Another Practical Reason for Five String Basses

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Dr. Cheese, Nov 6, 2016.


  1. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Since May, I have pretty seriously studying bass with a teacher to catch with things I should have learned long ago. One thing that I have been working on is remembering the names of notes when reading music. This may sound goofy, but for years I could get by above the seventh fret by knowing where pitches were when reading, even if I did not remember note names.

    Friday, I downloaded a chart of bass clef notes for a grand piano. Looking at it, I realized that C on the fifth fret of the G string is the same as Middle C on a piano. That same C is on the tenth fret of the D, and fifteenth of the A string.

    Even without formal knowledge I knew that bass guitar was capable of functioning quite well as more of a baritone instrument as opposed to a true bass given how clean chords and double stops sound in the upper register.

    A B string simply allows the bass guitar more room to function in the true bass realm instead heading into baritone territory. That said, the great majority of popular music memorable basslines were created on "limited" four string bases. I know I did not miss any of my fives playing at church today on my Fernandes Atlas Stingray clone.
     
  2. HaphAsSard

    HaphAsSard

    Dec 1, 2013
    Italia
    5th fret on the G string of a bass guitar is C3 in scientific pitch notation (130.813 Hz). Piano middle C is C4 (261.626 Hz), literally the fourth C on a standard 88-key piano keyboard. However, in bass scores C3 reads as middle C (one ledger line above bass staff, which BTW is the same as one line below treble clef) because bass (upright and EBG) is a transposing instrument (sounds an octave lower than it reads, and vice versa).
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2016
  3. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    To put it another way, the standard EADG bass (double or guitar) tuning starts seven half steps above the left end of the piano keyboard. That should be bassy enough for any purpose. The B string on a fiver starts two half steps above the left end of the piano keyboard and while that is a useful addition to the range of a bass it does not invalidate the traditional four string tuning as a bass tuning.

    Thank goodness that on those rare occasions when a bass line is actually written out in standard notation we don't have to deal with all the ledger lines that a pianist does to play the same notes! Transposing instruments like my clarinet that transpose by a whole step can drive you nuts and one wonders why the decision to not call the fingered notes by their actual pitch names was ever taken. Transposing instruments like the BG that transpose by a whole octave to eliminate ledger lines represent an excellent decision!
     
  4. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Thanks for reminding me of something I learned forty years ago and forgot!:smug:
     
  5. HaphAsSard

    HaphAsSard

    Dec 1, 2013
    Italia
    Oh, my own knowledge, musical and bass-specific and in both practice and theory, is patchy at best, so I do believe that, as the old saying goes, a great many people here have forgotten more than I know about bass...

    I'm with @khutch on this though. The central octave of a 21-fret, 4-string bass guitar (E2-E3) coincides with the lower octave of operatic bass as defined by The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, and it's a minor third below its tessitura or comfortable range. [My source is bad ol' Wiki here. Why do I bring up human singing in this? Because in organology "bass" tends* to be a strictly relative term, applied to a lower pitched version of the most common member of an instrument family, so I'm not sure if there actually is such a thing as "bass" in absolute terms.] Now, like the cello (the true bass member of the violin family), the 4-string bass has a healthy number of extra notes below bass singers' typical range: unlike the cello it has at least an entire octave though. That's plenty bass in my book, and as you noted it seems to work in many genres, from Americana to zydeko, passing through jazz and R'n'R. Not all, of course: contemporary Gospel, jazz fusion and various metal subgenres need their low Bs.

    Now, if you include the prefix "contra-" in your reasoning I'm totally with you: 5- and modern 6-string basses, or Khutch's VI tuned in 5ths for that matter, do a better job of being a contrabass instrument than four-bangers, in that the former can do all that a cello does, transposed an octave below, without having to move notes up an octave and break lines: double basses need C-extensions for that.



    *There are exceptions: "contrabass guitar" in East Asian Niibori guitar orchestras is practically a bass VI in classical guitar form, and owes its name to the fact that it goes as low as the double bass (whose name is something to the effect of "contrabass" in many languages, including mine), but also to the fact that the Niibori "bass guitar" is what we'd call a baritone guitar tuned A1 to A3 (EDIT: nah, B1-B3 as I've verified now - so the latter, in short, does go lower than the "prime", Spanish-tuned guitar, but not a whole octave lower). Another exception, the American tenor guitar is a 4-string guitar tuned like a tenor banjo, so that the origin of its name is to be found outside the family to which it belongs construction-wise.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2016
    McFarlin likes this.
  6. lowdownthump

    lowdownthump

    Jul 17, 2004
    You guys are making my head spin.
     
  7. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis

    I guess this is why Anthony Jackson call the six a contrabass guitar.
     
  8. HaphAsSard

    HaphAsSard

    Dec 1, 2013
    Italia
    Well, I fully admit that reference to bass singing and cellos are merely my own made-up criteria to tackle the issue of how bassy a bass guitar is, and that I suppose interviews to Mr. Jackson are available, with his actual reasoning on the naming of his invention, but if you'll humour me we can make a list of how his instrument relates to my baseless rambings:

    1) it is able to do the "octave cello" thing, with an extra semitone for good measure;
    2) it *kinda* ties in with Leo's naming of the four-stringer, in that it is not in contrast with it, but obviously his "contra-" does not mean "a whole octave below the P-bass at your disposal if need be", because that would mean starting at an abysmal E0, but just "somewhat lower than";
    3) conversely, he does not pay homage to the orchestral contrabass (the doghouse) by having his lowest note coincide with the latter - all the above determines a different conclusion from Hiroki Niibori's reasoning when he designed and named the lowest member of his guitar orchestra in the late '50s;
    4) (one of very few bits of actual info on the gentleman I do remember) Anthony Jackson is also a classically trained guitarist so, regardless of whether he uses the word "guitar" to define the 4-string bass (I've no idea if he does), he clearly feels that a "contrabass guitar" has to have the same 4-octave range and number of strings a Spanish guitar has.
     
  9. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    I never knew of AJ playing classical guitar, but his bass playing certainly has a guitaristic feel to it at times.
     
  10. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    A five in E-C really opens this up, I like experimenting with it, Kind of the opposite pole of how you describe the advantage or a B-G 5, which of course, kind of puts the lights on as to how the six is best of both worlds. I've never owned one but have always been curious how it would feel.
     
  11. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Sixes are cool, but I don't have the chordal or solo chops to really justify one. That said, I really loved both the Ken Smith and Yamaha TRB6 I used to have.
     
  12. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    Well me either, probably less so, but it probably wouldn't be my main player just my "new horizons" bass, everything in one package. The E-C inspires me out of the usual patterns and gets me thinking horizontally and (hopefully) connects some new circuits in my poor old brain. Seems like it would be fun to try that in both directions.
     
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  13. HaphAsSard

    HaphAsSard

    Dec 1, 2013
    Italia
    Ah, don't trust me any more than I trust myself (i.e. not much): it's entirely possible that I remember it wrong, that it was jazz guitar instead, and that he playing some kind of skinny-stringer is the only good part of what I wrote in point 4) above.
     
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  14. raluxs

    raluxs

    Jul 14, 2016
    Spin?!? I think mine just exploded ....
     
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  15. Max Blasto

    Max Blasto

    Nov 29, 2010
    San Diego

    Whoops!
    Remember, bass guitar notation is written an octave higher than it is played. C played on the G string fifth fret _looks_ like middle C, but is actually C3. True middle C on a bass is on the G string 17th fret.

    The reason for transposing written bass music is that a good portion of music played on bass happens below E2, which is written one line below the staff. That means everything else would be on ledger lines even lower than that: hard to read. For figures played mostly above the 12th fret, notation usually shows them in the normal clef, but with an 8va notation directing that it be played an octave higher than written. Again, for easier reading.

    If this has already been pointed out, please forgive the duplication.
     
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  16. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
  17. GoLeafsGo

    GoLeafsGo Not Quite Right!

    Oct 25, 2013
    Ajax Ontario
    Ummm...because everyone needs a thumbrest?
     
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  18. Ductapeman

    Ductapeman Ringmaster and Resident Geriatric Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2016
    The West Pole
    I started life as a drummer, but I got better
    Me, I just like making earthquakes. ;)
     
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  19. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    I remember when I started to play and read music I thought this was weird as like a guitar can go very low on the staff ... why not the bass ??? So I got a 5 and never went back.
     
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  20. HaphAsSard

    HaphAsSard

    Dec 1, 2013
    Italia
    Nah, that's just a four-octave C major scale written on the bass staff, and the lowest C is not the C0 of Bösendorfers but just C1, the lowest on regular 88s. (The image does omit the very lowest three pitches of a standard 88 keyboard, below that C...because.)

    Scientific pitch notation - Wikipedia
    [​IMG]

    Dolmetsch Online - Music Theory Online - Staffs, Clefs & Pitch Notation
    namingoctaves.gif
    How to indicate a C1 (on the piano) in treble clef - Quora
    main-qimg-62febf61c4927d2e4f4c254341511311?convert_to_webp=true.png
     
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    Primary TB Assistant

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