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Choosing which octave when accompanying?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by toothpicktower, Mar 13, 2019.

  1. toothpicktower


    Sep 26, 2018
    Hey! I'm a pretty new bass player with a real basic question. I've been lucky enough to actually be playing bass in a small group (drummer, piano, guitar, accordion), old songs, cowboy songs, etc. I'm just doing the real simple chord arpeggios but is there a rule of thumb about where on the bass I should be playing? If I play F A C in a key of F song when should I choose to play that on the D G strings, or more rumbly lower on the E A strings (not to mention I suppose going above the 12th fret...). I'm guessing the higher register may carry a bit more? Be easier to hear out there? Can playing in the lower register be too overpowering? What is my responsibility as the bass player in choosing to go high or low in my accompaniment?
    Turbo Sparky and Cliff Colton like this.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Can you give examples of a couple of songs you are trying to learn?

    Generally, I would start by learning the bass line from the recording. If the original bassist played it in a low octave, then so would I. Or if they played in a higher octave, then so would I. Once I've learned the original part, then at that point, I might come up with my own variations.

    Is that how you do it, too? Or do you have a different method for learning songs? (And if so, what?)
  3. toothpicktower


    Sep 26, 2018
    Heh, generally I'm working off of 8th generation photo copies of big easy note chord sheets! Or it will be a piano based sheet music that will have Cs and Ds lower than I can play so I just transpose up. But a good example for me would be "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" which is usually in F. So it starts out with the F Dm G C loop so not much choice there but at the end of the chorus it shifts up to C Am D G, I could play that high on the D G strings or low on the E A strings. Sounds good to me either way but how do I choose?
    EatS1stBassist likes this.
  4. toothpicktower


    Sep 26, 2018
    ...Also, I do try and transcribe bass lines from recordings using Capo to isolate the bass track but to be honest it's sometimes hard for me to figure out which register exactly the bass player is using...
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Ohhhhhhh...... I understand your confusion now. :)

    Your teacher forgot to tell you something very important: Bass is a "transposing" instrument. This means bass is written 1 octave higher than it sounds.

    So when you are playing piano music, and the C's and D's are too low for you, that's because you're not transposing them to the correct octave.

    On sheet music for piano, the C two ledger lines below the staff (low C) is the same octave as we play on the bass at the 3rd fret of the A string.

    Music that is specifically written for bass is usually transposed to the correct octave, so you don't need to adjust it.

    Hope that helps clear up the confusion. :)
  6. toothpicktower


    Sep 26, 2018
    Lol, as I am self taught so far, that is very useful information that I'll remember! But if I'm not slavishly playing off sheet music and just working with a chord sheet, I'll ask again, how do I choose?
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you are writing your own original bass lines, you should feel free to use whichever octave sounds best to your ear.

    If you want to study how other bassists have done it in the past, I suggest finding recordings of "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by several different artists (many people have recorded this song!), transcribe a few choruses of each, and compare how different bassists have approached this famous song.
  8. The basic answer to that is, what sounds good is good.

    So firstly, does it sound good to you?
    Secondly, what do your bandmates think?

    And lastly, don't lose sleep over it! You've already found out that when listening to the originals, it can be difficult to hear exactly which octave the bass is playing. That means that your audience will not always hear the difference either.

    Good luck! I think you're on the right track.
  9. Torrente Cro

    Torrente Cro

    Sep 5, 2013
    When I switched from guitar to bass my ears weren't tuned for low frequencies and I had trouble hearing bass.
    Off course, that changed with time.

    My rule is - when band is making a noise, I play low to avoid more noise and stay in my register.
    If there is a quiet moment calling for just a little bass, I might play it in some higher octaves.
    spvmhc, LowActionHero and scuzzy like this.
  10. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    In general, I choose lower register for groove, higher registers for accents and melodic statements. Sometimes going low works to accent, as well. That’s just in general, can depend on the song, etc. I don’t think there is a set rule, but the old cliche is that there’s no money above the fifth fret.
    mrcbass, dvs20, RyanOh and 4 others like this.
  11. Good question and good answers have come. Let's keep this dirt simple.

    If you were playing rhythm guitar and there were three of you playing rhythm guitar on this song at least one of you need to play in another octave... If all three of you are in the same octave it tends to turn into mud.

    As I bet you are the only bass guitar in the group you really do not have to worry with mud. So if the song is called to be in the key of C - you can find your notes starting with the C at the 3rd string 3rd fret. Or starting with the C at the 4th string 8th fret -- or 15th fret 3rd string.

    My point; it's your choice, all three will sound OK. Most bands want us to go low so the C at the 3rd string 3rd fret would take you low. However I really like playing the key of C at the 4th string 8th fret, so I normally find my key of C notes here. No one has asked me to use either, I just like the feel of C @ the 8th fret.

    My take on the subject....
  12. If it sounds good it is good.

    If a groove works best in the lower registers that's what i'll do and then use the next octave up at the end of a verse or bar to give it a slightly different flavour when turning around back to the next verse/chorus, particularly towards the end of a song. If the groove works better for most of the song in the higher octave i'll use the lower one occasionally to add flavour.

    It will also depend on the instruments i'm playing with. I've played with a uke group in the past where I usually played the F on the D string at third fret as the lower F sounded too far apart from the high register of the ukes. If there's a guitar in the mix he's usually got that note covered so i'll use the low F.
  13. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    In those types of songs, I generally play in a higher octave than as low as the bass can go. Usually I'm in what I consider tuba or upright bass range, where the lowest notes are avoided. Back in the day it was because the lowest notes didn't push through the rest of the band. These days it's because it sounds more authentic to the times. Just sounds more right to me.
    Joebone and Wasnex like this.
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I build and modify basses
    Choosing which octave when accompanying?

    This is my octave pedal

  15. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    When I play at church there is a lot of very simple bass lines required, mostly just roots. To add some interest, I'll change it up. Maybe play low on the verses and then go high on the bridge.

    Really, unless you need to play a tight cover, go with what feels right for the song and the instruments you're playing with.
    B-Lo and Doner Designs like this.
  16. Hambone70


    Jan 31, 2018
    Tucson, AZ
    I prefer to play as low as possible (4 string), especially as we don’t have keyboard filling out the lower freqs. We're learning a bunch of Beatles tunes now, and I never realized how often Paul played in the higher register. I'm taking it down an octave whenever appropriate, and to me it sounds a lot better... a lot more "bassy"... as in "bass" guitar!
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  17. Charlzm

    Charlzm Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    "The basement" is a bass player's domain - I always play the notes as low as I can unless it's an awkward sounding huge jump down. I also play a 5 string. Assuming the guitarist is playing a standard-tuned 6 string, that means anything from B0 (? - the first B below C1) through D#2 is all mine. If I play down there, no other instrument (assuming there is no keyboardist and assuming a standard rock band format with no unusual instruments) hangs out in my area.

    There's a reason they say all the money is in the first five frets on bass.

    Hey, somebody straighten me out if I'm wrong about what the low B note is on a 5 string. Is it B0 or B1?
    LowActionHero and Doner Designs like this.
  18. Cliff Colton

    Cliff Colton

    Nov 7, 2016
    I asked myself a similar question while playing along with Roy Orbison’s Claudette (key of E). The bassist on the recording appears to be playing low throughout from the open E string. When I play along, the verses sound better when I play E starting from the 7th fret (A-string) and the chorus sounds better played from the open E.

    Not sure why but thanks for asking the related question.
  19. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    B0 (sounding one octave lower than written)
    Charlzm likes this.
  20. Billoney


    Feb 12, 2014
    I also generally stick with the recording, but I go with what sounds/feels best to me.

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