Does playing upright really make you a better electric bass player?
I have been playing the electric bass for almost twenty years and feel that I'm starting to hit another plateau. I was thinking about taking some private lessons again, I took some for the first six years of playing electric. But than I had this idea pop into my head, why not take up the upright? I always wanted to learn it almost ever since I started playing the electric bass, but my parents nor I could afford it on top of my bass guitar lessons. Now I'm older and have the funds to take lessons and rent/purchase a decent starter bass. I want to learn upright because it's really cool and I love the sound, but I also want to advance my electric playing. I have heard that playing the upright really can improve your electric playing. I have read all the newbie threads and understand its no cakewalk going from electric to upright, it's learning a new instrument. I was just curious about peoples experiences who do play both and see what they think.
I've just started with the upright, and it's a lot of fun. I still haven't found anyone to take lessons from, and there are lots of warnings about hurting yourself, so I'm really going easy right now.
I have noticed that it makes you think differently about your bass playing. For instance, I have a song that I'm learning, and on the EB I play it almost entirely on the E and A strings. It's a lot of work to use those stings on the UB, so I've been finding alternatives on the D and G strings. When I go back to the EB, I've been using what I learned on the UB, and I'm becoming a much more flexible player.
On BG I did feel that it was very easy to get locked into playing patterns that you can move around the fretboard and there is a temptation to use these, rather than thinking about the music and what suited it best. On DB, this is much less of an issue and you tend to play more "linearly" - if this is a word - and think more in terms of lines, which to me is more musical. But this is only a tendency and I have seen/heard some players do the opposite to this.
DB makes you think about shaping the tone with your hands/playing - rather than relying on amps/effects etc. - but again some players do use these things. It also makes you think about economy of movement - how can I play this using the least possible notes and shifts of position, as especially when you start out, it can be very tiring to play long sets. All these different ways of thinking, do tend to make you into a more rounded and musical player - but it is of course, up to you and requires you to put in the effort ! ;)
I have been playing electric and upright bass for about 25 years: love both worlds.
Pesonally I don't think playing upright made me a better electric bassist. Not the best analogy perhaps, but riding a bike will not make you a better car driver (even though both are means of transportations, have wheels and have to relate to the same traffic rules).
The little piano I play has made me a better musician and hence bass player: If I were to suggest an instrument to improve your bass skills, I would definitely suggest piano.
You know that feeling of picking up a Mustang and being able to fly around a shorter scale? Well learning the UB makes all EBs feel like that. And they have frets!!
I tend to feel the opposite - when I was playing BG only - then I would try and play as many notes as possible, especially in solos and would look to "fly around" the fretboard.
After having played DB in Jazz groups, I tend to value the spaces between notes and allowing solos to breathe.
I often notice that when you hear student groups of people trying to play Jazz, they fill up all the space with notes during their solos, as they are nervous and feel they will get lost.
In such situations I enjoy playing a solo that allows the band to take a breath and provide some contrast to all that frenetic activity - playing DB has allowed me to appreciate the value of solos that are not technical exercises, but which can be understated, melodic with plenty of rests and which provide contrast - light and shade.
I've played electric for 30 years, and started playing upright 7 months ago. Here's my 2 cents:
-If you're a "move the shapes around the neck" electric player (like I was), then UB will make you think more about lines, and keys… which will positively change how you approach EB. But if you're already a super-accomplished jazz player on electric, you may already understand the more linear approach and not get as much benefit.
-Here's what Ed Friedland said when I asked him the same question last summer: "Well… you don't have to quit the electric bass, but learning the upright demands focus." [end quote] So be prepared to put the electric away in your closet for a couple months to really get your head into the upright. No cheating.
-UB is awesome… I'll likely migrate almost 100% to it once I get halfway decent at it… BUT if you want to be a better (jazz) electric player, there are easier ways to get better at EB. Like Shedua511 said… consider piano. If you took a year of piano lessons and dug into Mark Levine's Jazz Theory book, your bass playing would benefit AND you wouldn't have the PHYSICAL hurdle of learning UB. Don't think for a second that you've got a leg up on upright since you've been playing EB for so long. Playing the upright is no joke. You could take up the tuba and it would be less work.
If you want to become an awesome upright player, take up the upright. If you want to become an awesome electric player, the upright is not the most efficient way to get better at electric.
Have fun and don't hurt yourself.
I started electric bass when I was 14. I finally started upright when I was in my late '40's; I'm now 52. Just like the USA and the UK are two great countries separated by a common language, upright bass and electric bass are two great instruments separated by a common tuning: similar but different techniques, voicings and approaches to constructing a line.
Playing upright did not make me a better electric bassist. But since I also play tuba, adding upright to make a bass troika made me a better overall musician as I was able to see more music in the bass lines I play with the respective ensembles I support, and going forward being able to take the next step in my technique and musicality when I play each instrument. I also get more gigs.
Thank you for the great feedback. I have been bitten by the upright bug and need to give it a try and see if its for me. Even if it's not going to really improve my electric playing that much I still have a strong desire to take some lessons. As a musician I think being able to play BG and upright will open more doors for me. I love the BG, after playing it for almost twenty years I love it more than ever, hopefully I will have the same passion for the upright. I'm in the Seattle area, and doing my research it seems like there are only a handful of places that rent DB and give lessons. I have found the Upright Bass Church in Seattle which does rentals, but they seem to have a classical approach with lessons, which I guess would be an Ok starting point, but for upright I would be more interested in Jazz. There is also Hammond Ashley but I'm not sure if they rent DB and they seem to cater more towards kids. Any suggestions on a good place to do rentals with and lessons in the Seattle area? I would hate to buy DB before I know if its for me or not.
Look up Chris Symer in Seattle for lessons. He's also on this board.
I started on UB when I was 13 and played for almost a decade before I made the permanent switch to EB. But can't say that the experience made me a better EB player. It did, however, give me a solid understanding of the bass's role within a musical performance and mix, along with a strong foundation in bass notation, scales and deconstructing other elements of the music to allow the execution of the bass part to carry the bottom end, support the root structure, while complimenting and not cluttering the arrangement. I think any playing technique shared by the two instruments is minimal due to the physical differences, but there is some shared technique depending on the player's 'touch'.
Playing music for a long time makes you better at playing music.
Playing Upright does not necessarily make you better at Electric, or vice versa, but both can teach the other.
Broadening our understanding of what we do makes us better at music, especially when we dial in those skills.
The double bass serves the same fundamental role as electric bass, but is naturally approached differently because of its physical differences. It might help electric technique somewhat as it will strengthen your hands, but the best thing it can do is to help you break out of the "electric bass box."
I played EB for about 15 years before I got the UB.
I had a friend who played a National steel guitar, and I got the UB to be his buddy, had a band, made some records, etc, but that was mostly blues & ragtime stuff.
really though, it makes playing EB seem easier, because you can just fly around the neck like a guitar.
Now I do some jazz, hot rod stuff, spaghetti western now, and split the time between the two depending on the gig.
I agree with the others that playing upright made me play more musically with more space. I didn't have the "chops" to play lots of notes on the UB, so I played only what the song needed. I struggled for a long time trying to bring that discipline to my EB playing- playing for the song - not playing busy, then I joined a ska band and I now I get to go nuts!
I don't feel that learning UB made me a better EB player. What it did do is open my ears and present to me some different ways of approaching the instrument, but it's contributed nothing to my EB playing that can compare to the benefits of simply playing with more people, exploring more styles and just clocking more time in the engine room of various bands.
I learned to play on upright then focused on bass guitar for several years before picking 4he upright back up.
I was amazed at how much I remembered. I had to get my physical self back in the game, but I remembered the fingering system and (surprisingly) how to use the bow.
I did take a couple lessons, but the teacher didnt have a clue as to what to show me because my posture, fingering, musical knowledge, etc. were all there. He did adjust where I placed the bow, and start3d me on thumb position, but the rest has been on my own.
Overall it made me think differently about the music I was playing. Not nessecerally the bass parts, but the orchestration and arrangements. What else could be done within a particular tune. Things I had gotten away from just playing bass guitar.
When bass guitar was first invented, maybe people thought like that, but it evolved to fill out the sound - especially of rock trios, where there was no rhythm guitar - bass guitar amplification and style of play developed to fill up any gaps and make the band sound bigger, louder etc.
Whereas in Jazz, the idea has often been to allow space for the rest of the band and especially the soloist - DB has a very different sound envelope and in that sense the role is almost the opposite of BG in rock/pop music? OK there are still similarities, but I tend to feel that when I play DB my role is very different from when I pick up a bass guitar and the expectations from other musicians and audience are very different.
In fact there are some Jazz clubs I have played, where if you do pick up a bass guitar, you have already lost the audience! ;)
I will say that the physical limitations of the upright bass has made me play more like a "bass player", a supporting member of the band, in my note choice and style. So the benefit you get from learning to play upright is more mental, than physical. I wouldn't count on learning upright to somehow advancing your electric technique, as they are different techniques. But your ear, note choice, and style can all benefit.
Im some ways, yes, but I have to say that most good upright players play remarkably uninteresting electric bass, and not even in a cool old school kind of way..
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