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Questions from a pianist


Axe L

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Hello partners in crime :)

 

This is my 1st post here, I believe. I'm a composer and pianist and I've recently been teaching myself to play the bass, partly for fun, but mostly to enliven, elevate and authenticate my synth bass tracks ;)

 

Just so you know, I've bought several bass learning books/DVDs and they're fine for a beginner, but as a life-long musician, I wanted to get the lowdown more efficiently.

 

I searched the Bass Player forum for Beginner tips, and found a couple of interesting posts. I browsed and read several more; the warm and friendly tone in those posts encouraged me to ask you guys and gals the following general questions:

 

1. What kind of warm-up exercises should I be doing (left-hand, right-hand)?

 

2. Should I play scales to build strength first, or just gently play along some simple bass lines until I know my way around the neck (and the strings)? I ask this because I'm afraid of picking up bad habits if I stick with the latter (as I've been doing these past few weeks). Basically, what's a recommended practice routine for a beginner?

 

3. I notice bassists say "pluck" here; what is the recommended finger movement? Upward (plucking upward from slightly underneath the string) or perpendicular? Should my plucking fingers be kept straight or naturally (relaxed) curved?

 

4. I have pianist hands and fingers; my fingers arch naturally over the fret board. All the bassists I see (in clubs, or on DVD) seem to have very long and straight fingers. They also seem to play effortlessly! My question then is: am I losing strength by arching my fingers (in my left and right hands alike)?

 

5. I don't recall seeing anyone using their LH pinky on the fretboard. Why not? Should I stop trying to use mine?

 

6. Should I position my finger immediately above (or on) the fret of the note, or further up, smack in the middle (between the two frets)?

 

7. As a pianist, I'm confused by the fact you can play the same bass line within the first few frets, or further down the middle. The same notes appear in multiple places! How should one choose/decide between the same note on this or that fret?

 

Thanks for your tips, and keep on grooving! :)

 

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1 Just start slowly and increase speed and stretching as you warm up.

 

2.Either. Best is to get a teacher. I would recommend playing everything in time (slowly at first - nothing rubato), focussing on one element of playing at a time initially, playing what you enjoy, play scales or arpeggios in context - eg rhythmic feeling.

 

3.Not upward! Perpendicular.

 

4. Arching (if I understand it right) is perfectly fine and will help in time.

 

5. We all use our LH pinky on the fingerboard - unless we are in bad habits

 

6. Immediately above the fret, as close as possible

 

7. You have to make a choice based on ease of shifting, tonal issues, whether you want to include of avoid open strings (often the speed/length of the notes is a factor there).

 

Keep asking!

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Hi Axe L,

 

welcome to bassdom!!

 

 

1. When warming up I normally start high up the neck and play scales or finger per fret exercises. As i warm up I go lower down the neck and the stretch increases.

 

2. I would do both as drilling scales on there own can be boring. I do love the feeling but when hands ears notes all join up after playing a while.

 

I will answer the other q's in a while got a job to do.

 

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Welcome,

I do a bit of playing on both, started on woodwinds, then bass, then keys. I'd like to agree with getting a skilled teacher, at least for a few lessons. Same reason as with piano - a good instructor can look at you play for 30 seconds and see if your hands and motions are close to right, or more likely to both interfere with your playing and potentially damage your hands.

 

BTW - look for instructor that specializes in bass, rather than a guitar teacher that also does a little bass - there is a lot of difference in techniques between guitar and bass.

 

Howard Grand|Hamm SK1-73|Kurz PC2|PC2X|PC3|PC3X|PC361; QSC K10's

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1. I've been playing for over 40 years and have never done any warm-up exercises. But if you feel that you should, I don't see why anything you are used to doing before you play the piano wouldn't work.

 

2. You should be practicing scales, arpeggios, and basslines with good fingering to learn your way around the neck and get your fingers used to playing.

 

3. Right hand fingers should move perpendicularly to the strings and land on the next string after "plucking" the string. Do not pull up. Fingers should be relatively straight with a natural curve. The movement is initiated by the big knuckle where you finger attaches to your hand. Don't use your little knuckles.

 

4. Slightly curved fingers are fine.

 

5. You should be using all four left hand fingers, and the fourth finger more than the third finger.

 

6. Fret the note near the fret, but never on it.

 

7. You choose where to play the notes based on the sound you are looking for and the context of the music: i.e., what notes you are going to play before and after the particular ones you are worried about.

 

 

In Los Angeles, there is no shortage of great bass teachers. Go talk to one (or two).

 

Get on over to the LA Music Academy in Pasadena.

 

Go to the Baked Potato in Studio City where you can see some of the best bass players on the planet. If I lived there, I would definitely be there this coming Sunday to see Abe Laboriel play and the following Friday and Saturday to see Neil Stubenhaus play with Oz Noy. All the other players in both bands are fantastic also.

 

Happy thumping!

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Welcome Axe L, I can't add much to the already quality advice you have already recieved. The bass is primarily a rhythm instrument. As you do exercises to improve finger dexterity, try to concentrate on your rhythm. Don't play any faster than you can produce very clean, accurate notes. Everyone wants to build speed quickly but pass up learning exciting rhythm/beat accuracy. As you listen to some of the great bassists play, listen to where they are placing the notes in the beat/timing of the song.

I start my students on Western Swing waltzes because the songs are slow and the beat is critical.

Rocky

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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6. Fret the note near the fret, but never on it.

 

And by near, just to state what might be the obvious, we're talking about the headstock side of the fret.

 

Go to the Baked Potato in Studio City where you can see some of the best bass players on the planet. If I lived there, I would definitely be there this coming Sunday to see Abe Laboriel play and the following Friday and Saturday to see Neil Stubenhaus play with Oz Noy.

 

Oh my. Those gigs sound way cool. Stubenhaus w/ Noy?!

 

Peace.

--SW

 

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Down the road, I'd like to hear how you think your keyboard background influences your bass lines.

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.'-Hamlet

 

Guitar solos last 30 seconds, the bass line lasts for the whole song.

 

 

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As already mentioned, if you want to avoid learning bad habits then start with a qualified bass instructor.

 

The use of perpendicular is ambiguous. The string goes from bridge to nut. Pulling the string from from one string to the next (to introduce vibration within the plane of all strings) is perpendicular to the string. So is pulling the string from between the string and the body away from the body (which when done with enough force smacks the string against the fretboard). Typically you want vibrations within the plane of the strings.

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Willie, Oz Noy's LA band not only has Neil Stubenhaus on bass, but also has Steve Ferrone on drums and John Beasley on keys. If it weren't a 7 hour drive, I'd go to that show.

 

Meanwhile, on finger placement, don't you mean close to the fret on in the bridge direction, not the nut direction?

 

I usually tell my students to put their finger 2/3 of the way between frets:

 

nut direction

_

 

 

 

0

_

 

bridge direction

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Excellent replies and recommendations have already been made, so I won't add more. I will simply try to clarify the notes in multiple places on the neck question.

 

Coming from a piano background myself, I understand the "confusion." You have to remember that, unlike piano, there is not one position for every time you want to play a particular note.

 

I agree with an earlier post that which position on the neck that you choose will depend on what other notes you need to reach. I would add that it also depends on what timbre you want for that note in that part of that song (playing an A on your E string has a slightly different timbre than the open A on your A string). I will sometimes play a riff with the E on my B string (I have a 5 string bass) instead of the open E on the E string because I want the "deeper" timbre it gives me for that song. Sometimes, though, it's just easier to play the riff there. :-)

 

Also, you have to remember that bass in standard tuning is tuned to fourths, so you won't play scales and progressions with the same thinking as on a piano keyboard. This tuning allows you some interesting overlaps, overtones, and "doubling" of tones that you can't get on piano (i.e. playing an A on my E string (5th fret) and the open A at the same time. Can sometimes add an interesting texture.).

 

Hope this clarifies things a little bit.

 

- John

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As already mentioned, if you want to avoid learning bad habits then start with a qualified bass instructor.

 

I've got to agree with Eric here. I've had 4 teachers: 3 of them guitarists and one a bassist. The 3 guitarists were good teachers, but their limited experience with bass was evident. I've got a "real" bass teacher now, and his breadth of knowledge about the instrument and playing techniques for different types of music is simply amazing.

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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5. I don't recall seeing anyone using their LH pinky on the fretboard. Why not? Should I stop trying to use mine?

 

7. As a pianist, I'm confused by the fact you can play the same bass line within the first few frets, or further down the middle. The same notes appear in multiple places! How should one choose/decide between the same note on this or that fret?

 

Hi, Axe. I am a rookie bassist and spent a long, painful amount of time tonight trying to learn to bar 2 strings with my pinky. From the little I've learned so far, I understand there are ways of playing that minimize pinky usage, but to really get your fingers' worth, so to speak, you need to get that little sucker whipped into shape. Easier said than done, of course.

 

I, too, am a pianist -- or recovering pianist, actually, after a decades-long hiatus, and I also find the layout of the fretboard really sort of disorienting. (Two different positions for the same note?!!? Get outta here!) It's a weird adjustment, after thinking of notes in a linear fashion for so long. However, I am plugging away at learning multiple alternative fingerings for a given bass line, which gives me good practice for my fingers as well as my ears.

 

Anyway, I feel ya, man.

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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I was one that didn't use my pinky for the longest time- then I started using it and I honestly don't know how I did as good as I did without it. It opened up a whole new world.

 

"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind"- George Orwell
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I believe most new players don't use the "pinky" because it is weak. I have my students do hand exercises to increase the little finger strength. We use a piece of dense foam rubber in a 2"x 2"x 4" block. It is small, light, easily carried in a pocket. Exercise while driving, sitting at a desk, wherever you can. It really helped me develop good strength in that finger and the rest of the hand.

Rocky

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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First, I'd like to say you are a collective class act! Thank you so much :)

 

Phil W; thank you for being the first to reply (and to my format, no less), and as thoroughly and succinctly as you did.

 

Thank you Seamy Donnelly for your excellent advice on warming up.

 

I will follow your advice MoodyBluesKeys and seek out a teacher (I'm too shy to ask my friends).

 

Similar thanks to Jeremy C for replying point by point, and suggesting the Baked Potato gig (I went, I heard, I learned) :) Wish you all could have been there, Abe Sr was cooking! The rest of the band (two of whom I went to school with) did rather well too ;)

 

 

Rocky MacDougall; I will follow your sensei advice as to Tai-chi-ing bass practice. I've no clue what Western Swing waltzes are though (?!?).

 

Sweet Willie; sorry, I didn't understand what you meant about "the headstock side of the fret;" might you elaborate, please?

 

Bottom End; I've been told by bassists who played my compositions that my bass lines challenge how they think and approach the bass. I think the term "kicks my ass" is most recurrent, but it's nothing I strive to achieve on its own merit. Rather, I approach bass lines contrapuntally with the intent for the bass lines to "drive" the piece as much as the melody without overshadowing it, although sometimes with the intent that it shares the spotlight with it. As fancy as this sounds, I never write a bass line I can't play with my own left hand, and I think I will be equally limited and inspired by the fretboard to imagine new lines ("authentic" sounding or not).

 

Eric Van Buren, thanks for your precision; I had to read it twice, but I got it :)

 

Nailholes; thanks for clarifying. It was crystal clear.

 

Funkslap Mama; thanks and happy parallel learning!

 

5 string Mike; did you use your pinky to unplug your ears, is that what made such a difference? Just kidding, thanks! :)

 

Again, thanks everyone for the warm welcome, and abundance of advice! It's greatly appreciated (any piano/keyboard questions, please feel welcome to send them my way, btw)!

 

Cheers,

 

Axe

 

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