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Bluegrass bass arco?

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Smarsh7903, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. Smarsh7903


    Nov 12, 2013
    I started playing the upright with my father's band when I was about 16. I am 24 now and live all the way across the country from where I grew up, and I have my own group of folks that I play with now. I love bluegrass, traditional and new, and lately I feel like I am hitting a slump. I thought it would be exciting to get a bow for my bass and learn some arco techniques for some of the slower songs or funky songs that we do. I did a google search for bluegrass bass players that do some bowing, but to no avail! I know that I am not the only one to have this idea. I did find a band, the Hot Buttered Rum String Band, which features a cello. They are super good, but I want to know why no one has tried this or to find some music that features this. What are your thoughts about integrating some bow style bass playing in bluegrass? I have mostly been a die-hard traditionalist for my whole life, but in the past year or two I have started to experiment with my techniques. Is this a bad idea or a waste of time for something that I have not foreseen?
  2. Edgar Meyer does this..

    You'll be able to do this in 2 weeks! ;-)
  3. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Listen to some "old time" (pre bluegrass) music. You will hear bowed bass, sometimes cello is used to play the bass line! But it is nothing fancy, playing football roots since root/five was a new fangled idea in the 1920s and 1930s! You could also check out early jazz bands before walking bass lines existed, again you'll hear football roots or root-five.

    Edgar Meyer plays arco but what he plays is just barely on the fringe of bluegrass. I'd actually call it "modern American improvised string band music"...it sure aint Bill Monroe style!

    In other words, arco playing will not fit in with traditional bluegrass but for a modern band that's stretching the style, go ahead.
  4. Smarsh7903


    Nov 12, 2013
    I can't believe I have never heard of Edgar Meyer! There are so many videos of him playing with Chris Thile and Bela Fleck amongst others- I can't believe I missed him. In any case, he is freakish good, but I think that you are right, brianrost, I don't think I want to get that involved with arco. In all honesty, I think that Mr. Meyer's proficiency on the bass shows a lifetime of commitment and dedication that I haven't shown to my bass, even though I play it several times a week. With that being said, I do want to do some arco on some stuff that my group does, especially the slower songs. We have some music that starts off slow, then gets into that bluegrass rhythm and I think a bow would make a big difference.
  5. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings
    You should jump into it! Take a lesson or two with a good teacher to get yourself headed in the right direction and then start trying things. At the very least, you'll become a better bass player.
  6. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    Learning to play with a bow is never a bad idea!
    Check out fellow TBer jason Sypher...
    Mister Boh and tomshepp like this.
  7. Smarsh7903


    Nov 12, 2013
    I agree, I always want to get better and I don't see a downside to knowing this style at all! I can't find any teachers near me, but I may be able to find someone near Albuquerque for some pivotal one-time lessons. I love the video. That gets me pumped up..... and a little guilty that I haven't been to a festival in a while. I want to see more of that rockin' bass player. That was so cool!
  8. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    I can't either.


    Check him out performing the Bach Cello Suites.

    Edgar can play ANYTHING.
  9. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Mark Schatz is a guy who plays arco bass in pretty traditional settings, as is Eric Thorin. Both of them are killer players at pizz and slap, too! ;)
  10. neddyrow

    neddyrow Support Staff for My Better Half Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2011
    Cortland, NY
    Jason Sypher is my new hero!! I love the song big scioty and always wondered what a bass break would sound like... Way better than I imagined! Now I gotta figure out how to get more volume out of plain gut strings... Oh and learn how to actually play arco.
  11. MR PC

    MR PC

    Dec 1, 2007
    That's pretty good, I hear lots of problems, pretty typical in this kind of casual setting. I'll say it again, all that group needed was a bass player. ;) That could have been one of the other players taking responsibility for the bass role, but that doesn't happen very often at camp out jams. Point is that as a bassist, when you pick up the bow in these settings, you still are responsible for keeping the groove up unless another player agrees to craft his part to suit. Few bluegrass bassists can do it on their own, imo. That's the challenge.
  12. I did a gig with a western swing group that I needed to cover the fiddle intro to. Luckily it was a very basic line, and the rest of the tune I played long tones. The odd thing is they had never heard a bass played arco before - didnt realize it could be done.
  13. DILYSI Dave

    DILYSI Dave

    Jan 26, 2013
    When we're doing slower stuff, or stuff where sustained whole notes are called for, I'll grab the bow.
  14. bcamp


    Jul 9, 2013
    Buy the best bow you can and start practicing! I play in an acoustic Americana band and we do a lot of bluegrass, both traditional and "Newgrass". I play arco on many slow songs and ballads. I've also found that some songs are served well with both pizz and arco. Classic old string tunes are a blast with a bow too. Be prepared to do some string experimentation to find a good arco/pizz balance for your bass. I've had good luck with Belcanto's. YMMV. Good luck!
  15. Smarsh7903


    Nov 12, 2013
    That video of Jason Sypher was great! I loved that it was in a jam setting. At Dave: Initially, that is what I want to do as well- play some slow stuff, but I would love to be half as good as Jason one day. Thanks for all the help and references!
  16. MR PC

    MR PC

    Dec 1, 2007
    Brian Torff used to do workshops at festivals teaching arco fiddle tunes on the bass; he has enviable chops for any aspiring bluegrass bassist who is interested in arco!

  17. Another good source is Crooked Still. They have a bass and a cello and play some really fine music, traditional & contemporary
  18. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings
    Also check out Nancy Blake, she plays great bass lines on the cello!
  19. Jeff Elkins

    Jeff Elkins Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2007
    East Tennessee
    OP, your post is inspiring. I played some bowed bass in high school and college (jazz, a bit of orchestra stuff). I was never very good at it, but loved it when I could make it work. My bluegrass band does some originals, and though we like to say we're "right in the style" of the genre from the 40s to the 60s, I've found a few spots where I can incorporate bowed bass, and it works splendidly. We haven't been working a lot, though, so it's been a while since I've pulled out the bow. Might be time to bring it back! Thanks for the reminder!
    One thing nobody mentioned is the issue of strings--one can probably bow any strings, but I made a conscious decision to purchase a hybrid set so that I could more successfully play both arco and pizz; however, my experience is that in order to do both, you have to accept some compromise in sound in both directions.
    I only mention that as something to consider as you're getting your chops up! If you don't get a sound you like right away, it may not be your technique--it may be the equipment. :)
  20. I sometimes play with folks that do a lot of fiddle tunes and Celtic stuff. If I remember to bring my bow I drone the root, maybe with some grace notes between chords.

    One must remember how blooming loud one can get while doing this!