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A Basic Technique Question

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by mslisaj, Dec 20, 2013.

  1. mslisaj


    Dec 20, 2013
    I am a very basic beginner bass player. While I have had my gear for years I am getting good enough now that I can play along with many songs I like and this is my goal. As I watch professional players and try to learn from them I am always marveled at the subtle and slight moves they actually make with their left hand on the fret board. Consequently this is where my practice is working to now. Recently I was working on a new bass line from a song and after I figure out all the notes my fingers were all over the fret board. So I start to work out the notes to keep my hand from running all over the neck. Well I got it down pretty well and then I discovered two notes of this five note pattern that I could play on open strings. This did not feel natural to me nor did I have the ability to mute the string quickly. Here is my question. What is the preferred method to play a note? Finger on or an open string?

    I so enjoy the bass and have even taken straight guitar lessons to build some theory to work on. But these subtle questions like this I have no one to ask so thank you gentlemen for indulging me in this simple question. Where I live I haven't found any bass instructors.
    Thanks for your help.

  2. ghostfather


    Oct 26, 2013
    I am no expert but I like to use open strings for passing notes but prefer the sound of a fretted note generally, especially for root notes.
  3. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Depends on your background. An electric player generally frets everything when possible and an upright player generally plays open strings when possible.
  4. Sixgunn


    Jun 6, 2012
    Colorado Springs
    I don't wait 30 minutes after eating, to go swimming.
    That's a good question. I generally will use an open string if it doesn't complicate the riff/pattern (and visa versa) because I like the sound and sustain of open strings. I'm a finger player and use my right hand in different ways for muting when necessary. Context of the song, desired sound and ease of playability are usually the deciding factors.
  5. viper4000


    Aug 17, 2010
    Learn to do both. Both have different tonal qualities and their own place in music. There are a lot of subtle things you can do to mute a string with each hand that help. I'm sure there are some reputable youtube videos out there that can elaborate on this.

    Getting a professional bass teacher can help immensely too. I didn't do that and had to unlearn some things.
  6. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    As long you are in complete control of where your note begins and ends, there is no right or wrong. Generally I prefer to not use open strings as much because it seems a little easier to control both ends of a fretted or fingerboarded note, and it tends to keep the sound a little more consistent.
  7. mslisaj


    Dec 20, 2013
    Thank you gentlemen for taking your time to reply. Well I am an electric bass player and have never tried an upright so fingering the notes feels more natural to me. But if I take what you men say it all depends on the bass line, the sound and technique required to play it. So I guess I should practice it with the open strings just so I can feel more comfortable with that style. I just didn't want to fine myself "mastering" a technique and then one day when someone that knows sees what I am doing and tells me that's a big no/no.

    I truly enjoy my time playing the bass but it's still work for me. Maybe one day with lots and lots of practice I'll be able to look casual and natural doing it. But for now it's a thrill to play with the drum machine or a recorded piece of music.

    I so thank you guys for your time.

  8. Sixgunn


    Jun 6, 2012
    Colorado Springs
    I don't wait 30 minutes after eating, to go swimming.
    If it works for YOU, there's no such thing as a "no no". :bassist:
  9. Fender05


    Oct 20, 2008
    FWIW, I've noticed there is a tonal difference between the same notes played open vs fretted (i.e., open D string vs 5th fret A string). I generally use whatever I need to sound right. If I need a "big" sound, its the open string. If it's a "quick" sound, then I fret.

    But like Sixgunn said, if it works for you, there is no wrong answer. Learn both so you can use both effectively, then just play what feels and sounds right.
  10. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    I have an expression, "Befriend your open strings".
    Anytime you play any scale, look if any of that scale notes are the open string notes.

    One way to use open strings - as a "pedal" - let it sound without engaging your left/fretting hand, and play any interval/chord combinations.
    Ex. A7 chord.
    Hit open A string on Beat 1 and play
    B - B#(C) on D string -(9th, 10th frets) on Beat 2
    C# - on D string (11th fret) and G on G string (12 fret), etc...
    for A minor7
    open A string and two chord/scale notes played together on D and G strings - A on D and C on G, C on D and E on G, E on D (14th fret) and G on G, etc...

    There are more ways to use open strings for basslines/solos and enjoy it.
    Explore your open string world.
  11. poit57


    Apr 30, 2010
    Oklahoma City, OK
    I prefer to fret everything because it sometimes throws me off to try to switch between fretted and open strings in the middle of a progression. I will play open strings depending on the riff because sometimes it just makes more sense to do so.

    As for muting, I don't really put much thought into it. I guess over the years, I've developed a method of muting strings that feels natural. I pretty much use my fretting hand to mute the strings higher (pitch-wise) than the string I'm playing and my picking hand to mute strings lower than the string I'm playing. Occasionally, I use the thumb of my fretting hand to mute the E string. What this looks and feels like depends on the pattern I'm playing and whether I'm using a pick or my fingers.

    Along with finding what feels right on open vs. fretted strings, you will also develop a feel for muting strings the more you practice.
  12. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    On electric, I mostly use stopped (i.e., fretted) notes in lines, so I can easily transpose a tune to a different key, and reuse the fingering pattern in different tunes over different changes. IOW, I practice getting arpeggios (chord shapes) into muscle memory so I can use them whenever, wherever on the fretboard.

    OP, don't overlook the value of dead (a/k/a "ghost") notes, especially in funky fingerstyle playing! That's a really old trick--at least back to Jamerson--and especially handy when you throw in a dead note to maintain a rhythmic pattern (e.g., steady sixteenths) under a left hand shift. All ya gotta do is keep your left hand finger(s) on the string without fretting a note and pluck as usual; you'll get a nice thump without a definite pitch (as long as you're not on a natural harmonic...), and that's why it works very well covering a position shift.

    And you can even use open strings to make ghost notes. If you pluck, say, with index and middle fingers, lay your r.h. pinky on the string when you pluck. Easier than it sounds, with a bit of practice.
  13. mslisaj


    Dec 20, 2013
    Reading these comments brings to mind kind of why I asked the question. I think my left had is kind of in a rhythm mode and if I done fret a string I have missed that beat. But as you all have pointed out this is "my" muscle memory issue. With regards to open strings sounding different I have found that too. So again this is why I asked the question and I so appreciate all your views. It just pushes me to practice harder. :hyper:

  14. Hi Lisa, I recommend you learn your major and harmonic minor scales with open strings first. You will learn the fundamental fingering principles without over-straining your left hand.
  15. mslisaj


    Dec 20, 2013
    Great idea! I have to get back in the book and get on the scales again. Great advice.

  16. troy mcclure

    troy mcclure Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    Central Florida
    hmm... I use open strings when needed. Sometimes you need the break to reset your position or if you play 4 hr gigs, your hand can become very fatigued if you finger ever note. I have never had to think about muting, open strings. I guess after playing a while, I really don't think that much about the mechanics of what my hands are doing. It all comes with practice.
  17. radioface


    May 2, 2013
    The more strings a bass has, the less movement your hands will need to make.
  18. mslisaj


    Dec 20, 2013
    I did figure that out kind of soon into playing. I started with a four string and it's a fabulous guitar but I play a five string now for just that reason. Thanks for confirming what I thought I was doing. Not having other bass players to ask these questions to or talk bass is kind of a handicap for me. But I'm so happy to find this forum as you guys are giving me great advice.

  19. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    This is the exact opposite of my experience with both instruments. Not that I don't use open strings, but the DB is the sound of wood, and vibrato is part and parcel of the DB sound. You can't get the wood from an open note like you can from a stopped note.
  20. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    It just depend if it will help you move from point A to point B easier or not.

    If you have to appaly vibrato, then yes a "fretted" note is better but if you don't play a fretless or arco on a DB I think it is just a matter of making the line flow better ... especially if you have to move a lot over the finger board.