re able to come up with some original chords.

 

 

Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar

Everything you need to know about harmony on the bass 

Harmony is a lot simpler than most people think.

Like it or not the bass is a harmony instrument, bass lines have been around for centuries before the electric bass was invented and they’re the lowest harmony part. So Harmony and rhythm are our main functions as bass players. Rhythm is a much bigger and (in my opinion) much more interesting topic, but I wanted to make this video to show you exactly how simple harmony is.

Know the Chromatic Scale

The key to understanding harmony is first of all knowing that there are only 12 notes. Chromatic scale is simply a technical term for what you get when you play all 12 notes one after the other. If you’re not yet familiar with the chromatic scale, that is where you should start. It’s easier than learning the alphabet, there are more than twice as many letters in the alphabet than there are notes.

How Do You Avoid Playing Wrong Notes?

As bass players we usually play one note at a time. I know that you can play chords on the bass, I’ve made videos about it, but it isn’t our primary function. The term bass line implies one note at a time.

I am firmly of the opinion that there is no such thing as a wrong note. There are only 12 notes in total so if we start classifying some of these as wrong, we’re seriously limiting our options. There are inside notes and outside notes (I’ll explain these as I go on) and it’s our job as musicians to find ways of using them that makes sense musically.

Learn To Play Arpeggios!

So our job in terms of harmony is to choose which note out of the 12 we play at any one time. And the first thing that every bass player needs to know is chord tones or arpeggios. Arpeggio is just a classical term meaning all the notes of a chord played one at a time. Guitar players have chords and bass players have arpeggios. If you don’t know your arpeggios you will end up playing root notes all the time and your basslines will be boring.

How many notes in an arpeggio depends on the chord in question, but lets take an A7 chord for example. There are 4 notes (demonstrate). 4 out of 12. That’s already 1/3rd of all the notes and the chord tones are the strongest notes you can use in a harmonic situation.

What are Inside and Outside Notes?

Next is scale tones. Scales tend to have seven notes in them (not all I know, but standard major and minor scales and all their modes do). We’ve used four of them already in the arpeggio so there are three others that we can use as passing tones. These are the inside notes, notes that belong in the harmony. The remaining five notes that are not within the scale are the outside notes, you can think of these as chromatic passing notes.

So, Here’s Everything You Need to Know!

And that’s it, there are 12 notes, chord tones, scale tones and chromatic passing tones. It’s that simple. Your job is to learn what each of them sounds like, and the only way to do that is play them as much as you can. So cancel your application for that three year college course on advanced harmony and instead go forth and play your bass!

What Else is There?

Harmony and rhythm are the two biggest worlds in the language of music. And rhythm is much simpler than you might think as well, once you know how to sub-divide a beat into two, three and four. You know most of what you need to know about rhythm, but if you want more detail on rhythm you need to get my book Improve Your Groove. Here’s a link, https://geni.us/bassgroove

Enjoy!

Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 4 – Chord Extensions

In Part 4 we’re going to look at chord extensions.

In this video lesson you’re going to learn how to play chords with chord extensions on the bass.  I’ll also explain what notes you can leave out and why, in order to make your chords sound more interesting.

What are chord extensions?

Extended harmony is where chords get a lot more interesting sounding but it’s also where the theory gets more complicated. Chord extensions are notes that we can add to basic chords like triads. Having established how to play triads in Part 3, we can now look at adding chord extensions to them.

The most common chord extension by far is the seventh. In Part 3 we looked at how triads are made up of a root, a third and a fifth. And there is an interval of a third between each of these notes. In order to make a triad into a seventh chord we just continue this pattern of stacking intervals of a third. We add a note that is a third above the fifth and we call this note the seventh. Seventh chords have four notes in them root, third, fifth and seventh.

Four types of seventh chords

If you watched my video about “Intervals” then you’ll know that there are two types of sevenths, major and minor just like there are major and minor thirds. Fifths however are not major or minor and so the fifth is the same in both major and minor chords. For this reason, it’s the third and seventh notes of each chord that define what type of chord it is.

For example if you have a chord with a major third and a major seventh in it, it’s called a major seventh chord and a chord with a minor third and a minor seventh is called a minor seventh chord. The word used to describe a chord that has a major third and a minor seventh in it is “dominant” and dominant seventh chords are very common.

The chord symbol for a dominant seventh chord is just the number 7 (eg. G7, A7, C7 etc.) minor seventh chords are written m7 (eg. Gm7, Am7, Cm7 etc.) and major seventh chords can be written a number of ways such as with a small triangle or sometimes with an upper case M, but most commonly they are written maj7 (eg. Gmaj7, Amaj7, Cmaj7 etc.)

These three types of seventh chords are by far the most common but there are others that I’ve also listed at the end of Example 1. For example, a chord with a minor third and a major seventh is called minor with a major seventh (min/maj7).

What notes can you leave out?

When we play extended chords we usually can’t play all the notes within the chord because we only have a finite number of strings on the bass. The more chord extensions we have means the more options we have, but it also means the more decisions we have to make in terms of what notes to leave out. In the case of seventh chords the decision is simple, I’ve already mentioned that the fifth is the same for major and minor chords so the fifth doesn’t fulfill a very important function in the chord (unless we alter it as in diminished and augmented chords). So if we leave out the fifth we have three notes left, the root, third and seventh.

Example 1 demonstrates two different ways of voicing major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh and minor with a major seventh chords. The first way is to play the root on the A string, the third on the D string and the seventh on the G string. The second way is to play the root on the E string, leave out the A string and play the seventh on the D string and the third up an octave on the G string.

Video 4 Example 1 Chord extensionsAltering the fifth

Just because the fifth is the same for both major and minor chords doesn’t mean we can’t alter it. You can flatten the fifth (lower by a semi-tone) to give you a diminished chord or sharpen it (raise it by a semi-tone) to give you an augmented chord. In order to play a diminished or augmented chord you need to include the fifth because the fact that it’s been altered makes it a key element in the chord. That is why I have included all four notes in the augmented and diminished examples in Example 1.

Sixths

Another common chord extension that we can use instead of a seventh is a major sixth. We can add a major sixth to a major triad or a minor triad. The chord symbol for a major chord with a major sixth is just the number 6 (eg. G6, A6, C6 etc.) and the chord symbol for a minor chord with a major sixth is m6 (eg. Gm6, Am6, Cm6 etc.) Example 2 demonstrates how to play these two types of chords. Again, I’ve left out the fifth in both cases.

Video 4 Example 2 Chord extensions

Harmonising D major in seventh chords

If we harmonise any major scale into seventh chords we get seven different chords, two major seventh chords (chords I & IV, three minor seventh chords (chords II,III & VI), one dominant seventh chord (chord V) and one half-diminished chord (a chord with a minor third, a minor seventh and a flattened fifth) (chord VII). In example 3 I’ve harmonised a D major scale into seventh chords.

Video 4 Example 3 Chord extensions

Ninths

After the seventh, the next extension we can add to a chord if we keep stacking intervals of a third is a ninth. A full ninth chord has five notes in it, root, third, fifth, seventh and ninth. Example 4, demonstrates how to play a few common ninth chords by adding a ninth to a major seventh chord, a dominant seventh chord, a minor seventh chord and even a major sixth chord. As before I’m leaving out the fifth in each chord.

Video 4 Example 4 Chord extensions

More chord extensions

If we keep up this idea of stacking intervals of a third we end up with an eleventh and then a thirteenth. By the time you reach the thirteenth you have seven notes. Most scales have seven notes. So a seven note chord would effectively be equivalent to playing all the notes from a scale simultaneously. Which is usually a bad idea. Also, you can alter (either sharpen or flatten) the upper extensions (ninth, eleventh and thirteenth). Just like I altered the fifth earlier. This gives you a huge amount of options in terms of extending chords.

So, we have to exercise some judgement over which chord extensions we can add to which chords. And that all comes down to what we think sounds good. For example, you normally wouldn’t want to add an eleventh to a chord with a major third in it (major or dominant). Because the eleventh clashes with the third but you can add a sharpened eleventh. If you want to add an eleventh to a major chord then you would normally leave out the third. That would change the chord to what we call a “sus” chord. A sus chord is a chord that omits the third and usually replaces it with the fourth. The fourth is the same note as the eleventh. Check out my video on “intervals” if you don’t understand why the fourth and the eleventh are the same note.

Example 5 demonstrates some common chord extensions that we can play over major or minor chords on the bass.

Video 4 Example 5 Chord extensions

Chord extensions on 5 and 6 string basses

For Example 6 I’ve had to switch onto my six string bass to play some of these extensions. The ability to play more extended harmony is one of the main reasons I choose to play six string basses. If you don’t have a six string bass, many of these chords can be adapted onto a five string bass.

Video 4 Example 6 Chord extensions

Improve Your Right Hand Technique on Bass Guitar

Right Hand Techniques on Electric Bass

As I was posting some of my previous videos I started thinking that I should add a new one describing some of the right hand techniques you’ve seen me using, so here it is.

Conventional Right Hand Technique

When I was learning to play I was taught to place the thumb of my right hand on either a pickup or on the bottom string. Then pluck the strings with my index and middle fingers. It’s a very common right hand technique for the bass and one that I still use a lot. The downside of this technique in my opinion is that it doesn’t make enough use of the thumb. The thumb is probably our most versatile and dextrous digit, so some time ago I decided that my two finger technique wasn’t versatile enough for everything I wanted to play on the bass and I started working on some right-hand techniques that use my thumb more.

String Damping

A simple way to use your thumb with the two finger right hand technique is to use it to dampen and mute the lower strings. Damping is a key issue for bass players especially with the lower strings because they have a tendency to ring and create unwanted noise when we’re not using them.

If you position your thumb so that it touches these strings when you’re not using them it will mute them and stop any unwanted noise coming from them. This is a simple adaptation to the technique that can make an important difference to your playing, especially if you have a low B string on your bass. It will involve some practice because you will need to get used to constantly moving your thumb as you change strings but if you’re conscientious about listening out for unwanted noise from your lower strings when you practice then it should become instinctive fairly quickly.

Use the right hand thumb

Now let’s change the technique altogether and get our thumb playing notes instead of just damping. The first thing we need to look at is how can we combine using our fingers and thumb. Example 1 is a simple demonstration of how we can play notes by alternating between our thumb and first finger. In the example T means play the note with your right hand thumb and i means play the note with your right hand index finger. As you can see from the example we should be able to use this technique to play across strings as in bar one, on adjacent strings as in bar two and on the same string as in bar three.

Example 1 Right Hand Technique

What are the benefits of playing notes with your right hand thumb

The advantage of this right hand technique over the two finger technique is that it’s much easier to play across strings. There’s much more independence (and physical distance) between your index finger and thumb between your index and middle fingers. I also find it much more natural to keep a constant tempo at high speeds.

Muting Strings

A third benefit of using this right hand technique is damping, particularly palm-muting. When I use this right hand technique I rest the palm of my hand on the lower strings near the bridge to dampen them and stop any unwanted noise. In effect my palm is functioning in the same role my thumb was in the previous right hand technique.

I can take this technique a step further and use my palm to mute the strings I’m playing as well. If you rest your palm on the string close enough to the bridge then you’ll still hear the note. However, it will have a muted and staccato sound. It’s a good approximation to the classic Motown sound that James Jameson used to get by putting bits of foam under his strings in front of the bridge.

Anthony Jackson is another great bass player who uses this muted sound a lot in his playing. Try playing through Example 1 both with and without the palm muting. Then when you get used to it, try applying the same techniques to other areas of your practice.

Right Hand Middle Finger and Ring Finger

The next obvious thing to do with this right hand technique is start using more fingers on your right hand. Example 2 is a demonstration of how to use your thumb, index and middle fingers to play chords. Similar to the way a guitarist finger picks. (T, i & m = Thumb, Index and Middle)

Right Hand Technique Example 2You can also add your third finger (and even your little finger) to this technique especially if you’re playing chords that use more than just three strings. Again this is similar to how a guitarist would finger pick.

Other right hand techniques

Another simple right hand technique you can apply to playing chords is raking. With either your index or middle finger or both.

Example 3 is a demonstration of this right hand technique.

Right Hand Technique Example 3You might think that the next logical place to take our right hand technique would be to try and use our thumb and three fingers and then our thumb and four fingers. And you might well be right. A lot of bass players have explored right hand techniques using all the fingers on their right hand. And I would encourage you to explore it, as I have, to find out what works best for you.

The thumb, index and ring right hand technique

My personal favourite right hand technique is a little simpler. I prefer to use my thumb with my index and third finger. It sounds a little odd because I’m not using my middle finger. However, after years of experimenting with three and four finger right hand techniques. I’ve found this one to be the most efficient for me.

I think it’s because my index and third fingers are almost the same length whereas my middle finger is longer. When I try and use those three fingers all together, it works, but it’s less comfortable than when I leave the middle finger out. This right hand technique has proved very versatile. It’s fast, it’s easy to cross strings. It’s easy to keep a constant rhythm even at high speeds without getting tired. And it works well for both triplet and sixteenth note rhythms.

Example 4 is a demonstration of how we can use this right hand technique to play across strings in bar 1, on adjacent strings in bar 2 and on a single string in bar 3. (In this example T=thumb, 1=index & 3=third finger)

Right Hand Technique Example 4Once you’ve found a technique, or several techniques that work well for you then try applying them in all areas of your practice. For instance, Example 5 is a demonstration of how I might apply my technique demonstrated in Example 4 to practicing a C major scale.

Right Hand Technique Example 5