Author Topic: Long fingernails and playing bass  (Read 6811 times)

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Online batwoman

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Long fingernails and playing bass
« on: August 11, 2018, 02:41:35 am »
I've only just begun looking at the basics of playing bass, so please excuse this question if it's dumb.

My great love is playing acoustic and I play finger-style a fair bit. I have longer nails for this as I like the clean, bright sound. From what I've read, I need short nails so I can pluck the strings of the bass.

Is there a compromise? I've been using a pick.
Walcott Custom OM Acoustic , G&L Tribute Fallout Electric, Crafter T035 OM Acoustic, Ashton Bass.

Online stitch101

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2018, 03:19:07 am »
There is nothing wrong with using a pick to play bass. You'll find the snobs
that will look down their nose but who cares. Do what works best for you.
There are no rules on how to play any instrument.  Some of the best players
don't conform to the norm, that's what makes them great.

Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2018, 05:46:41 am »
There is nothing wrong with using a pick to play bass. You'll find the snobs
that will look down their nose but who cares. Do what works best for you.
There are no rules on how to play any instrument.  Some of the best players
don't conform to the norm, that's what makes them great.

This is great, thanks so much stitch. I may be able to get my nails a little shorter to play bass. Yet to figure it out, might be a matter of changing how I contact the strings of the bass - use the pad of my fingertips. In the meantime I'll keep using a pick.
Walcott Custom OM Acoustic , G&L Tribute Fallout Electric, Crafter T035 OM Acoustic, Ashton Bass.

Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2018, 08:09:34 am »
Had another try using the 'proper' plucking technique. As long as I'm careful not to touch the strings with my nails it seems to work. Feels very strange not using my thumb for the bass.
Walcott Custom OM Acoustic , G&L Tribute Fallout Electric, Crafter T035 OM Acoustic, Ashton Bass.

Offline Fox Cunning

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2018, 10:15:59 am »
There are actually many different techniques for playing bass, which by the way is still my main instrument and I've been playing it since 1997 :D

Many play with a plectrum, note that you may want a large, thick one.
Lemmy Kilmister used to play with a pick and also sometimes strumming the bass like it was an acoustic guitar.
Steve Harris hits the strings perpendicularly with the tip of of his fingers, and he purposely keeps his fingernails long-ish to add some "bite" to the sound.
Funk players often use some sort of thumbstyle technique, for which it doesn't matter how long your fingernails are.

There are many more possibilities, none right or wrong. It's all a matter of style and what you want to achieve.
For a beginner it's ok to start with a pick, and then develop your own style.

Offline Cue Zephyr

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2018, 03:21:48 pm »
I keep my nails just long enough so I can use them for fingerstyle playing but short enough to not be a problem on the bass.

This owrks because your right hand attacks the strings differently on bass than on guitar. Usually. If you're a classical player you're still going ot use a lot of rest strokes like you do on bass.
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Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2018, 01:52:50 am »
There are actually many different techniques for playing bass, which by the way is still my main instrument and I've been playing it since 1997 :D

Many play with a plectrum, note that you may want a large, thick one.
Lemmy Kilmister used to play with a pick and also sometimes strumming the bass like it was an acoustic guitar.
Steve Harris hits the strings perpendicularly with the tip of of his fingers, and he purposely keeps his fingernails long-ish to add some "bite" to the sound.
Funk players often use some sort of thumbstyle technique, for which it doesn't matter how long your fingernails are.

There are many more possibilities, none right or wrong. It's all a matter of style and what you want to achieve.
For a beginner it's ok to start with a pick, and then develop your own style.

Fox coming from a bassist as experienced as you, these comments are really helpful and enlightening. I've only just started reading up about bass guitars. Thankyou so much.
Walcott Custom OM Acoustic , G&L Tribute Fallout Electric, Crafter T035 OM Acoustic, Ashton Bass.

Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2018, 01:54:50 am »
I keep my nails just long enough so I can use them for fingerstyle playing but short enough to not be a problem on the bass.

This owrks because your right hand attacks the strings differently on bass than on guitar. Usually. If you're a classical player you're still going ot use a lot of rest strokes like you do on bass.

Another helpful comment from you Cue. I tried filing my nails down a bit yesterday and it seems to work. It's just the strangeness of anchoring my thumb. I'm used to anchoring my pinky. I guess it's all learning and that I will find my way/style as I go along. I just don't want to learn bad habits from the start.
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Offline Fox Cunning

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2018, 10:20:44 am »
Another comment on the thumb's position.
Most players anchor their thumb, usually on the bridge pickup on electric bass, or on a thumb rest - here is one on an acoustic bass:


Others use one of two "floating thumb" techniques:

You can rest your thumb on the "top unused" string (e.g. if you are playing notes on the 1st and 2nd strings, your thumb will be on the 3rd, and when you start fingering the 3rd string you move your thumb to the 4th and so on), like I'm doing here:

(I like to call this "The Duck Hand Technique" ;D)

...or keep your thumb perpendicular to the strings and just "slide" it up and down as I am doing here:


The latter is the technique I use most of the time since I find it very effective for muting strings, but again experiment and find your own. :D

Offline Cue Zephyr

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2018, 10:33:30 pm »
Another helpful comment from you Cue. I tried filing my nails down a bit yesterday and it seems to work. It's just the strangeness of anchoring my thumb. I'm used to anchoring my pinky. I guess it's all learning and that I will find my way/style as I go along. I just don't want to learn bad habits from the start.
You can throw most of that out the window. Treat it like a different instrument, because it is. Even fretting works a little differently. I fret more with the pads of my fingers on the bass than the tips like I do on the guitar.

Also I should clarify the pluck vs. stroke. On guitar you pluck the string more, while on bass you'll use rest strokes more which is more like pushing through the string than actually plucking it. That means that if your nails are short enough, your finger tips make the string glide over and past the nail.

I also use and recommend the floating thumb technique precisely because it's great for muting. Muting is even more important on the bass than it is on the guitar (IMO).
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Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2018, 11:59:19 pm »
Another comment on the thumb's position.
Most players anchor their thumb, usually on the bridge pickup on electric bass, or on a thumb rest - here is one on an acoustic bass:


Others use one of two "floating thumb" techniques:

You can rest your thumb on the "top unused" string (e.g. if you are playing notes on the 1st and 2nd strings, your thumb will be on the 3rd, and when you start fingering the 3rd string you move your thumb to the 4th and so on), like I'm doing here:

(I like to call this "The Duck Hand Technique" ;D)

...or keep your thumb perpendicular to the strings and just "slide" it up and down as I am doing here:


The latter is the technique I use most of the time since I find it very effective for muting strings, but again experiment and find your own. :D

Fox I'm so grateful for all the time you've taken and detail here in this post. I've copied it into my notebook. Your guitars look well cared for as do your hands. My nails are only a bit longer, so that's the nail thing sorted.

Thankyou so very much for such solid advise and help. Many good vibes coming your way.
Walcott Custom OM Acoustic , G&L Tribute Fallout Electric, Crafter T035 OM Acoustic, Ashton Bass.

Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2018, 12:00:47 am »
You can throw most of that out the window. Treat it like a different instrument, because it is. Even fretting works a little differently. I fret more with the pads of my fingers on the bass than the tips like I do on the guitar.

Also I should clarify the pluck vs. stroke. On guitar you pluck the string more, while on bass you'll use rest strokes more which is more like pushing through the string than actually plucking it. That means that if your nails are short enough, your finger tips make the string glide over and past the nail.

I also use and recommend the floating thumb technique precisely because it's great for muting. Muting is even more important on the bass than it is on the guitar (IMO).

Another treasure, thankyou so much Cue. This is also going in my notebook. Good vibes to you.
Walcott Custom OM Acoustic , G&L Tribute Fallout Electric, Crafter T035 OM Acoustic, Ashton Bass.

Offline Endureth

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2018, 07:39:25 pm »
If  you can train yourself early to use a floating thumb Cue mentioned and not rely so heavily on an anchor point, you'll have an advantage.

Good luck with the bass!

Offline Cue Zephyr

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2018, 08:13:46 pm »
If  you can train yourself early to use a floating thumb Cue mentioned and not rely so heavily on an anchor point, you'll have an advantage.

Good luck with the bass!
The thing I notice with floating thumb however is that it is a little harder to leverage your hand when plucking. Kind of like with banjo playing. You can't get any kind of snap from it without anchoring.
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Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2018, 12:58:48 am »
If  you can train yourself early to use a floating thumb Cue mentioned and not rely so heavily on an anchor point, you'll have an advantage.

Good luck with the bass!

Thanks Endureth. I've taken a detour away from learning to play bass just for now. My current steep learning curve is how to use Reaper and all that goes with it.  :o ???

Thanks Cue too, your input is always valuable.
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Offline Endureth

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2018, 01:41:55 am »
My current steep learning curve is how to use Reaper and all that goes with it.  :o ???

That's a whole different yet equally exciting rabbit hole.

Online batwoman

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #16 on: September 10, 2018, 01:48:45 am »
That's a whole different yet equally exciting rabbit hole.

At the moment it's more like a crocodile infested swamp  ;D  I'd much rather be playing guitar.
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Offline Cue Zephyr

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Re: Long fingernails and playing bass
« Reply #17 on: September 10, 2018, 03:12:00 pm »
At the moment it's more like a crocodile infested swamp  ;D  I'd much rather be playing guitar.
I know how that feels. I still have it when trying out new DAWs and I'm much more tempted to stick with what I already know.
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