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Focus on bass or branch out into different instruments?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Sgroh87, Feb 20, 2014.

  1. Sgroh87


    Dec 4, 2012
    DFW, Texas
    I played saxophone in school and for a few years thereafter, but once I picked up the bass my sax playing fell by the wayside. I still have it in case I want to play it again (and also because I'll never get back close to what I paid for it). I love the bass and play it almost every day.

    That being said, I went to a Chris Thile concert last night and I was exposed to how awesome the mandolin can be. I liked the sound a lot, plus I like the idea of having a small, portable, acoustic instrument that I can relax with on the porch or out traveling. The bass weighs ten pounds plus, and the amp is another 20 or 30 on top of that, and I can't play it without plugging the amp in (at least not audibly).

    Here's my concern: if I learn another instrument, then I'll be splitting my time between two instruments instead of focusing on one, meaning that I won't improve on them as fast as I would were I to choose one over the other. Also, I worry that they are just different enough to be confusing. The mandolin has differences in size, tuning in fourths instead of fifths, picking vs finger style, chords vs single lines, melody vs foundation/groove, and so on.

    So my question is this: as someone who works in a music related industry and wants to make music playing a big part of his life, do you focus on one instrument so that you can dedicate as much time to it as possible, or do you branch out and explore different modes of musicality despite it "diluting" your playing experience?
  2. mancefine


    Jul 7, 2013
    Endorsing Artist: Orange Amplifiers and Spector Basses
    For me, I've played piano and saxophone but once I started playing bass, that was it. I decided I wanted to devote all my time to being a great bassist. Basically I would rather be awesome at bass than decent to good at multiple instruments. I think there is a place for both outlooks, as multi instrumentalists are hard to come by and can be a good asset, but then again, so are good bassists.
  3. eloann


    May 14, 2012
    I would never be the bassist that I am if I hadn't played drums for ~12 years (nowadays I only drum for fun mostly at friendly jams)

    Also playing enough guitar and keyboard to know how they work helps me communicate... and not just verbally. I can understand what players are doing (and play along to some extent) just by watching their fingers.

    So yeah, I could be much better technically had I spent all my time on bass. But who cares about technique :confused:
  4. metalhead398


    Jul 23, 2013
    The mandolin doesn't tune in fourths. It goes G-D-A-E, tuned in four courses of two strings each.

    I am actually going to be buying a mandolin soon. I'll make sure to write about how it affects my bass playing!
  5. Its my ambition at the moment to become a hack on multiple instruments. I think it could be really fun. But if you've thought this hard about it, I think it'll always bug you if you don't give it a shot.
  6. Sgroh87


    Dec 4, 2012
    DFW, Texas
    I said that backwards; I meant that the bass is tuned in fourths and the mando in fifths. My bad!
  7. bnolsen


    Jan 30, 2014
    denver area
    I think of it this way. On my current "new" instrument (ukulele) I've been going 18 months now. I feel like I'm cruising pretty well, mostly working on some finger picking skills and a few more strum types. But I feel like I've sort of hit my original goal with the instrument and now I'm in gravy time. I kind of really wanted to try my hand at bass viol again but couldn't justify dropping 3500usd on a hobby instrument.

    Honestly it really depends on your mood. If you've been advancing well and feel like you may have hit some sort of plateau, letting an instrument 'rest' for a short while may actually be a good thing. Going to another instrument has the benefit that you'll be broadening your overall skill set anyways.

    For me electric bass is intriguing. There's some possibility I might be able to set up some sort of "jam" at church, maybe. I have a guitar player, who I need to push towards actually providing some rhythm instead of just hot dogging stairway to heaven and a female soloist, maybe a keyboardist as well. Just need to scare up some percussion. Well I can dream right?

    But mandolin? Seriously? :)
  8. Sgroh87


    Dec 4, 2012
    DFW, Texas
    Haha, yes seriously! You have to understand that before I played bass (both of mine weigh over ten pounds) I played baritone saxophone (which weighs closer to fifteen). I value small size and low weight in an instrument! I also much prefer having a tuning system that makes sense (ukulele, I'm looking at you!)

    And the mandolin is really a cool, underappreciated instrument. Its almost like a cross between a guitar (steel strings, frets) and a violin (small size, fifths tuning, four courses). Anything written for violin can be performed on the mando with almost no alteration, meaning that the entire world of classical violin is open to you. It also has a place in both folk and classic rock (REM and Led Zeppelin both used mando on occasion).

    Its one of those instruments that isn't used much in popular music and isn't taught in schools, so most people don't know too much about it.
  9. RxFunk


    Dec 2, 2012
    I'd say go for it. I'd agree that the mando is an underrated instrument, it is however, the most unforgiving instrument I've ever played. If you fret something even slightly incorrectly, it'll let you know. I don't know if I can definitively say that playing the mandolin has made me a better bass player, but it certainly hasn't hindered my abilities. Mandolins aren't strictly melody instruments either, they're great for rhythm especially in Celtic or bluegrass music.
  10. Helaskold

    Helaskold 100% Mediocre

    Jul 22, 2012
    Austin, TX
    I feel like apathy would be the only reason not to learn other instruments. If you think you would find joy in picking up something else for a while, then do it, because I will tell you from experience that being a well-rounded musician is going to work wonders for separating yourself from the pool of average bassists.
  11. this thread is interesting for me - I took a number of years off from gigging to raise kids. When I made my "comeback," besides playing bass guitar (which I had basically played my whole life), I took up the upright bass and the mandolin as well. This was in 2008.

    5-6 years later, it's paying off. I have gigs almost every weekend with the combination of bass guitar, upright bass and mandolin - besides the two bands I regularly play in, there's a jazz guitarist who wants me for upright and a singer-songwriter duo who want me for mando.

    Mandolin is a lot of fun. Tuning in fifths is actually more logical than tuning in fourths (IMO). Fifths would raise problems on bass because of the reaches it would involve, although there are upright players like Red Mitchell who have tuned in fifths (and sounded great).

    You can think of mandolin as playing guitar upside-down. It's tuned G-D-A-E but if you look at that upside-down, it's E-A-D-G. So, for example, a G chord on a mando is very clearly a G chord on a guitar, upside-down.

    You can also really rip it on mando in terms of speed.

    There are mando family instruments lower in pitch down to mandocello which is in bass guitar range, but other than owning one mandola I've found that those lower-pitched instruments don't serve much purpose in American music. (Irish music, they are very popular.)

    Anyway, good luck to all and a vote for mando here.
  12. Sgroh87


    Dec 4, 2012
    DFW, Texas
    Well, almost two weeks later and I'm still considering it, though not as strongly as I was before. I went to play around at the music store and I started GASing for a Ric 4003 I played there. I think that the low end is really my calling. I still might get the mandolin, or I may decide to pick up the saxophone again at a later point.

    Why can't I just spend all of my time playing? :(
  13. One thing I will say about mandolin that is a negative: the cheaper ones are hard to play well and will discourage you. It's different from bass guitar in that regard, where there are many usable inexpensive instruments.
  14. RxFunk


    Dec 2, 2012
    That's true, I bought a Kentucky KM-150 from Elderly, which is often regarded as the best mando for serious beginners on a budget, and it was $300.
  15. I started on bass, have owned some cheap-o guitars, at one point had 3 full drum sets in my bassment completely assembled for two years. Never touched anything but my basses. Lately I've been thinking about wanting a decent acoustic and decent electric, but I still want a Pbass and my rig needs repaired so I don't see that happening yet.

    not to mention the other wants in my life; guitars and drums, not to mention any other instruments are way far down my list.
  16. Sgroh87


    Dec 4, 2012
    DFW, Texas
    Yeah, that's kind of how I feel as well. I spent six months on guitar and several years on sax, but right now all I play is bass. I look at the sax and think, "that would be cool to play, but..." and then I pick up my Pedulla. A bass is a bass; even with different pickups, different tunings, or different types of strings, what I learn on one is equally applicable to the others.
  17. metalhead398


    Jul 23, 2013
    Well, I promised to reply earlier, so here I am again!! So I got the mandolin last night, and played around on it for about an hour. I picked up Ode to Joy very quickly (15 minutes, whilst learning to read treble clef at the same time). I like it a lot. I can see what -insert username here- meant about it being unforgiving. I can't even fret beyond the 12th fret because a)the frets are too small for my pudgy bass fingers and b) if you even so much as get close to playing on the actual fret, the note won't sound. It's brutal. But at the same time, the sound is fantastic, and I have no doubt that playing both a bass and treble instrument will help me get gigs, or jobs, or whatever.

    Also, I started a thread. Sorry, but I don't have a computer (iPod), so I can't give you guys a link. If you want to look at it, search "New mandolin day" in Off Topic.

    So, in response to OP, yes, go for the mandolin, I'm sure you'll enjoy it!