Tone - Stated vs Actual Preference
This was motivated by a related thread over in "bluegrass", but it applies to several genres.
I often see, and sometimes hear, people stating that a "thumpy" sound is frequently preferred for certain styles of music. For example, I hear this about the older bluegrass styles, traditional country, old-time, and older jazz and swing styles. Typically there are comments relating this to the use of plywood basses and/or gut strings.
I play fairly often in bluegrass and old-time settings. I have a carved bass with steel orchestral strings. (Bel Canto.) My bass gets a very tonal sound with good sustain - kind of the other end of the spectrum from the supposedly valued "thump" supposedly characteristic of those styles. I frequently get positive admiring comments on the sound of the bass. I never hear anyone say anything like "less sustain and less tonal sound would be better for this style; you really ought to be getting a sound that is more percussive and 'thumpy'".
Does this mean that people think they like the percussive thumpy sound but what they actually like is a more tonal sustaining sound?
Or is it that I have no idea what the heck I am talking about?
It means your bass sounds good and there's more than one way to skin a cat in music and art.
I was taught that in Old Time music , it matters when you damp the note. A bass with a nice sustain will require a player who knows what he is doing since the bass won't just shut off. You must be doing it right.
Totally agree with all responses so far. I'll chip in:
A bass (carved, ply, gamba, violin, german, italian) has a characteristic sound of it's own but that's only half of the equation (I'd say less than half). The other half is in your hands. The bass doesn't play itself, you play it. If they're complementing the sound of your bass they're also, not knowingly, complementing your PLAYING. That means you know what you're doing.
On a side note, I've discovered that so many people listen with their eyes/prejudice more than their ears.
As a matter of fact I once heard someone say "I don't play (insert instrument) - it plays me!" How true.
If I bring my nice carved bass to a bluegrass or old tyme gig, I regularly get treated with a lot of distance. 'Go to the same scene with an old Kay strung with guts and people I don't even know put their arms around me and treat me like family before they even hear me play one note.....so I have a couple of basses, but usually play the same notes....:hmm:
So I looked at the responses:
- I agree, a lot of people hear with their eyes. But a pro-old-plywood-bass prejudice doesn't seem to have come up yet for me specifically. On the other hand, I am playing at amateur jams, and have never yet actually played a gig on bass - and I may in fact never do so (after 35 years of hustling gigs on saxophone, I will be OK if I never do that any more). So I guess there's a lot of slack compared to someone who is being expected to play a show as a member of a band.
- I did, however, last summer play a wedding gig on guitar, and I DON'T EVEN PLAY GUITAR. That's a whole other story for another time...
- I thought about it some more and now I think I have a theory that "THUMP" may really mean that the note length is well defined (by cutting it off clearly, either by intentionally damping or by the inherent decay of the instrument) rather than that the tone is not well defined. Any comments on that theory?
- I typically play medium tempo tunes in old time and bluegrass by damping with my left hand so as to play quarter notes and quarter rests rather than connected half notes. I think if I just let them ring it would be muddy; with fast tunes I am typically connecting the notes as half notes, but they're coming so fast I think muting would just make it choppy and probably drag; on slow tunes I guess it depends on the tune. Does this sound like a typical approach, or do I have it all wrong? I have asked other people on the spot but usually just get "sounds good" or "it depends".
Its difficult to evaluate your playing without an audio clip (impossible?) but it sounds like your approach is really good. Your evident awareness of the importance of the end of your notes is a really good sign - sadly, many bass players never catch on to that. ;)
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