Use this thread, if you like, to discuss all things wherein music is made by plucking or bowing or just plain whacking the hell out of a string under tension. Anything (even tentatively) in the guitar or violin family (yay bouzoukis and shamisens) and anything that looks like a harp, and hurdy gurdies of course. But not pianos, claviers and whatnot, sorry. Okay, maybe well behaved harpsichords.
I noticed how much fun my son was having playing electric and acoustic guitar, and decided I should have some of that brand of fun too. You can see the electric bass I bought the other day in a posting on the Mail Day thread. This electric bass is the first musical instrument I’ve ever owned that isn’t basically a digital computer. That realisation is sobering.
That post developed into a discussion of learning basic technique with contributions from several people, most notably @themaninthesuitcase , @Farabide and @Dud, so I thought I’d bring it here to a thread about string instruments as a complete novice.
The method I’ve adopted for now is to use my eyes sparingly. I find if I don’t look down my fingers do a pretty good job of hitting the right fret at the right place on the right string. The hope is that they’ll get better with experience. My ears are being trained at the same time. I avoided learning how to touch type for most of my life but about ten years ago I did and my typing ease and efficiency improved very rapidly. This surprising result made me very confident in the “eyes off” approach.
I need to know my way around the fretboard and that will need many hours of practice. I’m still at the stage where I calculate fret distances haltingly in my head. I know there are easier a and better rules, but technique is my main target now.
I like to train my ears and my fingers to do this job on their own, because my eyes will never have a good view of the fretboard and when I crane my neck to use them it’s a bit like the way some people use a typewriter keyboard. Looking slows you down.
Standard bass tuning for four strings is EADG, so the strings are all five semitones apart just like a “normal” guitar on standard tuning only with sexier more growly sounds and none of those awful thin tinny strings that rip your fingers. A perfect fourth, I think it’s called. The gods of harmony have arranged it so that going up the strings on a given fret is like going down a fifth. It sounds like your ears gave you a great big kiss (actually that’s going down a fret feels like.) Which is sort of wonderful, because when I was still in my teens Imogen Holst’s book told me that dominant to tonic is a perfect fifth and will guarantee you a Novello Award. She may have exaggerated that bit, or maybe I imagined it. Then again she was Britten and Pears’ artistic director at Aldeburgh and was probably on strong psychedelics at the time.
Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. But yeah, isn’t string music interesting! It brings you face to face with the pythagorean (I use European referents because I’m European and I know European culture best) origins of music theory.