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The Tale of Two Fretting Techniques

There are very few absolutes in music. The words "always" and "never" just beg to be disproved. No where else is this more true than when we talk about "proper" fretting technique. For every example of the "perfect", classical fretting technique, there are 1,000 examples of famous, successful bass players who utilize unorthodox fretting techniques with great results. To make the issue more confusing, sometimes one technique will work better for one musical situation than another. When you are sight reading, for example, you might prefer to use a "one-finger-per-fret" technique, but then you will use a more "relaxed" technique when you are riding the root in a long blues jam.

For the sake of this lesson, I thought I would point out the pros and cons of two fretting techniques. (And these are not the only techniques out ther - just the two I thought I could properly discuss in this forum.) If you look at Image One you will see a very common fretting technique, sometimes called the "Thumb Over" or "Collapsed" technique. This technique has your thumb positioned so it comes over the top of the neck. If you look at my index finger you will see that it is pressed up against the bottom edge of the fingerboard. The pros of this technique is that your hand is very secure (perfect if you are jumping around on stage) and you can even use your thumb to mute the E or B strings. Funk pioneer Louis Johnson even would use the thumb to fret notes on the E-string. (Note: He has very long thumbs. They call him "Thunder Thumbs" after all...) The cons of this technique are that you do not have much dexterity when playing difficult passages, and you cannot reach a wide spread of frets.

Now take a look at Image Two. This technique is sometimes refered to as "classical" fretting technique or as the "one-finger-per-fret" technique. With this technique, your thumb stays on the back of the neck, there is a pocket of space between your index finger and the bottom edge of the fingerboard, and you only use your fingertips to fret notes. By far, this is the most agile fretting technique. The pocket of space that you have between the index finger and the bottom edge of the fingerboard allows you to have an incredible range of motion when playing. The pros are that you have great dexterity and a wider fret range that you can access without shifting your hand. Also, you can fret notes more cleanly without hitting the neighboring strings. The cons are that it can be a bit more uncomfortable when playing octaves for a long time, (like when you are playing a classic slap groove) and might not be as secure when you are jumping from the stage into the audience.

If I was to make a recommendation to a new player I would suggest that he or she starts by learning the technique shown in Image Two. This technique simple gives you more ability to play harder passages and is adaptable to all styles of music. With that said, if you are pounding out an 8th-note, root-oriented bass line, which goes on for a long time, feel free to switch to the technique shown in Image One, which will let you relax and rest your hand. Heck, even the best carpenter uses more than one tool! Why shouldn't you?

If you are interested in developing the "one-finger-per-fret" technique, you might be interested in buying an MTD Kingston bass. The assymetrical neck shape actually encourages your thumb to stay on the back of the fingerboard, which is a very cool thing. I have noticed that my fretting technique is much better and more comfortable now that I play MTD Kingston basses.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this lesson please feel free to email me at I look forward to hearing from you!

Image One