Improving Technique including muting strings?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Jermaine Ramsay, May 28, 2017.

  1. Jermaine Ramsay

    Jermaine Ramsay

    May 6, 2017
    I am a beginner, despite having my bass for about 5-6 months now, I only have 2 months cumulative playing time. I have an idea of some of the notes on the bass, and I do know the patterns for the major scale. As of this moment there are a lot of notes that I can figure out when I take my time to look at the bass and base it off the notes I already have down in my head. I would like to get to the point where I can play by ear any song, also to play fast and cleanly. In addition aside from trying to play by ear, and playing fast my biggest problem is finding a way to mute the strings. Just looking for some advice on how to do these things stated above? I should say that I am playing a 5-string bass.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Welcome to the world of bass!

    Generally speaking, I think a "curriculum" or systematic approach to learning (such as lessons with a good teacher, a class at your local conservatory/community college, or even some online Skype lessons) is preferable to "cherry picking" bits of information here and there.

    But since you asked a good question, here is my attempt at an answer:

    The most popular approach to muting in the year 2017 seems to be this: Your left hand mutes the high strings, and your right hand mutes the low strings. So for example, if you are playing a note on the A string, your left hand fingers can lightly rest on the D and G strings, muting them, and your right hand thumb can lightly rest on the B and E strings, muting them.

    Of course there are other muting strategies as well, and I'm sure other posters will be along with more good advice. :)
  3. Jermaine Ramsay

    Jermaine Ramsay

    May 6, 2017
    Thanks very much!
  4. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Don't get too uptight about speed for now. This will come in time with constant practice. Concentrate instead on playing cleanly, with both wrists straight, and both hands relaxed.

    Lots of helpful information in the "Getting Started" sticky here :

    How to get started?

    As for muting...the "Floating Thumb" technique is ideal for muting...especially on five and six string basses. It also helps to prevent injury problems because when using this technique, the wrist is straight.

    Here it is explained :

  5. Jermaine Ramsay

    Jermaine Ramsay

    May 6, 2017
    Thanks Fearceol
    fearceol likes this.
  6. The major scale box pattern will let you play just about everything you will ever need - if you know the spellings for the stuff you want. I'm going to give you an idea of what lies at the end of the tunnel. You'll need to read this several times for it to make since. Hang on we are going deep.

    Major scale box showing scale degree numbers (spellings) and the root note on the 4th string. Yes I know you have a 5 string.
    G~~|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E~~|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string 

    • Major scale spelling = R-2-3-4-5-6-7
    • Minor scale spelling = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 yep take the major scale box pattern and flat the 3, 6 & 7. Scales to get your fingers moving on the fretboard, however, chord tones are what we usually start using in our bass lines, so.....
    • C major triad spelling = R-3-5
    • Cmaj7 chord spelling = R-3-5-7
    • C7 chord spelling = R-3-5-b7
    • Cm chord spelling = R-b3-5
    • Cm7 chord spelling = R-b3-5-b7
    • Cdim spelling = R-b3-b5
    • Cm7b5 spelling = R-b3-b5-b7

    OK I can find the roots where are all those 3 and 7 and 5? Using the major scale box; place the root and then gather the 3, 7 and 5's from within the box.
    • From the root you are now on it's 3 is up a string and back a fret. Think of it this way; that's where 3's live - up a string and back a fret. I catch the b3 right after the 2.
    • From the root you are now on it's 5 is up a string and toward the bridge two frets. Yep, that is where 5's life. You can always catch a 5 up a string and toward the bridge two frets - always. On your 5 string if the root is on your 4th string your 5th is going to be on the 5th string same fret as your root - on the 4th. Yep the 5th is also down a string same fret. Now some more neat tricks; the 4th of something is always up a string same fret. B-E-A-D-G the strings go up in 4ths and come down in 5ths. That's kinda important and was a big WOW for me. For example you are playing from standard notation or fake chord, i.e. thinking in A, B, C's. You are on the C, and the next chord is an F? Well F is the 4th of C so it's up a string same fret. You are on C where is the B? Back a fret. What's up a string same fret from the B? B, C, D, E - the E is up a string same fret from the B. This is not rocket science you just need to get a few "facts" into memory. Same thing you did with math facts when you were in the 3rd grade; 8+3 = 11, always.
    • You are going to think in A, B, C's and 1, 2, 3's. Not a step for a stepper.
    • From the root you are now on it's 7 is up two strings and toward the bridge one fret. The b7 is one fret back toward the nut. Yes, and the b5 is one fret back toward the nut from the 5.
    • OK I just gave you where you can find most of the notes you will ever need. Just remember where the 3 and 5 and 7 live. The 3 is always up a string and back a fret. The 5 is always up a string and toward the bridge two frets. Yep and the 7 is up two strings and over one fret.
    Put that to memory and you can play a lot of bass. To pull all this into perspective; If I'm playing from standard notation or fake chord where I'm thinking in A, B, C's I gather my notes from the first five frets of the fretboard, aka first position. If I'm playing from Nashville numbers or using patterns I go up the neck. A major scale at the 4th string 5th fret, etc. You'll need to decide which way you will be going, First position for A, B, C or up the neck for the 1, 2, 3's. For example; if handed a sheet of fake chord sheet music with the chord names shown, C, F, G7, etc. I'd play from first position. However, I really like to play from Nashville numbers (do a Google) so I transpose my A, B, C's over to 1, 2, 3's and here I place the major scale box's root note and then play the numbers within the box's pattern. Ask questions if that was not clear.
    Every new bass player wants the same thing. Sorry takes years. I suggest you start running your scales up and down the fretboard. F @ the 4th string 1st fret. G @ the 4th string 3rd fret. A @ the 4th string 5th fret. That will get your fingers moving on the fretboard and your ear will start hearing the good and bad notes. That's really step one in all this.
    Yes the beast does growl, rumble and makes a lot of noise. All kinds of ways to correct that. Do a Google. I put on flat wound strings and a piece of foam rubber under the strings at the bridge. That cut out about 80% of my problem. Palm mute or floating thumb will help with the other 20%. Do a Google. I really like the sound of flats with foam and it helping with the sustain is just something extra.

    As to playing fast. All new players want to play fast. To play fast you have to hear fast. If you can not hear each note as it goes by you you'll just end up playing a jumble of notes. Start slow and work up. How slow? Slow enough to where you are in control. That's probably going to be really slow right at first.

    Good luck, it is a journey, slow down and enjoy the trip. Scales first so your fingers get to moving on your fretboard. Then put the chord spellings into memory. See a C7 chord and your fingers are already going to the R-3-5-b7 notes of the C major scale. My point; if you know your chord spellings you can compose your own bass lines. Understand the song you are playing may not need a full R-3-5-b7 bass line. Praise songs tend to use the root note only and Country songs tend to use the root and five. Now jazz would probably use that R-3-5-b7. If you know the R-3-5-b7 you can choose what is right for this specific song.

    Be happy right now with seeing the chord and pounding out the root note of the chord. To do that you have to put to memory the notes on the 4th string up to the 12th fret. Again, be happy with R-R-R-R right at first and then when that gets comfortable add the 5 - R-R-5-5 or R-5-R-5 How about R-5-8-5. The 8 is just the root in the next octave. Roots first, five's next then octaves, then the correct 3 and 7..... Where is the octave? Up two strings and toward the bridge two frets - always. Yes, right above the 5 same fret, which makes a bass line of R-5-8-5 a piece of cake you can use for most any chord except for the diminished chord, and how many of those will you be seeing? Not a lot.

    No way you can remember all this copy and paste it in your study binder. If you do not have a study binder, start one.

    Up to this point we have not talked about rhythm -- the beat -- that thing that moves the groove. We'll get into that later.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
    Mushroo likes this.
  7. Jermaine Ramsay

    Jermaine Ramsay

    May 6, 2017
    Thank you very much MalcolmAmos!!!
  8. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    If you're the type that can only focus on one thing at a time. Work on one thing at a time. Develop the technique you need to overcome the road blocks, and incorporate it in your playing. Don't get ahead of yourself, speed will come in time. If your goal is to play clean and mute unwanted resonant string noise, focus on the techniques for it, and use the ones that work best for you. There are a lot of tutorials out there, find a few good tutorials for each road block you encounter, and focus on it. As for playing by ear, that comes with practice and time, and each person develops at a different rate. Good luck.
  9. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    YMMV. For me I try never to overthink the technical side of things, but rather put as much attention as possible on the sound. I found that whatever corrections/technique I needed to do I ending up taking care of myself. I've played for money for over 40 years and just last week I read an article about right hand muting. I thought I'd give that a try and found that's what I'd been doing for years. (as Jaco said, playing isn't difficult it's getting the instrument to shut up that can be difficult).

    How much do you think about how to move your legs as you walk? Can you remember how to swallow? You know if you don't blink your eyes every now and then, they dry out and hurt. Can you explain how to tie your shoes, or is that something you can do even if you're talking? What directions would you give someone on how to move their tongue to say your name? (you can probably say your name without thinking about that).

    The point being is that your brain and body are capable of many things without conscious intervention. Like in the movie "The Last Emperor" when the Tom Cruise character is trying to learn how to use a sword in the Japanese style and is getting his ass handed to him. One of the soldiers comes up to him and says, "Too much mind". That's the ticket. Keep you eye (and ear) on the prize.
  10. Jermaine Ramsay

    Jermaine Ramsay

    May 6, 2017
    Thank you BassChuck and Badwater!!!
  11. McFly


    Sep 14, 2016
    Melbourne FL
    As a fellow beginner, I can attest to a good teacher. Reason being, a teacher can spot technique deficiencies, and correct them before they become bad habits. Even if you're playing in front of a mirror, watching your every move.... as a beginner, you don't see what's wrong.

    I did lessons once a week for 3 months, and found that some bad techniques would re-appear by the next lesson, without me knowing it... nor would I ever without a good instructor keeping me in tune with my problem areas.
    Big problem for me was tucking in my elbow on my fretting arm... It took a few weeks just for me to get the right posture to play properly (and safely).

    I personally couldn't see laying out money for a descent bass and more on a good amp, then cheaping out on learning how to do it right. I go back for more lessons next month.... for another 3 months.

    Good luck!!! Have fun!!
  12. Jermaine Ramsay

    Jermaine Ramsay

    May 6, 2017
    Thanks McFly!
  13. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Sorry, but I think this is terrible advice to offer a beginner. You were fortunate to discover that what you had been doing along was "right" (it had "taken care of itself"), but there are many more other cases in which one discovers after playing for many years that what they've been doing all along was wrong -- in the sense that either it had impeded their ability to progress beyond a certain level, or that it had eventually caused pain/and or injury. There isn't one single "right" way of playing, but there are some wrong ways, and it is worthwhile to learn to avoid them when you're just starting out.

    The problem with your analogies -- walking, swallowing, blinking, etc. -- is that most are examples of things that our brains and bodies are designed to do automatically and without any conscious intervention. Our brains and bodies are decidedly NOT designed for playing basses. If you consciously work on learning to do it right from the beginning, it will eventually become automatic, but it's a bad idea to just do whatever feels natural or easy when you're first starting out.
    Ant Illington likes this.
  14. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    If you have the sound in your ear, in other words you know what bass should sound like, and you continue to make sounds that don't agree with that internal sound, you aren't doing it right.
    As far as the analogies go, perhaps I could have picked better, but the point is to quit making anything you do in repetition a conscious act and move it to into a natural act. Watch a child learn to walk, or pick up objects, or feed themselves. There were other analogies I used in my post that are more to the point.
    Check out Timothy Galway's "Inner Game of Tennis". He talks about this idea in great detail.
  15. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Agreed. My point is that I don't think it follows that if you are making the sounds you want, that means you are doing it RIGHT. Especially when it comes to beginners, you could be doing it "wrong" in the sense that the way you're doing it now might either (1) limit your ability to improve in the future, or (2) cause injury over the long term. I think when you're just starting out is the time to learn "proper" techniques which will last a lifetime, rather than using whatever-works techniques that are likely to require correction sometime in the future.