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Most important, first things to learn when teaching myself how to play Bluegrass Bass

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Eric Hardy, Oct 20, 2016.

  1. I am a Bluegrass guitar player and have been for over 40 years, but now I want to learn how to play Bluegrass Stand up bass so I can sit in with an established band. What are the best resources to use, and most essential first things to learn when trying to accomplish this? Any and all suggestions are appreciated! Also, is the Artist Series Learning concept with Missy Raines worth the monthly fee?
  2. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I would suggest proper left hand position, and proper use of the right hand. I see a lot of players with the "baseball bat" grip which hinders your access to the lower strings - that said, a lot of people manage to play well with this; and I see a lot of uninstructed players who try to pick the strings with the tips of their fingers up around waist height and perpendicular to the strings, which gives you a weak little sound and doesn't help you really move the air.

    For visual reference on position and posture I would suggest you check out players like Ray Brown or Christian McBride who though not in the bluegrass world, can get a huge sound out of the bass with superb facility.

    If you learn correct posture and use of the right and left hands, you will also be much less likely to injure yourself.
    old spice, csrund and Eric Hardy like this.
  3. Thank you, good advice!
  4. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    You're likely to get varying opinions on this. If you don't plan on progressing much past bluegrass on the upright bass, then there are a boatload of jazz and classical leanings that aren't going to apply much to what you are trying to accomplish. However I would always recommend using something like Simandl to learn the proper fingerings for at least your major and minor scales. That information will apply universally.

    If you play Bluegrass guitar, then you already know that the bass is not the star in the genre. Most of the time you will not be playing melody. You'll be playing root-5th lines on 1 and 3. Timekeeping is the main objective.

    1. Learn your scales and fingering in each key for at least major and minor.
    2. Learn your R-5 combinations in 1-4-5 patterns in each key (or just in G for Bluegrass!)

    It also help to do the same routines playing just the chord tones in major, minor, and 7. This will identify the majority of leading/passing tones you play in Bluegrass tunes.

    Oh and use a metronome, start slow, and build speed incrementally.
    Eric Hardy likes this.
  5. jasonrp


    Feb 19, 2015
    This is more of a personal experience thing but also learn to use the slaps sparingly. Some of the mandolin guys don't like you stealing their space :oops:
  6. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    I wouldn't even bother with trying to learn any slap for a beginner. It will take away from focusing on intonation and good right hand tone production. You're learning to play bass, not drums.
  7. silvertone


    Nov 6, 2007
    SF, CA
    #1 thing - if you don't have any experience and zero fundamental skills on Upright - take a lesson and avoid creating bad technique habits from the get go that will need to be broken or fixed later.

    #2 thing - go to Bluegrass Jams and play as often as possible with others.

    #3 thing - aside from having a sense of rhythm and the capacity to drive a bluegrass band as the bass player you need to have the 1000 foot view of how a ton of songs are built. You need to understand the architecture of most songs in the repertoire. This takes experience.

    Good luck.
    martinc, old spice and Eric Hardy like this.
  8. Check out Paul Kowert with Punch Brothers, too. He's classically trained and does virtuosic stuff with the bow that's the spittin' image of his teacher, Edgar Meyer. But when it comes to just purely delivering a bluegrass bassline, he pulls a really solid sound out of the bass, with good left hand position. If you listen to "Rye Whiskey," he drives the whole group for much of the tune using just the root note.
    Eric Hardy likes this.
  9. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    All good replies so far - left hand technique; right hand technique; understanding the typical structure of a tune; intonation; timing. I think anything by Missy will be well worth the time and effort. The two DVD's by Todd Phillips are also very good for beginners.
    My only other suggestion would be to learn how to be "musical" without getting in the way. Passing notes and leading notes really add depth to the bass lines beyond "root - 5" and sound great. You won't get to that point right away, but keep your ears open to what other players do. Don't get caught up in the typical description of bluegrass bass - "keeping the time with a thumpy 1 - 5 sound." The bass player can contribute way more than that.
    old spice and Eric Hardy like this.
  10. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    Forgot to mention - you can go to www.gollihurmusic.com and find lots of resources for learning. It's an online retailer specializing in double bass.
    mpf and Eric Hardy like this.
  11. HateyMcAmp

    HateyMcAmp Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2006
    I think taking a lesson with an experienced teacher is key in the beginning, just to discuss holding the bass, right hand production, and good left hand positioning and fingerings for the 2 or 3 positions you'll spend 99.9999% of your time when playing traditional bluegrass. Root-five movements with major/minor/dominant walk ups / walk downs / passing tones make up the vast majority of the style. As I'm sure you know, the bass's main role in bluegrass is to outline the chords and keep time. If you can do that, you'll make lots of bluegrass gigs. If you can sing harmony, you'll be busy. If the gig requires walking bass or arco work, it will be important to study relatively consistently with a player versed in jazz/classical styles.
  12. silvertone


    Nov 6, 2007
    SF, CA
    Some years ago I attended the Rockygrass Bluegrass Academy in Lyons, CO which occurs the week prior to the Rockygrass Fest. I had been to it several time as a mando picker and took lessons with Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, Ronnie McCoury, Tom Rozum (of Laurie Lewis' band) and others. A few years later I went as a bassist and learned from Mark Schatz, Missy Raines, Alan Bartrum and Joel Landsberg - all of whom are gifted players and teachers. If you have the time, cash and inclination for an experience like this it can really move you forward, at the very least as a source of inspiration, and other than that as an intensive week of getting your chops together.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2016
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  13. Holdsg

    Holdsg I should be practicing Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 10, 2009
    Alta Loma, CA
    I'm definitely putting my name in the Rockygrass Academy lottery this year. I don't know exactly how many slots are available, but the fact that it is a lottery should tell you something.

    And to answer one of your original questions, I have been doing the Missy Raines (Artist Works) and Geoff Chalmers (discover double bass) lessons for over a year. I gave learned much from both, but it's like everything, how much you learn depends on how much you put in on your own.
    Remyd and silvertone like this.

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