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Do you lose anything when practicing unplugged?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by ulf_kurt, Oct 9, 2000.


  1. ulf_kurt

    ulf_kurt

    Feb 10, 2000
    Umea, Sweden
    I seem to end up many times practising on my P-bass without pluggin it in. For example in front of the TV. I wonder if I lose anything when I can't here the amplified tone. Should I plug it in all the time to get most out of my practice?

    Cheers Ulf/
     
  2. jfsjbb

    jfsjbb

    Aug 29, 2000
    Depends.

    If you are working on your tone, you might be better off using the whole sound chain, from string to speaker, as you are going to use it on stage.

    If you work on your technique, it's even better to do it unplugged, as you are forced to focus on what you do.

    If you "practice" in front of the TV, it doesn't matter at all. That's not practicing, that's just finger workout, sorry for the straight words.

    If you practice, you have to be totally aware of what you do. You have to control and monitor yourself. Otherwise it's probably wasted time.

    Only exception: You play to the music on TV (MTV, VH1, ...)
     
  3. I never practice with an amp, unless I'm learning a song or just playing along with a CD. I think practicing unplugged is the way to go, especially for developing your tone. Because, IMO, the tone is in your hands and the amp should just be a means to make yourself loud enough to be heard.
     
  4. ulf_kurt

    ulf_kurt

    Feb 10, 2000
    Umea, Sweden
    I don't know, but I often sit in front of the TV doing scales and stuff. Of course it's not as good practise as if I was consentrating 100% on the bass. But I find it a good way to for example finetune scales and workouts that im already familiar with.

    cheers Ulf/
     
  5. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    I love "practicing" in front of the tube(NFL, NHL etc); though Jeff Berlin would freak out, Jaco practiced ad nauseum in front of the TV. Anytime spent with the instrument in hand is "OK" by me(if you're sitting there watching a game for 3 hours, why not have the bass in your hands?)
    BUT-
    I tend to agree, it's about mindless muscle memory. Regardless, a certain amount of endurance & physicality is required for what I need to do.

    That said-
    I have always chosen to practice(mindless or otherwise)UNplugged. Lately, I've been using phones whenever I do play PLUGGED.
    There is ONE real problem for me in doing this; here's what I have noticed-
    When I do play LIVE(& there's times when it's a large venue with LARGE volume), I have a tendency to change the way I play 'cause I'm not used to the amount of volume. As I've mentioned before, "too much me" ain't what I'm about(conversely, "too little me" ain't cool, either).
    ...the problem does seems correct itself as my ears get accustomed to the volume(takes about 1-2 weeks of rehearsals).

    FWIW-
    There's the argument about Jazz Fusion players not being able to play as well whenever they played large arenas; it was here that the Rock guys excelled over the Fusioneers.
    ...just some author's theory on why Fusion failed.
     
  6. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    I often practice unplugged when it just seems like too much hassle to dig out cables and plug in and turn on the practice amp, etc. But I often had a guilty sense that I was "cheating" somehow, even if I were the only one being cheated. I also have often sat in front of the TV and practiced during ads or boring stuff, for want of a better word. Like the poster above, I believe any time spent with a bass in hand is better than time spent with no bass in hand. I know Jeff Berlin would disapprove and I respect much that he has to say about how to practice and learn. Still, I go about things in my own way, Jeff does not need to worry that I will ever be in competition for his gig or ever teach in his school.

    However, when I really need to "get serious", I do plug in, because that seems to make errors in timing or tone stand out more.

    Oh, by the way, I have a Washburn acoustic/electric bass guitar, but oddly enough, it doesn't sound much better unplugged than my electric basses sound unplugged!

    Jason Oldsted


    [Edited by JasonOldsted on 10-09-2000 at 11:16 PM]
     
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think it depends on what sort of technique you're going for. I tend to agree with Mike Dimin who advocates low action and very light touch for speed and precision.

    Now if you are trying to develop this sort of technique, it's just impossible unplugged and I never do this. I also find that if you do play a lot at low volumes or unplugged, it does take its toll on your fingers - blisters etc.

    I also think there are nuances of tone, that you only hear when amplified and also the value of muting and minimising finger noise aren't always evident "unplugged".

    I often wonder about some about some of the questions we get here on TB about noises the bass makes, how people are suprised by hum or resonant strings(just as a few examples from many) must be because they practice mostly unplugged and then get some unpleasant "shocks" when they actually play at reasonable volume.

    So anyway from my point of view, I think it's a bad idea, but if you are someone who "digs in" and plays hard normally, then you probably need this time to toughen up your fingertips!
     
  8. I practice quite a bit unplugged. I think I do this more out of convenience then anything else, but I do think there are some advantages to it.

    The sounds I get from the bass come more from my fingers then my amp. When I practice unplugged, I find it's easier to isolate any problems I might be having. I also think it can be easy to start to rely on any sustain your amp might add to compensate for a lack of technique.

    With that said, I also feel it would be a mistake to practice only unplugged as there are certain control issues involved in playing with an amp that you don't have unplugged.

     
  9. Practicing in front of the tv is great for the repeative stuff. Getting up your speed on tapping, slapping, or playing repeated notes on one string. Just learn the thing slow and then watch tv and your speed will improve if as by magic.
     
  10. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    When I do practice, I ALWAYS plug in. My experience is that I tend to bang harder just to hear myself, and then I lose nuance and character, and things get sloppy.

    If you are having a problem with sloppiness and clattering, though, unplugged is a great way to clear it up. You don't really hear it plugged in though it comes across on tape. But you REALLY hear it unplugged so if you can get accustomed to not clattering unplugged, you will play LOTS cleaner when you plug in.

     
  11. I agree with Eli. I used to play unplugged (before i had an amp) and its great for beginners as the sound level us bass players play at can get annoying if you're learning a new song!!

    What I can't grasp is practising in front of the TV? i have tried it a couple of times but end up watching it! lol Playing with an amp in your room helps with technique, its all amplified so you can hear the detail (my opinion only! don't hold it against me).

    Plus I never sit down and play, after all when you're on stage, its common to stand. This allows you to get used to playing standing up as it is alot different that sitting down, different angle, different weight.

    I guess you lose a fair bit by not using an amp, I've been practising so long now with an amp, I don't think i could go back to not using it. :D

    Thats my two cents.

    Merls
     
  12. the wizard

    the wizard

    Oct 10, 2000
    Sweden
    I have never practiced with an amp in years. Practicing unplugged makes me play with a more even and controlled attack than before. As a result, I don´t have to use a compressor anymore.
    Playing infront of the TV is OK as far as I´m concerned. It´s not just finger workout for me. One part of my (small) brain is focused on the TV and the other on my Rickenbacker.
     
  13. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.

    Because, IMO, the tone is in your hands and the amp should just be a means to make yourself loud enough to be heard. [/B][/QUOTE]

    I've heard (read) that statement made a lot of times on this forum. I must be missing something.
    If the tone is in the hands what is the purpose of tone and e.q. controls on an amp or bass? I'm not saying that hand technique doesn't affect tone to a degree but hand technique only provides a very limited degree of control.

    There are basically only two things that you can do with your hands that affect tone. The most obvious is where you pluck the string, and to a lesser degree, how hard the note is plucked. As Bruce pointed out, if you play low action flat board, you no longer even have the second option.

    Imho practicing unplugged is not a good idea because you may be ingraining bad habits that you can't hear and correct as you go along.

    If the tone is really in the hands, why do ALL of the true experts have tone controls and e.q. in thier amps?

    Pkr2
     
  14. Well...I just got an acoustic/electric so I could bring it with me to Shanghai during project week (which, incidentally, is next week...) and I found it (an Ibanez...) the unplugged sound beat out the Ovations with double (or over double) the price. Practicing on that unplugged seems to be fine...
    but then again, that's not exactly what was asked, right?
    About practicing unplugged with an electric...I dunno. I never do it. If everyone in the house is asleep, I either don't play, or have the volume set at about 1 or so. :D
     
  15. I've heard (read) that statement made a lot of times on this forum. I must be missing something.
    If the tone is in the hands what is the purpose of tone and e.q. controls on an amp or bass? I'm not saying that hand technique doesn't affect tone to a degree but hand technique only provides a very limited degree of control.

    There are basically only two things that you can do with your hands that affect tone. The most obvious is where you pluck the string, and to a lesser degree, how hard the note is plucked. As Bruce pointed out, if you play low action flat board, you no longer even have the second option.

    Imho practicing unplugged is not a good idea because you may be ingraining bad habits that you can't hear and correct as you go along.

    If the tone is really in the hands, why do ALL of the true experts have tone controls and e.q. in thier amps?

    Pkr2
    [/QUOTE]

    Getting a basic tone or sound out of your bass and amp comes from the different controls you have on both (volume, tone, eq, compression, effects, ect.). So to a degree, I agree with you. But I don't think you can downplay where someone plucks the string, how hard they pluck it, whether they use a pick or fingers, what angle the pluck the string at, how the use their left hand for muting, ect. ect. The reason you can't downplay this is it is what distinguishes one bass player from another.

    If you knew a Flea bass line note for note, and you were able to play that song on Flea's rig, you still wouldn't sound exactly like Flea. You can imitate, but you can't duplicate because it's all in the hands.

    [Edited by Bassin' on 10-16-2000 at 04:25 PM]
     
  16. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.


    Getting a basic tone or sound out of your bass and amp comes from the different controls you have on both (volume, tone, eq, compression, effects, ect.). So to a degree, I agree with you. But I don't think you can downplay where someone plucks the string, how hard they pluck it, whether they use a pick or fingers, what angle the pluck the string at, how the use their left hand for muting, ect. ect. The reason you can't downplay this is it is what distinguishes one bass player from another.

    If you knew a Flea bass line note for note, and you were able to play that song on Flea's rig, you still wouldn't sound exactly like Flea. You can imitate, but you can't duplicate because it's all in the hands.

    [Edited by Bassin' on 10-16-2000 at 04:25 PM]
    [/QUOTE]


    Good points,Bassin'. I believe you are using a broader definition of the word "tone". I consider a lot of what you describe as technique more than tone issues.

    Anyway, your point of view is welcome.
     
  17. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    My daughter likes to practice unplugged but I try to get her to plug in more often because she tends to play too hard (to hear it) and has gotten used to hearing lots of fret buzz. She also gets flustered when playing through the amp because she hasn't gotten used to the sound (and the VOLUME).

    So I'd say for a rank beginner it's a BAD thing to do. Until you have gotten to the point where you are getting a decent tone, you should play with an amp.

    If you're already an accomplished player, it doesn't matter much whether you're plugged in or even what you're plugged into, but if your bass is a solidbody, it's just easier to hear it plugged into something!
     
  18. Pkr2,
    Bassin' addressed a lot of these points already, but here's my two cents. When you are developing your tone, you shouldn't use EQ or tone controls on a bass or amp because you're altering the fundamental sound. At that point, it becomes the tone of the bass or the amp, and not the pure tone of your fingers playing the bass. The only way to get that is unplugged. If you must practice plugged in, set everything flat. This, by the way, is what a lot of the "true experts" do.. they set their amps flat when they play live. The truest measure of someone's tone is to put a bass in their hands and let them play. This is where you and me sound different from Marcus Miller, for example. Now, if you picked up a Marcus Miller Jazz bass, plugged it into a Sadowsky outboard preamp and then Marcus's rig, you might sound a little like him.. but that wouldn't be your tone anymore. You see what I'm saying?
    I have a fancy SWR amp with 12 bands of EQ, plus bass, treble and aural enhancer. But lately, I've been playing with the whole thing set flat, so I can hear what I sound like playing my bass without any artificial sweetening, just amplification. When I first did this, it was a shock.. "where did all my tone go?" And then I realized that when it sounded so good before, it was the amp more than it was me. So now, I'm working on my playing with the amp set flat, to see if I can get that sweet tone from my fingers.
     
  19. Deynn

    Deynn Moderator Emeritus

    Aug 9, 2000
    Iowa
    A lot of times...I will reach over and pick up my bass, while I am here at the computer, or watching TV....but I always seem to turn on the amp , after only a couple minutes of playing. But I play with a fairly light touch...and rely on the amp for much of my sound.
     
  20. Oysterman

    Oysterman

    Mar 30, 2000
    Sweden
    I have practiced for years without a practice amp. And I have discovered that this is a rather bad thing for me. When practicing, I have developed a very hard approach to playing, which occasionally has given me sore hands, has broken a lot of strings (yes, when practicing), and actually made my attack uneven. I should have used an amp all the time to develop an even attack and save my hands. I'm having a hard time to play with a lighter touch and take advantage of the amp. I'm getting a practice amp soon for this very reason.
    But man, do I have strong hands! ;)