Using 5 string bass only to read music- good idea?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ELITE55, Jan 24, 2013.


  1. ELITE55

    ELITE55

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2011
    Hey guys, just recently I bought a 4 string bass after using a 5 string the last 4 years. I actually found playing the 4 more enjoyable even though I've become very fond of my schecter 5 string the last few years. I've been an avid sight reader the last couple years as I prepare to audition for a cruise line agency here soon and I have become very comfortable playing in the fifth position which allows me to utilize the B string notes E,F,F#,and G and have access to higher notes without shifting as much. I can still play in the first position but I prefer to stay at the fifth position.

    So for my question; should I learn to get comfortable sight reading on a 4 string bass and having to shift more frequently or is it truly more practical to use the B string as an advantage when reading music (and possibly a 6 string in the future?)? When jamming with friends recently I have enjoyed the 4 string more but since I plan on using my reading skills to pursue my career should I keep with the five or switch to the four as my primary bass? Thanks!
  2. Gearhead17

    Gearhead17 Supporting Member

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    May 4, 2006
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    Arlington Heights, IL
    The 5 string bass has many advantages especially with reaching up for notes instead of shifting. I love to do that myself.

    The staff is going to look the same no matter what. It's only you who has to adjust. Learning how to play a song on a 4 string instead of the 5 will make you a better player no matter what. It's more positions to play songs in the future. Depending on what you tune the 5 and 6 string bass to, you would just learn how to read the notes below Low E on the staff.
  3. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

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    Aug 22, 2011
    +1

    Ultimately you need to ask yourself What Bass Will I Be Sight-Reading On? ...and then use that bass when you practice your sight-reading. If you only ever intend to bring the 5-string to a gig, you damn well better be very comfortable sight-reading on a 5-string. Likewise for a 4-string.

    But if you practice reading until you're equally facile with both instruments, then it doesn't matter which one you have on the bandstand.
  4. ELITE55

    ELITE55

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2011
    Ok thanks for the advice! I see what your saying on being comfortable with both but I personally want to stick with just one and use it as my main instrument. I enjoy playing the 4 more but the 5 makes it so much easier to sight read(I still enjoy playing the 5 but just not as much). What would you guys do hypothetically speaking?
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  6. Steve Dallman

    Steve Dallman Supporting Member

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    East Central Wisconsin
    I played for a musical a couple months ago, and I had to follow the bass clef of the piano score. The 5 was perfect. A 4 wouldn't have been. I've played 5's only since the late 80's. I own two 4's I use for giving lessons, but I don't play them otherwise.
  7. ELITE55

    ELITE55

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    Oct 22, 2011
    Hey thanks Steve for the example! I think I will stick with the five since I do plan on doing stuff like that down the road.
  8. wrench45us

    wrench45us

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    Aug 26, 2011
    "I played for a musical a couple months ago, and I had to follow the bass clef of the piano score."

    One of the reasons I went with a 5 as first bass was I had been studying left hand walking patterns on piano and a lot of those exercises were in key of C and I thought I needed at least that low C, if nothing else to ease the transition.
    Some orchestral players tell me there are extensions for double bass so they can double the cello parts, so it does seem possible that the extended range will come up in scores.
  9. longfinger

    longfinger

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    Mar 22, 2008
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    Montreal, QC, Canada
    If you enjoy the 4 more, then stick with that. Most of the music you'll be sight reading will be music originally recorded on a 4 string.

    However, when I was preparing for what you're preparing for now, I did shed using a 5 string, tuned with a high B. It allowed me to get more high notes without shifting positions.

    For your setup now, always hanging around the 5th fret, try tuning EADGC and reclaim the 1st position. But if you really like the 4 string more, then shed on that. Basically, shed on the instrument that you'll be auditioning on.

    Regarding the bass clef on the piano score comment. Those notes are written at pitch. Our bass clef is a transposing one, with notes sounding an octave lower than written. The vast majority of notes on a piano bass clef for real music fall within the range of a 4 string bass. (the E, that is 4 ledger lines and a space below the staff). I get it that it is easier to play everything down an octave with a 5 string, than it is to play it at pitch with a 4 string and reading those ledger lines, and mixing it up with our 'normal transposed bass clef'.

    In summary, shed with the instrument you plan to audition with and the instrument you plan to play exclusively with for months at a time.
  10. Dbassmon

    Dbassmon

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    This is the silliest thing I have ever heard.

    Being able to accurately play notes written on a page is a skill not determined by the number of strings on the instrument.

    5 strings has some added advantages in position flexibility but will not make you a better reader, being a better reader makes you a better reader. Transcribing and practice reading will make you a better reader.

    The number of strings on you bass will not make you a better player. Practice your instrument, 4,5.. however many strings, that will make you a better player.
  11. ELITE55

    ELITE55

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    Oct 22, 2011
    The EADGC tuning seems interesting. Is that a common method of tuning and do you think it would be practical?
  12. MrLenny1

    MrLenny1 Supporting Member

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    Well, IMHO, a five is a 4 with a great thumb rest.
    All my basses are 5's.
    I feel odd playing a 4.
  13. dave64o

    dave64o A legendary low talent/gear ratio! Gold Supporting Member

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    There's a lot of truth in that, but in some sense I think that sight reading on a four actually can make you a better sight reader.

    I've played fives since I started playing, primarily for the additional positional options and the ability to play more notes in a given position. However, when I started doing a lot more reading-based exercises in my lessons, I noticed that it would be easier on my fives because I had more options in a given position.

    So I bought one four string to use for lesson practice once in a while. With the four, I find I have to read ahead a little farther to help make sure I prepare early enough to get to a position that makes it easiest to play an upcoming passage. Also, because I'm switching positions more often than on my fives, I'm also learning the fretboard a little better and playing more by feel than I used to. The four string by itself isn't the reason for my recent improvement, but I would say the way I'm using it is one of the things that has been helping me improve.

    So while I do agree with your point, my recent experience also makes me see some truth in what GearHead17 said as well. But ultimately, regardless of the number of strings you play, consistent practice is the key! :bassist: :cool:
  14. bggeezer

    bggeezer Guest

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    A 5 string gives you 5 more notes in your low end repertoire (presuming you have a low B as the 5th string of course), that's it really.

    The only reason a 4 string is easier to play at first, is the strings are spaced further apart, so your left hand doesn't pile up as much (until you get used to it).

    Reading is a separate issue
  15. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

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    Aug 22, 2011
    I think you've completely missed Gearhead17's point.

    If you learn on a 5-string exclusively and take advantage of all that a 5-string offers -- which includes the ability to play a lot of the bass guitar repertoire in 5th position -- you quite likely will not concentrate your practice on playing in 1st position as much as a 4-string player, out of necessity, will have to. And the more positions you're comfortable playing in, the better you know your way around the entire fingerboard with equal authority, the better the reader and the better the bass player you will be. Period.
  16. carl h.

    carl h.

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    For myself, I use only 24+ fret 5 strings. I'm not that fancy a player, but I do get into some stuff that uses the full range I have at my disposal and couldn't imagine playing on a 4 string Fender.

    If you are going for a gig on a cruise ship (I have no experience with cruises but have show experience) I would not do anything to limit my range. Extended range on both ends is not a negative for anyone who is expected to read.
  17. Gearhead17

    Gearhead17 Supporting Member

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  18. Dbassmon

    Dbassmon

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    If you know the finger board and understand the relationship of where notes fall you will be able to play either a 5 or 4 string bass.

    Having to rethink your fingering whether to from 5 to 4 or the opposite is facilitated by knowledge of the fingerboard. That knowledge is gained through practice and experience. Those are the things that make you a better player.... not the number of strings on your bass.

    If that were so, I could just stop playing my 5 and 6 string bass and just play 4 strings to become a better player. Who knew it was that easy? Its not... that is a total bunch of malarkey.

    You want to be better player? Study music, practice your instrument, learn the fingerboard in all positions, practice reading. Switching equipment is not answer. I wish it was, it is much easier than putting the time and energy. Maybe that is why there is so few great players.... its takes a lot of hard work? :confused:
  19. Gearhead17

    Gearhead17 Supporting Member

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    """If that were so, I could just stop playing my 5 and 6 string bass and just play 4 strings to become a better player. Who knew it was that easy? Its not... that is a total bunch of malarkey."""

    I am only referring to a change from a 5 string bass to a 4 string bass. Nothing more and not a grand all-encompassing statement here. It will expand your fretboard knowledge and break down muscle memory tendencies - if my original post was misleading, then my apologies.
  20. carl h.

    carl h.

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    We count on muscle memory as musicians. The last thing I would ever do is try to break it. Having fewer options does nothing for technique, it just limits your choices.
  21. ELITE55

    ELITE55

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2011
    You guys made very good points. What I'll do is still use the five string when working and doing gigs but still implement the four string/1st position approach to my practice routine. Thank you for the advice!

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