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BT101 - Mastering Right & Left Hand Technique

A course dedicated to cleaning up bad habits and improving speed and dexterity for both the plucking and fretting hands. Applicable to all levels of players, this course will help to get you to the next level in your pursuit of technical excellence. Focuses on such topics as proper hand positions, improved muting techniques, economy of motion, and improved coordination. Recommended for any player looking to improve their technical ability and consistency.

Lesson 01: Intro To Technique and the Plucking Hand

Something I like to do with my bass students, regardless of their experience level, is to sit them down and analyze how their hands are working together on the bass. What I have found is that a lot of players have gone about as far as they can go given their current technical approach, because they might be limited by a particular stumbling block. To get a student working at the next level of competency usually only requires some fine-tuning.

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Lesson 02: Plucking Hand Alternation and Permutation Exercises

Another approach that will help to refine your right hand technique is the strict use of alternation in your picking fingers. Just as when you walk down the street you alternate your feet (left, right, left, right), the same approach can be adapted to your picking fingers (1, 2, 1, 2, etc... or 2, 1, 2, 1, etc...). Ultimately you should be able to lead with either finger if you want to be effective with this technique.

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Lesson 03: One Finger Per Fret Permutations (Continued)

Today's lesson is basically just a continuation of the permutation practice concepts introduced in our last lesson. As I mentioned initially, there are 24 total one finger per fret fretting hand permutations that we can use to further develop our coordination and dexterity when it comes to our hand technique. In our last lesson, we covered and practiced through the first 12 of them.

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Lesson 04: One Finger Per Fret Permutations (Continued)

This lesson will introduce the concept of applying a cross string fingering approach to the 24 permutation exercises. A cross string approach is one in which we simultaneously assign one finger per fret and one finger per string. Since we are utilizing 4 fretting hand fingers on the fretboard, we will initially span the width of 4 adjacent strings. See Figure 1.

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Lesson 05: One Finger Per Fret Permutations (Continued)

Cross string approaches can also be inverted to introduce further challenges to your technical skills. One such example would be to take the cross string approach demonstrated in our last lesson and basically turn it around backwards. You would still be utilizing a one finger per fret and one finger per string approach, but the angle of your fingering would change. See Figure 1.

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Lesson 06: Permutations with String Crossing

By now you should have a pretty good foundation for what constitutes a consistent and effective right hand approach. All of the exercises so far have focused on adjacent string examples. Now we will incorporate more variations of the permutation fingerings, so that you are able to freely move across all strings on your bass while maintaining your alternation.

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Lesson 07: Planning a Practice Regimen

Remember that in your pursuit of technical mastery, there is an overriding goal: Develop yourself to the point that your hands are ready for anything. This is what I call 'developing technical headroom'. It is always a good policy to develop your skills to the point that they may even exceed the needs of whatever musical situation you may find yourself in.

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Lesson 08: 3 Note Per String Approaches and Musical Forms

Obviously, most of what we perform as bassists will not fall solely into a left handed one finger per fret approach, as has been explored through our permutations. Therefore, it is important that we prepare our hands to play as well using other fingerings and musical components, such as scales and arpeggios.

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Lesson 09: Subgrouping

Subgrouping is when we break down a larger form or pattern into smaller pieces that can be played or approached individually across different strings or across different ranges on our instrument. 7 tone scale patterns offer us a variety of sub grouping options since they contain scale degrees that are most often never more than a whole step apart. This allows us to play a large number of notes in a single position on a stringed instrument.

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Lesson 10: String Skipping in a Single Position

String skipping exercises involve scalar movements that do not move across adjacent strings, as was the case with the last 2 assignments. Instead, they require us to make jumps across wider string distances with both the fretting and plucking hands. This approach presents its own set of challenges, however. For example, it is harder to deal with plucking hand string muting when the hand is busy 'hopping' across the strings.

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Lesson 11: Fretting Hand Specifics

Our focus so far has been the efficient use of the right hand, combining good alternation with the use of a movable anchor through a variety of string combinations. In this lesson, we will focus more on the fretting hand as we continue to work at developing and refining the way our hands work together.

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Lesson 12: 4 Note Transitions Between Strings

The more serious you get about technique, the more you begin to pay attention to even the smallest details that can help or hinder you in your pursuits. A player exhibiting good technique is one who also maintains full control over dynamics and phrasing without becoming a slave to technical discipline. Because we are stringed instrument players, we don't have a choice but to deal with playing on adjacent strings.

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Lesson 13: 6 Note Transitions Between Strings

Today's lesson builds on what we did in our last lesson, focusing more on transitions between adjacent strings. We will build on the same basic hand positions, but add more notes to our exercises. Instead of working with a 4 note grouping, we will use a 6 note grouping. See an example of how this works in Video Clip 1.

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Lesson 14: Progressive Sequences

Sequencing is when we break down a larger form or pattern into smaller pieces that can be played or approached individually. In the case of scale patterns, it is helpful to practice playing sequences of smaller fragments in order to avoid sounding as if all of our ideas are simply ascending and descending, like a rehearsed scale.

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Lesson 15: Doubling and Tripling

Since the beginning of this course I have gone out of my way to emphasize an almost 'religious' use of 1-2 alternation with the plucking hand fingers in your technical exercises. Remember: This is a mode of thinking that is best left to the practice shed. Don't think about things like this when you perform.

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Lesson 16: Practice Tactics and Octave Fingerings

By now you should be seeing some real progress with your hand technique. If you have done each exercise carefully and according to each instruction, you have probably gotten to a point where many of the small details have worked their way into your playing on their own. Careful attention to detail combined with repetition through a variety of tempos will help you to achieve the results you desire.

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Lesson 17: Octaves (Continued)

Today's lesson borrows from the concepts of doubling and tripling that we discussed in lesson 15. We will simply take the same approaches and just play them using octaves, instead. The obvious challenge is that now we are only playing across non-adjacent strings, as in our last lesson.

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Lesson 18: More String Crossing

Today we're on to the next stage of technical challenges... We'll be working through a handful of exercises I sometimes refer to as "The X's". You'll see why as you work through them. They cross strings diagonally in the ascending direction and then diagonally in the opposite way in the descending direction. Figure 1 demonstrates how exercises like these take on an X-like approach.

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Lesson 19: String Crossing (Continued)

Now it's time to invert our 'X's... Today we will take our patterns from yesterday and play them inside out. Example 1 shows one possible application.

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Lesson 20: More String Skipping

Well, now it's time to pat yourself on the back! You've made it to the final lesson of the course, so congratulations! If you have been practicing diligently and focusing on all the small details I have brought to light for you, you should be able to look back from day 1 to now and see LOTS of progress and improvement. 

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