Mastering The Four.

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by mark beem, Apr 13, 2004.

  1. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    DISCLAIMER: This is not a slam against those who do play 4 strings. I'd just like to get everyones thoughts on this.


    Being a member of several online music/bass forums, I see repeatedly this concept of "mastering the 4" before moving to a bass with X number of strings.

    From where does this mindset originate? Theory is the same whether one uses 4, 5, 6, or X number of strings.... It's the same twelve notes.... One can apply the same techniques to basses with only 4 strings and those with more than 4. Once a person learns the fundamentals of playing they're applicable (for the most part. Stuff like altered tunings, etc. not considered) on any bass regarless of the size of its bridge.

    Is Anthony Jackson a better bassists than Jeff Berlin because he uses 6 strings? Using the "master the 4" line of reasoning it would seem so because Jackson has mastered both 4 and 5 and has now moved to 6.

    Looking at it from the opposite side; as great a player as Victor Wooten is, how much more is there left for him to learn on four? A lot of people have told me:

    "I learn something new on my four string everyday."

    That's great! One should always strive to learn something new about their chosen instrument. But it's been nothing (that I've seen) that couldn't be learned on a 5 or 6 string bass...

    How do you know when you've mastered the 4?

    At what point do you say

    "I've taken this as far as it can go... Time to get a 5 string."

    I'd like to keep "comfort" responses out of this discussion, please.. The issue is not (it seems) with what someone is more comfortable with but rather one of time & experience to "justifiably" move to what many consider "the next level of progress".
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    If I'm understanding you correctly, you are expressing amazement that people say stupid s**t.

    Are you Amish?
  3. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    No, trying to understand the line of reasoning... Why someone feels that way, and how do they determine they're ready to move on..

    C'mon Ed, I'm wanting to keep this civil...
  4. Brendan


    Jun 18, 2000
    Austin, TX
    I dunno. I keep wanting to get a 3 string out of spite.

    I think there the "mastery" aspect comes in when a player sort of peaks with knowledge/ability, and then they decide to move up with the strings instead of learning more, and trying to expand their own horizons and abilities. So when they get a new avenue, they go "Oh, this must be because I mastered the 4."

    Shoot, guys like Victor Wooten, Jeff Berlin, Michael Manring (well, sort of), Marcus Miller, they all seem to do okay on 4s.

    I'm not sayin this IS or anything, it's just my attempt to explain the stupid "mastering the 4" mindset.

    (Personally, I'm a 5+ guy)
  5. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    This may also be a case of somebody saying something and others spreading and perpetuating it without really thinking.
  6. JPJ


    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    I'm only guessing here, but this notion of "mastering the four before moving on" might be due to the fact those players you're referencing are looking for reasons to justify why they either haven't taken up an extended range instrument or why they don't feel the need to. For many players, a four string is all they want/need, and there really isn't a desire to use any other type of bass. Because the justification of "I like it" or "I don't have any reason to change" might not seem like most persuasive argument, one might reference the tried-and-true "I haven't mastered the four yet, and until I do, I will not be moving on to a five, six, ect." I seems to sound more noble, if you will. :D Of course, the notion of "mastering" an instrument could be debated and how you define "mastery" could also be debated. I'd guess that these 4-string players probably have no real desire to move on, which is perfectly legit and OK, as far as I'm concerned. Just a couple of thoughts and speculations. :)
  7. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    These are really rhetorical questions... I'm in no way implying that he was...

    Granted.. but what could he learn on 4 that couldn't be learned on a 5 or 6... See? There seems to be a misconception by some that "some things can ONLY be learned on 4".
  8. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    I understand your question.
    I't one that can't really be answered.
    4,5,6,7,string or more it make no difference.
    The more string the more crayons's in the box.
    None are better or worst.
    I own 4, 5, and 6 string basses.
    Just more options.
  9. I once read a line from Victor Bailey where he said, "What I'm trying to do on the 4 is hard enough.. I don't need any extra strings!"
    Bailey is obviously a far superior player to me, and it's not like I try to play anything really complex, but I echo his words for why I haven't switched to a 5 or 6. I have a hard enough time with 4, and the idea that I could ever "master" it is crazy. I think most people who play more than 4 strings would tell you the reason they went that way is because the music they heard in their head required it. I've owned 5 and 6-strings in the past and used them for recording, but I never felt the need for extended range on a consistent enough basis to keep those instruments around. That, and I just never felt comfortable with the B string. That's my excuse! :)
  10. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Personally, I hate it when someone says they moved "up" to a 5, 6, or whatever. It's a lateral move at best, IMO. I play a five because I do a lot of reading in flat keys, and it's EASIER to play them on a five than a four. Moving to a five was actually a shortcut for me. When I master the five, I'll move back to the four. :cool:
  11. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Again.. It's not an issue of what one is more comfortable with... Its a matter of perception.. A perception that you must move in increments like in a game.. From the D&D point of view, to gain the required experience points before moving up to the next level.

    (Ok.. On a scale of 1 to 10 on the Nerd-O-Meter I just hit a 73!!)
  12. Im a sock

    Im a sock

    Dec 23, 2002
    Central MA
    I'm sure the mindset originates from people who:
    #1. don't really know what they're talking about, and
    #2. want to try to upstage 5+ string players, or at least feel equal to them because they're insecure.

    I mostly play 4 string, and at this point I have no desire for anything more.

    Nobody will ever "master" the 4 (or 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, etc). I think the choice to play a 5+ string bass comes out of desire to have an extended range, or a musical requirement.

    I don't think it's "I've taken this as far as it can go... Time to get a 5 string." so much as it's "I want to play really high guitar like solos or chords." or "I want to shake people's bowels loose with a low F#".

    I think that's dead on. Since most bass players start out on a 4, its like anything beyond that requires extra skill/knowledge, etc, but in reality it doesnt.

    By the way, dont feel bad about the D&D thing.... I love D&D :D
  13. IMO, 'mastering' an instrument is impossible...there will always be something to learn. The mere suggestion you can master and instrument is laughable to me.
    Focus on what you like playing, dont worry about what other people play. :p
  14. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Hot dog, we have a weiner!
  15. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Being one who plays 4s you might not hear it as much..

    If someone were to say:

    "I don't play 5s because I'm comfortable on four."


    "I see no need to play 5s because I feel I can satisfactorily express myself on a four."

    or even:

    "I play only 4s because that's what all my heros play"

    "Jaco only needed 4 etc, etc..."

    I could buy that. That to me is a ligitimate reason of why someone would choose to do what they're doing. Saying:

    "I'll buy a 5 when I master these 4."


    "Why should I get 5? I still haven't learned all there is to know about these 4."

    These reasons seem very (wait for it)..


    (Arrrrghh!!! That word again!! :bag: :D)

    But seriously.. Do the 5 extra notes gained make that much of an impact on the learning curve??
  16. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    There are no right or wrong answers here... I was hoping that if there are some players here who follow this belief, they could maybe give me a little insight into why they feel the way they do about it.
  17. Adam Barkley

    Adam Barkley Mayday!

    Aug 26, 2003
    Jackson, MS
    I think mastering is too strong a word. I have known several bassists who played a four string for about a month or two, didn't learn anything about playing styles and techniques and then immediately jump to a five or six. Even with the extra strings they don't get better and they get fed up and put down the instrument for good. Granted people like this probably didn't have the dedication required to learn an instrument, but they might still be playing if they hadn't have bought the bass with more strings.

    I think bassists should get a feel for/learn the instrument on a four, because it has enough to get you started without making learning overly difficult. Later when they progress and feel the need for say, an eight string Conklin to express their playing then they can purchase accordingly :D .

    Nobody will ever completely master any instrument totally. There are way to many styles and techniques to ever learn them all, some can be great at alot of them but never a master.
  18. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Not my word though.. This is a word I've seen creep up repeatedly.

    Please don't mistake this as some veiled 4 string vs. "X" string thread.. Besides, my questions are really more psychological in nature than practical... Looking at it from a non-bass perspective, it's like someone telling you:

    "I'll buy a six cylinder car after I learn all there is to know about driving a four cylinder.."
  19. It's not the 5 extra notes. It's the extra string, and the wider neck.

    Not quite. Driving a four-cylinder car and a six-cylinder car involve the exact same set of skills. Playing a 5-string feels totally different than playing a 4, at least to me. I think it would be more like, "I'll buy a car with a stick shift after I learn all there is to know about driving a car with an automatic transmission."
  20. to me, a 4 string player, moving to a 5 or 6 would be a swings & roundabouts deal-
    aside from the string spacing/neck width issues,

    with a high C, it's easier and quicker to move to that string to get notes you'd have to jump up the neck on a 4 string for, but now you've got more strings to worry about muting.
    it's a similar thing with getting a low D or Eflat on a B string vs. an E string with a Hipshot Detuner.

    there's a video clip of John Pattitucci playing a Bach piece on a Ken Smith 6, and some unwanted unplayed strings ringing marr the performance slightly in places-
    I watched Michael Manring play the same piece at the recent Troubadour gig on a Zon four (IIRC it was the fretted Vinny mini bass), with no problems.