Bluegrass... Where to start? Some "how to progress on DB" would be nice, too...

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by MTBassMania, Nov 17, 2015.

  1. MTBassMania


    Mar 5, 2013
    So I've been "playing" upright for a few months now. I have years of experience on electric bass and I am musically educated - I know my chords, keys, rhythm, etc. I know how to transpose, I know my intervals, and all the bricks and mortar for Western music. I really want to get into blue/nugrass, because I love the music, and everyone around here plays it. So... For someone who has a musical background, but admittedly needs to work on his upright skills (40+" scale length... o_O Yow!), where's a good place for me to start? Just look up some chords to songs and get used to laying down the R & 5 on 1 & 3? Pick up a "beginning bluegrass bass" book? Should I be running scales in different intervals like I do on EB? Currently, I'm mostly working on tightening my intonation and working through "essential elements" for double bass. I intended to keep on working through that, but I kinda want to through some grass into the mix.

    Also... How hardcore should I be driving in intonation? Currently, I can almost always get within 10 cents of a note when I just wing it (as in, my initial finger placement gets me in that range), and can adjust to within 5 cents of the note if I feel it's off. Will anyone notice if I'm (at worst) 5 cents flat or sharp? My own ear isn't that discerning (yet). Should I keep working on intonation until I can automatically and perfectly hit every note - regardless of how far I have to jump up/down/around the fingerboard - out of shear muscle memory? If anyone is familiar with the "essential elements" book, I'm spending about 30-60 minutes on EACH LESSON NUMBER (~4 bar phrases, very simple: G-G-D-_, A-A-E-_, G-F#-E-D, E-A-E-_, etc). Too much? Too little? Goldilocks?

    Any help would be appreciated!
  2. Take a lesson or two from a double bass teacher. You'll be glad you did.
    JeffKissell likes this.
  3. Clarkybass


    Apr 30, 2010
    Richie Mintz's 'Bluegrass Bass' is the best book I have seen by far - its old but its not like that matters for this genre! Has a playalong CD as well Order « Austin Pickin' Ranch
  4. Jay Corwin

    Jay Corwin Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    Theory and skill building aside, I would recommend getting one of the many fakebooks available for bluegrass/traditional music. Start learning a bunch of standards just to have them in your back pocket. Root-five thumping through 1-4-5 forms is pretty standard, and the bass is typically a simple time keeper in bluegrass. The pickers and fiddlers are usually the stars.

    You can always go to the mainstays for listening like: Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Del McCoury, Union Station...etc.

    As far as intonation goes, you should always work on that regardless of what genre you are playing.
  5. jthisdell


    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    I am a big fan of learning by doing, that is, find a friend who plays bluegrass and just start jamming. helps if you have a fake book with lyrics and chords. As you have figured, most bluegrass bass lines are some variation of root and 5 and a simplified walk to transition to next chord. So IMHO the best way to learn is to start jamming with someone, because these types of lines do not sound like much on their own.
  6. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    That book is how I learned to play bluegrass bass over 35 years ago. Highly recommended.
  7. Holdsg

    Holdsg Talkbass > Work Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 10, 2009
    Alta Loma, CA
    echo the "play with others" advice. You are also correct on intonation, at least in my experience, close enough will get you pretty far.
    A DB teacher will spend a lot of time with you on LH shape and drill that into your head. Then you watch other BG bass players play with utter disregard for that...whatever works.
    Also agree that the #1 job of the bass player in BG is to keep time. Thats so much more important than fancy technique.
  8. dc-upright


    Mar 31, 2013
    I also started playing upright after years on the electric. For me I put the electric in the closet for a few months and played nothing but upright. Intonation is always something I work on and try to improve and I do that through practicing scales triads etc. bluegrass is lots of 1-5s, if you are already an experienced bass player you should be able to do a lot by listening and copying what you hear. Listen to some of the greats like Ray Deaton, Jason Moore, Mike Bub and try to duplicate. Bluegrass bass playing is summed up in less is more IMO
  9. MTBassMania


    Mar 5, 2013
    Thanks for the tips everyone. I have similar thread on playing fretless in the EB section and, combined with this, I have a pretty good idea on where to go from where I am. Mostly, I just feel like I've been spinning my wheels, and not really sure how to accomplish what I want to accomplish. For instance, intonation - I understand how important it is, but how do I proceed with training my ear? Using the "essential elements" book, I'm pretty much harmonizing with root/octave relations, which is good. BUT, when I play a 3rd or 7th relative to the harmony of the section, my ear for hearing those "perfect" pitches isn't so good, and I wasn't sure what the best way of learning intervals would be. I think the best advice I got was play a drone from a different source, and then play intervals and listen to how they harmonize over/under the drone, until I get used to hearing what those "perfect" intervals sound like. And in the specific case of DB, I wasn't sure how far I should continue classical practice before throwing some grass into the mix. Seems I should just dive in, and really get used to moving through those chords in non-blues-influenced patterns.

    Playing with others - I'd love to, but almost everyone in my area that plays has their own little group, and aren't really into letting "outsiders" join. Any suggestions on where I can find some recorded non-deviated standards that I can play with? where the band jams and doesn't just play the song, but doesn't throw in any chord twists? Free download? I run everything thru ableton and headphones, so I can completely eq out the low end.

    Teachers - There is only person willing to teach within 100mi of where I live, as far as I know. And he's more into metal and Primus. And honestly, I haven't really had alot of luck with teachers in my area (on EB, anyway) - they all pretty much wanted to turn me into a carbon copy of their entire playing style and sound, rather than just help me work out kinks in my technique. But I've been playing for 7 years now, and I got my own method and sound. But they did help with some of the very basic technique issues I had, in the VERY beginning... I suppose I should see what that DB teachers has to say.
  10. rolandm

    rolandm In search of the lowest note.

    Aug 8, 2010
    Peoria, IL
    @Chris Fitzgerald has a fantastic series of YouTube videos discussing technique, posture, etc., that are a great starting point. Although His videos might be a bit more geared towards jazz and/or orchestral playing, a LOT of what he teaches are the common basics that will aid in playing the bass safely and staying healthy, but also lend a hand in developing proper intonation and good tone production.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  11. In addition to the Fitzgerald series, there are several other online resources such as Mr Karr Would You Teach Me How to Drive a Double-Bass?

    Sometimes you've got to ditch "correct" technique...
    Ed Friedland on tour with the Mavericks
    ...especially if you're slapping. I think it was Pops Foster who had a baseball-bat grip ...

    As Rolandm said, playing safely and staying healthy is paramount – it's very easy to injure yourself on this instrument. I know from experience.
    rolandm likes this.
  12. rolandm

    rolandm In search of the lowest note.

    Aug 8, 2010
    Peoria, IL
    There sure are times where I ball all the things I know about bass up into one song, and I do that in my very short history with upright as well. When I get to cramping up a bit in my left hand (doing Billie Jean on upright, for instance) some of Mr Karr's leaning technique is a godsend to relieve that pressure in the palm.

    And no, Billie Jean isn't bluegrass, but you get the idea.
  13. jthisdell


    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    Billie Jean COULD be bluegrass. We are now doing jackson 5's I Want You Back Bluegrass style.
  14. rolandm

    rolandm In search of the lowest note.

    Aug 8, 2010
    Peoria, IL
    Well, we do a lot of impromptu requests as part of our shtick, so if someone sort of knows the song, or if we can look it up on the Ultimate Guitar app, we'll do it, and when I did it in a dance band on bass, I'd do a lot of upper soprano harmonies, so for kicks, I dropped my harmonies down to a bass voice and it came out really eerie and cool, just a shaker, 3 vocals an acoustic guitar and an upright bass. What we do isn't exactly predicated on bluegrass, but I find a lot of our ability to hold an audience and get them dancing comes from adopting a bluegrass, blues and swing feel, heavy on the bluegrass roots.

    And it makes Kung Fu Fighting hysterical to play, because I yank that hard into the bluegrass arena whole the guitarist and the trumpet/vox/percussionist keep it '70s.
  15. I found this book a couple years ago when I started playing. This book and the Old & In the Way Album is how I started learning to play.

    And the best advice I ever got playing DB in a bluegrass band was to stay away from the dang banjo player.
    Jake deVilliers and rolandm like this.
  16. jthisdell


    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    My other advice would be to play less than you think you should.

    A couple weeks ago I was at a Bluegrass jam and I thought I was doing really well, playing very restrained. Afterwards this really good fiddle player came up to me and said "Great jam, you really like jazz don't you?" I realized you can't get away from it even if you try.
    Vicki R Poole likes this.
  17. :laugh:

    Happened to me too, 'cept I wasn't accused of Jazz (not good enough at that yet, I guess).

    Band came to me and said "Listen to these songs". Then they weren't so subtle about it and told me outright "Bluegrass bass is ..."
    And then I took it to heart and played dead simple – and even that wasn't simple/restrained enough.

    Simplify, Simplify, Simplify and then after that you need to Simplify, Simplify, Simplify and only THEN can you should you ...
    Simplify some more...

    I'm telling you, playing bluegrass is hard, so difficult not to over-embellish...
    Holdsg, Dueling Banjos and jthisdell like this.
  18. martinc

    martinc In Memoriam


    While you are nailing your intonation...check out Mark Fain with the John Jorgenson Bluegrass band on all of their YouTube videos.
    It's all there! Left hand decay control and right hand timing, rhythm and drive. And tone. Nothing too fancy but it's seasoned playing.

    Use Mark as a model and you won't go wrong. He has toured and recorded as the bass player for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder for 13 years. He’s also toured and recorded with Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, and Dwight Yoakam. By watching him play, he will help you understand straightforward bluegrass bass playing very quickly while giving you a hint of tasty and subtle ways of connecting chords. Then you can go and study others like Travis Book, Dennis Crouch and Byron House for more inspiration.

    Also .....bluegrass bass players today need to be able to play a lot more than three chord bluegrass songs so your past experience will help.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015

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