Upright Bass Limitations...or Possibilities?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by twiz, Sep 29, 2003.

  1. twiz


    Jun 4, 2003
    Los Angeles
    Recently, in an effort to immerse myself in the Ray Brown ethos, I purchased an upright bass and have been taking some lessons on form and stance.

    Generally, it seems like the instrument is quite mechanically difficult to play (relative to the electric -- heck the neck hits the body at the "7th" fret) and lacking frets makes it much harder to easily play patterns up and down the neck (like the c chordal scale or g chordal scales you teach in your Jazz Bass books).

    I'm curious if you feel that string bass (at the advanced level) really limits the musician in terms of tonal vocabulary and speed. I'm far too inexperienced to really gauge this yet.
  2. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    No, the opposite is true. Tonal variety is infinite, speed is relative.

    This may be a big thread.
  3. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I have never made a serious, adult effort to master any instrument except DB. I hacked around at violin, mandolin, guitar, college piano, summer-camp sax etc. As a kid I worked hard on EB but once I started on DB the plank went out the door.

    All that is a prelude to saying that I suspect that it is, essentially, just as hard to master any instrument as any other. Playing DB like Gary Karr or Gary Peacock is probably no more or less taxing than playing sax like Joe Henderson or Joe Lovano. (I wonder what Chris Fitzgerald, who was a master-pianist, would say.)

    But, in my experience, there is no instrument which is easier to BEGIN than electric bass guitar. Here's why:

    a) You don't have to be precise to play in tune ('cuz you've got frets).
    b) There are no mechanical idiosyncrasies to pay attention to, as there are with piano (black key/white key) or guitar (that silly major third in the middle of all those fourths).
    c) There is a vast body of work which does not require much study to begin to grasp. Stated otherwise, knowledge of about five notes opens up the entire Chuck Berry repetoire and boatloads more.
    d) Many people are generally ready to cut EB players slack because "there's never enough bass players."
    e) You can just about purchase great tone by purchasing great gear.

    So, to respond to your question (at last), simply realizing that it is harder to start DB than EB gives you essential perspective about your endeavor. Ray Brown is a wonderful musician and a great role model, but if you're looking for that "Holy ****!!!" factor, check out Scott LaFaro, Stan Clarke, Brian Bromberg, Michael Moore, Eddie Gomez or . . .

    The creative and technical possibilities on DB are limited only by your imagination and capacity for obsession. Welcome aboard.
  4. I have played EB for 15 years, started DB almost 5 years ago. The DB SEEMS limiting at first because you have to learn a whole phsycal approach. The EB is easier to begin for the exact oppisite. Plus moving from EB to DB usually comes with a desire to play more serious music (at least in my case). So not only do you have to deal with the instrument, but a whole musical vocabulary, but as you go along it becomes clear that there are endless possibilities on DB.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Thanks Sam, but you still owe me that $200 in spite of your kind words. Flatulence will get you nowhere. :)

    Seriously, while I cannot agree about my own "masterfulness" of the piano, I do agree with the rest of what you say above. Each instrument has its own esoteric spirit, quirks, vibe, and tendencies. It's easier to get to a certain level of WANKITUDE on certain axes than others, but to really even begin to approach the deeper levels of subtlety on any instrument, a ****load of work is required, and more than that, an immersion in the "soul" (for lack of a better term) of the instrument and its musical heritage. I've played piano for almost 20 years now and DB for only a fraction of that, and I can honestly say that one is not really harder than the other when all things are considered.

    Piano is definitely easier for surface "chops", pizz bass easier for surface "tone" and wood. On the piano, you have to play multiple lines, counterpoint, and rhythms simultaneously, whereas on the bass you have for the most part to produce only one note or line at a time. The bass is physically more demanding in terms of strength and wear and tear on the body, but the piano is physically evil in its own ways. Beyond that, the techniques required to play either are remarkably similar, as is the dedication and time required to truly get a solid and consistent personal sound out of either. I say it's a toss up, which leads me to suspect that the same relationship probably exists in relation to other instruments as well.
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I would agree with everything Samuel and Chris say - but am interested in your heading - limitations or possibilities.

    So as has been said - you can basically play bass guitar with no technique or understanding and get quite a way. But is this a good thing?

    So with DB you are forced to learn a decent technique and it helps greatly if you understand music and are not just trying to run scales as patterns - now I would say that is a good thing.

    So - you generally find that DB players make use of open strings more than BG players and have developed technique to avoid awkward shifts - so this is because of the limitations, but it makes their lines - especially walking lines - flow more and not jump about like BG players tend to.

    And is speed without musical taste a good thing? Isn't it better that you develop speed only as you develop the musical experience/understanding to go with that?
  7. As far as speed goes, if you listen to certain DB players, you will hear far greater speed than BG. Stanley Clark, Brian Bromberg, Scotty LaFaro, Ratzo Harris, there are many speed merchants on DB. I'm a doubler, so I'm not biased. Victor Wooten is the only speed freak I've heard on BG. (the album New Nashville Cats comes to mind. VW plays a bebop line at about 300 bpm, and his solo is all 1/8 notes!!!!)
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think this is the big advantage of DB over BG!! ;)

    So - you can see from reading sites like TB (and from talking to other bassists I have met) that BG players spend huge amounts of time and money on gear - which could have been used far more profitably on lessons,classes and actually getting better as a musician.

    So - you can see from TB how new BGers seem to think that if they get exactly the same bass and amplification equipment as their current hero - then that is all they need to do - all part of the "instant gratification" - "I ned Tabz now" generation!! ;)

    And it's not just limited to 14 year old time wasters! I have met loads of BG players in the real world of all ages/experience levels and they will talk endlessly about their gear - what they want to buy next - have you tried this etc. Without one mention of actual music! :D

    Whereas I have found that the DB players I have met are far less likely to fall into this trap and will actually talk to you about music they have played, writing tunes, playing in odd time signatures, how to get interest in solos etc etc. Of course there are alwsy a few exceptions on both sides - but they are far outweighed, by the majority.

    So the big advantage of DB is that you are thinking about how to play music and how with more practice, your technique will improve your tone and not - what effect will I buy at the weekend to get that killer tone!!
  9. twiz


    Jun 4, 2003
    Los Angeles
    thank you all for such an outstanding thread. it has really opened my mind up to the mission in front of me. thankfully i've been blessed with a true virtuoso instructor and a pretty darn nice URB to boot.

    the more i play the urb, the more comfort (and callouses) i develop, the better i feel about things. you can imagine though, as i sat there in my jazz trio listening to my piano player blaze his way through a Monk tune that I couldn't help but wonder if I'd ever be back up there at that pace again...the answer, as you all have so well put is a resounding yes....sure it'll take some time...sure it won't be about the latest greatest electric bass mojo...it'll be about technique, timing and focus on a 30+ year journey.

    i appreciate your continued feedback!

    fyi... here is an excerpt from a VERY interesting response to the question I received from a party that will remain anonymous :

    "My own preference to play with? IF, and that's with capital letters....the player knows what they're doing on the elec . bass, I'd rather have a fine elec. bassist play with me in jazz ... I can trust him in his fine jazz sense, his right notes, his fine time, his sounds and sensitivity on string bass....it's hard to find that level of playing with most elec. bass players unfortunately tho' they're gaining."

    "...but that's only if they have the right proper jazz sounds, the feel and approach/sensitivity for jazz (time, etc.) know the right notes to play, aren't too loud nor too soft, have great senses of time-groove, know the complex jazz communication necessary for good jazz playing and AREN'T PLAYING A 5-STRING which not only controls the bottom end of jazz but usually has the wrong sounds, and I've found the player of a 5-string is not usually a fine jazz musician (you can tell I hate 5-string for anything outside of fusion and church maybe)."

    "So yes, I'm sure others feel the way I do...that they'd rather use the elec. bass if all the above meet well with expectations."
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

  11. so what are the 'right' sounds for jazz?
  12. twiz


    Jun 4, 2003
    Los Angeles
    hehe some very funny responses to a rather elitist response, i must agree

    well that particular "respondee" does tend to be well known for their erudite nature
  13. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Gee, I wonder who wrote that :rolleyes:
  14. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Ask Bert Turetsky if he thinks there are any limitations on the Bass...
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I honestly have no idea, and the suspense is killing me. PM me when you get a minute?
  16. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

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