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Our hypothetical solo bass composition

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Guitarrista, Apr 19, 2003.

  1. If a non-bassist composer like me were to hypothetically compose a solo bass piece, what are the big no no's that one has to contemplate with besides:

    -playing the composition on the guitar's bottom 4 strings and then giving it to a bassist

    -using open chording on the instrument

    -composing physically impossible chord voicings

    I know that one can exploit the muddiness as a colouristic device in the form of sharply struck chords. But when it comes to mud, where is the 'danger zone'? Is it below the 7th fret, or does it vary in context?

    Also, what facets (any facet) of the bass can one exploit/explore to give a non-bassist composer options for a solo bass composition?

    I look forward to your replies so we can see how our hypothetical piece evolves!

  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Jerome,

    the point at which chords become unuseable depends on the bass, the amp, the room and the effect you're trying to accomplish. I can get away with playing two and three note chords very low down, so long as I play back by the bridge and EQ it right... it's a certain kind of sound...

    It's one of the problems with writing for any electric instrument - there is no standard 'sound', like there is for violin or cello or whatever. To be truly accurate you'd have to write a 'Concerto for P-Bass' with control markings on the score... ;)

    So stuff that I can do on my bass, you couldn't do on some others, and things Michael Manring does, you couldn't do on anything but a hyperbass, without changing it... which is kind of the key, I guess - we've ended up with a musical culture of interpretation, rather than imitation, which is largely a good thing, methinks. People tend to do arrangements of pieces rather than just playing they note for note, ranging from Stu Hamm doing to Moonlight Sonata, Marcus slapping Teen Town, or Michael doing his version of After The Goldrush... solo bassists, it seems, don't often to note-for-note versions of other people's stuff... So if you're writing for a specific player, you write for their bag of tricks 'n' tones, and if you're not, leave the writing open enough for the performer to inject something of themself into it...

    have fun!

  3. Hey Mr Lawson! How are you?

    Thanks for that insight. I've also ordered the "Chordal Appraoch" as well to see where the "sweetspots" are on the bass. But as you mentioned above, I didn't know that the colour of the harmonies depended on the individual instrument and the player's personal settings.

    I've also noticed that when solo bass guitarists play fingerstyle, they tend to place their hand more closer to the bridge than usual. I don't think that it's for 'ponticello' purposes, but rather for more tonal brilliance when playing fingerstyle. But then again, as you mentioned in your email, you've always utilised the texture and colour variation of placing one's picking hand over different places.

    In regards to your above post, it looks like one might have to converse with the bassist a bit more if one is to compose a solo piece for a specific "breed" of bass guitar. I'm aware that there's a broad variety of bass guitar "breeds" out there:

    -4 string
    -5 string (the low/high 5th string varies with taste)
    -6 string
    -a fretless version of all the above
    -a double string version of all the above
    -touchstyle basses (Stick's, Warr's, etc)
    -and anything else I forgot (contrabass guitars???)

    The bass guitar family rivals the lute family in terms of instrumental variations and what one can achieve with one particular type of instrument. Very perplexing for a composer! I guess I need to think about this one a little bit more...

    But on the bright side, you won't run out of options/instruments to write for!


    Has anyone played with a touchstyle bass instrument?

    Check it out => www.tappistry.org