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I’m toying with the idea of buying a new bass. Yay!

At the moment, I don’t play much but what I am doing is playing with a sort of “casual orchestra” - set up by a mate, it’s kind of a concert band for people who used to play (eg at school) and want to get back into playing in an ensemble. There’s brass, woodwind, strings, percussion and me on bass. The tunes are concert band/swing band classics and bespoke arrangements, so there’s usually a bass part (albeit sometimes it’s string bass but I wing it). I play a 4 string at the mo.

 

Anyway, a lot of these parts are written in the higher register (around middle C) so there’s a lot of ledger notes and playing up the neck on the g string. However, there are also a couple of parts which drop below low E (one goes down to B!) which I either play up an octave or (in the case of D or Eb) can get away with using a detuner. 

 

Ive been thinking whether a 5er strung E to C might be useful with a detuner, but recently had a go with a Yamaha TRB1006 which got me thinking that if I can cope with a 5er, could I cope with a 6er?

 

So, does anyone have any experience making the transition? Anyone swap between 5 and 6 or 4 and 6? Either way, I’d probably be looking for a Yamaha TRB (and I’ve seen the lovely 6er one in the classifieds at the mo but it’s a bit rich for my blood so likely a TRB II or one of the new Korean ones). 

Should I just suck it up and learn to get around the fretboard better?

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You could just jump in the deep end and get a six string, but if i were in your position i would use a five string B-G .... should do all you need!

In the case of the arrangements in the keys of D and Eb, coming up an octave can sometimes loose some impact in the music...well, that my

opinion !

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I do not know your mileage but there are two options to consider on top of that fretboard learning: the instrument, and its tuning.

Is it a double bass you are actually after (EUB is pretty close) or a fretless? Classical music has usually parts, where bow would be nice. Fretless on the other hand is somewhere in between its big brother and a fretted electric. I have to admit, that bow is a chore in my hands but I have been listening to some exceptional bassists that can deliver incredible sounds using a bow. Pity, I can't.

If you have decided the instrument already, why not open up your mind to tunings? H/EADG/C is not the only possibility: double bass guys have solo tunings, you may want to try cello-like tuning in fifths and that is OK with electric, too. Just study the D'Addario string tension guide, first. A basic string set does not support that: only a little bit of work and you can have the tuning you need.

http://www.daddario.com/upload/tension_chart_13934.pdf

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Are you sure that the higher parts are actually supposed to be that high?

Bass guitar is a transposing instrument and the parts for it should be written out an octave higher than the notes you actually play.

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A six would allow you to play across the neck rather than having to edge towards the dusty end on the G. Handy if you're sight-reading.

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1 minute ago, Rich said:

A six would allow you to play across the neck rather than having to edge towards the dusty end on the G. Handy if you're sight-reading.

Handy from a 'I just need to hit the notes, nothing else matters' point of view, but tonally a C string doesn't tend to sound great close to the nut. I'd be more inclined to play higher on the Low B string as opposed to low on the E, and use that extended range onto the G string. Same notes, same patterns largely, better tone IMO.

I regularly swap between 4, 5, 6. To me, 4 to 5 and back again is easy. 6 takes me a couple of hours to get truly comfortable around the D, G, C strings if it's been a while. But as with anything, it's just practice.

Si

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1 hour ago, ebenezer said:

 

In the case of the arrangements in the keys of D and Eb, coming up an octave can sometimes loose some impact in the music...well, that my

opinion !

Yes, I agree - there's one piece where the low D (i.e. using the detuner) just rings out without anything else and it's really noticeable if it's not there.

 

1 hour ago, BigRedX said:

Are you sure that the higher parts are actually supposed to be that high?

Bass guitar is a transposing instrument and the parts for it should be written out an octave higher than the notes you actually play.

Fairly sure. I'm playing as written i.e. open E is one ledger line below the stave, and C at 5th fret on the G string is written as middle C.

 

47 minutes ago, Rich said:

A six would allow you to play across the neck rather than having to edge towards the dusty end on the G. Handy if you're sight-reading.

Well, I'm not quite sight reading but not far off. 

 

44 minutes ago, Sibob said:

Handy from a 'I just need to hit the notes, nothing else matters' point of view, but tonally a C string doesn't tend to sound great close to the nut. I'd be more inclined to play higher on the Low B string as opposed to low on the E, and use that extended range onto the G string. Same notes, same patterns largely, better tone IMO.

Interesting, thanks - I have seen a few comments that the high C string can sound a little weak on some instruments. 

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If I read your post correctly you're able to cover the high notes on your 4 string bass, but you can't cover the low notes.

To start with I'd go for the standard B-G tuned 5er. There are more benefits in a 5 string bass than just 5 extra notes. You'll find walking bass lines become easier with more notes falling under your fingers before you have to move your hand. You'll also cover lower keys more easily and effectively.

Put the 4 string away and just play the 5 until you have reorganised your muscle memory and the 5 comes naturally.

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Hi Jakester,

I play in a concert band too.  You'll find a lot of older music (i.e. not the latest pop/movie music arrangements) don't have string or electric bass parts at all and you'll end up having to read tuba parts.  These are tricky because they're usually an octave lower than where you're use to reading (i.e.several  ledger lines below the stave) and you'll have to transpose up an octave (hence people saying the BG is a transposing instrument).  I still find sight reading and transposing quaver and faster runs tricky when it's low G and Fs 4-5 ledger lines below the stave, especially when you're in a key of several flats or sharps!

We once had a guest MD who was a bass player and told me just to lift all tuba parts up an octave, but I like to pick and choose as I play a 5 and it is nice to make the band rumble with a low C or D note for effect.  I would advise trying a 5 as Chris_B said as some of the more modern arrangements even with bass guitar or electric bass parts tend to throw in the odd low Eb or D.  Once you learn the neck more. as he also said - it does give you more options for fingering notes without moving when trying to sight read runs etc.

My two other tips are: The string bass parts will have a lot of held notes that are intended for arco playing with a bow on double bass.  I do occasionally drag my DB out but am not a "bower" so will try to ring the string as long as I can and re-pluck on the first beat of a bar to try and make it a subconscious pulse and less obvious it's not just a constant note.

The tuba parts often have string/electric bass cues in them, but there won't be any tuba cues in the string parts.  If you have no tuba, you may be sitting resting whilst everyone is wondering why the bass is missing.  I often have to keep an eye on both parts in complex arrangements (we rarely have a tuba) as there may be some nice pedal notes in a quiet bit, or a little tuba solo that is not in your part and it needs covering.  I don't know why they don't put the cues in, maybe they think such bands will always have a tuba.... 

EDIT:  I would add it is rare that in my experience I have seen for parts to go dead high in concert band music.  There are a lot of pieces that seem to sit more naturally with fingering around the 5th - 9th fret, so playing Ebs and F's on the A string around fret 6 and 9 allows you to easily do runs up to high Eb's and Fs, but it's not often? 

Edited by Huge Hands
Extra

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2 hours ago, Jakester said:

Anyway, a lot of these parts are written in the higher register (around middle C) so there’s a lot of ledger notes and playing up the neck on the g string.

 

31 minutes ago, Jakester said:

Fairly sure. I'm playing as written i.e. open E is one ledger line below the stave, and C at 5th fret on the G string is written as middle C.

As previous poster said, bass is a transposing instrument.  The note which is written as middle C will actually sound one octave below middle C. To play an actual middle C is 17th fret on the G string. When you originally said "higher register" did you mean around the 5th fret or around the 17th?

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I went from a 4 straight to a 6. I was a little bit apprehensive and published a similar post at the time myself but soon got used to it.

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2 hours ago, jrixn1 said:

 

As previous poster said, bass is a transposing instrument.  The note which is written as middle C will actually sound one octave below middle C. To play an actual middle C is 17th fret on the G string. When you originally said "higher register" did you mean around the 5th fret or around the 17th?

5th fret. 

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8 minutes ago, Jakester said:

5th fret. 

 

4 hours ago, Jakester said:

Should I just suck it up and learn to get around the fretboard better?

In which case, yes :D
It's a good goal to be comfortable playing up to at least the 12th fret (on any string, however many strings the bass has).

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3 hours ago, jrixn1 said:

 

As previous poster said, bass is a transposing instrument.  The note which is written as middle C will actually sound one octave below middle C. To play an actual middle C is 17th fret on the G string. When you originally said "higher register" did you mean around the 5th fret or around the 17th?

Are you talking treble, or bass clef?

To me, as a bass clef reader, the C that most Concert band music plays (my 3rd fret on the A string) and nearest the middle of the bass clef is pitched (in terms of a tuba and other instruments) as a C two ledger lines below the stave.  I assume by saying the 17th fret on the G string, you mean the one in the middle of the treble clef?

I am terrible at music theory other than being able to read bass guitar music, I just thought it best to post this question for context as it may be confusing the OP as it probably would me.  I would call the C two spaces up in the bass clef as middle C, as that it what it means to me (but I know not theoretically right).

I think  Jakester is suffering from exactly the same as me - what I was trying to say in my edit was that when reading these notes on the fly you always naturally want to fret in the same place - Bb is 1st fret on the A string, C is the third etc, but once the runs get higher, you get to the G string and then have to slide all the way up the string to get the higher ones.  Quite often, the best way is to start higher up the neck but on a lower string (i.e. Bb at 6th fret on E string, C at 8th) which means you can keep your hand much more still and get a lot higher.  Sounds obvious and simple, but you need to know the whole neck in terms of what notes are where back to front and I don't - although I'm getting better.  This is down to my poor training (mainly self taught) than anything else! 

Most sting bass parts are written for 4 string DBs and there are very few Electric bass parts that go outside of a 4 string range other than a couple that go for low B string notes.  

My summation is, you don't need a 5 or 6 string for the job, but if you want one, try one!

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5 hours ago, Huge Hands said:

Hi Jakester,

I play in a concert band too.  You'll find a lot of older music (i.e. not the latest pop/movie music arrangements) don't have string or electric bass parts at all and you'll end up having to read tuba parts.  These are tricky because they're usually an octave lower than where you're use to reading (i.e.several  ledger lines below the stave) and you'll have to transpose up an octave (hence people saying the BG is a transposing instrument).  I still find sight reading and transposing quaver and faster runs tricky when it's low G and Fs 4-5 ledger lines below the stave, especially when you're in a key of several flats or sharps!

We once had a guest MD who was a bass player and told me just to lift all tuba parts up an octave, but I like to pick and choose as I play a 5 and it is nice to make the band rumble with a low C or D note for effect.  I would advise trying a 5 as Chris_B said as some of the more modern arrangements even with bass guitar or electric bass parts tend to throw in the odd low Eb or D.  Once you learn the neck more. as he also said - it does give you more options for fingering notes without moving when trying to sight read runs etc.

My two other tips are: The string bass parts will have a lot of held notes that are intended for arco playing with a bow on double bass.  I do occasionally drag my DB out but am not a "bower" so will try to ring the string as long as I can and re-pluck on the first beat of a bar to try and make it a subconscious pulse and less obvious it's not just a constant note.

The tuba parts often have string/electric bass cues in them, but there won't be any tuba cues in the string parts.  If you have no tuba, you may be sitting resting whilst everyone is wondering why the bass is missing.  I often have to keep an eye on both parts in complex arrangements (we rarely have a tuba) as there may be some nice pedal notes in a quiet bit, or a little tuba solo that is not in your part and it needs covering.  I don't know why they don't put the cues in, maybe they think such bands will always have a tuba.... 

EDIT:  I would add it is rare that in my experience I have seen for parts to go dead high in concert band music.  There are a lot of pieces that seem to sit more naturally with fingering around the 5th - 9th fret, so playing Ebs and F's on the A string around fret 6 and 9 allows you to easily do runs up to high Eb's and Fs, but it's not often? 

This is really useful stuff, thanks v much Mr Hands. 

 

I've tried to get the bowed effect on a couple of tunes by 'violining' the volume knob after sounding the note but it's quite hit and miss. 

I haven't looked at the tuba parts - good tip. 

 

As for the high parts, I think it's in part down the idiosyncrasies of the ensemble as some of the players are doing arrangements, but without quite realising the range of the instruments they're arranging for!

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My main bass is a 5 string tuned E-C, with a drop D tuner. It’s really good for chordal playing and soloing. The other big benefit for me of this instead of a 6 string is that muting is not as much of a challenge. 

From reading the thread it sounds like a good octave pedal might be your best friend for this gig.

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I started on six string (currently own three) and am still very comfortable playing one, especially sight reading pit orchestra music. Also switch regularly with fours and fives. It’s a good mental challenge. 

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I mostly play a 5, and recently got a 6. Adapting wasn't too hard. Noodling around with the 6 at home I was kind of seductively drawn to playing higher. But when I took that back into the band they all agreed that the higher notes got lost in the mix. I've now re-strung my Jazz 4 BEAD to push myself back down to the lower notes which is where the bass is doing what it should, underpinning the other instruments. 

This is in a blues band, but the principle should be the same for any genre or ensemble. 

I do use the high C to good effect when I'm doing solo bass/vocal, or with my regular duo partner, who has a wonderful voice but plays rather flat dull rhythm guitar, so the high notes add some useful detail and sparkle. 

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