The OFFICIAL Bass Blog of Tony Grey


My "secret" to creative fluidity -- it's SO simple and SO overlooked!

Posted by: Tony Grey  /  August 31, 2017

My BIG secret is all about the fingerboard and how we move around while we're playing. Most of us have been taught to shift positions in a way that's not very economical, which doesn't open up the fretboard in a way that lends to creativity, instead we find ourselves boxed in and limited in what we can create. Does this sound familiar?

So, let’s talk about Vertical Fingering Patterns... the first thing I want to say is that there are a lot of them out there in the world today. I mean a ton! I've done hours and hours of research trying to understand why educators are teaching their students to move around their fretboards in a way that actually limits their ability to be creative and whether or not there are any educators who have come to the same conclusion as me, which is, there IS another way and it's SIMPLY brilliant.

When I was starting to learn the bass I always used Vertical Fingering Patterns to try and gain a deeper understanding of my fingerboard. Having a visual diagram to look at was very helpful in navigating my way around. I found that in my quest to complete creative freedom I was always inhibited by my lack of fluidity across the fingerboard.

As I was learning the instrument at first I couldn’t get enough practice. I was completely lost in trying to find my way. As I progressed through my endless amounts of practicing I often felt lost when it came to playing musically and I had a hard time knowing what to do with all the information I was reading and absorbing.

Yes, eventually I became comfortable with learning all of the notes on my fingerboard and all of the scales in one and two octaves, but the problem always remained the same. I started to realize that the Vertical Fingering Patterns I'd come to rely on were teaching me how to play in only ONE position.

What I wanted was complete creative freedom on my instrument, with no restrictions other than the limitation of my own imagination. Since I was unable to achieve that with limited fluency on my fingerboard, I began breaking down the fingering patterns that were holding me back so that I could decode the map to creative freedom.

I often ask myself how practicing a particular concept is going to help me to get to where I want to go. No matter how many instructional books I studied or how many YouTube lessons and DVDs I watched, I was still left with the question, "how do I use this information to break away from these vertical patterns and shapes?" This is what I came up with...

How can I develop complete creative freedom on my instrument?

This statement holds so much truth >> How you practice will ultimately determine how you sound. The key is to identify all of the areas you want to excel in and then find a way to practice them creatively. Your playing has to be a reflection of how you practice. I've discovered a system to help you practice in a more meaningful way, where you can absorb information and use it immediately. In a way that feels very organic and natural.

Regardless of how much we desire to become a better musician, nothing will change that unless we learn how to maximize our current potential.

If I’m locked in a vertical position, how do I break free from the pattern?

The symmetrical nature of the bass's design makes learning shapes unavoidable. Muscles have memory and when we practice something enough it becomes engrained in the way we move. Learning patterns is a great way to learn your fingerboard, as it helps you visualize things. At the end of the day it’s all about intention and AWARENESS pertaining to where you place your finger and WHY. That’s the key, and we’ll get to that soon!

FOR EXAMPLE: If you're learning the shape of a C major scale, and you believe that you will attain the knowledge and vocabulary necessary to play over a C major chord, you are already locked into that way of thinking, which in turn will take your fingers immediately to that position, to play from there. When we become aware of this issue we have to find a solution that does two things: helps us to maintain this muscle memory while providing us with a back door in which to escape the pattern and move effortlessly into another one.


I have discovered a way for you to learn how to feel your instrument in a physical way that is connected to your creativity. Imagine if you could play your bass just like you would play a piano where everything is linear. Imagine if you could seamlessly shift in-between positions no matter where you were on the instrument.

There is massive value in learning Vertical Fingering Patterns, when taught the right way, with all of this desire for creative freedom. I teach about it extensively inside the Academy for those of you who want to go deeper with all of this.

So why will these Vertical Fingering Patterns change the way I think about my instrument?

In my extensive research and teaching I’ve found many examples of Vertical Fingering Patterns, but have never come across a way of moving around my instrument in an effective, logical and instinctive way -- a way where I can learn how to visualize and feel my way around the instrument, always being aware of where I am and how to change direction ascending and descending as I please WITH NO RESTRICTION.

First, I’ll share with you some examples of Vertical Fingering Patterns I’ve found from many instructional books and courses that will demonstrate where the limitation comes from. When we read and buy instructional material we are buying into the authority of a teacher, WITHOUT QUESTION. We tend to get trapped into that way of thinking. Rather than holding steadfast to one particular train of thought, I think it’s smart for us to analyze the good points in our findings while always looking for ways to improve upon them if we find them somewhat limiting.

Often we see these Vertical Fingering Patterns as a way of learning shapes so we can play over related chords. Learning Vertical Fingering Patterns is important, as they should be teaching us the notes on our instrument and how to play them; however, we should never view them as a short cut to playing things we know will work over a chord. This bad habit will NOT provide you with the knowledge necessary to develop creative freedom. It will actually suffocate your growth and limit your creative freedom. Always be mindful of what your agenda and intention is for learning anything. Don’t forget to ask WHY?


Example 1 is the shape of the D Dorian Mode. All we know from this Vertical Fingering Pattern is where the notes are on the fingerboard. It doesn’t show us how to maneuver around it correctly. One of the good things about this pattern is; we have to think for ourselves about what the note names are. I’ve found that self-discovery is the key to retaining information.


Here are two typical variations of a Vertical Fingering Pattern for the A Minor (Aeolian) Scale. I’ve seen these two examples before in instructional material and I find them to be confusing. To me it is eluding that this is how I would approach playing over an A Minor chord. This is the shape I will end up instinctively jumping to every time I see the A Minor chord. It’s a great starting point but many of us end up stuck in this position and don’t know where to go from there. It’s not teaching us the value of music or how to apply notes over a chord. There is also a variation of this shape on the D and G strings. It was always confusing to me how I should be playing my instrument. That element was always left to the player to decide. You can see in the 2nd variation there are 3 notes, each a whole step away from each other, all on the D string. This can actually stunt your growth in learning how to visualize and hinder your muscle memory growth and freedom. I’ve learned that mastering these fundamentals in the right way will shape how we approach and feel our instrument.


Example 3 is showing us the C Major shape starting on the 3rd fret of the E string. The root of the scale is identified by the white dots. I guess this system is designed to help us play over a chord, starting from different notes of the scale. Again, learning this is important and helpful, but it still doesn’t help us with how to play melodically over a chord. It’s just a shape to give us an area to blow through.


Example 4 is a typical fingering pattern that shows you all of the notes for a C Major scale across the entire fingerboard. All of the roots are indicated by a white dot. These patterns are helpful in the sense that we can figure out where all of the notes are, but it’s not teaching us how to play all of them or how to maneuver between the different positions. In the Tony Grey Bass Academy we take great care in learning how to play these linear patterns in an economical way that will provide you with the platform necessary to develop creative freedom on your instrument; however, the first step is learning how to play the vertical shapes correctly.


Example 5 shows us two typical variations of a Vertical Fingering Pattern for the A Minor (Aeolian) Scale. These are the same shapes we saw in exercise 2; however, the difference you’ll see is in the pattern. It’s showing us which fingers to use.


I prefer this method of teaching vertical patterns as it still lets you work out the notes for yourself. The only thing I disagree with here is the actual fingering pattern that is being used. When we are trying to build muscle memory we want to always be mindful of how our fingers are being placed and how the next notes are being set up to being played. Now this seems obvious and very fundamental but understanding this will really help us change our habits in a few different ways.

You can see in the 1st pattern on the D string the fingering pattern is 1 followed by 3. This is all well and good until we reach the next note on the G string which is indicating here that we use the 1st finger. The problem here for me is we are now forced into feeling an unnatural stretch between the 3rd and 1st finger. We are playing a 4 fret stretch with our 1st and 3rd finger.

In the 2nd pattern on the D string we can see the 3 whole steps played with the 1st, 2nd and 4th fingers. This again is creating a stretch that throws out positioning off which is unnecessary. We are playing the 1st and 2nd fingers over 3 frets.


Here is the same pattern, but with this theory in mind…


Example 6 is showing us the A Minor/Aeolian shape.

- It is showing us the shape
- It is making us figure out what the notes are
- It is showing us the fingering pattern

You will notice that on the D string the fingering pattern is 1,4 as opposed to 1,3. The reason why 1 to 4 works so well is because you never have to stretch. Every time you play 1 to 4 you know you are opening up your hand to prepare yourself for the next note on the G string. This slight adjustment makes all the difference in learning how to develop your muscle memory.

Learning and mastering this simple fundamental is the first step in learning how to move around your fingerboard in a more linear fashion. We are training our muscles to adjust to where we are going before we get there.


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