Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Get Ready to Play String (Stand Up) Bass

Taking a course in "Big Band" has really helped me to make the transition from bass guitar to stand-up string bass.  Here's how I am preparing myself to play it with skill and stamina:

1.  Playing string bass is physically tiring -- After playing a while, my shoulders and arms start to ache from holding and plucking the bass.

Solution:  Exercise your arms and shoulders with five pound, hand-held weights.  At first I was skeptical -- only five pounds?  A squirrel could work out with those.  However, the secret is in the number of repetitions.  I do three separate lifting exercises, with twelve repetitions each.  I do this regimen once in the morning and once in the evening.  After I'm through, I can feel the burn. Now my arms and shoulders feel stronger and I don't tire so quickly playing bass.

2. Playing by touch, not by sight -- With a string bass, you never have to worry about hitting a fret -- there are no frets!  Nevertheless, you still must hit the right note in the right place on the neck, and you must do it by feel alone.  Why?  Because as a string bassist you will be concentrating on your music, and if you look away to find the note on the neck, you will lose your place on the sheet music.

Solution:  Practice your scales daily.  First, look at where the notes are on the neck (I put pencil marks on the side of the neck showing where the fret would be -- they can be easily erased later).  Play the scale while looking for the first time, then play the scale several times without looking.  This will help you navigate the neck by feel, without the need to look at the neck.

3.  Reading notes quickly and effortlessly -- If you are new to reading notes, pencil in the name of the note by each note on the sheet music.  After a couple of days of practice, you won't need the pencil marks anymore.  Then you build speed by reading the notes as you practice.  There are many bass books that supply you with "etudes," practice routines for reading notes.  To be able to read notes, you must read notes!  You learn by doing.  Don't worry about speed at first, just concentrate on playing the right note as it is represented on the page, one measure at a time -- or even one note at a time.  Speed will develop quickly.

4.  Amplifying your bass -- I bought a Realist Copperhead bass pickup.  It costs $200, but works very well, producing true bass tone through an amplifier, with no feedback so far.  I use a small Peavey bass practice amp -- I bought it for my bass guitars for less than $200; it is light and portable, but puts out enough power to be heard.  The Realist pickup installs easily without having to carve into the bridge, and you can hide the input jack under the tail piece.  I used a computer cable tie to fasten it to my tail piece.

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