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Is Bass playing a more Mental or Physical activity?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Blackbird, Apr 15, 2002.

  1. Mental

    144 vote(s)
  2. Physical

    17 vote(s)
  1. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I voted for mental, even though "both" is the obvious answer.

    Obviously there is a large physical part to play - from warmups to so-called "muscle memory" and high skill levels in this category may or may not be necessary, depending on what you play.

    ... But, if you don't know what you're doing - at least on some level, even if that level is "ok, next I have to play the 7th fret on the thinnest string and hold it for two seconds", you can play as fast or as cleanly as you like, but the only way it will be music is coincidence. The mental aspect is what sets us apart from machines, puts feeling into what we play, and permits us to improvise and compose.

    Our physical abilities help us translate what we hear in our head, but the head is where it all starts.
  2. frankencow150

    frankencow150 Guest

    Oct 17, 2001
    I am one of the many that voted Physical.Some songs I try to learn are fast,so obviously thats more physica(playing faster and stuff).I think its more of a mental challenge to write music.Currently that doesnt really matter cuz i dont write music!I think once I start my band it will be a little of both.
  3. PunkerTrav


    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    Personally, I think it is MUCH harder to master the theory behind bass than the technique. I found it easier to learn how to slap effectively than it was to learn a new mode.

  4. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Just had a long conversation about this today. While in a music store I was checking out a MIM jazz and a friend of mine was having a conversation about songs he likes. While he named a song I absent-mindedly played along. I was asked by a fellow bassist how I remembered all of these songs and I told him the truth... I don't honestly know... I hear the name or tune of a song and it starts playing in my head. A player asked me if I could play "Spain" so I proceeded to show him the song. He asked how I could remember the song and IMO the key was that I knew the melody in my head (not that this song couldn't be sight-read but I've never had the sheet music). Once I knew the song in my head, the challenge was figuring out a way to play it. By figuring out the best position shifts for me, it's a breeze. As Chris said, I found a way.

    When given a CD or tape for new songs with a group I normally don't pick up the bass, I just listen. I can be perfectly still and do this so it's not physical;). I've found that the key to playing music I've only heard is understanding intervals. With that transposing is no big deal.

    BTW the question is which is "more"... I think it's definitely more mental and not both.
  5. Tsal


    Jan 28, 2000
    What's the poll for? Mind is that creates the music, fingers that let it out.

    Of course running up and down the scales etc. or any training on the bass ain't just for getting your hands in shape. Everytime you play a note, you know better where to put it next time.
  6. mark beem

    mark beem Wait, how does this song start again?? Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    Alabama, USA
    Well said!!!!! I agree 100%
  7. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    This is my gift and my curse, and it's why I fall on the side of MENTAL.

    There are songs that I played in bands 20 years ago that if someone called them out, I could play them pretty close to how I played them then.

    On the other hand there are songs I'm working on now that I constantly have to ask myself "Now, what key was that in? What position do I normally start this in? What's the progression?" Until I've played them enough to connect the wiring between my ear and my fingers, they are sort of a mental exercise. Once the wiring is connected, I OWN the song and can pretty much flow as I feel that day.


    James Martin
  8. :eek:

    I'm impressed, but I was actually using fingers as a literal metaphor for those physical actions which must take place in order for bass playing to happen.

    So fingers, toes, robotic articulations, dense streams of phase-shifted-time-reversed-relativity-violating neutrinos, whatever. You've gotta press that string down with some kind of mass/energy. ;)

    Or, possibly, fail to find a way.

    That's a very nice sentiment, but the physics of sound production remain identical for people who feel as if they HAVE to. If the tools for making the sounds I want to hear don't exist yet (they probably do, but let's not ruin a nice hypothetical argument) then I have to invent them - and just as there are physical limits to what you can acheive with a given technology, there are definite practical limits to the rate of invention. There's only so many hours in a day.

    Of course, that's a hypothetical. It remains a source of great hope to me that I live in an age of information processing, with widely distributed technologies for doing incredible things to sound which I simply can't do with just my bass and a crappy SS amp (no matter how much I want to). It's also a source of great lamentation about the withered state of my bank account. :(
  9. I voted for mental but I think both aspects play a part. Having said that I think it's possible to build your physical aspect up to a desired level but if you aren't mentally there, as in, not concentrating then it may be difficult.
  10. It is physical to learn a bassline, but mental to create one.
  11. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    One of the things about some musicians that has never ceased to amazed me is those that cannot "hear" their instrument. They can listen to music and not hear what their instrument is doing.

    If you can't get it in your head first, it's got to be a bear getting it to your hands.
  12. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    That could be valid, Jim but I regularly learn new music without touching my bass.
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ditto that...last night, while on a really miserable duo gig, I ended up playing 2 or three tunes that I had never played before (there was no music). It worked out okay because I had heard the tunes on recordings within the past year or so.
  14. Hmm.. good point Brad. I do that with with simple progressions but for anything complex I cant do it.
    I guess its because of the way my brain works, I cant learn music properly with written notation, or tab or anything like that, the only way I can properly learn a bassline is with the bass in my hands and playing along to the music. Thats why, to me, I find learning a bassline more of a physical thing, translating what Im hearing into what my fingers are doing.
  15. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Just don't tell that to Jeff Berlin. ;)
  16. I voted Physical.

    When I play bass my arms and fingers get tired. My brain does not. So for me, it is more physical. Perhaps once I learn some theory this will change.
  17. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    You may have noticed I didn't bother to venture into those discussions;)

    If you can visual the fretboard in your head and you can visualize the intervals needed for the music in question... that's the majority of the battle. Just about anything you understand is much easier to deal with that that which you don't.

    Then when I do pick up my bass, I don't consciously think "It's going from the root to a minor third, then octave, then flat five, then four"... I just play it. I have one of 12 pitches to start on, once that's decided I just go for it.

    This works for "Louie, Louie", Steely Dan, the YellowJackets, etc. I don't spend a lot of time stumbling around on the fretboard because if the interval sounds like a sixth, why would I play a seventh?

    Learn your intervals and playing just about anything you've heard before can be much easier... and you don't need perfect pitch for this.
  18. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Any clue as to why they get tired?
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I hear ya, Jim. One thing you might want to do the next time you come upon a complex passage is to break it down to smaller, simpler ones. Take a small piece, digest it, write it down in whatever fashion works for you and then go on to the next piece. Then work at putting all of the pieces together. It may seem tedious but nowhere near as tedious as trying to cop some monster passage in one big piece... that's frustrating;)

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