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Playing open strings vs. ease of transposition?


Groove Mama

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What's your philosophy on the ease of playing open strings vs. the ease of transposition? (In other words, using open strings vs. no open strings or, at least, as few open strings as possible so that your fingering pattern remains the same when moving to a different key.)

 

My teacher advocates the no-open-strings approach, and I can certainly see the benefit. Just wondering how others feel about it.

 

(Except, of course, for guys like Jeremy, for whom open-string transposition is no big whoop. :-)

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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It's obviously easier to transpose if you don't have open strings in your part. Unless the part goes off the bottom of the bass when transposed. In those cases, a five string is a big help.

 

If you bought a Line 6 Variax bass, you could press a button, just like some keyboard players. However, this bass was discontinued because hardly anyone bought one.

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I used to shy away from playing open strings, but since I started playing electric upright, I have reworked a lot of my bass lines to include as many open strings as possible, especially on (what I consider) busier bass lines such as Elvis' "Burning Love". So it really depends from one song to the next, AND it is an interesting exercise to approach a song from both angles.

"I'm a work in progress." Micky Barnes

 

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Generally I play up the fretboard where I can, rarely using open strings *except* when I'm playing fretless, as I find that the occasional open string acts as a 'landmark' for my ear to help underpin the accuracy (or not!) of my intonation.

 

G.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power the World will know Peace": Jimi Hendrix

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It's not just about transposition. Using open strings can give you a different sound which might be what you need.

 

I find the most important thing about using open strings is getting the muting and damping right. It takes that bit more care and attention when you haven't got a fretting finger to stop the note ringing out.

 

Cheers

 

Graham

 

www.talkingstrawberries.com - for rocking' blues, raw and fresh!
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I generally play without open strings unless I want that sound.

 

Certainly if you were playing a lot of 80's pop then you would need to embrace the open string!

 

My custom bass has an ebony nut and I notice the open string sound isn't as contrasting as a regular Fender set-up for example.

 

I think it's easier to learn without and then re-introduce it later as and when you want it.

 

Davo

"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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I think open vs fretted note have a different sound and I use that. There are a few occasions where I will play the same not open and then fretted or vice versa. It is a slight difference that give some colour to the sound.

 

Open string to fretted transposition is not too bad unless you only have a 4 count to figure it out... then that would eliminate some of us from the pool.

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Generally I play up the fretboard where I can, rarely using open strings *except* when I'm playing fretless, as I find that the occasional open string acts as a 'landmark' for my ear to help underpin the accuracy (or not!) of my intonation.

 

G.

 

Exactly. The other time I use open strings is when I'm tired and need to shake out my left hand.

Things are just the way they are, and they're only going to get worse.

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I suggest, as a new player, you learn to use open strings comfortably. Play the lower scales for practice. Later if you prefer playing higher on the neck that is ok. On certain songs I like the sound of the open string.

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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My teacher advocates the no-open-strings approach, and I can certainly see the benefit. Just wondering how others feel about it.

 

Sounds like a rather closed-minded approach in my opinion.

 

1. with a quality instrument that is properly set-up, an open string is not going to have a timbre so different that is sounds out of place. If I was avoiding the use of open strings due to this, I would consider having the bass set-up with special attention to the nut.

 

2. rather than relying on muscle memory, knowing your fretboard will help with transpositions. Knowing what you are playing (both notes and in relation to the related chord) is key for writing and improvising in my opinion.

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Of course, it is easier and faster to learn how to play bass by using all moveable fingerings. I start with this way with my students.

 

But at some point, you really need to know how to play using open strings. You should be able to play scales using open strings. Scales in 3rds is a good exercise which will help you get familiar with the open strings.

 

If you are sight reading, you are really going to need to use open strings. You will not have the liberty of looking down at your hands.

 

Yes, muting is more of an issue with open strings. That is why you need to work on it.

 

What my esteemed colleague, Maury, posted above about know what you are playing is a key point. You should have your brain engaged. You should know what you are playing (such as being able to sing your part) and you should know what part of the chord you are playing and what each chord's relation to the next one is.

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2. rather than relying on muscle memory, knowing your fretboard will help with transpositions. Knowing what you are playing (both notes and in relation to the related chord) is key for writing and improvising in my opinion.

This.

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2. rather than relying on muscle memory, knowing your fretboard will help with transpositions. Knowing what you are playing (both notes and in relation to the related chord) is key for writing and improvising in my opinion.

This.

 

Yep. Duly noted. It's just so danged different from a keyboard, but maybe that's a good thing. (Practice, practice and more practice...)

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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It's easier than a keyboard (in my warped little mind, anyway) because there are no white and black keys. Just frets.

 

Here's an interesting book I picked up years ago and still pull out from time to time. The Bass Grimoire. Every scale you could hope to learn and then so so many more. It has them laid out in various formats (unfortunately, standard notation isn't one of them) and goes through each mode of each scale, all the chord symbols each mode works with and fretboard plots of where each note is in each position up the neck. Sometimes I pick a random scale and work the hell out of it until it starts to feel natural...it helps me grow even more familiar with the fretboard and build a more intimate knowledge of the relationships between scales, modes, funky intervals and chords.

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It's easier than a keyboard (in my warped little mind, anyway) because there are no white and black keys. Just frets.

 

Agreed: way easier for that very reason. The only problem is that the frets all look the same to my keyboard-skewed brain and I have no black keys to use as landmarks. But I'm getting there, I'm getting there...

 

Thanks for the book recommendation, Davio. Sounds like a good one. Will definitely check it out.

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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The position dots are supposed to be the landmarks.

 

LOL. Understood, but those little dots all look the same! (And, no, that was NOT a racist remark.)

 

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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Hell, every lazy keyboard player calls out "C" because it is easy enough to mail it in. Helen Keller could solo in C on keys...

 

Hahaha. Tru dat!

 

But, weirdly, I can't help but think of chords and arpeggios and note-type stuff in terms of a keyboard when I'm trying to figure stuff out on the bass. Maybe it's like thinking in your first language before speaking in your second.

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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+1 to learning the fretboard!

 

I think your teacher may just be using the "no open notes" idea to get the student to learn both notes and patterns.

As above, preformance-wise, you'll want to use open strings, so learn that scale or pattern in as many ways as you can in practice, when you get to performance and want to try something new, you'll know where the notes are to do it.

"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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+1 to learning the fretboard!

 

I think your teacher may just be using the "no open notes" idea to get the student to learn both notes and patterns.

 

Yep, that's it, both notes and patterns.

 

As for learning the fretboard, I'm working on it, believe me, but it's just taking so long. I haven't played an instrument in over 30 years. A large contingent of my music-theory brain cells have long since bit the dust, and my fingers won't do what I tell them to. Other than that, I'm having a blast! :-)

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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It will never be as uniform as keys, so it takes a bit more effort. Keys are uniform and color coded. Hell, every lazy keyboard player calls out "C" because it is easy enough to mail it in. Helen Keller could solo in C on keys...

 

 

Sightist.

 

 

 

I'd also recommend learning how to utilise both open strings as well as fretted notes. Do it now so that you don't find yourself locked into one methodology which might require you to re-learn some things further down the road. Learn to play scales in different patterns and positions. Use open strings. Use fretted notes. Learn how the timbre of a fretted note will sound like compared to an open string. Think of it as your bass geography lesson...you CAN get there from here!

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Think of it as your bass geography lesson...you CAN get there from here!

 

Thanks, Nicklab. I needed that. I'm having a bad-arpeggio night and getting frustrated trying to come up with a bass line for "Autumn Leaves." Last night went pretty well, actually, but tonight not so much. Seriously considering using my Ibanez to hit fly balls instead.

Queen of the Quarter Note

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

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Arpeggios can really be one of the best practice exercises you can do. There are SO MANY things you can do with them. Just try running through them like this through the circle of 5ths:

 

1-3-5 (major)

1-3-5-7 (major 7th)

1-3-5-7 (dominant 7)

1-3-5-7-9 (major 7th)

1-3-5-7-9 (dominant 7)

 

1-3-5 (minor)

1-3-5-7 (minor)

1-3-5-#7 (harmonic minor)

1-3-5-7-9 (minor)

 

It's a great training exercise. And try them in different fingering patterns. You should try playing these on as few strings as two and as many as four strings.

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