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'Tuning For A Contemporary 5 String Gospel Bass Player'

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mustBmtd, Jun 15, 2014.

  1. mustBmtd

    mustBmtd Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2012
    At the moment, I'm only using the standard tuning for 5 string bass. I've been asked to play for a soulful contemporary church here in the south. I've visited this church several times. And already knew they were not pleased with the now bass player. My question is based on the fact that I've read a lot of reviews of how some guys tune in flats. And in my mind I'm trying to understand the difference. Their layout of musical taste is from Fred Hammond, to Donald Lawrence, Marvin Sapp, and so on. Can someone please break down this problem for me.
  2. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    As long as you don't have problems with range, shouldn't be an issue especially with a 5. Why re-tune?
  3. brotondo


    Feb 7, 2012
    Kimball MI
    What keys will most your music be in? As in 1/2 step down?
    Some like tuning flat just for a looser string tension. Sometimes it accommodates the music
  4. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Most songs will be in flat keys and down tuning a half step will make it easier to utilize open strings
  5. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass **** Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    There's no rules. You'll probably be playing in Eb, Db, Bb and Ab a lot so if you want to utilize open strings tuning down a half step may be helpful. I found that the lower tension took the edge off of the attack enough to still dial-in a bright tone but not sound punky. Basically, tuning down a half or whole step changes the feel of the bass and sounds a little "funkier" IMO. It's hard to describe in words, and again there's no set rules, just listen to the type of material you'll be expected to play and determine what set-up will get you there.

    I don't play Gospel any more, but I still tune all my basses(except my DB)down a half-step because I like the way it feels and sounds. If you do decide to tune down I would advise you to actually set-up your bass(es) that way as apposed to just tuning down to try things out...you'll probably be camping out on some low notes and proper action and intonation can make a big difference down there.
  6. If you play the major scale pattern --- and are thinking about down tuning a 1/2 step down why not just move the pattern a 1/2 step down, i.e. instead of placing the major scale note pattern on the B note place it on the Bb.

    I like staying with standard tuning and if I want to utilize dropped D or get another "voice" on my 6 string rhythm guitar I use a capo for that. As I've never seen anyone use a capo on the bass - and I wanted to go flat, I'd just move the pattern.

    Others do down tune and they will give you why they do it. It's your decision.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
  7. Why not ask the leader of the gospel team who invited you to play, what they think. Why is the other bass player drop tuning. Why are they unhappy with him/her. What keys do they play in and what type of sound do they prefer. No need to second guess. Just ask.:):cool::bassist:
  8. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    Tuning down a 5 string a half step makes no sense to me at all. I play mostly in flat keys with roots somewhere between 4th and 8th fret and it's the same notes
    unless you really need that low Bb. For the most part I've avoided open strings so maybe I'm the outlier here. I would find the mental gymnastics of downtuning too much, but that's me again.
    Bainbridge likes this.
  9. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    Why use open strings? The timbre is different when you do. I prefer to avoid them if I can. I certainly wouldn't tune a 5 string differently just so more open strings could be used.
  10. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Perhaps at times an open string effectively adds an extra finger and lessens the complexity when making a fast run.
    Remyd likes this.
  11. Remyd


    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    Gracious, why not? I have one in my gig bag. Doesn't get much use, but here and there it comes up.

    Transposing on the fly is hard, especially when intoxicated, or when one is playing a song for the first time where the singer says something like "Can we do it just a half-step higher?" it's the epitome of handy. My little jam group has a couple of half-step-down tuned songs, so I use it to get back to standard tuning without thinking. Gb major has lots and lots of sharps and I can't remember which ones are which half the time. Solution=Capo
  12. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    G♭ major has six flats...
  13. Remyd


    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    Gb is the same note as F# but Gb major has 6 flats and F# major has 6 sharps, but they're all the same sounds. Confusing.

    That's why I like the capo-1 method; no rethinking required. Just pop off, play tuned-down, and pop on again to get back to standard.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
  14. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    It's not too bad once you realize what's happening. Think of it like G major:

    G A B C D E F#

    Gonna tab it for one octave:


    To make it G♭, just reduce everything by a half-step. That means anything that is natural becomes ♭, and anything that is sharp becomes natural.

    G♭ A♭ B♭ C♭ D♭ E♭ F

    On the fretboard, this is even easier: you do the same patten as G major, but one fret lower:


    How about G# major? This key doesn't even exist on the circle of fifths! Start by thinking of it in the "natural" form, as plain old G major. If you're raising it a half step, anything that is flat becomes natural, anything that is natural becomes sharp, and anything that is sharp becomes double sharp ("x").

    G major: G A B C D E F#
    G# major: G# A# B# C# D# E# Fx



    You can do this with any key. Here is A major, A♭ major, and A# major:

    A: A B C# D E F# G#
    A♭: A♭ B♭ C D♭ E♭ F G
    A#: A# B# Cx D# E# Fx Gx

    And the fretboard pattern is even the same:

    A major

    A♭ major

    A# major

    They're all major scales. It's the exact same pattern for every one of them. Learn the notes on the E string, plant your middle finger on the tonic note, then regurgitate that pattern. It is so easy to play in every key on guitars.

    And if you need a memory aide to help with the notes in each key, try learning just the "white note" keys (A, B, C, D, E, F, G), then shift them up for their sharp versions (A#, B#, C#, D#, E#, F#, G#) and down for their flat versions (A♭, B♭, C♭, D♭, E♭, F♭, G♭).
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
  15. Remyd


    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    True. I have a much easier time on BG than I ever did on DB, but it still engages my brain. I still think "classical" after all the music school stuff (tones rather than frets) and all of those double sharps are psychically pointy. I currently play jazz, where thinking is for suckers and it screws up the groove.

    gui****s have good ideas now and then - I'm a capo convert.
    Bainbridge likes this.
  16. ivlucas

    ivlucas Supporting Member

    Dec 19, 2006
    Thomasville, GA
    I play gospel 70% of the time and detune a whole step which makes it easier to remember :). It also helps when playing with a guy on organ and keys becuase the lower frequency sits better in the mix for me. I dont do the sloppy string thing that some do, I have my basses set up for tuning to A so my B string is not floppy. Some guys tune standard, some detune 1/2 step but others such as Gouche detune a whole step I believe.
  17. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    I tune my five string CGDA. That way it only needs four strings....

    I'm not sure there is a rhyme or reason to the tunings that gospel players use. Can't recall the name but one famous one has been quoted as saying that he tunes starting on an A because all his buddies started tuning to Bb and he wanted to do them one better! As long as you are willing to relearn the strings you can use any tuning you like and if the one you start with causes you trouble you just switch to another. As I indicate some of us even tune in fifths! Any given tuning will have advantages and disadvantages otherwise we would all be using the one that was perfect in every way. I would start with what you know and see how it goes. You can adjust as you go along if need be.
  18. BkCressida1718


    Dec 14, 2012
    Its all about preference. I tune a 1/2 step down as an experiment and never tuned standard again after that. When tuning flat you have to keep in mind to get the right gauged strings and when you're getting a setup done, let the tech know what you're tuning is. Again its all about preference
  19. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    It largely depends on what version of mental gymnastics you want to play with yourself. If playing in keys with a lot of flats or sharps isn't a problem for you, then there is no reason to do anything differently to make it easier. If it is a problem, then how you approach solving it is where alternate tunings can be a gift or a curse.

    Let's assume you have to play something in Gb+. That's a lot of flats, and it can sit a little awkward if it is new to you. If you are a notes/written music kind of guy and each fret has a note name in your head, (which is how my brain usually works) Then the 4th fret on the D string is Gb, and tuning differently is going to mean that none of the notes are where they used to be and I'm all kinds of confused. Tuning differently isn't going to be your friend. If you are the kind of guy that can look at Gb+ (hopefully without too many accidentals) and think "that's just G+" then tuning your bass down half a step could work for you. This is how transposing instruments like some brass and woodwinds work, where the note on the page and the note coming out of your instrument aren't the same. Basically you play everything as if it's in G+ instead of Gb+, and your instrument compensates. This falls apart or gets a whole lot trickier when you find yourself in F+ and have to think you are in F#+ for some people, but is also why some guys bring multiple basses. If you are more of a patterns/licks kind of guy that plays in "boxes" As described by Bainbridge, then you can simply move the box(es) regardless of your tuning. There are lots of bassists that play that way, but it gets tricky (in my mind) when you start playing new music and have to work from either written music or chord charts.

    Hopefully that's clear as mud. Long story short: different brains work in different ways, and someone else's "easier" might actually make things harder for you.

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