Many years ago when my dad started playing bass, he raved about the calluses marks on his finger tips he had developed. These were deep, hardened divots in his finger tips that he wore proudly like a badge of honor to show his commitment to the instrument. The amount of finger pressure he was applying to his instrument was enormous!
Conversely, I had been playing about as long as he had but I had only developed minor callouses. Nothing at all compared to the massive hardened dents in his fingers. Mine were more like lightly hardened tips on my right hand’s index, middle and ring finger and on my left hand’s core four fingers.
He asked me why I didn’t have callouses like he did. We played for about the same amount of time each day with about the same consistency and intensity and I had been playing shows out pretty regularly, getting even more playing time.
The fundamental difference between our playing styles were that my dad applied TREMENDOUS amount of string pressure and I applied very little.
How Finger Pressure Affects Playing Speed and Mobility
Since that time, he’s admittedly let up a little bit (but still wears those calluses proudly), but I still play with a very small amount of pressure when I play. But the moral of the story is this: The amount of finger pressure you apply to your strings can dramatically affect how you’re able to play.
The rationale behind this is that I tend to play very quickly and with a high degree of precision and agility, whereas my father plays very tough, less agile lines.
But the underlying truth to the whole thing is this: you don’t need a whole lot of pressure to play and hold a note on your bass guitar.
More often than not, one of the reasons why bassists say that they can’t play these fast, Jaco-esque lines, is from the fact that they are pressing the string so hard that they can’t get their fingers up in time to move from fret to fret at the Jaco-esque speed.
Though it is certainly not the only factor, those milliseconds it takes for you to move your fingers around makes a tremendous difference in the speed you can get around the fret board with.
What A Runner’s Form Has to Do With Bass Playing Form
Consider a runner for example. When was the last time you heard a coach tell a runner to only run on the flats of their feet? To clomp along the ground, having to lift your knees all the way up and slam them all the way down to get movement. (Hopefully) never.
Professional runners and sprinters run on the tips or balls of their feet. By running on their tips, they are already positioning themselves in a position for their leg to push off for the next alternation of feet to legs. This logic is the same for bass.
How to Loosen Up Your Finger Pressure and Improve Your Speed Along the Fretboard
Here are a few points to ask yourself to first determine if you’re applying too much finger pressure in the first place and if you are how to loosen your grip:
Are you playing on the tips of your fingers or the pad of your fingers? How much pressure are you using to play a note. REMEMBER – it does not take a whole lot of pressure to make a note sing on the bass?
Are you positioning your fingers so they lay (roughly) 1 finger to 1 fret, with your thumb on the back of the neck, about where the truss rod is?
Check out this cool video of professional bass player, Gary Willis, explaining finger pressure: