What ARE the “rules” of double bass fingering?

You CANNOT break these rules!!!! (well, maybe you can)

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Rules of Double Bass Fingering

Rule #1 – play at least two notes per position

Your life will be so much simpler as a bassist if you follow this rule. Look for patterns in your music, and try your utmost to play two (or more!) notes in a position before shifting.

Rule #2 – never cross strings for a half-step

Half steps are so easy when played in one position and so awkward when played across two strings. They can also create a strange “flanging” sound, particularly when one note is an open string. Save your hands and ears by playing half steps in the same position whenever possible.

Rule #3 – play across the strings for technical passages

If you see fast notes on the page, try to play notes in one position. I want to keep my left hand in the same place on the bass as much as possible for fast passages. This saves me a bunch of unnecessary work and makes for tidier playing overall.

Rule #4 – shift up and down one string for melodic passages

Take advantage of the vocal qualities of playing on one string by shifting up and down for more melodic content. This helps to create an organic and connected sound.

Rule #5 – don’t cross strings on the same finger (especially when going to a lower string)

You’ll create a gap in the sound by using the same finger across the strings. This is particularly true when going from a higher string to a lower string. Try to be strategic with your fingering to minimize this kind of fingering, especially in connected passages.

Rule #6 – don’t play open strings in lyrical passages

Open strings stick out like a sore thumb in lyrical playing. Close these notes for melodic playing, and save your open strings for passing tones in faster passages.

Rule #7 – shift higher using lower-numbered fingers

When playing an ascending passage, shift using a lower finger. For example, playing A – B – C# on the G string will generally work best played as 1 – 1 4. You want to have “fingers to spare” and not be stuck shifting up the bass with the 4th finger.

Rule #8 – shift lower using higher numbered fingers

The reverse is true for descending passages. When playing C# – B – A, it is generally best practice to play 4 -4 1.

Rule #9 – group notes together rhythmically

Grouping notes into twos, threes, or whatever makes sense for the passage will help to organize your playing. This can help with cleanliness and even with memorization.

Rule #10 – avoid crossing two strings 

Put notes on adjacent strings when possible. For example, don’t play open G and then C on the A string. Instead, play G closed with 4th finger and then play C with 1st finger. This makes it easier on the bow and is generally the most efficient option.

The “golden rule” of fingering

The “dirty secret” about all these rules is that we break them all the time! Bass playing is strewn with pitfalls, and we frequently find ourselves choosing between two relatively bad options for fingerings.

Think of these “rules” as more like guidelines or best practices. When possible, follow them… but don’t hesitate to get creative and try new things!

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