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bass2345

Does this matter - Playing the same notes on different strings?

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Hi. I guess this does include some theory and/or technique but I don't think it's necessarily limited to that area and I think this forum gets more views and therefore more replies than the Theory and Technique one so I'll post this here...

I've been playing the bass guitar since March 2013 on and off.

My bass teacher says that it doesn't matter if, when playing a cover version, you play the same note five frets up and one string up because he thinks it sounds pretty much the same - he says there is a slight difference but it doesn't really matter, and says I don't have the same production or amp or guitar as a bassist in a recording. However some people seem to think it does matter and that the difference in sound is significant. I sometimes do whatever's easiest as long as the notes are the same (e.g. if both frets play a C# note), especially if it makes things much easier. I'm worried people will notice it sounds different and think I'm not as good a musician, even if I play the notes in the most efficient manner; this efficiency could arguably be considered 'better' in a way.

What do you think? Does it matter if I play an open D string instead of fifth fret on the A string, for example?

Edited by bass2345

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[quote name='bass2345' timestamp='1392000774' post='2363476']...What do you think: Does it matter if I play an open D string instead of fifth fret on the A string, for example?[/quote]

Good evening, bass2345...

Disclaimer: I'm a drummer; take this with as much salt as you will...

First remark (not the kindest, I'm afraid, so don't stop here...): part of the role of a teacher is to teach those that want to learn from him/her. Up to a point, listen to your teacher.
Secondly: yes, there is certainly a difference in tone between the same note played on different strings; even more so between fretted notes and open-string notes. Which to choose..? That depends on the sound (tone..?) that you wish to create. Sometimes an open-string "D" is right, sometimes fretted on the A-string, or the low E string, or wherever. In a great many cases, and unless there's a specific reason, most bassists will play that which falls most naturally under the fingers. If one is playing mostly around the 7th fret, it would be uncommon to suddenly whang in an open "D". All rules have exceptions, but, as a learner bassist, I would advise doing the evident stuff first, and use exceptional technique when you really need to.
Thirdly: I know of very few folks in general, and maybe even less musicians, who will think such thoughts ("...[i]I'm worried people will notice it sounds different and think I'm not as good a musician.[/i]..) about a bassist, more especially a learner. All musicians make mistakes or errors of judgement; one doesn't think less of them for all that. It's you and your ear that make the judgement concerning choice of note etc. If it's ok for you, it's ok for the rest of the planet. Listen to your teacher, listen to what you're playing, decide what sounds best to you and be confident in your decisions. No-one is going to throw rocks (well, perhaps your teacher, but that's what you pay him/her for..!).
Hope this helps; subject to correction, completion and/or contradiction from others.

Edited by Dad3353

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[quote name='bass2345' timestamp='1392000774' post='2363476']
What do you think? Does it matter if I play an open D string instead of fifth fret on the A string, for example?
[/quote]Yes. The fundamental to harmonic intensity ratio is greater with the longer string length. But from a playing standpoint I don't consider that over the ease of fingering. I take the shortest route from note to note. That means I may play the same note on two different strings during a song if that's what results in the least amount of hand movement. The difference between the sound of the two is apparent when playing alone, but in the context of with a band it gets buried in the mix.

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For me it depends on how you like the sound. Being a Precision player, I like the sound of the notes on the E & A string more, as they are bassier, so tend to play most of my stuff on those two strings. If I need twangier sounds, the D & G get some use.

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I'd tend to go with "Play what comes easiest". I don't think it will be detrimental to your future playing ability, and I don't think anybody is going to scrutinise your technique too hard. Now, if you were in a massive gigging band, there would be a thread here called something like "bass2345 - technique or technot?" where people discuss in great detail the great and bad things about your technique. Since you've only been playing since March (You've nearly passed your first year - congrats! :) ) I'd not worry too much. I think at this point, it's more important that you hone the fundamental technique you have learned so far, then start working on smaller aspects of your technique, like whether to play an open A or the 5th on the E string.

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As others have said, it depends what sound you want. Although the notes are the same there is a different quality to the sound (Timbre?)

I play whatever sounds right for the feel I'm trying to achieve. An open A I find works better for punky type stuff and a fretted A on the E string is better for subby type slower passages, it's a bit like deciding whether to play over the bridge or neck pickup, same notes different sound.

Personal preference really though.

Edited by CamdenRob

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I'd agree with your teacher, there is a difference in tone as most people can hear, but it's not so much to get worried about, and I'd personally rate efficiency of movement far higher than the subtle tone difference. As ever there are always exceptions and maybe if I'm playing up at the dusty end I won't play all D's on the open string for example. At this extreme the tone difference may become noticeable (although it could be used to good effect)
Playing live I regularly switch from playing A on the E string to an open A, especially if i'm chugging along for many bars on one note (pretty much every ACDC song that we cover springs to mind) I doubt if anyone would be able to tell the difference. On a recording I wouldn't though to keep the sound consistent. No one is going to think any less of you for not using the exact fingering as the original, and I doubt if anyone can tell which string you played that C# on anyway. (OK, I've known some of the classical fraternity to turn their noses up at this, and maybe if you're playing solo and its held for a long time then some people may be able to tell, but 'wrong' in this context is subjective anyway. Maybe it sounds better your way and the original artist got it 'wrong')

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Unless it is a low E, I always try to play using a fretted note instead of an open string. The main reason is control over the string and ability to mute the string after playing that note. If you play an open string you've got to find that string with your left or right hand to end that ringing. If you've played a fretted note you are already on that string and when you left your left hand finger off to play the next note you've automatically muted the string provided you've pulled off straight. I think it gives a cleaner sound and more control. The exception is where I play an open string and straight after you follow with a low fretted note on that same string, in this case you are not worried about the muting. I spend ages working on a clean sound and this seems to work for me.

Cheers,
Rich

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As a learner it's really easy to find you play almost everything on the first 5-7 frets.

I think what your teacher is doing is to try to get you comfortable in breaking that barrier and have you feel comfortable in the higher section of the neck. I say go with the teacher, he may lack something in the communication of his objectives, but he's not crazy.

Good luck

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Which string to use to play a note depends on the bass, the difficulty of the part, the song, and what the other musicians are playing in terms of notes and sounds. Personally I always try and aim for the best sound unless it makes the part impossible to play. Sometimes you need the heft of a low string played on a high fret and sometimes you need to thinner but twangier sound of the higher strings played nearer the nut.

The choice is all about listening to the arrangement and how your bass part fits into it and then making the appropriate choice. That way you'll be playing the MUSIC and not just playing the notes.

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[quote name='bass2345' timestamp='1392000774' post='2363476']
I'm worried people will notice it sounds different and think I'm not as good a musician
[/quote]
Most people won't even know you are playing bass, let alone notice anything sounds different.

Your teacher is correct.

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From a beginner's standpoint, that sort of viewpoint is helpful. It means you don't have to stress about playing the 'right' E, but that any one you find in the right octave on any string will work.

As you get better though, you may find that you prefer the colour of particular notes when played in a particular place, e.g. playing the octave 12 frets up rather than 2 frets up 2 strings up, or vice versa. They have (IMO) very distinct tonal attributes that mean they belong in certain parts of certain songs... however it can fry your brain trying to tackle this level of choice too early.

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In a live situation I tend to play a compromise of what is easiest to play and what sounds best. Open strings can sometimes be easier to play, and allow you to stretch less, but give you less control over muting and feel. I notice a lot of guitarists tend to play open strings a lot when they play bass, as the difference in sound between open and fretted notes are more noticeable on a guitar than a bass, and that's how they're used to playing.

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Im not trained, but have played for many years and I believe it does make a difference, but with any given song you have to decide what sounds right over what is easy play play.

An example , I've been listening to versions of whats going on covered by Paul Carrack, the bass player plays around a bit with it and it sounds truly amazing, but various parts sound obviously different to the original and not just due to the modern strings and pickups, you can hear where he is on the fretboard.

So yes, they do sound different, and it only matters if you dislike a sound, or you need to play a certain fret because its more fluid in where you are moving to next.

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One advantageous thing about open string notes is that they are easily available in any and every position. So I'd recommend using them.

I don't disagree with those who are saying that differences in timbre on different strings or different frets can make a useful/important difference but the beginner doesn't need to start from there.

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[quote name='Diablo' timestamp='1392018148' post='2363517']
Unless it is a low E, I always try to play using a fretted note instead of an open string. The main reason is control over the string and ability to mute the string after playing that note. If you play an open string you've got to find that string with your left or right hand to end that ringing. If you've played a fretted note you are already on that string and when you left your left hand finger off to play the next note you've automatically muted the string provided you've pulled off straight. I think it gives a cleaner sound and more control. The exception is where I play an open string and straight after you follow with a low fretted note on that same string, in this case you are not worried about the muting. I spend ages working on a clean sound and this seems to work for me.

Cheers,
Rich
[/quote]

Plus one.

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[quote name='EssentialTension' timestamp='1392024839' post='2363605']
I don't disagree with those who are saying that differences in timbre on different strings or different frets can make a useful/important difference but the beginner doesn't need to start from there.
[/quote]

this is the correct answer I believe

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It matters to a degree.
Use your own ears and judge for yourself.

I changed a whole part during recording due to the notes not quiet sitting that we'll in the mix during recording, but live I can't hear the difference at all.

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[quote name='Dad3353' timestamp='1392002348' post='2363480']
First remark (not the kindest, I'm afraid, so don't stop here...): part of the role of a teacher is to teach those that want to learn from him/her. Up to a point, listen to your teacher.
[/quote]

I think it shows intelligence to question things, so credit to OP.

I'm surprised no-one's mentioned note attack, as for me this is the main thing that will get lost while moving up the fretboard.
Mostly it doesn't matter but if you want something to have a really sharp attack to give it lots of presence/aggression in the mix it may be better to play that part down low.

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Sometime it matters, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it matters a lot. If it is a massive note in the middle of a quiet passage, it may matter a lot. If it is a passing note in a string of sixteenths, it probably won't matter as much as the overall phrasing. If you are still learning, as it would appear you are, I wouldn't worry too much about it. The issue will become more relevant as you progress.

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[quote name='EssentialTension' timestamp='1392024839' post='2363605']
I don't disagree with those who are saying that differences in timbre on different strings or different frets can make a useful/important difference but the beginner doesn't need to start from there.
[/quote]

I'd also agree with this. All that other stuff is icing - get your cake baked first! Nuances of playing can follow later.

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[quote name='Paul S' timestamp='1392037795' post='2363821']
I'd also agree with this. All that other stuff is icing - get your cake baked first! Nuances of playing can follow later.
[/quote]

But it's good to be aware of them now. Then you can start adding them in as you become sufficiently competent.

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You just have to trust what the teacher says, My teacher says that it makes no difference, He basically told me it is like learning to drive a car. You get taught how to drive properly then the confidence allows you your own way when you are ready.
He seems to liken most things to learning to drive a car to be honest

Edited by timmo

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