A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Alex Webster (bassist for Cannibal Corpse)

Interesting video of Alex Webster where he goes over how he plays and mechanical theory:

 Alex Webster Interview/Lesson in Sick Sounds Issue 1

Alex Webster is one of the more famous bassists in death metal. He is one of the original members of Cannibal Corpse and also plays in an instrumental outfit called Blotted Science. In the accompanying video interview for Sick Sounds, he goes over right and left-hand technique, and describes some of his playstyle.

Most of what Alex talks about is beyond my ability, and outside of the scope of beginner bass playing, but I think its still a good idea to examine what he’s sharing and see if it makes more practical sense later on.

Right-hand technique

In the video, Alex describes part of his right-hand technique in which he uses three fingers to strike the strings, sometimes in a galloping manner, instead of the usual index and middle. This helps him avoid having to use a pick and still maintain blazing speed when needed. He strikes in groups of four, and accents the last strike, which causes the last finger to alternate. This means that he plays [1-2-3-1], [2-3-1-2], [3-1-2-3] instead of [1-2-1-2] when striking strings.

I’ve seen Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) and Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, Talas) utilize similar techniques. According to an interview quoted on his Wikipedia page, these are among Alex’s favorite players. In one of Billy Sheehan’s videos, he says that he begins striking strings with his ring finger when using the 3-finger technique, instead of his index finger. So, his [1-2-3-1] is [ring-middle-index-ring]. Billy says that this is faster than starting with the index because it follows the natural grabbing motion. I’ve noticed that when drumming fingers on a desk, it is the same movement.

Left-hand technique

When speaking about his left hand, Alex mentions economy of motion, which he says is followed by shred guitarists. This is basically the practice of trying to cover the most notes with the least amount of movement around the fretboard. Alex says that he uses all four fingers when fretting, so that he’s able to stay in one position. I believe that this means that he’s able to play any note in a scale (and other nearby notes) without having to jump around the neck to find the right notes. There are players who only use three fingers on their fretting hand when playing, and this forces more hand movement when reaching for notes, which then slows down their playing. He also follows the one-finger-per-fret method of how to position fingers on the fretboard. This method might cause damage to the fretting hand over time. See the video I posted from Adam Neely on March 4, 2011 for more information. 

Sound

I don’t know very much about chords just yet, but what I understand is that they’re notes from a scale that are played together to produce a combined sound. This is used more on guitar and piano than on bass, because bass strings are thicker and the sound is lower, so its harder to hear bass chords. Alex says that he uses chords if they fit the song he’s playing, and generally uses similar chords to the guitarists to make what they’re playing sound bigger. He doesn’t try to play all of the chords that they’re playing because of the greater difficulty in reproducing it on bass, and he also doesn’t lock in with the kick drum as much when playing because the sounds are very similar, so individual parts get harder to discern.

For those of you who are interested, here’s his Wiki page:
Alex Webster on Wikpedia

And here’s what they look like in the studio:

Cannibal Corpse – Frantic Disembowelment (Guitar, Bass & Drums In Studio)


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[edit 10.06.2011] I ordered Extreme Metal Bass from Alex Webster back in July and got it today. I know its a bit lengthy, but here’s a writeup of what the book contains. I’m excited! 😉

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7 responses

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