The idea of developing a way to play tremolo on the bass came after my years spent learning from the wonderful oud player Ahmad al Khatib at the Acadamy of Music and Drama in Gothenburg. Because one of my SlowBass cornerstones is to only work with hands, therefore plectrums are not allowed. Playing with a pick can sound great and some bass players, like Carles Benavent (most famous for his work with Paco de Lucia), make it sound magical, but it gives you a certain sound and holding a pick also locks you in a position of playing.
What is so great about the oud is that it can sound really soft but also really loud. For me the big thing in the beginning was how to get that soft tremolo effect on the bass. I have always enjoyed looking at other instruments for ideas and it’s easy to get jealous of the possibilities which always seem endless on a piano for instance. But the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s just a different lawn of grass. No sound or idea is harder than the other so it’s just a matter of trying to adapt what works. Finding more possibilities instead of looking at the limitations.
So how about that oud tremolo? The oud has nylon strings which gives it a much softer timbre and since I want to stick with steel strings (even though acoustic bass with nylon strings sounds amazing!) it makes it harder to play soft. The way I do it now is using the tip of my index finger and rapidly hitting, finger fully extended, the string with both down and up stroke. This gives me control over the tremolo and a natural softness since it’s actually quite hard to play with too much power. Short fingernails are a must for this since you want to use the fingertip and not the fingernail.
The other way I do tremolo has a lot more in common with the actual oud style of playing and feels like a more versatile technique since it can be played on more than one string. What I do is imagining myself playing with a oudpick (a long plastic thing) but treating my index finger as the pick.
The up and down stroke gives two different kinds of attack since I hit the string with my nail on the down stroke but use my fingertip coming back .
This style of playing is also more rhythmical and dynamic than the previous one and playing with the nail gives a very distinct sharp sound. Here I want to hit the string closer to the bridge than the neck so the string will be tighter and therefore avoid getting my finger stuck on the string. It can also be done with just the thumb which gives a softer sound and is reminiscent of bass player Victor Wootens double thumping technique (using the thumb in an up and down motion while slapping instead of bouncing of the string). Using the thumb makes it easier to dampen the strings with my right palm to get an even softer tremolo.