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Playing in lowest position possible?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BassyBill, Apr 16, 2010.

  1. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    When I left school and began to apply what I'd learned on upright to the bass guitar (well over 30 years ago now), I was taught that in general it's desirable to play notes in the lowest possible position as this means using a longer, thinner string rather than a shorter, thicker one, hence cleaner tone. For example, to play the lowest B on a 4 string, it's generally better to play 2nd fret on the A string than 7th fret E string. Or, to really exaggerate the tonal difference, compare 15th fret E to an open G!

    I should say there were some exceptions to this - such as where it would make fingering very difficult (disco style alternating octave 8ths in Eb, for example) or where it would make damping open strings harder (I do notice a lot of people avoiding open strings for this very reason, which always seems a pity to me), or where a player is trying to avoid too much of a stretch.

    So, it was intended generally rather than in every single instance. To give a specific example of when it would apply, think of the classic root - major 3rd - fifth - sixth - octave - sixth - fifth - major 3rd pattern in, say, Db. This would be better played from 4th fret on the A string than 9th fret E string according to the guideline.

    I don't seem to see this mentioned these days. Why do you think that is? Is it something that wasn't valid 30 years ago and has died, or was it good advice that gets overlooked for some reason nowadays? Or are people still recommending this and I've missed it? I don't think the latter is true universally because watching Youtube and so on I do seem to see a lot of players playing lines in higher positions than I would choose to use myself. I'll see if I can find some vids to post if folks are interested.
  2. There have been significant advances in equipment over the years that in some ways negate the old school of thought. Strings are probably the single advance that has effected this, with the advent of lower strings and the need for clarity and punch what was learned has improved the tone of the other strings. Amplification has also come a long way not to mention the advances in bass design, pickups and electronics. That said there are certainly different tones from playing a note different places. I sometimes find myself searching for the right tone for a particular point in a song, eg we play a song that has a long low E to a higher B, that note could be 2nd fret A string but we found that 7th fret B string has the right resonance, plus I can add touch of vibrato or gliss into the note.
  3. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    +1 i think i would have to agree, i have used the same precision bass and Ampeg rig since the mid 80s. Recently i changed to a TC rig and Aguilar cabs and the sound is totaly different. I agree the clarity and the use of on board "Inteligent" compressors that will do each string rather that a blanket over the whole sound are becoming regular features. Neo speakers are a big bonus, as well as are class D power amps and great EQ sweeps on tone controls. from strings with hex cores, to pickups with magnets to pickups that use light, active circuits, all add up to equipment that was never available to me when i was younger based on research of sound and how it works, not volume. :)
  4. Bassguy87564


    Jul 5, 2006
    Well Bassybill I can tell you my upright and bass guitar teacher now encourages me to play in a lower position. I think it is more of an upright technique then a bass guitar. I am guessing since the bass guitar was a very new instrument 30 years ago compared to the upright bass most players were cross overs like the both of us. I can tell when I started taking lessons on bass guitar, which I did before I played upright, my teacher, who played guitar, never said anything about trying o play in the lowest potion. Instead he tried to get me to play where ever my hand would have to stretch less. +1 to bassbrad as well, I think that amps and the tech. we have today covers the tone difference better than an upright as well. That why this play in the lowest position is more important on an upright.
  5. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    I spend the majority of my time below the 5th fret. No reason for it, I just do. Now if people ask me, I'll have a[DEL]n intelligent[/DEL] response.
  6. Nothing to do with sound - ease of placement.

    I tend to place my tonic root on the A string for the.....
    I IV V location.

    However the V on the E string is a little low so I normally grab the V by going up a string and over two.

    I know that has nothing to do with what you guys are talking about --- but --- it's what I'm being taught now.
  7. For a long time I tended to play an E at the 7th fret A string instead of open, as the open E always sounded floppy, flabby, ick.
    As I get better gear I move back towards the open E.

    But think about this: every note in the western scale is right there in the first 4 frets of the bottom 3 strings. So why doesn't every bass have 4 frets and 3 strings? Hmmm....
  8. 251


    Oct 6, 2006
    Metro Boston MA
    Though I can certainly hear the different tembre of the notes, I don't think it matters much to most listeners. I do think you can credit the 5 string bass guitar. I am sure many players take advantage of the more comfortable note placement in the middle of the neck. Physically, it's just easier to play that line in F in the 6th position & have nearly 2 octaves without changing positions at all. Just my $0.02.
  9. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI

    I would buy that bass! :bassist:
  10. michele


    Apr 2, 2004
    But those are two different notes. I mean same note but different octaves. Different purposes...
  11. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I agree it's the technology change.

    the reason behind it has to do with overtones:
    More vibration string length creates more overtones, which allow the ear to perceive more easily the pitch /timbre of the sound.

    back in the day, this mattered a lot as everything was acoustic and only a pipe organ could reproduce the lower tones with any power/volume.

    Even early Electric bass rigs and especially recordings were comparatively weak at the low end stuff, so more overtones helped definition and clarity.

    these days, with all the high fi bass tech, whether you fret low or high is much more about the tone you want
  12. Bassguy87564


    Jul 5, 2006
    This is true Overtones do = Clarity and clarity+grooving licks = awesome
  13. guroove


    Oct 13, 2009
    Buffalo, NY
    Sometimes a thicker string is preferable just to get a specific sound. I remember one of the first bass lines I ever learned was Dazed and Confused. When I first saw The Song Remains the Same, I noticed JPJ played the G on the 10th fret of the A string. Now, there are 2 places he could have played the same note that would have been a longer string. The line is so slow that he clearly didn't play it that way to make it easier to play, but the song demanded a thicker cloudy sound for that passage.
  14. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    In my opinion, that principle is (almost) 100% applicable on the DB, but not necessarily on the bass guitar. I can mention an example that works for me: If, without previous notice, someone asks me to accompany a song in the key of F major on the double bass, I will certainly take the F on the D string as the "center" for my playing. But on the bass guitar, I'd certainly pick the F on the A string as my main reference point. Basically, I think that the difference is due to the fact that (according to the way I was taught), I see the DB fingerboard "vertically", based on "strings" instead of "positions". OTOH, I see the bass guitar fingerboard "horizontally", trying to get the most notes within one single position, looking for the least amount of shifts possible (not sure if "vertical" and "horizontal" are the most adequate terms to describe what I'm trying to say. Hope you understand what I mean). Besides, the physical aspects of playing both instruments (having the DB fingerboard in front on you and running parallel to your body while the bass guitar is perpendicular) also favor that way of thinking for me.

    Of course there are always exceptions, but basically what I mean is that I hardly revolve my playing around the D and G strings on the bass guitar, which doesn't happen on the double bass. Some of those exceptions? When I'm trying to play something based on the Jaco Pastorius tone and style, for instance. IMO, one of the many aspects that made his tone is his choice of positions/strings. He favored the thinner strings a lot. According to my way of thinking, I'd play the main riff for "The Chicken" starting on the E string, 6th fret, but Jaco started it on the A string, first fret. I do the same, but just trying to get somewhat closer to his tone and not because it's the more "comfortable" choice for me.

    There's a very famous Salsa tune that was originally recorded with an EUB. It's in A minor and the first 4 measures of the bassline go like this:


    When I bring my EUB to my tropical music gigs, I play it as it was recorded (for sure): Starting on the A note on the D string. But when I play it on the bass guitar, I always start on the A note on the A string, 12th fret (the D on the third measure is then played on the E string, 10th fret). It definitely sounds closer to the original feel on the EUB.

    This is my personal opinion, of course. YMMV. Very interesting thread, Bill! :)
  15. I think I do this, at least subconsciously. Sometimes a specific bass line (especially slower but heavy ones) need that 'thicker string' tone no matter what.

    I find the lowest B, C, or D notes (especially on cheaper basses) to be different enough on the E or A strings that I favor one or the other for certain sounds.

    With better built basses this becomes less of an issue, as they often sound more 'equal' across strings and frets.
  16. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    i greatly prefer playing fretted notes over open notes. i don't mind lower position and open notes on the E and A, but i'm not crazy about notes before the 3rd fret on the D and i can't stand notes on the G before the 5th fret and do my best to avoid them on gigs. mind you that this is with roundwounds, and it's not as bad with flats since they're deader and don't sound nearly as twangy, but i still avoid open notes even with flats.

    anyway, it's very much a holdover from upright and n/a on electric as far as i'm concerned.
  17. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Alvaro - funny you should bring up the example of The Chicken, I was thinking of that one myself.

    When I play that tune, I play the first few bars after the intro starting at Bb on the A string, as this section is solo and I want the very clearest tone I can get. Once the band kicks in and we've been all round the changes once, I shift to the 6th fret E string to make the fingering a bit easier. The tone difference really isn't so apparent once the band are all playing.
  18. I understand what you mean, and it's true for upright. Mainly because of the challenges that the hand positions present on upright, but also because open strings on an upright allow for intonation precision and are sometimes tonally preferable.

    On electric the intonation is no issue, nor are the positions, and I find the tone of open strings to be less preferable than a fretted note. Overall up electric I find that where I choose to play on the neck mainly revolves around tone, lower if I want a bright punchy tone, higher up if I want a fatter tone. Ease of playing never occurs to me on electric because there are many ways to approach things from most areas of the neck.
  19. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    I haven't played an upright in over 30 years but i do remember the demands of getting audible tone to carry with out digging in.
    Also i was taught to see open strings as a way to move around the neck from position to position for ease of technique and it allowed the hand to "let go" so free tension. Don't really know if that is still the case to day, but it does work well on electric bass.:)
  20. bassandbeyond


    Aug 28, 2004
    Rockville MD
    Affiliated with Tune Guitar Maniac
    It just depends on the song. If I'm going for an "articulate" sound, I'll play in a low position. If I'm going for a "full" sound, I'll play higher up the neck.

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