Caution: Curved Fingers Ahead!
Each and every week, double bass students from around the world are reminded to curve their fingers in lessons by their loving double bass teachers...over and over again. This collapsed fingers craze seems to transcend all ages, talent, and abilities and no one is immune to potentially developing this unwelcomed habit at some point in their technique. When reminding students, instructors often get responses such as: "Ughhh, why don't they stay curved?" or a very sad, "I know, I'm reeeeally trying."
The student's frustration is real, but why?
The reason why is simple. The mind is too busy learning something else...too busy working out new notes, tightening up rhythms, exploring phrasing, adding vibrato, etc. The student's mind has to be free and ready to solely focus on the logistics of the fingers. This focus is absolutely necessary for forming new and improved muscle memory.
To get this new muscle memory started, it's important to understand why the fingers are collapsing and how to "fix" it. Take a moment away from the instrument and press on a hard surface with the tip of your first finger. What just happened? Most likely the first joint of the finger collapsed. Now take the same finger and pull/press at the surface. Imagine that the boney tip of the finger is hooking onto the surface. With this motion, the first finger's joint should be curved. Keep in mind, if the middle knuckle collapses, this is an issue of strength...not choice or poor technique.
SLOW CURVES AHEAD:
Slow, mindful practice on a few basic double bass exercises will whip the fingers into shape in no time! The first exercise to start with is slow scales (quarter-note = 60) in front of a mirror. Use just a handful of scales and get them memorized so the eyes can focus on the mirror and making sure the fingers are curved. If this isn't working, the tempo is too fast. Try to play the scales as half-notes. See if the fingers can feel when they are not curved. Once they can feel it - they can fix it!
As the scales get better and more comfortable, it's time to add the Karr Bass Class Exercises. Dr. Diana Gannett has a new website that includes extremely helpful explanations and examples of these exercises: drgannett.com. All of these exercises should be learned with a slow, mindful approach. It's important to understand that these exercises are life-time exercises. They are used frequently by double bass soloists, professional orchestral musicians, jazz musicians, and so on in their daily warm-ups. Learning the Bass Class Exercises is a journey, not a destination.
A few tips:
- The fingers should slightly hook the right side of string.
- Imagine the pull/press motion from before. Don't pull too much or the pitch will bend.
- Think "fingertip to hip" when standing. Pull the bass into the hip.
- Pretend to hang from the fingerboard when sitting.
Now that the fingers are curved, the rewards should be presenting themselves in tone, agility, and strength. The tone should be clearer and match the sound of the open strings more since the fingertip is a harder surface than the pad of the finger. Agility and speed become easier to achieve now that there is one less step in lifting the finger because the finger no longer has to unbend before lifting off the string. Vibrato becomes more balanced and the likelihood for injury becomes reduced.
And let's all be honest...you want to look as good as you sound and curve fingers just look better!