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Playing fast isn’t difficult. Stopping when you’re supposed to is.

Imagine a bunch of toddlers running down a hill, laughing with reckless abandon, going faster and faster until their little legs can’t keep up anymore and they tumble in a heap. The joy of feeling speed is followed by a colossal wipeout.

Playing bass with speed is sort of like that. Striking a lot of notes in quick succession isn’t all that hard — but knowing when to end that run and having your fingers solidly locked in with the rhythm takes far more skill. Otherwise you’re just playing a bunch of notes very quickly.  

Well, have I got an exercise for you! It combines finger coordination, rhythm, and speed, all in one series of études. You’ll be the bass world’s Speedy Gonzales in no time. The trick is to aim for the end of the phrase, and to have all possible fingering combinations down cold so you don’t get tripped up when you play it.   

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These exercises require using a metronome. It’ll keep your timing accurate, and you can track your progress by seeing how your tempo increases over time.

First up, the three-note sequence. Set your metronome to around 120 beats per minute for starters. You can make it faster or slower, depending on how comfortable you are executing the fingering combinations, but make sure you can get through each one at the same tempo. The rhythm for this étude is two eighth-notes, followed by a downbeat quarter-note (count it as “oneand two, three and four”), with the first and last notes falling on the clicks. You can think of the phrase “apple pie” with “ap” and “pie” being on the click — just some food for thought. The numbers assigned to each finger are: 1-index finger (pointer), 2-middle finger (no comment), 3-ring finger, and 4-pinkie. The first set of fingering combinations is:  

123 213 312 412

124 214 314 413

132 231 321 421

134 234 324 423  

142 241 341 431

143 243 342 432  

Take a look at Ex. 1 for the notation, rhythm, and tablature. Increase the tempo as you get used to the different fingering combinations, but don’t sacrifice precision for speed.

BBB#10Music-1

Moving on to the four-note sequences, the fingering combinations look awfully familiar, don’t they? Indeed, if you’ve been reading this column since the first issue of Bass Magazine, these are the so-called left-hand permutations (or fretting-hand permutations). You can find all issues of Bass Magazine online [www.bassmagazine.com], or you can find my columns on my website [www.patrickpfeifferbass.com]. The fingering sequence is as follows:

1234 2134 3124 4123

1243 2143 3142 4132

1324 2314 3214 4213

1342 2341 3241 4231

1423 2413 3412 4312

1432 2431 3421 4321

Set your metronome to around 108 bpm and go for the first rhythmic combination, which consists of two 16th-notes and an eighth-note, followed by a quarter-note downbeat (“one e and two, three e and four” in music theory speak). Just think of the phrase “coconut shrimp” for this rhythm, with “co” and “shrimp” landing on the clicks. Let Ex. 2 be your guide.

BBB#10Music-2

Another rhythm for this fingering sequence is an eighth-note followed by two 16th-notes and a downbeat quarter-note (“one and a two, three and a four in music lingo). “Rice Krispie treat” would be the eatable equivalent, with “rice” and “treat” landing on the clicks of the metronome. Take a peek at Ex. 3.

BBB#10Music-3

If you would like to try your rhythmic luck on triplets, think “pineapple pie” for the same fingering sequence, and place “pine” and “pie” on the clicks. The corresponding exercise is Ex. 4.

BBB#10Music-4

After all these food references, you may want to take a break and grab a bite. When you come back, the five-note sequences are beckoning.

The final part for the speed étude is the five-note sequence consisting of all four 16th-notes in a beat, followed by the downbeat quarter-note on the next beat (“one e and a two”). It becomes especially tasty if you count it as “avocado toast” and put the “av” and “toast” on the clicks of the metronome. Speaking of which, set the metronome to around 80 bpm for starters, and speed it up once you get comfortable with the new fingering patterns. The fingering sequence for this five-note pattern is:

12341 21342 31243 41234

12431 21432 31423 41324

13241 23142 32143 42134

13421 23412 32413 42314

14231 24132 34123 43124

14321 24312 34213 43214

BBB#10Music-5

You can expect some stunning results from doing these études, and your speed and accuracy will increase dramatically. If you find yourself making more frequent trips to the kitchen than usual, you may want to resort to the more traditional way of counting out rhythms. But “one e and a two” is not nearly as appetizing as “avocado toast,” is it? –BM

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Patrick Pfeiffer is a professional bassist, bass educator, clinician, composer and author, having published several classic bass books, among them Bass Guitar for Dummies, Bass Guitar Exercises For Dummies, Improve Your Groove: The Ultimate Guide For Bassand Daily Grooves for Bass. Besides performing and recording, Pfeiffer teaches bass guitar worldwide and often conducts clinics alongside such bass luminaries as Will Lee, John Patitucci, Gerald Veasley, Michael Manring and many more. Pfeiffer’s most recent CD Soul of the City was sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts. He holds a Master’s in Jazz from the New England Conservatory