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Arco on electric bass

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by rasbass, Apr 27, 2006.

  1. rasbass


    Dec 29, 2002
    Upstate NY
    Hi all-
    I am reading the bass book music for a musical, and am playing my fretless electric. My finger technique will be fine for the pizz parts (plucked) but any thoughts about how to emulate the arco parts?

  2. personally i'd try tricks like volume swells, or an ebow
  3. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    I've played a lot of musicals on fretted bass. If the notes are fairly short (one and 2 count notes) there really isn't much of a need to worry with it. On sustained notes, some can be filled in with a rhythm, listen to find out what else is going on, and cop a rhythm on the sustained pitch. Sometimes there are other instruments that are sustaining the note, so again there's no reason to mess with it.

    The places where it makes a difference I usually play the note on the lowest string (even if you have to use a high position) and flick my plucking finger(s) rapidly over the string (keep your nails trimmed!). That will work for most situations.

    Remember too, that the director of a musical doesn't have a full score, so they often don't know what your part has in it. And, they are often more focused on the singers, stage action and other musicians in the pit. So..... be cool about these things. Make good musical choices (regardless of what you music says to do) and everyone will be happy.
  4. rasbass


    Dec 29, 2002
    Upstate NY
    Useful ideas. Thanks.
  5. Michael Vee

    Michael Vee Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2004
    Knoxville, TN
    Ras- I agree with everything BassChuck said, in addition to what I quoted. I've played most of my 40-some shows on fretted electrics. Many of the shows were 'oaters' from the 50's and 60's, which are the ones that have arco parts in the score. (Oklahoma, Show Boat, Hello Dolly, etc.)

    I've never had a music director ask me to play upright/arco, out of the 12 or so that I've worked with. Only a couple of the shows had even a violin, and they had no other acoustic string players. All the rest of the shows either had a minimal band (piano, bass, and drums) or the same minimal band with a utility keyboard.

    The only time you would be required to play upright, or arco, is if you are a part of a show orchestra for a bigtime production, and 95+% of us will never get to do anything like that. Either that, or you are a part of a really organized, well financed, high standards community theatre group. The vast majority of community groups don't have the money nor the space to have anything more than a minimal show band.

    So- take your electric bass and happily play away. If you have a bass that sustains well, then hit an arco passage note and let it ring, then before it fades too much, tap or gently pluck the string near the bridge saddles, in such a way that it restores the volume without causing too much discernable attack in the note. This is similar to what BassChuck suggested with the back-and-forth rapid picking. Try both techniques and see which is appropriate for that note/passage.

    Two things- you have to have the treble rolled off so you don't get any clankiness, and you have to do it near the bridge saddle so it's not a flabby thing. The goal is to keep the note sustaining.

    In general, I've had good luck using tapewound nylon strings for musicals, with the treble rolled off to the point where the edge is gone from the tone. You don't want to hear any fret noises - just a nice, warm, woody kind of tone. Play that, and nearly every M.D. will be very satisfied.
  6. Michael Vee

    Michael Vee Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2004
    Knoxville, TN
    I would vote against the eBow. Some people have reported success using one, but it takes an excruciating level of concentration to use one on bass in a musical way.

    I've tried it for a musical myself, and for me, it really just got in the way of playing. The techniques BassChuck and I described are much more usable.
  7. rasbass


    Dec 29, 2002
    Upstate NY
    Hi there-
    As predicted, it's a small combo- paino, percussion, bass, 2 woodwind, 2 brass, so compromise is implicit, even though I would like to read it as accurately as possible. I am much less facile on the UB, so electric it's going to be, and I will finesse the arco parts.

    I use flatwounds on my fretless J-bass (no fret noise!) and I roll-off the high end to give an approximation of an upright sound, so the playing tips should work. (I don't use a pic).

    The ebow does sound interesting, but for $75 and without strong endorsement, I think I will pass for now.

    Thanks again.

    BTW- what is an "oater"?
  8. Michael Vee

    Michael Vee Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2004
    Knoxville, TN
    That expression has a bit of a varied history, but in the context that I used it, it means a show that is very familiar that will sell tickets and make money for a community theatre company.

    Contrast it to some cutting-edge production that a lot of the potential audience will not have heard of, and may not come to, which exacerbates the financial risk a small town company would have in paying the licensing fees to mount it.
  9. All_¥our_Bass


    Dec 26, 2004
    ya beat me to it about bow/like effects
  10. if you listen to arco parts (well recorded ones) it is not one long continuos tone. There is a rise and faaaaaaall a regulkar rhythm to the pulling of the bow. We strive to homogenize this in practice, but when playing in a combo it is always slightly apparent. Maybe try emulating the rhthym of th e bow with triplets?

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