Q&A - How to finger the Cloud exercise on upright bass

Hi David,

I want to make sure I get off to the right start. Can you explain how I should finger the Cloud exercise on an upright bass? Thanks!


David's response:

Hi Michael,

Thanks for writing. The most important thing is to separate the idea of a visualization exercise vs. a technique exercise. When I describe the fingering of the Cloud exercise for electric bass, I suggest using the pinky finger to cover both the 4th and 5th frets of the Cloud. The only reason I even talk about this fingering is that by visualizing the Cloud in this way, it's easy to remember the overall dimensions of the Cloud (5 frets on each string).

But even on electric bass, this fingering would be very awkward and uncomfortable in the lower frets where the spacing between the frets is very large. And on upright it's impossible. So this fingering is really just something to meditate on for a few minutes. The only thing you need to take away from the Cloud exercise is an understanding of the overall shape of the Cloud, which is a perfect rectangle of 5 frets by 4 strings. (You don't have frets, but it's the same idea.)

upright bass player practicing the CloudTo actually play these notes on your bass, this is where we leave the world of visualization exercises and enter the world of physical technique. If you can see the Cloud clearly in your mind, then you could play the notes with your toes and it wouldn't matter. This is the difference between a visualization exercise (where we might use a specific fingering as a memory aid to help us remember the shape of the Cloud) and a technical exercise (where you might work on any particular fingering that you want to practice).

In my book I mentioned Simandi's 1-2-4 system because it's the most common approach to the upright bass, but there are other techniques and exercises available to you as well. From the perspective of IFR, we are really "technique agnostic". What we focus on is the understanding of music and harmony, and using your instrument in a way that facilitates this learning. This is where the Cloud exercise comes in. But how you choose to actually finger those notes is something that you can choose based on your own interest and comfort.

And obviously since you're going to be playing 5 notes per string, you don't have enough fingers to do this without a shift in position. So I would just encourage you to explore this issue on your own, and decide for yourself where you would like to make this shift on each string. Since there are numerous ways to do it, ideally you should make it your objective to explore EVERY possible way of doing it.

This is a perfect example of the kind of exercise that we're hoping to inspire you to explore on your own. You start with a simple harmonic concept like the Cloud, but then when you think about how to integrate this concept into your own playing you discover a number of possible variations based on how you choose to finger it. So this sets you off on a 2 or 3 week exploration of your physical technique, but the whole time you're also reinforcing a valuable harmonic concept, which is the shape of the Cloud in any given region on your bass.

This is ultimately how I would suggest you approach not only the Cloud exercise but every IFR exercise. What IFR lays out for you is a harmonic path. But each step of the way, you should take every opportunity to enjoy side trips, detours and deep explorations. This is where you'll make all of your most important personal discoveries.

Please let me know if this helps or if you're still not sure about how to get started.

Thanks Michael, and happy exploring!