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How do Bass Guitars work?

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(@caterpillar09)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Topic starter  

I see that most Bass Guitars are 4-5 strings yet standard guitars have 6 strings

how does that work out? Does a bass-guitarist have to relearn new chords to match the different string number
or do you form the same chords, as with 6-string standard guitars, but leave the bottom(or top) fingers of the chords hanging off?

Do bass-guitars even use chords? Please explain bass-guitars to me!


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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No, you normally don't 'strum' on a bass-guitar. As the notes are so low it'll tend to blend together into a muddy wave of noise. Listen to your favourite music and pay special attention to the bass: in practially all western music you'll find that it's playing melodies, based on the notes of the chords. It is tuned like the lowest four strings of a guitar, but a full octave lower. In that sense the change is easy, all the scales and fingerings are practically the same.

The real change lies in the mentality: a bass player supports the music and lays the foundation of the lead guitar. You'll have to listen very carefully to the drum and play something that 'clicks' with it. It's not harder or easier then guitar, just different. On itself I think it would be good if all guitarists took some bass lessons in their life, if only to learn a new way to listen to music and appreciate the other aspects that make up a good musician. If you're enjoying David's lessons here and are considering learning the bass-guitar then you might want to check this out:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1592573118?tag=theonlineguitarc&link_code=as3&creativeASIN=1592573118&creative=373489&camp=211189


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(@caterpillar09)
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So a bassist doesn't form chords AT ALL?

They just pick chords in a rhythmic/arpeggiated fashion?

There left-hand just lies limp?


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Well, you don't play chords like on a guitar, that has to do with your right hand. What your left-hand does depends on other things, but I wouldn't call it 'limp'. Apart from that a bass-player doesn't just 'pick chords', he uses the chords (or rather, the harmonic structure of the song) as a guideline to his groove, sometimes using doublestops. Also you have new techniques like slapping that you don't have on a guitar. Just go to youtube and watch some bass players and you'll see what I mean.


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(@caterpillar09)
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Topic starter  

I watched some videos, and it looks like they're forming chords with their left-hand

or are those just fancy people, and not indicative of most bassists in bands?
But in those cases, they had to relearn new chords for their 4/5 string, right?


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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No, as I said the strings are tuned the same as on guitar, so IF they played guitar before and IF they form chords they don't have to re-learn them IF they use the same voicings. Note the ammount of 'if's. I also don't know if those people you saw are fancy because I don't know what you saw. Finally, it's not about any of that but about music, which depends on the song. Assuming you have a guitar, why don't you just play some bass-lines and see for yourself what it's like?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=YPI54Te2AtA


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(@caterpillar09)
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but there are less strings, so how can they play the exact same chords?

That's what I'm getting at, how is it possible to play the same chords when there are less strings to play them on?


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Open G chord on a guitar = [3 2 0 0 0 3] G B D G B G
Open G-chord on a bass = [3 2 0 0] G B D G
Moveable G-chord on guitar = [3 5 5 4 3 3] = G D G B D G
Moveable G-chord on bass = [3 5 5 4] = G D G B

A chord is a collection of notes, it has nothing to do with the number of strings. In this case the tuning is the same so the notes are on the same space. Besides, you don't grab shapes. The two notes on the 'missing strings' can be found on different places on the other strings (same as on guitar!). If you click the link in my previous post you'll see he doesn't grab a shape. If you take your guitar you can play along exactly like that.


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(@caterpillar09)
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Topic starter  

I see, so you form the same chords but just drop the bottom 2 strings, and that's allowed

Though what exactly is a bassline?

as long as it's rhythmic, does it matter which strings you pick in a chord? Must you only pick the pressed strings?


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(@mahal)
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I watched some videos, and it looks like they're forming chords with their left-hand

or are those just fancy people, and not indicative of most bassists in bands?
But in those cases, they had to relearn new chords for their 4/5 string, right?

Who are you watching, a band's bassiest just laying the foundation or a virtuoso like Jaco, Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke etc who is handeling the leads and solo on the bass?

The guitar being smaller then a double bass the bass player's movement is not as noticable as on a stand up acoustic bass


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Wow. Wait a sec. Do you play an instrument or are you trying to find out which one would be best to start with? I assumed you play guitar but now I'm not sure? I'll assume you're completely new to the world of music for this post, if not please don't take offense. Welcome to GN btw. :)

A bassline is a line, played on a bass. A line would be a little collection of notes played after each other: a little melody if you want to call it like that. A melody consists of two parts: the pitch and rhythm. If you want to make a nice bass-line you need to hit the right notes at the right time, and both are equally important. By pressing on a string (we call that 'fretting' the string) you change the pitch of that string. On a normal bass-guitar you can play each string without fretting, that means you can play four different notes just by hitting one of the strings. However, often the note you want isn't one of them, you get those notes by fretting. So in short, sometimes you need to fret, sometimes you just play the string without having your finger on it.

In any case, I really suggest you don't get too deep into it. If you like the idea of a bass-guitar, get one, or borrow one, and start with the bare basics. Most things are much easier to understand if you just hear, see and do it, reading things might overly complicate things.


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(@caterpillar09)
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Topic starter  

I see, but I just want to know if I can play unfretted strings, when forming say a C-chord, if that's musically sound? Would it be discordant if I played a string in C-chord if it were not "fretted"

Also, what exactly is a "Moveable G-chord"? I've only been practicing open-chords, but a moveable chords intrigues me...


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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In music you play notes, not frets or strings. So whether or not that sounds good depends on what NOTE you play, not on if you use a finger or not. If you 'fret' a open c-chord it means you put your fingers in such a way that all strings are part of the chord. No matter which string you play the note you'll get is part of the chord and will sound consonant. However, that doesn't mean it's okay to play that note: music isn't about playing notes that sound 'okay' but about playing notes that sound good and make sense. You can also put your fingers in a way that some strings sound consonant and others dissonant. Your ears should guide you here, espescially since dissonance of itself is a crucial element in music. A long line of consonance is boring as hell.

A moveable chord is a chord where all strings used are fretted. This means that if you move all your fingers up a fret, the entire chord goes up a fret. So you can play chords of a specific type with the root of your choice with just one shape, just by moving it around. For example: form an open D-major chord. Now play only the top three strings and move your fingers up one fret. You still have a major chord, but now it's D#-major. Move it up another fret and you've got E-major. Yes, that's the same E-major as [0 2 2 1 0 0] yet it sounds different. We call that different 'voicings' of the same chord.


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(@caterpillar09)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Topic starter  

interesting, this is really helping my music understanding thanks for your replies

how common are moveable-chords anyway? Do most guitarists use them, opposed to open-chords? Or am I okay, sticking with only learning open-chords

Also what if I were to move, say, a C-open-chord up a fret, would it change at all?


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Moveable chords are very common. In general people first learn open chords, and combined with a capo discover they can practically play all pop songs. Then they discover moveable chords (mostly barre chords), which are very hard at first. After some months they can play them and discover they can play all pop, rock and punk songs without a capo, just with those barre chords. A little after that they learn jazz-voicings and figure out you don't really need all six strings all the time. By then they start thinking about which voicing they want, opposed to just which chord. By the time you're this far you can play practically all chords in western music.

However, open chords are still the basics and you should make sure you know them well. In the mean-time, spend some minutes a day on the basic barre-chords:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBnS4uhaXAI

Moving open chords is possible too, but a bit more complex. For example, let's take the C-major chord: [x 3 2 0 1 0], you have these notes [x C E G C E]. Now move it up two frets and you get [x 5 4 0 3 0] which are these notes [x D F# G D E]. Sounds much more jazzy when picked, and that's because you only moved some of the notes. You can call this many different things, D11(no5) or Em9/D for example, but don't worry too much. In the beginning you want to stick with the basic open chords (A, Am, C, D, Dm, E, Em, G) and the basic barre chords (A, Am, E and Em shapes). Don't get too frustrated with the barre chords, it might take many months to get it right. And once you do it'll allow you to play literally tens of thousands of songs. :)


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