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. Hey Ryan, school is good, keep up the good work there. As much as we'd all like it to, music does not stand the same sort of chance to earn a living as, say, engineering :)

    Thumbing a bass note is when you use your left hand thumb around the neck and fret the 6th string, for example one of my variants of a F chord is:


    But of course the potentials are endless, especially in complex bass runs while playing a melody. *Most* of the time I say that you are better of finding a different way without resorting to thumb over, but there are many excellent examples of it's use and it has a firm place in my toolkit.

    I find finger flicking (heh heh, I like it) easy because I hold a very stable upright wrist position, very classical style, but keep my hand relaxed enough that I can strum chord fragments without losing spacial awareness. Hmm, that sounds pretty nerdy. Put it another way, I can strum a chord fragment and be able to immediately on the next note start finger picking again, because the action I take between fingerpicking and strumming chord fragments is quite similar. I don't think you need a classical position; you can do the same thing if you're a pinky anchor or a palm on bridge sort of guy, what you want to do is start to get a feel for a fragment strum that is very similar motion to a fingerpick, except backwards :) Not easy to describe, pictures or a video would work wonders!

    Time would be a great one for you to start with. My arrangement is really groovy if I do say so myself...I should knock up a quick vid demo for you guys in a blog eh?

    Arranging tabs - usually cheat first, find someone elses tab as a starting point. I lay out the bass and melody at the same unless it is really complex where I will lay out whatever is the most "on beat" (usually the bass) and then fill in the melody. Using powertab (other ones are same same) that can play back to you in midi is *the only way to go* because you immediately know when you've got it right. I don't use chord charts; I pretty much only play E, A and D moved around the fretboard, and then a whole lot of freaky chords that are a composite of a real chord and a not-in-chord melody note.

    I only consider Drop D as alternate tuning, where a piece is heavily in D. Perhaps I should consider other tunings, but it's too much mucking around. Transpose the key if necessary (I wrote a little javascript key transposer on my web page to help me with that).

    How long does it take? Anything from a few hours to six months :) Totally depends on the complexity of the piece. The more you do it, the easier it gets, of course!

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

  6. 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!