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Bassist Spotlight: Simon Grove

The Bassist with Every Trick Up his Sleeve

If any of you are into metal, you’ve probably heard of Plini, the virtuosic Austrailian-born guitarist known for his jazz-fusion approach to the progressive metal genre (if you haven’t, check out his YouTube channel here). Plini’s newest album, Handmade Cities, was arguably his best release yet, being praised by music legend Steve Vai himself, and had an almost infinite number of catchy melodies, hooks, and guitar solos. On the surface, it’s a guitar player’s dream album, but we all know I’m writing about it because of its crazy bass parts, courtesy of Simon Grove.

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Left to right: Plini, Simon Grove. 

And they truly are crazy. Although, as pictured, Plini is usually front and centre on stage, right now, I’m putting his bassist in the spotlight. Simon Grove is somewhat of an unsung hero, as he hasn’t had the time to become as famous as other legends of the metal genre like Cliff Burton or Steve Harris, but after hearing his bass parts on Handmade Cities, I knew that Grove had established himself as one of my personal favourite metal bassists.

But what sets him apart? Well, after a couple listens of the album, my immediate response was his insane technique. Grove can slap, he can tap, he can play fast – he can pretty much do it all. He posted a playthrough video of the Plini track “Cascade” a while back, and he literally does all three aforementioned things flawlessly. Honestly, from a technical perspective, when I look at Simon Grove, I see a bassist that has every trick up his sleeve, and it makes me really jealous. He can keep up with any crazy, jazzy, or ultra-fast riff that Plini throws at him, making him an ideal part of any rhythm section.

Let’s slow down, though. Why does it even matter that Simon Grove is so good, besides the fact that it’s fun to listen to? Well, I think it’s because Grove’s playing could teach all bassists a valuable lesson. While most metal bassists are known to have an insane amount of technical skill, metal is also notorious for the bass part being exactly the same as the guitar part. While I still think it’s super fun to play a crazy riff alongside the guitar, a la “Holy Wars” or “Run to the Hills”, I always found it more refreshing playing along to songs on Handmade Cities. And the reason why is simple: Grove switches his playing up.

It’s as easy as that. Switch up your style: don’t always copy the guitar part. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should abandon your job as the foundation of the song, just never be afraid to add embellishments or complement other parts by playing different rhythms. In Grove’s playthrough of “Handmade Cities”, he shows this idea perfectly: he locks in with the drums and rhythm guitar, but still adds in the little flourishes that make the bass part uniquely Simon Grove. For any bassist, giving your bass part your own personality is what makes it worth listening to.

How do you change up your basslines? What do you think about Simon Grove? Leave a comment below!

(You can buy Plini’s album here, and subscribe to Grove’s YouTube account here.)

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Finger Tips: The Three-Finger Technique

Playing Faster, One Finger at a Time

Ah, the age-old concept of how to play faster. For some instruments, it’s easy: tremolo picking on guitar takes some practice, but it’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it. But for fingerstyle bass, it’s still an ongoing source of diverging opinions. Do you just practice a lot with two fingers? Do you use your index finger or thumb as a pseudo-guitar pick? Do you just give up and switch to using an actual guitar pick, like Flea did on “Parallel Universe”? Well, I did none of the above.

As a budding bass guitar player, when I was faced with the challenge of keeping up with metal-style breakneck drumming in my band, I had to figure out how to play fast fast. That was when I found out about Billy Sheehan and his technique of using three fingers instead of two, so each finger does less work, upping overall efficiency and speed.

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Billy Sheehan playing lightning fast with three fingers.

Now in theory this sounds like a simple fix, right? You just start using your ring finger in addition to your index and middle fingers. Well, it’s not actually that easy. Of course, Sheehan makes it look like a cakewalk, but it took months of practice on my part.

The biggest hurdle is getting accents right. When you play four notes in a row, the first should be louder, because accents usually fall on the first beat in music. The problem lies in the fact that you have to play four notes with three fingers. Here’s a tab I wrote to illustrate this (visit this page if you don’t know how to read tab):

Accents  1       2       3       4
       G|--------------------------------|          3=Ring Finger
       D|--------------------------------|          2=Middle Finger
       A|5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-|          1=Index Finger
       E|--------------------------------|
Fingers  3 2 1 3 2 1 3 2 1 3 2 1 3 2 1 3

The finger numbers are listed on the bottom and the accents are on top. As you can see, the first accented note is played with your ring finger while the second accented note is played with your middle finger, and the third is played with your index finger. This is the curse of the three-fingered technique: the accent finger is always switching, so all three fingers need to be the same strength. That means you have to beef up your ring finger, as that’s usually the weakest one. This was the hardest part for me, but once I got my finger strength up by practising a lot, I was playing noticeably faster.

Billy Sheehan has a video where he explains his approach to the technique here, and he absolutely shreds.

When you get the accents down and practice your speed, your normal picking speed will be faster than when you were using two fingers, and you’ll be able to do longer runs of tremolo picking. Billy Sheehan isn’t the only one who uses this technique, either: bass legend Steve DiGiorgio uses three fingers, and so does Simon Grove when the track gets fast (read more about him here).

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how you play fast, as long as you do it. Do any of you use the three-finger technique when things get hairy, or do you have your own techniques? Leave a comment below!