D ow n lo ad the B a s s
app for extra co n tent
he use of open strings -
where and when - is a
subject that can divide
opinion, so let's take a
look at the subject this
month and provide a new
perspective on the matter.
To some extent my early
study as a bass guitarist
was always something of
an amalgam of bass guitar
and double bass techniques,
probably from a result of using
both electric bass and acoustic
bass tutorial books and being
as much influenced by great
double bass players as electric
bassists - and so I probably
have a more permissive attitude
to open string use than some.
Certainly, I was, from the
beginning, not of the school of
thought that said one should
always use one finger per fret
and always avoid the use of
open strings which many are
told to observe.
At the extreme end of this
school of thought, I recall I once
taught a student who never
used any open strings - apart
from the open bottom E - and she told me that this was an approach that had been instilled in her from
the beginning.
I would imagine most of us don't take quite such an extreme position as this, and, to some extent, my
own use of open strings might be influenced by such factors as the tempo of a piece and the duration of
the note in question. So, at a slower tempo, I would prefer to fret a note for the sake of the tonal quality,
but at a faster tempo and if the note is of a short duration then I might well use an open string. Sometimes
this means I am able to play bass-lines using solely double bass fingering which can aid endurance on some
lines in lower positions.
Example 1
is an instance of double bass fingering in what acoustic bassists would term 'half-position',
what we might think of as first position at the first fret. I have written out the scale of F major, extending
into the second octave to encompass all notes in that position, using double bass fingering as indicated and
open strings as shown. I think most people would likely use this fingering, whether or not they're aware of
its acoustic bass provenance, as it sits so comfortably under the hand and negates the need for a position
shift which would otherwise be necessary. This fingering would also work in the key of Bb across all four
strings in this position, the notes beneath the root note at the first fret on the A string fitting into this
overall scheme comfortably, using the open A and third and first fret on the E string.
Example 2
I take this idea to what we might regard as second position, with our first finger over the
second fret, but what double bassists would conceive of as first position. Here I have written out an E
Mixolydian scale, again using double bass fingering and open strings, except I have reverted to one finger
per fret on the G string in order to make the G# at the first fret on the G string. I think this illustrates how
my technique is somewhat a mix of double bass and electric bass concepts, and while perhaps most bass
players would agree on the F major scale fingering, many might prefer to avoid the open strings in the
second example, using one finger per fret throughout and making a one fret adjustment on the G string.
You can make a case for both, and depending on context I might well use one finger per fret when playing
in this position and key, but equally I might also use the patterns indicated, dependent on such factors as
tempo and note duration; I think it is always preferable to have as many options as possible open to us and
use what works best in any given context.
And so, in
Example 3
, I have written a sixteenth-note two-bar bass-line on an E7 and A7 chord using the
fingering in the second example, double bass fingering and open strings. One of the advantages of using this
system for this example is ease of playing, aiding endurance and the ability to play this pattern for a long time
without tiring. Try this exercise both ways; as written using double bass fingering and open strings, but also
one finger per fret, using the fourth finger at the fifth fret instead of open strings. I would note that I am not
trying to say that the way I have notated it is the 'correct' way; you may prefer to use one finger per fret and
find that perfectly comfortable for this idea, and indeed, I might use that system myself depending on tempo,
but it makes for an interesting exercise to try it both ways and at different tempos to see which might work
Open Strings in 'First Position* - E Mixolydian
Music To Your Ears
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