Shifting/sliding and the "string scrape" sound

I just answered this question on one of the Beginner to Badass lesson pages, and wanted to share it here since I thought it might be helpful. The student asked:

“When doing a “reach” up or down a string, like going for the C note on the A string in this groove, is it better to lift the left finger and move or slide? Lifting seems cleaner but slower. Sliding seems quicker but you get the string scrape sound.”

My answer:

What you’re calling a “reach” I would call a “shift,” just for terminological clarity. In general when shifting, you want to keep your fretting fingers touching the strings as you shift (NOT pressing, just touching) for muting purposes. The string scrape sound you’re hearing is actually pretty innocuous in the context of playing with other people, even though it seems really noticeable in a practice context.

And sometimes you can hear that scrape sound, it’s just part of the deal playing an instrument with metal strings. Like listen to this solo banjo recording of Bela Fleck, there’s string noise all over the place and he’s arguably the best banjo player alive (at the very least my favorite) –

So moral of the story - don’t worry too much about that particular kind of string noise, and keep rocking! Let me know if this is helpful or if you have related thoughts/questions?


The scraping sound used to bug me when playing acoustic guitar (something like Nothing Else Matters by Metallica) … lifting my fingers would create a slappy sound when re-freting and sliding them created a horrid scrape sound. The I figured out if I did something in between like half lift and slide it would sound sweet as a nut. No scrape or slappy. Though… I don’t think this applies as much to the bass because of the lower frequencies so the scraping isn’t so apparent?


I think it depends… if we’re talking acoustically, it’s probably fairly similar since the sound is coming from the metal strings higher-end resonance. If we’re talking amplified, then yes probably this happens less on bass than guitar because we have less high-end coming out of our amps.

And yeah, there are ways to move around the string to get more/less of the scraping sound, for sure. The less friction you put on the string with your fingers, the less they’ll scrape, I imagine. I mean I’m pretty sure that’s the variable in play, but I haven’t done controlled trials measuring finger PSI to scraping decibel levels. :slight_smile:

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Some nice (and not so nice) tips here

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I have this terrible technique thing going right now that I want to kill off, where when I am lifting my fingers when unfretting notes I am immediately pulling them completely off the strings, and doing it in a way that is essentially a pull-off (and subsequently hammering on the next note.) It just sounds terrible, like half-plucked extra notes, leaving the string ringing. I think I am probably fretting the notes too hard but it is hard to say.


I hear you, @howard - I think it gets better with practice. I think I can hear/see it in my own playing that it does get better. It probably has to do with your fingers becoming more accustomed to the job and starting to economize on the necessary movement and pressure to generate the desired effect.
Also, it depends a lot on how new/old your strings are, what the tone setting is on your bass, what the EQ is set to on your amp etc. Some of the extraneous sounds get reduced just by adjusting the sound settings on your bass and amp.
Then, as @JoshFossgreen mentioned earlier in this thread, these irritating sounds are probably much less noticeable when playing together with others. When you practice (not playing along to a song), you probably play relatively softly and thus hear everything, and you also hear sounds coming directly from your bass to your ears without even being picked up and transmitted through the electronics and the amp. Many of these sounds become less obvious when you play along to a song or other musicians. I think Josh also had an example somewhere else here in this forum, where he showed a bass track in its raw recorded form (with quite a few “blemishes”) and how it ended up sounding in the final mix.
So, while understandably esthetically displeasing, these sounds are part of playing this instrument (I guess) - we have to accept them, but of course can still strive to minimize their impact.


Yeah, I definitely need to work on my muting as well. I find this is much less pronounced if I am trying to do left hand muting (hard to describe but the two-stage lifting thing where you unfret but keep your finger on the string for a moment). The problem is training myself to do it consistently which is hard :slight_smile:

I think it is probably caused by three semirelated problems:

  • bad muting technique
  • fretting too hard
  • flying/seesaw fingers lifting too far off (and too fast) after unfretting

It seems to happen most with my ring finger.


I’m taking the easy way out… flatwounds. :smiley:


Sounds like a decent diagnosis to me @howard, and there’s really no magic fairy dust other than practicing consistently (and paying enough attention not to reinforce the bad habits). I’m still refining myself!


Thanks, I was kind of afraid of that; I guess the good news is it will improve over time.

This is a serious argument to always practice well-amped. I had been doing a lot of my practice late at night with the amp pretty low and it was masking this. I notice a lot more with the amp up at decent levels. And it is totally apparent with my amp through headphones or headphones from the DAI. So don’t be shy with the volume, fellow students :slight_smile:

Man. I can already tell that for the intermediate course what I will want is a whole course section on technique refinement.


Agreed, @howard . . .

I tried using headphones, but didn’t like it. There is nothing like hearing it the way it really sounds. Fortunately, I am able to practice at “reasonable” levels during the day when my (apartment) neighbors are at work.

This will be especially true with my new amp . . . :wink:

All best, Joe


So I figured out what was causing a lot of this. In addition to the technique problems I described above.

I found that I was sounding pretty good through my amp but really terrible through phones plugged into either the amp or my DAI. It sounded better with phones through the amp with a mid scoop or with the treble down a lot, but was still kind of bad.

So what was happening is that the preamp in both my DAI and my Rumble 25 (with flat EQ) were sending pure clean signals to the headphones, as you would expect, with flat EQ across the whole frequency range. Everything, including every last bit of noise, was amped equally.

I put my effects processor stompbox into the chain between the bass and the preamp. With bypass, no change, still sounded bad. But when I added amp and cab modelling a big Gallien-Krueger amp head and a G-K 4x10 cab, suddenly I sounded totally awesome through the 'phones, very few finger scraping sounds or noises at all.

So the power amp phase of my amp, along with the speaker response, were killing the noise. And using cab and amp modeling, you can make that work with phones. Sweet.

Meanwhile, the clean signal through headphones is like a microscope on technique issues.


Are flatwounds quieter?

Is there any type of string that produces less residual sounds?




Ditto. I was fed up with the scrapes, but like a lot of people I was also practising unamplified but now understand the difference. Of course now I have other noises that bother me, but that’s down to my playing. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

I swapped to flatwound and I’ve got to say I love the feel of them. I definitely get less unintended noise, but even better I’ve found it so much easier to shift around the neck. No callouses either - which may be a good or bad thing.


Pam, is this mostly with 'phones? Either way, one thing to try is simply turning the treble down on your amp and see if it makes a difference.

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@howard Thanks for writing all that up. What kind of bass, strings, and stomp box are you using?

@PamPurrs Yes. Flatwounds are quieter for what your talking about and they have a very smooth feel. The trade off is they have a darker, warmer sound. Which may or may not be what you’re looking for. Also, playing with flatwounds can feel like playing a whole different instument. Since you haven’t used them before, I would definitely reccomend giving them a try. If you don’t like it, you can always switch back to your old strings. All in all, a worthwhile experiment.

Give this a listen to. Don’t listen to his tone but listen to how his tone changes from one set of strings to the next. I hope this helps.

Bass: Yamaha TRBX604, noise worse in active than passive mode (as expected)
Strings: New D’Addario 170XL nickel rounds (aka the anti-flats)
Effects: Zoom B1on, either in bypass or with a single effect modelling a G-K head and cab
Headphone preamp: either the Fender Rumble 25 or the Zoom U-24 DAI, noise is similar
Headphones: Sony MDR-V6 (the prosumer version of the 7506 studio monitors)

I can EQ the noise away with the EQ on the bass or the amp, and the B1on amp/cab sim kills it too. As does playing through my amp and not the 'phones.

It’s pretty clear what’s happening - the preamp response for the DAI is flat (as you would expect) and the Fender’s is as well when the knobs are all neutral. The noise is simply getting amped by the preamps in a way that does not come through a real power amp or speaker.


Thank you. That was very helpful.


I use flats and I love them.


I went from round wounds, to flat wounds, and now I’m using tape wound. I liked the flat wounds, but really love the tape wounds the most. They’re expensive as h*ll, especially for a 5-string, but worth the extra :moneybag: