Monday, 31 January 2011

Hold onto that bass note...

...or don't; the choice should be up to you, not up to your skill level. One of the standout features of good fingerstyle players for me is that they will hold onto a bass note if it should ring throughout a measure; even if it is difficult to do so. You can spot the beginners, all credit to them "I played the note!" but the note lasts about as long as it takes for them to refret to the very next plucked note.

Holding onto bass notes can be challenging. For simple in-chord stuff, you can normally fret the whole chord, giving you the bass note and plucking melodies in the chord per measure, before changing to the next chord. When the melodies start moving out of chords sometimes it becomes difficult to hang onto that bass note.  Here are some options:
  • More practise :)
  • Don't hold onto the bass note play it staccato, but do it on purpose to make sure it sounds like an accent, not like "I couldn't hold the bass note".
  • Rework the fingering so you can find a position to hold the bass note more easily.
  • Rework the arrangement to something simpler you can play.
  • Adopt a different technique that allows you to hold the bass note; for instance:
    • Naudo Style middle finger bass note: for example, instead of playing a full first finger barre chord E shape or A shape, play the bass note with your middle finger. Ringy and pinky fingers can do normal stuff in chord leaving index finger able to play on or _behind_ the chord root position. (There are other features of this technique; it's not strength taxing, you can more easily mute strings in the middle of the fretboard, it is easy to pivot around your middle finger...not to mention your middle finger is pretty strong and normally "wasted" in a normal chord formation. Leaving your index finger, typically a very quick and agile finger, for "under chord" work is quite sensible.) 
    • Thumb over bass notes. I refer to this as bad technique, but it isn't really, it's a very handy technique :)


  1. On a piano, holding a bass note (left hand), the right hand is still free to do whatever it feels like, or even easier just use the sustain pedal.

    I know it's not the same. That's why I generally got bored with the piano, and can only find interesting the type of virtuoso playing that is far above my ability.
    Guitar, on the other hand, any song can be interesting, even played in a simple way (if nicely played).

  2. The piano is such a sensible instrument. It didn't take me much to learn enough to play a few easy two hand pieces. I've watched good players do amazing things on the piano and although it fascinates and impresses me, I don't yearn to learn how myself. Might be just a fixation in me; but I just love listening to and playing acoustic guitar.

  3. Hey Jaw, been busy with school and have not been able to check up so often as I would like to. Nice to see the "What's Happening" is back for good.

    I have certainly noticed the difference it makes when you sustain the bass notes. Especially on the classical pieces I have been trying.

    When you say "thumb over bass notes" what do you mean exactly?

    After I'm finished polishing Fur Elise (taking FOREVER by the way) I would like to try a piece with some finger flicking (?) like in your "time". What would you suggest for someone who has not used that technique before?

    Also, I know you have touched on the subject before but have you ever considered a detailed explanation of how you write a tab?

    Do you write the melody, then add a string of bass notes? Do you use chord charts? Have you ever considered tuning your guitar a particular way to make it easier? How long does it usually take you?

    Thanks again,

  4. I found an interesting suggestion and tips for the middle finger bass note in this Naudo instruction video: Hope you find that helpful...

  5. Hey Andy "plug" Schiller! :) Nice stuff you've got going over there at beyond guitar. I think I watched a bit of your stuff a year or so ago, great to see another Naudo fan. Good lessons, very clear, a little long winded for me but I'm not your target audience. I'd love to chat about your structure of lesson delivery, discuss revenue versus hours of effort put in, and licensing issues. I've all but decided it just isn't worth it as a time-challenged hobbyist. If you ever wanted to shoot the breeze about stuff send me an email jaw at, I'd welcome the chat.

    ...steel string for Naudo work though? (Although, it took me more than a year to decide that nylon is the go for Naudo).

    Thanks for stopping by Andy!