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Seeking advice on inexpensive portable practice instrument

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Common Tater, Nov 12, 2017 at 11:10 PM.


  1. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Iowa
    I plan on continuing my upright bass lessons at the university next semester. I took lessons before and a problem for me, mostly as I live so far from campus, is getting enough time practicing. Cost is an issue (isn't it always?) as well as just the size and weight of an upright bass. Speaking with my last instructor about this a year ago I got a fretless bass guitar and it's nice for practice at home (if I would just sit down and play, that's another issue) and I think it's been helpful. I'm thinking I might want to invest in something that is smaller yet, not just for myself but for my nephews. I'll play for my nieces and nephews when I kidsit and visit, my nephews took an interest but the bass guitar is too big for them. (My nieces seemed less interested, one did take piano lessons though.)

    Here's the constraints I'm looking at:
    - Cheap. I'm thinking under $100 or $150, anything more than that my options open up a lot and finding something is not a problem. I also want to keep the price low as my nephews have been known to break things. Breaking a $100 instrument is much easier to handle than a $300 one. If broken then I'll send my brother a bill for $50 and get a new one, I'll consider it half my fault for letting the kid play and half for my brother letting his son play.
    - At least four strings tuned EADG. A six string guitar is fine. Something like a ukulele or banjo might be neat. The instrument doesn't have to come tuned EADG so long as I can tune it that way myself. I'm not concerned that it's an actual bass instrument, any octave is fine.
    - Small but not too small. I'm looking for a real playable instrument, or as close to one that I can get for the price constraint. Miniature novelty instruments need not apply.
    - Bonus points for something unique (cool uncle points) or playable with a bow (more practice for me).

    Things I've considered are a child's guitar or "starter" viola, either can be found for about $80. The guitar would be EADG on the top four string but have frets. I think I can tune a viola as EADG, tuning that C string might be a problem though, and it can take a bow. I've seen cellos tuned to EADG but that's too big, unless it's an electric or shrunk down in other ways but that gets expensive quick.

    Perhaps the wisdom of this is something I need to consider. Translating this skill from something so small to something much larger might be confusing. I will say that my instructor has said I need to work on keeping time and music reading. I'll practice bowing and other techniques on a real bass when I'm on campus. At a minimum such an instrument would be nice for entertaining my nephews.
     
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    A good observation on your part, and also answers the question about what level you're at musically and with your bass playing.

    In your place, I'd investigate learning to play the piano - keyboards are relatively inexpensive and can be moved more easily than upright basses, and the keyboard is a great place to work on musicianship, too. Some schools offer a low-cost piano class, usually a bunch of keyboards connected to an instructor up front, and everyone plays with headphones. That sounds like it would be a great thing for you, and a private lesson would be even better.

    I'll also mention that, in most colleague music-major programs, you do a fair amount of musicianship work - timing, music reading, and the like - away from any instrument by learning to speak or sing your music while keeping time via a metronome and/or conducting or tapping the rhythm. For you, that sounds perfect - take your music, put on a metronome, and read it out loud on the names of the notes in rhythm.

    Last but not least, there's no substitute for practicing the bass on a bass - if your bass is at college, then you'll have to make your practice time be at college, and when your lifestyle changes to the point where you can purchase your own upright, the classified ad section here is good.

    Best of luck to you.

    -S-
     
  3. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Iowa
    I took a summer class on beginner piano and I found it frustrating, I suspect the instructor did too. Part of my problem is spending so much time at a computer that I had a terrible habit of "typing" the piano rather than playing it. I took the class mostly because it fit my schedule, met a coursework requirement, and allowed me to learn some basics of music while I figured out what I wanted to play. I bought an "electric piano" for the class that I think is pretty well decked out. It's got more features than I'll ever use but I picked it because it was the cheapest keyboard I could find on short notice that detects the velocity of the keys, and so plays more like a piano than most electronic keyboards.

    The keyboard I have is quite large, it's a Yamaha PSR-E343 if you want to look it up. I'm not sure I want to move it any more than I have to. I'm doing some house cleaning now and my intent is to turn one of the bedrooms of my house into a combination office, music room, and spare bedroom. I'll have a table for the keyboard, a desk for my computer(s), a stool of some sort to play my bass, and a big puffy chair that can fold out to a bed for myself or a guest to nap. It would be rare for me to move the keyboard from that room, as that is not much of an improvement over moving a bass. I can keep that in mind as doing things like trying to "type" tunes out on my "piano", use the keyboard's metronome feature, and so on. I just don't see myself moving this keyboard or buying another, though smaller, keyboard. I can be convinced otherwise, perhaps, with the right argument and the right keyboard for the right price.

    To be clear I'm not majoring in music. My major is in the computer science department (in software engineering and large data analysis if that helps). I'm taking music as it meets a graduation requirement, it interests me greatly, and I intent to keep playing after my lessons. I'm looking for something small and "bass like" so I can more easily take it with me to play for and with family. My nieces and nephews are taking music lessons, my sister has a cello, and "grandma" plays piano, I hope to be able to have holiday "jam sessions" when we can. Another reason I'm not too concerned about buying another instrument is I'll still have my guitars and piano to share, something small for the little ones to play would be great. I want a small collection of instruments that I can play as well as share, ones that don't cost much but are real instruments. If my collection gets too large I'll start giving them away as gifts. The kids like me playing for them but bringing my big bass guitar can often be a problem, and the kids will always want to try too but the strings are too heavy for them yet.

    Right, I'll practice with the upright bass at the university when I can. I've been taking music alternating semesters and this might be might last semester I can take lessons. I want to make the most of it. I'll have my bass guitar at home to play, as well as my classic guitar and keyboard. I'd like something smaller I can carry with me easily that's as bass-like as possible, and I won't be too afraid to let my nephews play. They've been rough on my bass and classic guitars so I'm going to keep them home for the most part until they get a bit older. At some point I'll likely save up for a real upright bass. For now I'll compromise on inexpensive variations on this theme because I may just decide to be happy playing bass guitar.

    If I can find something cheap enough I might create a collection of instruments as Christmas gifts for all the children, with their parent's permission of course.
     
  4. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    A couple of points in no particular order:

    We're into upright bass here, and having grown up a guitar player from age 8, become an electric bass player at age 18, and an upright bass player at age 52, I can tell you that nothing is a substitute for the upright if your aim is to learn the upright. It works well in the other direction, IMHO - if you can play upright but you need something smaller for a particular rehearsal, use can use anything from an electric bass through a small-scale electric bass (look up Ibanez Mikro - they're great, IMHO, and maybe what you want - I have a few 5th- and 6th-graders who play them happily, and they show up used often enough), to a guitar, right on down to a bass ukulele, and they'll all do fine. But that's assuming you are an upright player already - none of those things is going to go very far in advancing what you do on the upright. My understanding of the history of the electric bass is that it was invented for exactly this purpose, so that you could leave your upright at the gig and still have something to play at the rehearsal.

    All of which is my way of saying that nothing you're considering is going to help much if you're taking upright bass lessons, save playing on the upright bass as much as you can.

    Your keyboard sounds fine - all those Yamaha keyboards are great. They make smaller ones that aren't as popular but, for piano substitutes, work just as well or better. Check out the Yamaha NP-12 - everything you need to get started learning piano, plus a few fun sounds, and no wasted space, with 61 keys. I keep an NP-11 here that I lend out to new students who want to get started playing but haven't gotten an instrument yet. The NP-32 is the same thing but with 76 keys. Check out also the Yamaha P series - the P-45 is more money but good enough for a pianist to practice on. The P-115 (I have an older one, the P-85) is an excellent compromise, and when my son was in college, his roommate was a piano major who used to do some of his practicing on the P-85.

    Get a bass uke. Google electric acoustic bass ukulele, and have fun with it. Phat strings, phunky sound - I don't own one but I want one.

    Best of luck to you.

    -S-
     
  5. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Iowa
    Looks like we're on talking on the same wavelength. It looks like there's two kinds of bass ukulele. One kind is tuned to the same frequencies as the lowest (in frequency) four strings on a classic guitar. The other kind, perhaps more accurately called a "contrabass ukulele" is tuned to the same frequencies as a bass guitar or upright bass. I believe either would work for my needs but they are difficult to find, especially within in the budget I've given myself.

    If I get a baritone ukulele could I tune that EADG? I've seen those guitar-ukelele hybrids, a "guitalele", that looks interesting, within my budget, etc. I might go with that if they aren't too small for me to play. This gets back to my original post where I consider a youth guitar, not much bigger than the guitalele and likely more playable, also similar in price.

    A short scale electric bass guitar might work. It's on the right octave, judging by the dimensions I can see online it might be small enough, and I should be able to find a case or bag to protect it without too much trouble. I'm not keen on electric anything though, I'd prefer not to have to plug it in to get sound. I know that there are practice speakers for electric instruments but that adds to the cost and the guitars I've seen are already at the limit of my budget.

    No comment on the idea of getting a viola and retuning it? The size would be similar to the ukulele. I'm thinking I shouldn't go too far on getting this practice instrument too small, that might be too much of a distraction from the real thing.

    I'll need to give this more thought and perhaps go to a music shop to look at some instruments. Right now my long term plan is to get a proper upright bass. I'll have to convince myself it's worth the investment and that I can actually play it. I'd probably get a smaller sized bass, just so it's easier to move. I'm pretty tall so it's not like I can't play a full sized bass, I just rather not have to lift one.

    Thanks, Mr. Freides (or is it Professor Freides?) for the advice, did you have further thoughts after my pondering above? Any one else like to share?
     
  6. LowG

    LowG Supporting Member

    Dec 8, 2006
    Milwaukee, WI
    Try rondo music for a cheap bass uke
     
  7. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I've had good luck with Rondo in the past.

    Short-scale electric, e.g., Ibanez Mikro, is the same tuning as a regular electric bass, which is the same tuning as an upright. Scale length is 28", if memory serves, feels guitar-like. Most electric basses I've played are 34" scale, and guitars are 25" or so. Everything - _everything_ else you're considering is a weird thing that will very likely feel completely unsatisfactory, save the u-bass uke, but those are out of your price range. (And we could argue whether those would be OK, too.) I'd go for an Ibanez Mikro - look to be about $180 shipped on ebay for a brand new one - assuming you have a bass amp at home.

    If you want a smaller upright, there are 1/4 size Kay's floating around. Mark Gollihur sells 1/4 size basses at his site.

    Ex-professor - unless someone hunts me down and drags me to teach at their college, I'm done. I love teaching privately at home (best commute in the world) plus the other odds and ends of playing out that I do.

    -S-
     
  8. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Iowa
    I'm very reluctant to buy a musical instrument without being able to play it first but looking at the site did give me some ideas on what is out there. Thanks for that. The Hadean ukuleles look interesting, more affordable than the Kala ukuleles I've seen before, and they even come fretless!

    You may be right that getting too short on scale length would just feel odd. The reason I'm asking for ideas in the $80 to $120 is that I found youth guitars in that range and they look like an acceptable option. I thought I'd pick some brains here before I buy anything.

    Perhaps I'm just being pennywise and pound foolish and should decide if I'm really just buying a toy for my nephews or something that would help me learn to play bass. If I'm looking for a toy then I should just buy that $80 guitar. If I'm looking for a real instrument then perhaps I need to open my wallet wider, or be happy with what I got. Buying nothing is an acceptable option. Or, I should get a proper case for my current bass guitar so I won't be as concerned about damage and it'd be easier to carry.

    I don't have a bass amp. If I get one then that reduces the portability of the instrument. There's all kinds of options for playing an electric (bass) guitar that are portable, it's just a matter of cost. I could probably excuse the cost of an amp, or whatever, since it'd have use outside the micro-bass.

    That thought has crossed my mind. The scale length on a 1/4 bass is just a tiny bit longer than a bass guitar so transferring from one to the other should be easy. That's easily a $1500 to $2500 investment though, perhaps more.

    Okay, if you say so. Looks to me like you are still teaching.
     
  9. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Iowa
    I was surfing around for portable amp ideas and came across this:
    https://www.amazon.com/Donner-Classic-Headphone-Amplifier-Rechargeable/dp/B01FHM16SU/

    It's a small headphone amp for electric guitars, rechargeable from USB (I hate buying batteries), and has an input for playing along with an iPod, CD player, or whatever. I experimented with using a computer speaker set plugged into my electric acoustic bass and didn't get much volume from it. If added with this to boost the power a bit I should be able to use that computer speaker set (also has internal battery that can recharge from USB) and get the volume I'd want from any electric (bass) guitar. At $20 that's not bad.

    No comments on my idea of retuning a cheap viola to EADG? I know that might not be wise for my purposes but I'm still curious if it's possible without buying specialty strings. What of trying to retune a cheap ukulele? I know bass ukuleles exist but if I can't find one on the shelf locally to try I'm thinking I could get a non-bass ukulele and tune it EADG, that's likely much cheaper too.