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Classical pieces for electric bass

Discussion in 'Recordings [BG]' started by Pacodelivery, Apr 5, 2020.

  1. Pacodelivery

    Pacodelivery Supporting Member

    May 25, 2014
    Hey all! First time poster in this subforum.

    With some more time on my hands due to the state of the world right now, I'd like to do a deep dive on improving my technique. One particular thing I'd love to do is learn some more classical pieces on the bass guitar.

    I've already learned some of Bach's cello sonata #1, picking it up by ear.

    I'd love to learn some more stuff! Obviously there's not a lot of classical pieces for electric bass out there, but in videos and in hanging with other players I've seen plenty of people bust out a section or two of various pieces I recognized.

    So ... what pieces have you found that work well on the electric bass? What do you like to play to warm up or improve technique? Obviously sonatas written for cello or double bass will work but I'd like to not limit it just that. There's of course a lot of classical music out there, I guess what I'm looking for are pieces that you've played on a 4 string electric bass and been like "Oh, this really works on this instrument."

    Melodic or chordal work are both great! Chords sound pretty great on my bass and I'd love to learn new voicings.

    I'm up for trying to learn things by ear or from sheet music. I'd call myself a beginner to moderate sheet music reader. Probably the hardest gig I ever took where I was working from a written score was playing bass in "Little Shop of Horrors" (which is SUCH a fun show on bass ... all that old school walking bass soul stuff is a joy to play!), but my attitude when people say I'll need to read for a gig is "If you give me the music I'll go home and work it up" because I can't really sight read or anything. I'm up for challenges tho! My guess is to do this right might involve taking something written for piano and revoicing it for electric bass, which sounds hard but maybe I should try pulling that off!

    Thanks all!
    Koshchei likes this.
  2. Just to give you a couple of ideas . . .

    Bach Cello Suite #1 Prelude

    Violin Partita No.3 In E Major

    . . . and if you are a member of his web site (free membership), Talkingbass, he did a two week vlog learning Solfeggietto. And the sheet music (w/tab) is provided for this piece.
    noodler likes this.
  3. Boogiepop

    Boogiepop Refugee Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 22, 2019
    I'm working on Bach's Cello Suite #1, using a piccolo-strung 5-string so I can get that low C. I have the Prelude (more or less) and am partway through the Courante. The Allemande I find confusing: it's beautiful, and I listen to it with appreciation, but I can't seem to grasp the underlying structure, so I'm hesitant to try learning it.

  4. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    There is a Bach book for electric bass.
    Joaquim DesPres I believe.
    It's a knuckle buster.
    Spidey2112 and Vinny_G like this.
  5. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I'll probably get flamed for saying so, but this is the sort of thing that kills any case for the bass guitar to be used for classical or baroque music. No dynamics, no form, no phrasing, just rat-a-tat-a-rat-a-tat-a. Just a series of individual notes, and not even the right ones in places.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2020
    JamMasterJR, AlenH, Joe Nerve and 4 others like this.
  6. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    Ask for lead sheets. Treble clef with chord name. Melody from the treble clef and do what you can with the chord notes.
  7. I hate to admit it, but I agree. I've been listening to a lot of bass-range string instruments and pieces from the Renaissance period to the Modern, recordings featuring instruments like viola da gamba, violone, cello, double bass, and even lutes and theorbos for inspiration for a good number of years. I even bought my 6-string Ibanez SR506 a few years ago for this, and I think the electric bass guitar is rather underwhelming and ill-suited for this repertoire.

    It doesn't really sing like a bowed instrument, and it lacks the dynamic subtleties of a lute, classical guitar, theorbo, etc...
    Even listening to Dave Grossman, the #1 player playing JS Bach on electric bass is underwhelming - no offense to him or anyone playing Bach's suites and partitas on electric bass. But it just sounds awkward and rather strained.

    I think our best bet as bass players is to try a baritone or "contrabass" classical guitar like this: or something to play classical, baroque and renaissance pieces on.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2020
    bholder and JamMasterJR like this.
  8. BassChuck

    BassChuck Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Chris204T likes this.
  9. Vinny_G


    Dec 1, 2011
    Josquin des Pres - J.S. Bach for Bass
    Great book. I own it and it's a must have for anyone interested in the subject. ;)
  10. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I'm not sure I meant that the electric bass is entirely unsuitable, but it is so easy to find really poor examples that one might just start to believe it...
    swink likes this.
  11. Good point.
    I agree that electric bass can't match the articulation and dynamics of the cello or violin. And many attempts on EB sound pretty thin.
    But that need not stop you from playing, or trying to. It's a fun challenge. And some pieces work better than others. Since it is an electric instrument we can take advantage of the various effects available. Just a bit of delay and chorus can add some meat to the bones.

    By the way, the OP specifically asked about resources. This book is designed as a work book for baroque techniques on electric bass
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2020
    Cliff Colton, SteveCS and oldNewbie like this.
  12. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Couldn't agree more, and I love playing these pieces. What concerns me is versions that barely get the right notes out in the right order are being held up as exemplars.
    Sbassman Scratch likes this.
  13. The Rage

    The Rage

    Nov 12, 2013
    Just seen this video:

    Trying to apply it to a (painfully) slow "Flight of the bumblebee". Guess it may work for improving technique.
  14. swink


    Jan 10, 2019
    Solo works and etudes for bassoon.
    Cliff Colton likes this.
  15. KeepItMoving

    KeepItMoving Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2018
    That's an excellent book for anyone who's interested in exploring the baroque/classical possibilities of the bass guitar. Lots of cool pieces at varying levels of difficulty, and a modest but helpful section on techniques. The author did a great job of finding repertoire material from a variety of sources.

    The only issue is that the book comes in a binding that's impossible to lay flat on a music stand. I ended up cutting the pages away from the binding and putting them in a 3-ring binder using plastic sheet protectors. If you do this, note that the pages are A4 size, not 8.5 x 11 inches!
  16. swink


    Jan 10, 2019

    There is a difference between a note-secretary (the one who plays the notes) and a musician ( the one who plays the music)...
  17. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    I bought the Suzuki books/recordings when I first got a fretless to help me with learning by ear.
  18. CatchaCuda

    CatchaCuda Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2018
    Transfer, PA
    I have nothing useful to add. I do think a 6 string would be helpful, you've got more notes within reach.
    Cliff Colton and swink like this.
  19. OogieWaWa


    Mar 17, 2013
    Oak Harbor, OH
    For a change, put on a Looney Tunes or other classic cartoon theme channel and try to play along with the melodies, and then try to come up with a reasonable bass line. A lot of up-tempo classical music, you've probably heard them a bunch of times, and just plain fun as well, and the melodies are a good exercise.

    Here's one list: 15 Pieces of Classical Music That Showed Up in <em>Looney Tunes</em>

    Edit: Here's two and a half hours worth from cartoons!
    noodler likes this.
  20. I can't believe this hasn't been mentioned yet!
    slagheap and jimkelly like this.
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