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Music Below E

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Ron G, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. Ron G

    Ron G

    Mar 16, 2009
    Portsmouth, VA
    What's the best way to approach music written below E?

    I'm playing a 4 string bass standard tuning.
  2. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    If you have to play a note below the open E string then you either have to install a D-tuner or detune your bass. You can still play an Eb or a D but you would have to play them an octave.
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Depends who wrote it, and for which instrument.

    Bass is a transposing instrument (1 octave) so it is very common to see notes lower than low E (1 line below the bass clef) when you are reading music written for other instruments such as piano. In that case you would simply transpose up 1 octave onto the bass.

    On the other hand, if the music was specifically written for bass, then you must ask yourself how the original bassist played it, and what purpose the notes lower than E serve in the song. For example if the original bassist played in drop D tuning and there are a lot of pedal tones on the low D, then you'll want to drop your D too. But if there are only a few low D's here and there then maybe you can just play them up an octave.

    Do you have specific examples?
  4. I tend to see notes written below E as pedal notes or as big notes to emphasize an impact where a guitar will be hitting a chord and drums will be hitting something big. In that case, I use the note below E. I have a 5 string because I play a lot of music below the E. To me, going upward to a note instead of down just has a different movement to it. If you were in a faster melodic line, I think it might be more acceptable to use the D an octave up.
  5. Ron G

    Ron G

    Mar 16, 2009
    Portsmouth, VA
    This is an audio example #1: 76 beats [measure three has a B, C#, D]

  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
  7. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    Frets 0-6 on the A string.

    I hate the sound of anything below a low D. Can't stand 5 / 6 string basses. Y'all can have 'em.
  8. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I build and modify basses
    That is why they invented the 5 string bass.
  9. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    I'm in agreement with this. Most of my playing these days is in music theater pit orchestras and big band settings, things that all require reading a part (four string fretless). A lot of times notes below E can be transposed up an octave will no loss of effect. Sometimes if the notes present a melody that goes below E a phrase or two can be raised an octave and it sounds fine. Musically its the note and the rhythm that are more important than the register of the note.

    That said, I'm playing "Legally Blonde" later this year and the part dips below E so many times that I'm contemplating the purchase of a 5 string as an auxillary part of the tool box.

    It just goes to show that very few rules in music are true 100% of the time.
  10. A lot of the art in classic walking bass lines, comes from artful use of octave leaps. Done tastefully, and done in the right place, transposing part or all of a line up (or down) can sound really good.

    Other times, the part really calls out for an unbroken line in the same octave.

    If you play 4-string, you either work a little magic by de-tuning, or you compromise.

    ...or like some of us, you become a lifelong devotee of extended-range basses.

    Vive le difference.
  11. Ron G

    Ron G

    Mar 16, 2009
    Portsmouth, VA
    Thanks for the input. Some of the music I can play moving one octave others two octaves, I was thinking of taking lessons to help me with my reading. I have a 5 string Jazz bass, but I can't play it very long before my hands start to bother me I play my 4 all day with no problems.
  12. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    Yup, there are a number of shows now that require a 5-string. Elton John's Aida and Bat Boy: The Musical are two that I've played in the past few years where a 5-string was essential.

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