6 Steps to Develop a Solid Left Hand

These six steps will help you learn how to have a solid left hand to improve these common problems:

  • Holding down the string
  • Intonation
  • Moving up and down the fingerboard

STEP 1 – Curved Knuckles = Strong Fingertips

Solid Left-Hand
Photo by Kevin Monahan

Curved knuckles allow your fingertips to strongly hold down the strings. There is more clarity in pitch and sound production when we use our fingertips to hold down the string. Sliding up and down the string is easier with fingertips that are formed by curved knuckles.

STEP 2 – Space and Clump

We need to have a “half step” between 1st and 2nd finger that is equal to the distance from our 2nd and 4th finger. There needs to be an extra finger width of space between 1st and 2nd finger and fingers 2 thru 4 are clumped together for any position within the “1st Octave” of the bass.

  • Practice holding a wine cork in between your 1st and 2nd finger and a rubber band or hair tie around your 2nd, 3rd and 4th finger to physically feel the “space” and “clump” while playing the bass.

STEP 3 – Holding the Fingerboard like a Water Bottle

Pick up a water bottle or any circular shaped object you have with your left hand. Notice how all of your knuckles are curved and your thumb is usually placed behind your index or middle finger. Bring the object you’re holding next to the fingerboard, then mirror that same grip and hand position holding down the strings on the fingerboard.

STEP 4 – L.H. Perpendicular to the Fingerboard

When combining Steps 1 & 2, we also need to keep our hand position perpendicular to the fingerboard. This allows the weight of our hand to be evenly across all four fingers, creating easier shifts going down or up the string.

  • Practice hovering about one centimeter above the “D” string with your curved fingers. Slide up and down the back of the neck while holding your fingers in position and ready to play any note.

STEP 5 – Arm Weight

Left-hand arm weight

Some common mistakes beginners make is to press down the strings and squeeze your fingers together to hold down a note on the fingerboard. It’s important to feel the weight of your arm as you hold down the strings with your fingertips. Our arm is a lot heavier then we think. Alexander Technique is a great way to understand how heavy our arm weight is when we aren’t subconsciously holding it up.

  • Practice pulling your elbow and upper-back back while you’re holding down the “D” string with all four fingers and letting go of your thumb. It should feel like you’re tugging your fingers against the fingerboard and using the weight of your arm to pull down the string. Gradually place your thumb back behind the neck while still feeling the arm weight holding down the string.

STEP 6 – The Thumb Angle

Keeping our thumb at a 45 degrees angle with the “opening” pointing towards the ground, enables our left hand to easily slide up and down the fingerboard. Compare your shifting with your thumb fully connected to the back of the neck and at a 45 degree angle to feel the difference.

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