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How do you decide what position to play in?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Skel, Mar 2, 2006.

  1. Skel


    Jun 19, 2005
    Boulder, Colorado
    I've often wondered about this; Say you are playing a 12 bar blues pattern in the key of "A". You are playing on the fifth fret (assume a 4 string). When you transition to the "4" of the "1-4-5", in this case "D", do you move up to the 10th fret, or do you just vertically jump strings and stay on the 5th fret? I think most people just jump strings. I do, because it's easier and the tone gets too thick and muddy for me up on the 10th fret, but I'd be really intersted to know about the ones who move up, and the reason(s) they do.


  2. Matthew Bryson

    Matthew Bryson Guest

    Jul 30, 2001
    When I want to move from the I to the IV for a 12 bar blues, I always go up by crossing strings. I'd rather play in position, I sound cleaner and can play longer without fatigue. I think it falls under the umbrella of the "economy of motion" school of thought.
  3. Skel


    Jun 19, 2005
    Boulder, Colorado
    Yea, all my life I've struggled with why you can do the same thing in 2 different places on a guitar or bass. I don't know if there is an instrument other than stringed that you have this option on.

  4. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    Sure, but people have been playing stringed instruments for a long time. Plus it's not much different than alternate fingerings on wind instruments... a different way to get the same sound.

    The advantage you have with strings is that the two positions do not sound the same (tone changes string to string, and also as you move up the neck). You can choose whichever suits the situation.

    Personally, my choice of position is influenced primarily by where I was playing before, and where I will play after, in order to avoid uncomfortable shifts. Secondly, I will consider the tone produced. Many times however, upon playing the same line more than once, I decide on a fingering that maximizes tonal choice and economy together.

    It's all about choice. Sometimes you just have to think it out and determine the best way to play something.
  5. Skel


    Jun 19, 2005
    Boulder, Colorado
    The strange thing for me is; I could probably do just fine with a 9 fretted, 3 string bass. I'm not sure I would miss the rest that much.

  6. Although I don't play much 12 bar blues, this same question holds pretty much true for anything since there are always multiple positions.

    My choice depends on
    • whether or not I want that thick, fundamental-heavy tone you get when higher on the neck.
    • Also, whether or not I want to use any slides to/from that higher position as articulation.
    • And finally (assuming it is something other than a 12 bar) what sections come next in the music- if the next part is higher on the neck, I'm already there and ready to go instead having to make the jump at a point that might be difficult.
  7. Skel


    Jun 19, 2005
    Boulder, Colorado
    Yea, a lot of what you're saying reminds me of an Eric Clapton interview I read many years ago in "Guitar Player". He said playing is kind of like playing billiards - you are constantly setting yourself up for the next shot.

    I'm sure many of you are the same as me, in that you end up being able to play the same thing in either position, and you can make that decision on the fly, sometimes without even conciously thinking about it - so no matter where you end up, you can "land on your feet", and it becomes second nature.

    I actually like the thrill of seeing if I can get home from something a little unfamiliar.

  8. Yeah, same here.
  9. JohnBarr


    Mar 19, 2004
    Central NY
    Nicely put.
    I'm just a living room warrior, but when I practice a new piece I always try it in two positions, above and below the 5th -- at least if the piece permits it.
    As Cristo mentioned, I'm a sucker for that thick tone you get as you move up to the octive (especially on fretless), so I always try stuff up there. But, as you suggest, sometimes you can't land on your feet for the next line as easily -- which always makes me wonder if a 5er wouldn't make that a bit easier...
    It may be me, but it seems that jazz, especially the stuff that comes down from the days of the double bass, lends itself better to playing between the 5th and 12th.

  10. CrazyArcher


    Aug 5, 2004
    In most cases I try to play it as high as possible, because
    a) it's plainly easier and
    b) I have a really lo-quality instrument and open strings don't sound too well for me.
    Somewhere around 5th-7th position is the best choice for me.
  11. I play 12 bar blues for my warm up, most the time I just play across, but if I feel like wanking, i move up to the higher register.
  12. jasper383

    jasper383 Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2004
    Durham NC
    In Bass Player magazine a couple months ago, there was a profile of a Nashville session pro/producer (can't think of his name) who has a custom 3 string Precision. He also never uses active basses.

    Washtub players can be very convincing with one string.
  13. Skel


    Jun 19, 2005
    Boulder, Colorado
    Well, this is getting off topic, but one thing I love to do that I think I learned from McCartney an JPJ, is to stay up in the second octave, especially on cool intro's - you tease around up there, and then when you finally hit that "A" or "G" on the E string, the contrast makes it sound so explosive. I love giving out the lower notes sparingly as a little gift to the listener. A perfect example is JPJ's line in "What is and what should never be". When he finally hits the low open "E", the entire walkup before the chorus sounds deep and strong.

  14. morf

    morf Banned

    Feb 17, 2006
    I use whatever sounds better. I'm not afraid to go down (or is it up?) the neck to hit a note instead of transferring to the bottom string if I feel it sounds better (well, more like if I feel I play it better this way). Just do whatever rocks your boat, but remember that transferring to another string is very good practice and will help you tons when composing.
  15. mothmonsterman


    Feb 8, 2006
    see now this is the crap i never thought to learn, i just play.
  16. Eric Grossman

    Eric Grossman

    Nov 3, 2004
    St. Louis
    Endorsing Artist: Hipshot Products and SIT Strings
  17. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Depends on where I'm going or, sometimes, where I've been.

    Also if I want to use open strings or if I want everything sounding about the same. Easier to mute notes and other strings when playing above the fifth fret as well.

    peaceout -Ryco
  18. i also play saxaphone:bag: to play a B flat there are 5 different fingerings. so yes, there are other instruments with that option
  19. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    For 12-bar blues in A...
    On the guitar, I tend to make the jump up to the 10th fret on the E-string, but frequently I'm repeating a lick or pattern that works easier to just move up position. On the bass, I'll tend to work around one position a more often. It all comes down to what works best for each piece.
  20. Schwaa


    Feb 25, 2006