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  • Writer's pictureAlex Bickers

Why being familiar with the neck is so important on the bass guitar

When it comes to really knowing your instrument, and how to use it to great effect, one of the big differences between amature players and professionals is their fretboard knowledge and how fluent they are in moving around the neck to play. It's all well and good being able to go fret to fret, sounding out which one plays which note, but if I were to say to you "play me a G dominant seven arpegio in 3 different places" would you be able to do that? If you are a beginner and that particular instruction sounds very daunting and off putting, please don't be discouraged. It is fairly simple once you have a good understanding of theory and these are things that you will learn on the way at your own pace. It will eventually come as naturally to you as asking a chef to cook spaghetti bolognese.

Here I will give you a number of good reasons why learning the neck is an extremely valuable skill. It is worth thinking about these points and integrating them into your learning at a pace you feel comfortable with, even if it is tiny chunks at a time. It's like learning a language, and I myself have still a long way to go.

1) Scales and arpeggios, and imrovising

A lot of bass lines are very simple, and that is all they need to be. But some lines are more complicated and with many genres of music you will want to groove along with the song and be able to improvise around the chord progessions and melodies. If you are not doing this then you are not using your instrument to its full potential and standing out as a great bass player. The key to this is understanding key signitures and how chords are constructed from those keys (using arpeggios and scales), as well as knowing which intervals work and which don't. You don't want to be playing any random notes in the scale. It is better to know which notes you are targetting and why. The reason you need to know the entire neck to do this like a pro is the song could be played in any key, so it is useful to be able to adapt to any situation.

2) Key changes

Which brings us to our next point. I have lost count the amount of times I have spent time learning a song perfectly only for the singer to say that they need to change the key as the song doesn't fit their vocal range. This is something you will have to deal with as you cannot afford to be selfish. If a key change is required to serve the song and serve the band as a whole then you must be agreeable. Sometimes all this requires is shifting the whole thing up or down a few frets. Sometimes the hand positions could become compromised or there are open strings used, in which case you might need to completely re-arrange the way you play the part.

3) Octaves

Every instrument generally has a frequency band that it fits into. Hi hats take the top end, guitar is a mid-range instrument and a bass fits into the lows to mids. You get the idea. To make a band sound good, every instrument has to have it's own space in the mix otherwise instruments will clash and it could end up sounding pretty underwhelming and awful. It could be that the part you have learned is not providing a low enough tone to provide a band with that deep bassy feel and you may have to shift down an octave. Sometimes you may be playing too low and will have to do the opposite. Either way, it will be your job to identify this problem. Sometimes it will be a producer or band leader, and they will dictate to you what you must play. but a lot of the time it will be up to you to recognise when something isn't working and you must know how to adjust on the fly.

4) Sight reading

This is a very daunting topic and a lot of people can't do it. It is not essential to be able to sight read and there are many top musicians who can't read a bar of music to save their life, so it is not the be all and end all. However it is an extremely useful skill in some fields, especially in the session world or if you are playing on a cruise ship band. You wont have time to learn all the songs and they will normall give you some sort of lead sheet on the night of the gig, or sometimes new songs will be added and you will be expected to play it. If you can't, you might end up feeling embarassed and inadequate around the other musicians, and could even end up loosing the gig.

Sight reading is a skill that takes years to perfect, but to be a true master at it, you need to be able to play in any given key on any area of the neck. You could see a collection of notes on the page, and there could be a number of ways or places you can play it. All with different advantages and dissadvantages. Some ways might have more options for you to go up or down in pitch for the songs needs, but could involve more stretching than if you played it elsewhere. This is while it is helpful to know the commonly played areas of the neck off by heart.

I hope there are some useful points for you to think about. Maybe start integrating excercises into your routine and start experimenting. It could give you some skills that will come in very handy one day.

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guitar teacher in hove, brighton, portslade

bass teacher in hove, brighton, portslade

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