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I am currently comfortable with a simple three finger right hand plucking technique on the double bass, in regular 3-2-1 rotation of the fingers (ring, middle, index). Transitioning from a two finger technique to three finger technique was somewhat exercise intensive so as to obtain an even sound wherever the line goes; there are lots of combinations of fingering phase, rhythmic articulation, string transitions, position transitions, all needed to establish improvisational fluency even just for an altogether basic walking bass line in 4/4 time.

The inspiration for going three fingered in faster passages came to me from watching NHØP's technique, which however includes an additional element of complexity, which was described as a "drop rake" in this post. Namely, "when crossing to a lower string, in which case he uses the same finger that played the last note on the higher string".

There appears to be an additional exercise cost involved in this "drop rake" modification of the technique, because one needs to automate even more patterns of right hand movement, with a view on even and rhythmically accurate performance of all notes involved in and adjacent to each "drop rake" instance.

What was in it for NHØP? What can this potential "drop rake" fluency achieve which a regular 3-2-1 rotation cannot quite match?

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    Seems like a trade off between economy of motion versus evenness of timing. Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 0:29

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I also do that - probably without even thinking. As mentioned in comments, it's simply economy of motion. I'll also use middle finger for emphasis, drive the 'one' from that, whether it's next in line or not.

I usually play electric rather than upright, so the technique changes slightly between each because your angle of attack changes.

I actually love using that 3-finger in strict rotation because it has a sound of its own - especially on something like pedal 8s or 16s because you can really hear it working - but I won't do it if it's easier to just drag the same finger across to the next string.
Similarly, if I'm going up a string, I'm far more likely to go for it with ring [on electric, index on upright] than simply the next finger in line. I don't think I work it out beforehand, I just do it. 321 on sequentially higher strings can sometimes just be awkward, so I'll flip the order & do 123 if I have to. Maintaining 321 is actually often easier on upright because of the changed wrist/finger angle to the strings.

I think the whole idea is use it when it works, don't when it doesn't. After a while you won't even notice which you're doing.
Practise getting even 8s on a single note, then switch up to scales at ever-increasing speeds & see when you can keep using it 'as written' & when you simply find it more efficient to break the rule.

I just thought of this track, one of my all-time favourites - it's "almost but not quite jazz". David Sylvian, Ink in the Well. Bass is the stunning Danny Thompson
The bass part is recorded in such a way as to keep it really bright & hard attack, which means you can almost tell which finger he uses for every note. Usually you don't get anything like that much information in a bass track ;) You can hear where he follows, then breaks the 321 rule & also where he does a lot of the 'drop rake' in the fast downward arpeggios.

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  • Video is not viewable. Do you have another option?
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 15:57
  • just search it - there were several versions on youtube, I just picked the official one.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 16:09
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Speaking from the perspective of an upright bassist with a lot of years under his belt but NOT being a 3 finger player I am not going to try and give a technical explanation for how and why NHØP used the drop rake for his 3 finger pizz playing because I’m not sure there is one. Instead I will say my take on this is that the 3 finger drop rake technique used by NHØP was a natural extension of that same technique that 1 and 2 finger electric and upright players have been using for years. As a matter of fact, NHØP was a 1 and 2 finger player as well and used the drop rake at times in those instances. Watch this video at around 4:00 when he is walking bass:

Even though alternating fingers is most common (unless you’re a 1 finger player) it is a very natural and comfortable thing to rake across strings with the same finger when descending strings and it becomes even subconscious over time. As a matter of fact, all plucking becomes subconscious over time. We start out practicing alternating fingers and other techniques and eventually we don’t even think about which finger is playing which note, it just happens. In music like jazz, which is improvisational and spontaneous the focus becomes more on what we are playing as opposed to how we are playing it as we get more proficient and experienced.

I will however offer one theory on why the drop rake is natural and works so well. Since the bass is played almost exclusively with rest strokes the drop rake allows you to both play consecutive notes on adjacent strings easily because your finger has already landed on the next string and simultaneously shift your hand to an ideal position for the next note with the next finger on the new string.

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    "...all plucking becomes self conscious..." I think you meant the opposite? "unconscious"?
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 16:01
  • @Aaron I’m very self-conscious about my plucking, isn’t everyone? lol, good catch, I meant to say subconscious like I did earlier. Unconscious works too. Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 16:07
  • I regret I can't accept both answers, I'm learning from both. Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 9:38
  • An accepted answer is not as important as giving answers that are useful to you, I’m sure @Tetsujin would agree. Since both are useful to you feel free to upvote them if you haven’t done so already and good luck. I’ve always been a big admirer of Niels so researching and answering this question has been a pleasure for me. Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 16:33

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