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The Accidental Bassist

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by lump, Jun 11, 2002.

  1. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    A little help, if you'd be so kind.

    When I began playing, I used the typical closed position fingering patterns for one-octave scales. For multiple octave scales, I'd just shift at the octave and repeat. For most pop/rock stuff this sufficed, since the changes are fairly slow, so position shifts are no big deal.

    However, lately I've been playing more jazz-oriented material (not by choice, of course ;)), which is requiring a lot more chromaticism and much quicker changes. You jazz guys may have noticed this too. ;) Anyway, what I'm finding out is that especially when reading notation, I have to minimize my left hand shifts in order to keep my eyes on the music.

    As you know, on a five string you can cover a two octave chromatic scale in a five fret range, and that's what I started doing, especially when I read. It makes for fewer position shifts, but does make for awkward arpeggios, i.e. fingers 4,3,1 for 1-3-5 instead of the typical 2,1,4 fingering. Still, life is good, and I can keep my eyes on the page.

    But what I discovered is that when I'm NOT reading, I revert back to my old ways of shifting position. This is okay for now, because the only time I play jazz is when I'm reading notation, but I can see this ending up in disaster if I'm handed a tough chord chart. Hellooo, roots. Note choice isn't my problem though - I know what to play. It's just whether or not my hand position will let me get to the notes I want, especially chromatically.

    I basically have two questions. Is it common to use different technique when you are reading from when you are not? My gut tells me this is not a good thing. And how do you handle chromaticism/position shifts? I'm especially interested in any comments you DB players/doublers might have on this, since this is all your damn fault anyway. :)

    Valves are so much easier...
  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Yeah, but chicks don't dig tuba players :)

    Dave, I think what you're going through is a fundamental change to your bass playing technique / mindset. I believe you'll find, if you're diligent and practice often, that eventually your new methods for shifting will sink into your subconcious and make their way into your playing. Practice slow, practice lots and I think you'll see the change happen without concious effort.

    I do have a method of practicing scales, and I've shared it with a few people here, that I believe is the best way to go. Let me see if I can dig it up, and if not I'll write it up and post it here.
  3. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I doubt you'll find any DB player that would employ fingers 4-3-1 for playing 1-3-5.

    What are you doing reading Jazz?
    Is this in the shed?
    Are you reading the walking lines?
    Are you in a Big Band setting?
    ...what, what, what.

    And don't make yourself a stranger!

  4. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    I believe it was Franz Liszt who told a piano student who asked too many fingering questions: "Play it with your nose, but make it sound well."

    I think you may be overintellectualizing this. I knew a guy who went to GIT, then got some LA studio work. At GIT they emphasized technique, of course; but his take on the sudden studio need to play everything PERFECTLY right away was: find a way that the right notes come out, and GET IT ON TAPE -- never mind what's "technically" correct. This is music, not synchronized swimming -- it really doesn't matter HOW you do it; function RULES over form. If you have time to go back and rework something in the 'shed, or if you're having a hard time making something work, then you go dig out some fingerings. But if you can reach what you need and it flows smoothly, either while you're reading or while you're improvising, then I say you're doing fine. In fact, the 4-3-1 arpeggio fingering is something you will probably wind up being able to use on the lower strings when you're playing, say a V chord. So it's not altogether a bad thing to be able to play something two different ways!

    If you're still concerned about being consistent with yourself (which I think is what I read in your question), then probably what you need to do is practice shifting two frets consistently. On a 5er, play a 2-octave D major scale drill starting with finger 2 on the low D, and shifting from 3rd finger on C# to 2nd finger on D on the A string -- a 2-fret shift. Run back and forth over the shift approcahing from only two or three notes away, up and down, over and over to get it into your fingers and your arm. Then change the fret (and thereby, the key) and do it some more to get used to the larger/smaller fret spacings. This really isn't as hard as it might sound, and is indeed something that URB players need to learn early on.
  5. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Well, maybe one...;)

    I'd love to see whatever you've got. I owe you a bottle of soju, dude.

    Well, kinda. I help out with the high school jazz band. It sounds lame, but they're pretty good, and the drummer flat-out kicks @$$. I'm pretty much just in it for the chicks though (see above). :D

    I attached a sample of one of our tunes - let's see if you guys can figure out what it is. Quarter note = 225, by the way. Sorry for the poor scan quality; keeping a full page scan under 50Kb is a biznitch.

    Wow, it's not often I'm accused of THAT. ;)

    You're dead on though; consistency is what I'm striving for (yeah, yeah, hobgoblins, small minds, etc.). The scale pattern you're talking about is my "old" way, and how I tend to play "normal" music. ;) What I've been trying to do lately is combining the five-fret pattern (1,2,4/1,2,4/1,2) with the standard 2,4/1,2,4/1,3,4 four-fret pattern. That way, I don't have to shift.

    I should point out that this dilemma really only applies for reading fast walking lines. With other times of music, shifting is no big deal, and a little bit of glissando is part of "my" sound, such as it is. I may end up with "situational" technique, which I guess isn't bad thing. But I would like to make my reading technique and improv technique mesh a little closer.

    As an aside...

    Last nite one of the kids I play with asked me how long I had been playing, and I told him five years. He said, "Wow, you sound like guys who've been playing 28 years." Not 25, not 30, but 28. I just know it's my technique that's keeping it from being 30. :)
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I'm still with JimK - why are you reading walking lines? I looked at your chart and was incredulous! To me the whole essence of Jazz is making up your own walking lines to the chords/changes.

    Especially at fast tempos, I know there's no way I would be able to sight-read a walking line like that- but nobody has ever asked me to - they have always expected I would make my own.

    OK I listen to others and look at transcriptions of walking lines for ideas/inspiration, but I would never attempt to play somebody else's walking line in a live situation. :confused:
  7. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK

    I'm not a slave to the sheet music, really, and I do see your point (which you've brought up before). But when I choose to deviate from the page, it's not until I can play it as written. To do otherwise is just shortchanging myself, in my opinion.

    And hey, it's only a high school tune...;)
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I can see there's some value in trying it once. ;) But I think you're making things hard for yourself.....

    I think this has come up a few times before with this concept of high school "Jazz" bands, which is somewhat "alien" to me.

    So my idea of Jazz, is a music that is about collective improvisation and is not "repertory" playing.

    This is the main reason I enjoy Jazz now and why I was put off music in school - people saying : you must play exactly this!

    I think in the UK we would say this is "Big Band Swing" rather than Jazz, which is characterised as small acoustic groups improvising - trios,quartets quintets.
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification

    I see that you've read the thread. You can keep the soju, brother - we don't get along anymore ;) I spent a month drinking kettles on hooker hill one night!
  10. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    Wow -- does this chart bring back another way of looking at the planet. And 225, huh? Yowzer! I gotta go back to what I said before -- WHATEVER works is the right thing to do.

    Anyway, I learned how to walk on URB, and I play it Simandl style, with only one whole step per hand (1st finger F, 2nd finger F#, 3rd/4th finger together on G). So I guess I won't be able to help you here, because I don't PLAY this stuff in one-finger-per-fret mode. I's funny: even on electric, when I get a walk chart to read, I play it Simandl fingering. Shift my brains out, but I got pretty good at it in college when I was reading charts like this all the time.

    But that may help you with your bigger picture. I amp perfectly comfortable reading (and improvising) walking lines in Simandl fingering, yet reading and improvising rock and fusion in one-finger-per-fret fingering. So I guess I'm saying if I can get away with it, you probably can, too -- although your fingering changes across a different boundary (reading vs. improvising) than mine does (walking vs. rock).

    I would very much like to hear how you resolve this, so please post back in a few weeks and let us know, K?
  11. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    WOW, Lump!
    Whadda chart!

    Way back in college, I played in a "show" & memorized something like that...it was at a brisk tempo(NOT 225, though)& I had it 'under my fingers', but-
    Looking back, I was not really playing the tune/line as much as I was working it...as in fighting it.
    And since it was the closing theme, I had all night to worry about it, too.
    What was bad about my method-
    If I fouled up, I would lose it.

    Eventually, I even attempted to memorize lines out of Aebersold's books...& I would get miffed when I didn't play them back verbatim.

    The only thing I can suggest-
    Use OPEN strings or muted OPEN strings as quasi-passing tones to make whatever shifts you require.
    Acoustic players do this a lot(as did a guy named Jamerson).
    Keeping the plucking hand in rhythm & in-time is also a good thing when doing this... ;)

    Reading this @225, huh?
  12. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...one more thing-
    I once knew a guy the used the 'finger-per-fret' approach on electric bass for walking lines.
    He had a smooth technique(IMO)...what he was doing-
    1st & 3rd fingers primarily played the roots or chord tones.
    2nd & 4th played all the passing tones.

    Looking at your 1st 8 bars-
    I think I would employ this LH fingering:
    Bar 1
    lA-C-D-Dbl = 4-2-4-3

    Bar 2
    lC-Gb-F-Cl = 2-2-1-3(or 4)

    Bar 3
    lF-G-G#-Al = 1-1-2-3

    Bar 4
    lBb-C-C#-Dl = 4-1-2-3

    Bar 5
    lEb-D-Eb-Bbl = 4-3-4-4

    Bar 6
    lA-E-D-F#l = 2-4-2-1

    Bar 7
    lG-B-D-Cl = 2-1-4-2

    Bar 8
    lB-F#-Bb-Fl = 1-3-1-3

    ...anything even close to what you're thinkin'?
    Nice bass, BTW!
  13. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Thanks for all of the help guys. Here's a link to another arrangement of the tune. Sound familiar?


    I'm glad it looks hard to you guys; that makes me feel better. We actually never performed this one. The band is pretty good (teach is a pro bone player and sits in, and the rhythm section ain't half bad ;) ), but this was pretty much over everyone's head's. We did do a coupla other fast tunes, including an arrangement of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" that SMOKED at about 200. That one was pushing the envelope, but I could handle it. This tune and a couple of others are my summer project.

    Jim, your fingering is probably the "rightest." It seems that the most logical way to approach this stuff is to just play it on four strings, using open strings to mimick an URB. The problem for me is that when I play lower on the neck, my accuracy suffers unless I look at my hand every once in a while, which I can't do in this tune. What I'm finding easiest for me, is to play higher up the neck, start with with my pinky on the 10th fret A on the B string. I've kinda got this weird thing going where as I ascend, I'm actually moving towards the headstock but on higher strings (i.e. 10th fret B-string A to 8th fret E-string C, etc.). For the most part though, I'm using your fingering, except higher on the neck.

    Eli, what you're talking about is helpful too. It sounds like you use the "situational" technique I was alluding to. Again, that makes me feel better.

    And Bruce...I definitely am making things hard for myself. I've found I learn best that way. But maybe I'll post it in the Tab Requests forum and see if I get a nibble. ;) :D
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I suppose what I mean is that I play tunes like this all the time at Jazz jams/workshops and don't find it hard to improvise a walking line or play a solo over the changes - but I think as the others have said, that it's just too hard to read something this fast and as you have found you don't have time to look at your fingering and the page.

    My Jazz tutor was talking about this very thing at my regular class last Saturday, as we were doing a Lee Konitz tune which was like a transcribed solo and was very hard reading for the horn players. So he was basicaly agreeing with what Jim said above and said to them that they would just have to learn the head and keep the page for reference - or at least learn the parts they found hard to play.

    He has always said that in Jazz, the sooner you can put aside the written part, the better you will play - so for a horn player to know hundreds or thousand of heads and for rhythm section players to know chord sequences. I know that all the Jazz educators I meet over here agree on this - a good example is from my regular summer school. On the first night at the evening Jazz club, nobody has had time to prepare anything and the tutors usually play a concert without any music and will play for hours without a note written out!

    A lot of the courses I have attended have tried to stress this point - about getting beyond the sheet music, so it just surprises me when I hear about teaching that seem to emphasise the opposite?
  15. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    I regularly read charts like this, at that tempo and sometimes higher. It's not too hard - as long as you practice your reading. It's all a matter of what you're used to. Besides, when you're reading, you shouldn't be looking at your fingering.

    I think it might be an important point to bring up that there's a real difference between "jazz" and "big band". They're two different animals, though they often get confused...
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well that's what I was (trying to) say in my posts!

    I think the point about fast reading is how often you practice this. So as someone witha full-time job I know I'll probably never do enough reading to keep up with this sort of demand (and also mostly I'm just given chord charts hardly ever written lines) ; whereas my Jazz tutor can literally read anything - any speed because he's doing it as a full-time job.

    So - his advice to part-timers like those who attend his saturday Jazz classes is to learn by heart, difficult lines and to learn as much as you can.

    I think there is also something to using open strings on DB which helps walking lines at high tempos. I have just started to address DB technique and on BG I avoid open strings; but the last few Jazz gigs I attended I noticed how the pro Jazz players use virtually 1 in 4 notes as open strings on DB.
  17. Not least of which is intonation! I entirely agree with you - my teacher says that using open strings reaffirms the intonation - obvious really, but often gets overlooked!

    - Wil
  18. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    Aahhhh, open strings are for sissies...

    :D :p

    Actually, you sound more like a string bass player when you use open strings because, since so many did who went before, that has now BECOME "what string bass playing traditionally sounds like". Playing Bb (3rd position on the G string) on beat 1 and then playing open G on beat 2 by pulling off the LEFT hand (rather than plucking with the right) is a VERY "jazz" thing to do, and it SOUNDS like it.
  19. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    We touched on this before-
    Back in my early daze, my Mel Bay book said "Don't use OPEN strings".
    ...and I didn't. And I laughed at those who did.

    Then, my best pal(an old friend from HS that plays keys, guitar, drums, & bass equally well)writes this groove...seriously, ya gotta use the OPEN "A" for it to work. That made me reconsider my approach.
    And listening to all those upright players(& I still S-U-C-K at doin' that little pull-off that Eli mentioned).

    Brought this one up before, too-
    There's a Cedar Walton tune("Bolivia")where ya gotta use both the OPEN "D" & OPEN "G". ;)

    BTW, anyone else buy any of those recently issued Jaco transcription books? Apparently & according to what these books have charted out...he wasn't afraid of the OPEN strings(especially the "G"!).

  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think there is a case for saying to beginners at bass guitar not to use open strings as they are difficult to control in terms of muting and getting a consistent sound. As bass guitar open strings sustain so long they alway sound different and can lead to some nasty dissonances when left to ring.

    Whereas on Double Bass the open strings sound OK - don't ring forever - and as Will says allow you to constantly check your intonation - so are in fact a good thing for beginners!

    But when you want to develop a technique for advanced stuff then you have to find a way to combine them consistently - as Jaco quite clearly did - he was of course an expert in muting techiques! ;)

    I often find that when I get very fast written lines at Jazz Summerschool, I struggle because I usually avoid open strings and the line was written with a DB in mind and makes frequent use of open strings.
    But if I play it on BG then it doesn't sound "right" with open strings - probably due to my poor technique! ;)

    Now that I have bought an EUB I am practising more and more with open strings and now find some of the lines that I struggled with on BG make a lot more sense on EUB!!