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How long to adjust to a 5 string?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bumperbass, Jun 10, 2018.

  1. ak56

    ak56 Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2015
    Carnation, Wa
    Been playing a 4 since the mid 70's, added a five two years ago.

    This may be part of your issue. Learning tunes and adjusting to the five at the same time, your brain is concentrating on too many things at the same time. You may want to spend some of your practice time just playing tunes you already know, without any changes, and use that to get the muscle memory to adjust to the five. Ignore that B string while doing this. This should help with that left-hand/right-hand coordination, but expect that to occasionally happen for a while.

    Now, the following probably doesn't apply as much to your situation, since you need the five for your gigs, but I'm including it for completeness, and information for others.

    I was lucky enough to not be learning new material, so I didn't have that distraction. I got my 5-string, practiced for a week, and played it in church the next Sunday. Yes, there were a few mismatched fret/pluck combinations, but not many, and I adjusted quickly. I also used the B string sparingly at first. And yes, even though I knew the songs well, it took some extra concentration.

    Some advocate putting the 4-string aside and only playing the five for a while. I'd read enough threads on here where people commented about having trouble playing the four after a prolonged period of only playing the five, so I alternated, some weeks playing the 4, some the 5. This got me thinking of them as two different instruments.

    I took a couple of months, but by then I was comfortable on both instruments, and was using the B string as just another string on THAT instrument.
    nilorius likes this.
  2. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Well I had no choice in this matter. I got invited to be a part of a band with decent musicians after years of being embarrassed by the bands I'd been in.
    They gave me their song list. I said OMG after about an hour of checking out the songs for the first rehearsal. At LEAST 7-8 songs, maybe more, that HAVE to have a 5'er.
    I seriously think my problem is that I'm trying to deal with 2 things simultaneously:
    1. Learning about 30-35 tunes that are NOT the typical tunes 90% of the bands I've ever heard do.
    2. Throwing the unfamiliarity of a 5'er on top of the whole mess has given me the willies.

    I am NOT using a 4 at all until I get this 5'er under my belt. I think I will return to shallow waters as soon as I learn their material.

    I hope you guys understand, that I am dealing with two issues at the same time. This is what I think is making me panic.
    On top of all that, their song list has all these tunes that change patterns at strange times. For instance, a certain song might only go for 2 measures randomly at a certain time, while all other times
    goes for 4 measures. One song has a lead for 12 bars, for example. I will have to listen to those quirky songs non-stop until I can feel when the changes are coming. I hate to memorize songs and I hate having to count while playing live.

    Thank you for all your input. You all have helped immensely. I have enjoyed the positive vibes as much as I've enjoyed the tips.
    Kudos to Talkbass.
    Pendulous and BlueMINI like this.
  3. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Wow! Spot on, as I inadvertently elaborated on. You really hit the nail on the head, my friend!
  4. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    My new (used) Ibanez is 19mm spacing. I thought that would help, having been used to a Pbass.
  5. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    Interesting times.

    Just deal with one song at a time.

    I was going to be part of a project (now no longer happening) playing Oz Noy, Billy Cobham etc. So far out of my comfort zone it was on a different continent! I'm still going to learn that set. This is a challenge that is not going to beat me. New and different stuff should get those bass juices flowing.
  6. It'll take a couple songs to adjust to. I found the biggest difficulty was remembering that the string under your right thumb is not the E string. Muscle memory can sometimes be counter productive until you build a new set of skills. But like I said, just a couple songs will get you fairly proficient.
  7. caledoneus83


    Feb 26, 2018
    I've been playing a 6 for about 2 years now (after playing a 4 for over a decade) and even now, I try to be pretty sparing with that low B. If you use it all the time, it doesn't have the same punch when I hit it. And yeah, take some of your practice time to just play songs you already know using the fiver and throw that B in occasionally to get the muscle memory there.
  8. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Late to the thread, probably adding redundant comments, but here goes anyway.

    I played four string exclusively starting around 1975. Naturally, I felt the need for lower notes, and fairly quickly adopted the "D-Tuner", now the Hipshot Bass Xtender. It's a great device, I put them on all my four strings, learning how to transpose the low string, but it wasn't quite enough for my needs so in 2000 I finally decided to give 5-string bass a try.

    Long story short, I now play 5-string exclusively; I no longer own any fours. I don't recommend abandoning four -- just sayin' that's how it worked out for me.

    I was gigging on 5-string after a month, but it took me 2-3 months to get comfortable on it. One problem was knowing which string was which, another was keeping strings muted.

    Here are a couple of things I did that helped:
    • I put my four strings aside and immersed myself in five string
    • Playing the same ol' songs on five string led to confusion. As it happens, I joined a new band in Y2K, and had to learn a whole bunch of new (for me) cover songs. I decided to do that on my five string. This helped me a lot: no "muscle memory" to throw me off; I was able to map them out fresh on my five string
    • I adopted "floating thumb" to mute the extra strings. I still can't say I've fully adopted it, but for some songs it's necessary
    Once I became comfortable on five string, I realized all the advantages. It isn't just for the low notes (though it is great to do stuff like walk up to low E) -- it helps a lot even on songs on which I never travel below low E. I remapped numerous songs I'd played on four to take advantage of the additional range in each fingering position. That's basically why I decided to abandon four string, though again, I don't recommend that anyone else do that.

    One final tip: don't be wary of the B string, or think of 5-string as "EADG plus one". Grok the entire instrument, keeping in mind that the B string is useful above the 5th fret, where it's in 4-string territory. Sure, you don't want to abuse those sub-E notes, but OTOH, don't be afraid to add them to classic/oldies tunes that don't go below low E -- sometimes they work beautifully.
    7615, MonetBass and bumperbass like this.
  9. guitarbrent


    Feb 16, 2016
    For me, it is all mental. It took me maybe 1 hour of playing a 5 string to get it down. 6 string took me 2 hours. In fact, after playing a 6 string (which I ultimately bought) for an hour to try it out, I walked thinking I just wasn’t getting it as easily as the 5 string. Then I went back a month later with the right mentality and it just clicked. I bought it on a Tuesday night. Took it to rehearsal on Thursday. Gigged it 2 days later. I think this forum tends to overblow things like scale length, string spacing, and how many strings are best. All of my basses have different scale lengths and string spacing, and I simply don’t care, as long as it is easy to play, which they all are (Ric 4003, Fender Am STD PBass, Dingwall Ng-2 5, and LowEnd LEJ 6). YMMV of course.
    Chuck M likes this.
  10. JimMakepeace


    Jun 9, 2016
    SW Florida
    I have been suspecting these physical attributes to be much more important than brand, pickups, electronics, etc. A $200 bass that fits you perfectly, has a chance of yielding better results than a $2000 bass that doesn't.
    petrus61 likes this.
  11. rocklee


    Nov 26, 2010
    If you know your notes consider this. On a 5 string the only time you'll need to go lower is when you want to go past the E to the B. If you're going to play a song in a key lower than E, with the 5 string you have 5 extra low notes to play with. And when you're practicing, find the E note on the B string, find it's octave. Keep going down each fret until you reach the open B. That should help you get use to using the 5 string!!!
  12. Sharon Hebert

    Sharon Hebert

    Jul 23, 2017
    I’m a fairly new player (2 years), but here’s how I adjusted to a 5string: I just remembered that a G is always under a C, an A is always under a D, an E is always under an A, etc. Before resorting to this idea, I was lost; afterwards, it was like I had always played on a 5. Hope this helps.
  13. 7615


    Nov 19, 2015

    There are no tunes that a 4 will not cut it on unless the object is play the exact notes on the record. D tuning for some songs makes sense buta 5 string is nothing but a pain in the ass. I have even c tuned on a couple occasions - or guitarists who tune to e flat - ok I take the bass down half a step.
  14. guitarbrent


    Feb 16, 2016
    I just simply disagree with this. I use 4, 5, and 6 strings for different reasons and different tones. None of them are pains to deal with. However retuning my bass every other song with my current band would be a total pain. So I use my 5 or 6 string and keep them both in standard tuning.
    Pendulous, bumperbass and mrcbass like this.
  15. I started on bass in 1963 and never touched a 5 string until 2 years ago. I was living abroad and couldn't bring any of my basses back so I decided to buy 5-strings when I got back to the states, now I have 4. It took about a year before I could look at the strings and not have a brain fart. Now that happens when I try and play a 4 string. Strange thing is it doesn't bother me when I play the upright.
  16. 7615


    Nov 19, 2015
    Hipshot then.
  17. caledoneus83


    Feb 26, 2018
    Nope. Just get a 6, then you don't need a hipshot.
  18. A lot of it depends a lot on your musical situation. If you are in a guitar centric band playing primarily in E and A most of the time, a 4 is perfect. When you are working with horn and string players and playing in primarily flat keys, the B string is a god send from a low Eb down. It gives the bass player somewhere to go and adds a lot of depth to the band. There is no right or wrong, just personal preference. I play both 5 and 4 depending on the music and the situation. To most gigs I carry a 5 with round wounds and always a P bass with flats. That way I'm sure to cover just about anything I run across. Speaking from experience.
    guitarbrent likes this.
  19. allexcosta


    Apr 7, 2004
    If you use the first string as a reference, like you should, you should be able to play a gig on the 5er after a few hours of practicing. You can simply ignore the 5th string and add flavor here and there. Treat it as 4+1 for a while. It will come naturally.

    If adding a lower string messes up your playing for a long period of time, you didn't learn to play bass properly.

    A higher string should throw you off for a few months, though.
  20. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    I think the opposite would be true for me. Standing up, the first thing I see is the lowest string. It's a reference point.
    I learned how to play the bass properly, I assure you. My style is my style but I also can play most anything I hear.
    Thanks for your opinion.

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