Horn Band Bassists - How Do You Deal with Flatted Keys?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by jaywa, Dec 14, 2012.


  1. jaywa

    jaywa

    Joined:
    May 5, 2008
    Location:
    Iowa City, IA
    I've got a sub gig coming with a horn band and it's fun material but because of the horns about half the set list is in keys like Ab, Eb and Bb.

    I only have 4-string basses. So do you think my best option would be:

    1) Buckle down and learn the whole show with one bass in standard tuning (and just live without the low Eb's), OR

    2) Tune my 2nd bass down a half step, learn those tunes as if they were standard tuning and just switch to the detuned bass for the flatted key songs?

    And not to complicate things further, but the leader of this particular band doesn't always follow the setlist exactly so I won't be exactly sure when or how often I'd need to switch bases till we're actually live.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. PimasterPearson

    PimasterPearson

    Joined:
    May 24, 2009
    Location:
    Charlottesville, Virginia
    Those both sound like fine options. My inclination would be to just play the songs in standard tuning and do without a low Eb.
  3. lowfreqgeek

    lowfreqgeek

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    Albuquerque, NM
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    Just get a D-tuner. Once you spend a little time with it, it's not that hard.
  4. kozmikyak

    kozmikyak

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2007
    Location:
    Saint Paul, MN, USA
    The kinds of tunes I play with horn bands, don't sound lacking when I can't reach a note an octave below the other instruments.

    Perhaps EQ the bass differently, though--so you get a percussive attack on each note. Sometimes that attack plus a fully orchestrated chord, sound really rich. It's not all about just being "below" everything. Orchestration thickens a mix considerably. You want solid bass and solid low-mids.

    I used to have this problem considerably in "normal" non flatted keys because my 6-string E-cello only went down to F, and I played lots of blues bass. In my mind I hated not hitting the E an octave below the low string of the guitar. But in practice my tone was much thicker than moss bassists; the fundamental was EQed strong, compared to what most bassists look for. People always commented on how "low" my rig sounded, when in fact it couldn't go as low as a 4-string bass.

    In the end I did expand to a 7-string cello so I could go down to Bb. But I don't always use those notes to ride below the other instruments; I have those notes mixed such that they're not overpowering, and often play in the octave above that because of their increased "attack". The lower notes are used as occasional accents or drones or ending pitches.

    The first decade of James Brown funk is like this quite often. Songs in Eb or D, yet they don't lack for "low end".
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  6. elgecko

    elgecko

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2007
    Location:
    Anasleim, CA
    Option 1. No sense in complicating matters with detuned bass shenanigans. People have been playing with horns in standard tuning forever.
  7. Rebop

    Rebop Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2008
    Location:
    Deerfield Beach, FL
    Until guitar oriented music became king in the 50's, just about everything was in a flat key and all the double bassists did just fine on 4 strings.

    Just play the tunes.
  8. Razzpukin

    Razzpukin

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2012
    Band leaders won't put up with having to wait for you to switch basses in between songs. Good way to guarantee you won't be called back for more gigs
  9. Commreman

    Commreman Faith, Family, Fitness, and Frets Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2005
    Location:
    New Jersey
    Ask Rocco Prestia how he does it!

    Seriously, I play in plenty of horn bands with a 4 string, as well as praise and worship teams with a 4 string. Just play the tunes. If your groove is there, no one misses the low Eb. You could always go the D-tuner route (I have), and that works fine as well. Also, I use chromes on a passive Jazz bass. That setup has a little more midrange punch and less top end zing, and to my ears, is a much fatter tone.
  10. backup

    backup

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2011
    Location:
    Saturn, Solar System
    +1 standard tuning
    you dont necessarily need those super low notes. especially when you play in a horn band. an electric bass will cut through no matter how high you play as long as the EQ is correct

    and just on a sidenote. to me learning to play tunes in e and then switching to a bass in eb leads to disaster as i pay more attention to the notes i play than to my left hand movement.
    id still play the tune in E if i learned it that way ha
  11. Passinwind

    Passinwind Charlie Escher Supporting Member

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    +1 to that.
  12. agreatheight

    agreatheight

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    Dec 23, 2005
    Location:
    Portland Area, ME
    Minority here - second bass (or retune) for Eb.
  13. jaywa

    jaywa

    Joined:
    May 5, 2008
    Location:
    Iowa City, IA
    Good insights, everyone. Probably gonna go with the 1-bass approach for simplicity's sake and to not break up the flow of the show.

    Thanks again.
  14. Passinwind

    Passinwind Charlie Escher Supporting Member

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    Just curious, will you be using charts for this gig?

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