Auld Lang Syne on 6 String Bass – New Year Bass Practice Diary – 1st January 2019
Here’s my bass arrangement of Auld Lang Syne. This is my second New Year as a parent. Since becoming a parent my New Year’s celebrations have become much more mellow. I haven’t taken a New Year’s Eve gig these last two years because parental responsibility takes precedent.
It feels strange, because I’ve been playing somewhere on New Year’s Eve for at least 10 straight years prior to this. But these days I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year than with a nice mellow arrangement of Auld Lang Syne on my six string bass.
Auld Lang Syne
There are a number of ways you can approach harmonising this tune, and I didn’t spend very long coming up with this arrangement. I didn’t write the arrangement down, I just worked out a few things by ear before I hit record.
The loose structure of the arrangement is as follows. I played the first half of the song solo, using simple I, IV, V harmony. I intentionally set it in a key where I could utilise the open strings as bass notes. Then I added some jazz chords and alterations in the second half and immediately overdubbed the melody for the second half of the tune.
This was actually one of the quickest videos I’ve done. The shooting of it didn’t take more than five minutes. But I’m happy with the results. Sometimes playing something “off the cuff” is the best way rather than overthinking it.
I hope you enjoy this bit of bassy mellowness, whether your New Year’s Eve is mellow like mine or a bit more exciting. And as I stated in the video, I hope that the coming year gives you many opportunities to play the bass!
A Christmas Bass Practice Diary – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! – 25th December 2018
Christmas should be a joyful time. It’s a time for families to get together and eat, drink and be merry! However, if, like me, you feel that Christmas generally doesn’t have enough bass in it. Then this Christmas Bass Practice Diary is for you! Another classic Christmas Standard arranged for three basses! It’s exactly what you need to bring a bit more bass into your Christmas Day!
This week I’ve arranged Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow for fretless bass, acoustic bass guitar and double bass. And all that remains is for me to wish you a very Bassy Christmas!
The Christmas Song aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – Bass Practice Diary – 18th December 2018
It’s one week to go until Christmas! So let me first wish everyone a bass filled holiday season! What else could I do other than arrange a classic Christmas Standard for three basses. This is The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) played on fretless bass, acoustic bass guitar and double bass.
Nat King Cole and Fretless Bass
The reason I choose this song is because the voice of Nat King Cole always makes me want to play my fretless bass. Every time I hear him sing, I think of fretless bass. There’s something about the register he sings in and the way he phrases that just conjure’s up in my mind the warm rich tone of a fretless bass guitar. So I played the melody on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass after I’d laid down the chords, with a few natural harmonics on my Warwick Alien Deluxe six string acoustic bass guitar.
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire has a 32-bar AABA form like many jazz standards from that era. The song has a jazz ballad feel, which I’ve replicated on all of the A sections. In the B section, I changed the feel, to bring in a bit of variation. I’m using a 4/4 jazz swing feel and the upright bass (double bass) comes in at the B section playing a 4/4 jazz walking bassline. During the B section the two bass guitars also change feel to a swing feel, before all three basses play the final A section with the original straight jazz ballad feel.
For the intro and outro, I’ve used the acoustic bass guitar playing chords using natural harmonics. It’s a technique that I wrote about in my guide to natural harmonics and I think it’s a beautiful sound.
Play Harmonics on Bass Guitar – Part 1: Natural Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary – 11th December 2018
I use harmonics a lot in my bass arrangements, so I thought I’d do a complete guide to playing harmonics on bass. It’s too much information for just one video, so I’ve split it into two parts, natural harmonics and artificial harmonics. This video contains everything you need to know about natural harmonics on bass. Including the harmonic series and advice for making chord voicing using harmonics.
I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of the terms natural and artificial harmonics. To me, they are all just harmonics, they follow the same rules and principles. The distinction is that natural harmonics are created from open strings, whereas artificial harmonics are created from notes that are fretted with the left hand. Calling them natural or artificial makes as much sense as calling notes played on open strings ‘natural notes’ and notes fretted with the left hand ‘artificial notes’.
There is nothing artificial about artificial harmonics, all harmonics exist naturally. However, there is a difference in the techniques that you use to play natural verses artificial harmonics, which I will look at across these two videos. So, I’ll continue to use the terms, natural and artificial, even though I’m not sure they’re ideal.
So, natural harmonics are created by touching the open strings very lightly with your left hand and then plucking the string as normal with your right hand. For the harmonic to be clear, you must avoid the string making contact with any fret, and you should remove both hands from the string immediately after plucking with your right hand. The string should be left to ring as if it were an open string. The difference is that the note you will hear will be much higher than the open string.
The Harmonic Series (Overtone Series)
In order to properly understand and use harmonics, you must first become familiar with the harmonic series. The harmonic series is a sequence of tones that make up a musical note. Musical notes are not simple sound waves. In fact they’re very complex and they comprise a whole sequence of overtones that we call the harmonic series. We can explore this sequence on our basses by playing harmonics.
The harmonic series is, in theory at least, infinite. So it’s impossible to learn or play the entire harmonic series. As you go further up the series, the harmonics become harder and harder to hear and to find on your bass string. So, I’m only really interested in the first few notes of the series.
The series always starts at the exact half way point of the string. This means the halfway point between the nut and the bridge. On your bass, the halfway point is marked by the twelfth fret. You will always find a harmonic at the halfway point of any string that is pulled tight between two points. It doesn’t matter what note you tune the string to and it doesn’t matter what instrument you are playing. The harmonic at the twelfth fret will produce a note that is exactly one octave above the open string.
So, the harmonic series starts with an octave and then is goes up a fifth and then to another octave. This will be a note two octaves above the open string. These harmonics will both occur in two different places on each string. One on the left side of the centre of the string, and one in the same position on the right side of the centre.
The next note in the sequence is a major 3rd above the previous note. So the harmonic series up to this point gives us a kind of major arpeggio.
Here is the sequence written out on the first string of a four string bass. So, the sequence is written in G. The sequence goes, G, D, G, B.
Creating Chord Voicings with Harmonics
The same major arpeggio pattern will repeat itself on any open string, Root, 5th, Root, 3rd. Which makes it fairly simple to work out what notes you’re playing when you play these harmonics.
Once you know what the notes are, you can start to combine natural harmonics and normal fretted bass notes to create chord voicings. I gave two examples in the video, both using the harmonics D and G played on the fifth fret of the first and second strings.
When you add the root note Eb to the harmonics D and G it creates an Eb major 7th chord. G is the major third and D is the major seventh. I’ve done that by fretting the Eb on the 6th fret of the third string, but there are other ways you could play this chord. If you change the root note to E, you get an E minor 7th chord. The G and D become the minor 3rd and 7th.
Learn to Play Triplet Rhythms on Straight 16th Note Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary 4th December 2018
I’m currently putting the finishing touches to my second book, which is a follow up to Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove. In the new book, I have a section which is about feeling multiple subdivisions. Meaning, can you play bass grooves that use both straight 8th notes and 16th notes, as well as triplet rhythms?
It’s hard to switch between straight rhythms and triplet rhythms without dropping the groove. This video features a bass groove that I wrote for the book. It has a straight 16th note feel, but it also contains triplets.
Quarter Note Triplets (Crochet Triplets)
The video features two variations of the same groove. Here is the first, simpler variation.
This version of the groove features straight 8th and 16th notes, Ta-Ka and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi. But it also features quarter note or crochet triplets.
Quarter note triplets are a rhythm that many people struggle with. But they don’t need to be any more difficult that 8th note triplets. An 8th note triplet is simply a beat subdivided into three, Ta-Ki-Ta. A quarter note triplet is the length of two 8th note triplets. So, if you can feel 8th note triplets, you should be able to play quarter note triplets.
Think about it like this. Two beats contain six 8th note triplets. Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta. If you play on every other syllable, like this Ta-ki-Ta, ta-Ki-ta, then you are playing quarter note triplets.
16th Note Triplets
The second variation of the groove features all of the same subdivisions as the first, but it also contains 16th note triplets.
16th note triplets are easy to understand. They are sometimes difficult to play because they can be very fast, even at moderate tempos.
The first thing to understand about 16th note triplets is that they are essentially the same subdivision as 8th note triplets, Ta-Ki-Ta.
In order to create 16th note triplets you must first feel the straight 8th notes Ta-Ka. Once you have the straight 8th note feel, you must divide each 8th note into triplets, Ta-Ki-Ta.
It’s actually easier to play 16th note triplets on straight grooves like this than it is to play them on triplet feels such as shuffles and swing. The reason is that they are derived from subdividing the straight 8th notes into triplets.
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary – 27 November 2018
Someone asked me recently to do a video with some Hammer Ons and Pull Offs exercises. I don’t usually do videos based on suggestions, but this time I thought it was a good idea. Because practising Hammer Ons and Pull Offs is a great way to improve your Left Hand Technique.
Having said that, I believe that there are a few basic things that you need to get right if you are going to improve your technique by practicing hammer ons and pull offs.
Left Hand Techniques
The first thing is to come up with exercises that use four fingers on your left hand. If you want to play with good technique in your left hand then you need to be able to play evenly between all of your fingers.
I see so many beginner and intermediate bass players favouring certain fingers and trying to avoid other fingers on their left hand. It’s very natural to play like that because when you start, everyone has stronger index and middle fingers than ring finger and little finger. But that’s the reason you practice left hand techniques, in order to overcome that.
If you play hammer ons and pull offs using the same two fingers every time, then you are actually making your left hand technique more uneven when you practice.
So, Rule One of left hand technique is practice with four fingers. The only exception to this is when you are specifically working on strengthening a weak finger. As I demonstrated in the video with my third finger.
The second thing that you need to get right is, when you hammer on, you need to hammer on to the fret and not in between two frets. For example, if you want to play the fifth fret on the first string, you need to hammer onto the fifth fret, not in between the fourth and fifth fret.
You need to be very accurate because if you go even a little bit in front of the fret, you will lose the note. The sound is created by striking the string against the fret. So, if you don’t hammer on accurately then the sound will be weak and quiet.
Many bass players struggle with this because they don’t spread out their fingers on the left hand. If you play with your fingers too close together, you won’t be able to reach the frets with your third and fourth fingers and your hammer ons will be weak.
So, Rule Two is spread you fingers wide and hammer on accurately onto the frets.
The pull off technique is a bit easier. But make sure you don’t just lift your fingers off the strings. You need to excerpt a gentle pull on the string as you pull off. If you don’t, the notes will die out as you repeat the exercises. If you pull too hard, the notes will sound uneven as your pull offs will be much louder than your hammer ons.
When you get the pull off technique right, you should be able to keep all of these exercises going continuously without needing to play any notes with your right hand. The pull off technique is easiest to execute on the first string.
So, Rule Three is practice these exercises on all strings, not just on the first string.
The Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises with Bass TAB
This is the first exercise that I played in the video.
I would recommend that you don’t spend too much time playing the same exercise the same way. You should keep coming up with your own little variations. And try to focus on the things that you find difficult.
If you practice the same exercise too much, you will become very good at playing that one exercise. But if you keep varying the exercise you will eventually become very good at the technique, which is what you want.
Here is the second exercise from the video.
In this example you keep your first finger held down continuously. Now here is a variation in which you hold your second finger down continuously.
Make sure you hold your second finger down on a string that you’re not using. Because you won’t be able to pull off with your first finger if your second finger is held down on the string you’re playing. You can vary this exercise again by holding down your third and then fourth fingers. It gets harder each time.
Rule four is the most important rule, and it should apply to everything you practice. The rule is, focus on timing and not speed. Use a drum beat or a metronome and practice everything you do by playing in time.
Hammer ons and pull offs are relatively easy to play fast, but they’re much harder to play in time, and it’s hard to get all the notes to sound even. So my best recommendation is start slow, play in time, make it even and then gradually increase the tempo.
Modal Jazz Improvisation on 3 Basses – Based on Flamenco Sketches – Bass Practice Diary – 20th November 2018
This week I was inspired by the chord changes of Miles Davis’ modal jazz masterpiece Flamenco Sketches. I used the chords as the basis to improvise using three basses, fretless electric, acoustic upright (double bass) and acoustic bass guitar.
This is the second video I’ve made playing jazz with these three basses. If you’d like to find out more about why I’m using them, then check out my previous video called Playing Jazz with Three Different Basses.
Miles Davis and his Compositions
Once again, I’ve featured a composition by the great jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis. My previous video featured a composition called Solar. It wasn’t a conscious decision to feature the same composer twice. However, it does reflect the influence that Miles Davis’ music has had on me and my own jazz education.
The two compositions, Solar and Flamenco Sketches, actually have very little in common. Other than that they’re written by the same composer. Solar is what jazz musicians would refer to as a Bop tune. And Flamenco Sketches is an example of Modal Jazz. They represent very different stages of Miles Davis’ career even though they were only written about five years apart.
Also, in this video, I’m only using the chord progression for Flamenco Sketches as a basis for improvisation. Whereas, I played the melody of Solar as well as an improvised solo, which is more or less consistent with the Bop style.
The album Kind of Blue, is one of the most famous jazz albums of all time. It was released in 1959 and it marked a complete change of direction in modern jazz. It’s debatable whether or not Miles Davis actually came up with the idea of Modal Jazz. Because there are earlier compositions by other composers, that could be described as modal jazz even though the term wasn’t used to describe them at the time. But Kind of Blue undoubtedly established modal jazz as a major movement in modern music, and it marked a sea-change in jazz.
What is Bop?
The concept of modal jazz is actually very simple. In order to understand it, you must first understand Bop, which had been the prevailing style in modern jazz up until the late 1950’s. Modern jazz really started with a style of music called Bebop, and particularly two gentlemen, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Miles Davis began his career as a teenager, playing with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. So his background was in Bebop and he continued playing a style of Bop called Hard Bop throughout the 1950’s when he lead his own band. The composition Solar first featured on a Miles Davis album in 1954, and it is typical of a Bop style jazz melody.
The style of Bebop was all about complex melodies and fast moving chord progressions. In order to play it you needed both technical skill, to keep up with the pace, and also exceptional understanding of harmony and ability to navigate fast moving chord and key changes. The Hard Bop movement was a bit less high paced and a bit more soulful, but it still relied upon the melodic and harmonic style of it’s predecessor Bebop.
What is Modal Jazz?
Modal jazz, by contrast, doesn’t rely on chord progressions. Where Bop compositions tend to change chords in virtually every bar. Modal compositions tend to stay on just one chord for extended periods. The improvisers role in modal jazz is not to navigate continually shifting harmony as in Bebop. It’s to create melody from modes.
Modes are essentially scales. Each chord implies an accompanying scale which the improviser can use to create a tune. Flamenco Sketches is a classic example of a modal jazz composition, it is essentially just five chords, or five modes. Very simple in theory, but it’s also one of my favourite jazz compositions.
Flamenco Sketches Chords
Flamenco Sketches starts in C major, I would use a C lydian mode to improvise on this first section. Find my video about Lydian Sounds here. The second chord is Ab7sus4. The sus4 chord voicing is intentionally ambiguous, because it doesn’t define the chord as being either major or minor. Therefore there are a number of different ways you can approach it. Miles Davis uses a major triad starting on the fourth Db, which I’ve tried to emulate in my improvisation.
The third chord is a Bb major chord, and again you can use a lydian mode here. This precedes one of my favourite moments in any jazz composition. Which is a change from the Bb major to a D phrygian dominant mode. This has to be one of my favourite chord changes. I remember seeing Ron Carter’s band play this piece in London in about 2003. It was such a beautiful concert. One moment from the concert that I can still remember all these years later was when the band changed to the D chord in Flamenco Sketches. Ron Carter had an extended range on his fourth string so he could reach a low D on his bass. I’ve tuned the fourth string on my upright bass down to a D in the video to emulate this.
It’s the phrygian dominant mode that gives the piece it’s Spanish flavour. You can find my video about the phrygian dominant mode here. The Spanish sound is integral to the composition. For this reason, this section of the song lasts twice as long as the other four modes. The final chord is a Gm7 chord, you can play a dorian mode here.
The original idea for this video came because I was practicing a technique for artificial harmonics which I’ve adapted from the guitar. I’ve never done artificial harmonics like this on bass before. I use a different technique usually. I haven’t done a video about artificial harmonics yet, but I will do one soon. So stay tuned to my Bass Practice Diary if you want to learn this technique.
I was using this technique on a guitar and I started wondering if I could use it to play chords on my acoustic bass guitar. Once I found it worked I immediately had the idea of playing the chord changes for Flamenco Sketches using the technique. I recorded it and added the improvisation on double bass and fretless bass, and that’s the video!
Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018
This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.
I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.
Jazz Blues Lick
The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.
If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.
The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.
From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).
Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.
It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.
For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.
The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.
If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.
Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.
From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.
The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.
I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!
Use the Diminished Scale to Play Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 6th November 2018
This week I’ve been practising using diminished sounds to play on dominant 7th chords in jazz. If you want to bring a more jazz sound to your playing, using the diminished scale is a great way to do it. Because it creates an interesting series of inside and outside notes when played on dominant chords.
What is the diminished scale?
The diminished scale is what I would call a symmetrical scale. It sounds like it should be something very complicated but it’s actually very simple. In many ways it’s even more simple than a major scale.
Symmetrical scales are scales that use the same intervals repeatedly. In the case of a diminished scale the intervals are a half tone (semi tone) and a whole tone. Symmetrical scales are also called modes of limited transposition or fixed transposition, which sounds even more complicated. But it still isn’t. It simply means that there are a very limited number of different ways you can transpose the scale. For example, because of the repeating intervals a G diminished scale is the same as a Bb diminished scale and Db and E diminished scales. So the idea of playing in 12 keys is a bit redundant. Another example of a mode of limited transposition is the whole tone scale. You can also use the whole tone scale to play on dominant 7th chords, but that’s another video for another day.
There are only two different ways you can play a diminished scale, you can either start with a half tone or you can start with a whole tone. After that it just repeats the same patterns over and over. Which makes it quite easy to play, as I said before, in many ways easier to play than a major scale.
Here is an example of an arpeggiated diminished scale pattern that I featured in the video.
How to practise a diminished scale
In the video I’ve used the example of a Bb7 chord. Here is a diminished scale starting on a Bb and beginning with a half tone.
I don’t always think about the scale starting on the root note. Often I will use the major third (D natural in this case) as a jumping off point. And in that case I will think of the scale as starting with a whole tone.
Another approach that I use is to start on the #9 or minor third. In this case Db. In this case the first two notes of the scale will be the minor 3rd (an outside note) resolving to the major third (a chord tone). This is a real signifier of the blues and it will help give your diminished licks a bluesy flavour.
How to apply the diminished scale in jazz
As I’ve previously mentioned, the diminished scale most commonly gets applied to dominant 7th chords in jazz. Here is the same Bb half/whole scale written out with the intervalic relationships to a Bb7 chord written over each note.
As you can see, the scale gives you all of the standard chord tones in a Bb7 chord. Root, major third, 5th and dominant 7th. However, it also includes one unaltered chord extension, the 13th, and three altered chord voicing, b9, #9 and #11. It’s these altered extensions that give the diminished scale a jazz flavour when you play them on a dominant 7th chord.
The best way to demonstrate this is by playing a jazz blues, because the blues uses dominant 7th chords a lot. I’ve transcribed a chorus of blues solo that I improvised in which I was using both the diminished sounds and the more traditional blues sound of the blues scale.
Check out next weeks Bass Practice Diary 30 if you want to look more at some of the diminished blues licks I’m playing here.
Six String Bass – A guide to the 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30th October 2018
I just want to share some of the reasons why I play a six string bass. I get asked about six string basses a lot. So, I thought I should make a video about why I play them. And also give out some advice for anyone learning or thinking of learning to play a six string bass. I’ll also write a little bit about the history of the bass guitar and how basses came to have six strings.
The first thing I need to say is that how many strings you choose to play, 4, 5, 6 or any other number, is not that important. What is important is the music you play and how you choose to play your instrument.
You need to decide what is the best instrument for you and the way you want to play. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how many strings. And I think that bass players sometimes care too much about it. They need to remember that what matters is music, not strings.
Why do I play a six string bass?
Having said that, I do have good reasons for playing six strings and I’ll share some of them with you now.
The biggest advantage of playing six strings is the extra range you get. With an extra low string and an extra high string you can extend your range in both directions, which makes six string basses very versatile. I don’t do many gigs where I don’t need to use the extended low range of my six string bass. I can play bass lines that weren’t originally written to be played on bass guitar.
The extended high range of the instrument enables me to play melodies, chord voicings and harmonies that would be very hard to achieve on four and five string basses. I know that not every bass player wants to explore these kind of harmonies, but I do, and if you’re interested in that too then you should think about playing six strings.
Is it Harder to Play Six string Bass?
Yes and no. Hopefully if you’ve seen my other videos you’ve seen me play four and five string basses. Other than the extended range, there’s no difference in the way I play 6 string to 4 or 5 string basses either technically or musically. My technique changes when I switch to fretless bass. But it doesn’t change when I switch between a fretted 4 and a fretted 6 string bass.
So for me, playing 6 isn’t any harder than 4 or 5 strings. In fact it’s easier because I play 6 most of the time and it’s what I’m most comfortable with.
Having said that, you need a strong technique to play 6 string bass well. And you need to make sure that you really learn all six strings.
There are a few technical things to consider when you learn to play six string bass. I see some 4 string players putting their left hand thumb on top of the neck when they play. It’s not great technique to do that and you can’t get away with it on a 6. The extra width in the neck means you won’t be able to access the low strings.
Another technical consideration is string damping, meaning that you don’t want to let open strings make noise when you’re not playing them. This is a technical consideration for all bass players, but the more strings you have, the more difficult it is, so you need to work on that if you’re going to play six strings well.
My final thought on the technical considerations is that it’s a bit harder to learn to play slap bass on a six string, because the high C string can be a bit in the way. But if your technique is good then you can still play in that style.
Learning to play bass
When I started playing bass, I learned on a 4 string bass like most people do. Then I switched to 5 and then 6. I started playing 6 string basses in my late teens. The first thing I did when I got the extra strings, was learn where the notes are on those strings. If you don’t do that, you’ll never play the 6 string bass really well.
I’ve heard it said that bass players should learn how to play 4 strings properly before trying to play 6. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion then we should all start with one string on our basses. We should learn it properly and then add another and learn that properly. That’s not how you learn to play a musical instrument.
My advice would be that if you want to play a six string bass, then get one and start to learn it properly. Make sure that your technique is good and that you learn all six strings.
What to Look out for When Buying a Six String Bass?
So if you’re thinking of learning a six string bass, there is some advice that I’d like to give you about the instrument that you buy.
The first thing that I think is really important is string spacing. You want a nice wide string spacing, just like a 4 string bass. I really wouldn’t recommend getting a bass with a very narrow neck and the strings close together. I’ve mentioned already that there’s no difference in the way I approach playing 4, 5 or 6 strings. And for that to be the case, I need the string spacings to be the same. If the strings are much closer together then it suddenly feels like I’m playing a different instrument.
The next thing to consider is that the bass has a very even sound across it’s whole range. It needs to have a strong and clear low B string. And it also needs to sound good and be easy to play in the high register. If your bass is week in any part of it’s range, then you’ll lose the benefit of having the extra range that the 6 strings give you.
The last thing that I would highlight is the balance. That’s very important. If your bass neck is too heavy then it will dive to the floor when you let go with your left hand. Which means that you’ll have to constantly hold it up which will ruin anybody’s technique. So make sure your bass is well balanced. Make sure you can rest it on your lap with no hands and the neck doesn’t dive for the floor.
So, if you have a six string bass with a wide string spacing, a nice even sound across it’s whole range and it’s well balanced, then you have everything you need. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good six string bass.
My Warwick Artist Series “Steve Bailey” Bass
I know that people will ask what is the bass in the video. So, I should say that it’s a Warwick Artist Series bass. Unfortunately they don’t make these any more, which is a shame because they’re really good. But if you’re looking for something similar without breaking the bank, then I would recommend trying the Warwick Rockbass line.
I just want to say one more thing about the history of the bass guitar and why basses have four strings to begin with.
Many people think that Leo Fender invented the electric bass in the 1950’s, he didn’t. It was invented in the 1930’s by a gentleman named Paul Tutmarc. And it was originally sold as a bass fiddle.
Musical instruments usually evolve from other instruments rather than being invented out of the blue. The electric bass was no different. It was modelled on the orchestral strings violins, double basses etc. Hence it had four strings, was tuned like a double bass and it was called a bass fiddle.
What Leo Fender did, which was revolutionary for the electric bass, was to realise that it would be much easier to play if it was shaped like a guitar rather than a fiddle. And he created all of those iconic Fender basses like the Precision and the Jazz Bass which became the archetypes for all future bass guitars. But the Fender basses retained the four string tuning of Tutmarc’s original electric bass fiddles.
Who Invented the Six String Bass?
It was Anthony Jackson in the 1970’s who started to ask the question, if the bass guitar is now a member of the guitar family, not the orchestral strings family, then why retain the four string double bass tuning? Surely it makes more sense to have six strings like a guitar? It was Jackson who came up with what we now consider standard tuning for a six string bass. He called his bass guitars contrabass guitars. The name never caught on, but the concept of the six string bass has become more and more popular.
That’s my thoughts, and please don’t take this as any kind of criticism of four or five string basses. Most of my favourite bass players play four string basses and many play five. I play four string basses. And I can’t stress how much it doesn’t matter how many strings you like to use. You should find the bass that feels right for the way you play, and that’s all that matters.