Practicing the Bass, Playing with the Ukulele, and more fumbling with the guitar, with thoughts.

Ooo, finally, stuff to poke at my bass and practice!

Well, it only took almost 40 pages before I got into something in the Bass for Dummies book that I could pick up my bass for.  I’ve got to say, I really like the accompanying videos (all 2 that I’ve watched), since the instructor talks through everything really slowly, and moves just as slowly.  It’s not that I struggle to keep pace, generally, but the fact he moves so slowly makes everything really easy to see.

What I don’t care for is this concept that you should be able to play scales without shifting your hand. Uh, no. That is physically impossible for me at this point – the frets on the bass are wide, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to be able to do that without seriously injuring myself.

I really think this is bad advice to give to a beginner bassist for two very fundamental reasons.

1. A beginner probably doesn’t have the flexibility yet to do this, and many will try anyway, because you told them they should do it that way, and end up doing more harm than good. It’s fine to say ‘you may be able to do this without shifting your hand’ or ‘eventually, you will be able to do this without shifting your hand’. It is not okay to say ‘do this without shifting your hand’. I can’t reach across 4 frets of a bass without shifting. Eventually, I may well be able to, but someone who isn’t like me, who doesn’t analyze every little detail of what’s happening and why it’s happening, and adjusts to what’s reasonable to expect from myself at this stage, may try anyway, causing unnecessary strain.

2. This is a bass, not a guitar. While being able to span 4 frets without shifting I’m sure is handy if you can do it, so far, I see absolutely no reason whatsoever that it’s a necessary skill for playing bass. I haven’t needed it yet in my Rocksmith time, and having attempted all of the unlocked songs at least once, I see no reason in any of them that it’s a required skill.  I’m playing notes, not chords. Until I attempt to play multiple strings on the bass simultaneously, there is absolutely no practical application for the ability to span 4 frets. It’s simpler, and (for me) safer, to simply move my hand up and down the neck at whatever speed is necessary to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.  So, while exercises to increase flexibility and finger independence at this point are very much sensible things to suggest, because they will help in the long run, from where I sit this 4 fret span seems like a silly thing to imply a bassist needs to be able to do to perform effectively. I’m just not seeing any evidence that that’s true yet. Handy, yes. If you can do it, it definitely would help with speed, but to imply that it’s necessary seems like it’s stretching the truth.

In any case, I spent a little time tonight running through these scales, giving myself something to work on memorizing.  I’m still not into the meat of the book, but there’s really no reason to rush through it.  I think every lesson with a practical application I come across is something that it’s worth drilling for a few days before moving on to the next one.

And, since I’m also working, to a lesser degree, on two other instruments, that gives me a few minutes to fiddle with them, too.

Yesterday, for example, I had a hankering to pick up the ukulele.  I just felt really compelled to fiddle with it, so I pulled it out and opened up the PDF file for “Three Little Birds” again, to refresh my memory.  I ran through the progression two or three times, then it was off to youtube to find a lyric video of the song to try and play along with. It wasn’t a smashing success, but I still did fairly well. I screwed up toward the end of the song almost every time, as the pacing changes very slightly there, and I just haven’t got a feel for it yet.

I tried my hand at singing along. Boy! Singing and playing simultaneously gets rough! lol.  I can mostly play it. I can sing it, but doing both at the same time is a bit like patting my head and rubbing my belly while hopping on one foot (case in point: I can’t do that without making a fool of myself, either.).  That’s one a beginner doesn’t really think about – that singing while playing is also a skill one must learn – especially with the uke, which, odds are, is a one man show.

Whatever the case, it’s becoming pretty clear that this is probably the first song on any instrument I’m going to learn in its entirety.

Onward to the guitar. Also last night, I started fiddling with the finger switching exercise I posted a while ago, and that actually pointed out quite quickly where things are going awry for me with guitar. It’s almost certainly a flexibility issue, which may not give me a magic bullet for improving, but it does tell me where to start looking.

Let’s illustrate this (remember, I’m working on an exercise, not attempting to form specific chords):

position 1
1st position, spanning the middle two strings.

In this first position with fingers switching between the D and G strings, things go just fine. I pull my fingers off the fretboard too much – need to work on some economy there, but the wrist position is neutral, there’s not an excessive amount of tension, so if I’m a little slow, things aren’t looking too bad.

position 2
2nd position, 2nd and 5th strings. What is up with my pinky?

The next stretch out spans the B and A strings. Okay, things are not looking great here. For starters, what the hell is going on with my pinky? But, the wrist is still essentially neutral, so while it needs work, it’s not a complete disaster.

position 3
3rd Position, and this is where things go terribly awry.

Ack! What is that atrocity?!  This third and final position is switching between the two E strings. So far, I have not found a way to make this stretch without bending my wrist into a really horrible position like this. When I fret, the top knuckle of my middle finger locks, giving my pointer finger double the distance to travel to reach the low E string. Trying to place the fingers in the opposite manner (placing the pointer on the low E first) is no better. This is a really difficult stretch at this stage, but it also points out what is likely at the root of my guitar issues; this effed up ‘how do I reach that string?!’ wrist position.  I know about it, and I’ve been working to avoid it, but until I started on this exercise, I had no idea why it was happening.

I can only seem to get the top knuckle of my middle finger to bend by also bending my ring finger, and not insignificantly. If I am having trouble making this stretch, and getting my fingers to act independently enough that my knuckles don’t lock outward like this, then of course I’m going to have trouble forming certain chords, and switching between them once I get there.

So, while I still have a long, long way to go with guitar, at least I’ve managed to sleuth out another clue.

Until Next Time, drilling the basics. Everything else is based on them.

2 thoughts on “Practicing the Bass, Playing with the Ukulele, and more fumbling with the guitar, with thoughts.

  1. A lot of bass instructors preach that 1-finger-per-fret thing, but really, just shift positions as needed. 1-finger-per might work better for you higher up the neck. I used to start my warm-ups on the 7th or 9th frets sometimes, because beginning down at the bottom required more of a stretch, until I came to realize that I can just shift.

    Also, how are the scales coming along? If you learn the patterns for the major and minor scale, you can turn that into a lot of basic knowledge about chords and arpeggios.


    1. Yeah, I sort of feel like preaching 1 finger per fret for bass comes from the same place as tab notation being based on piano notation comes from. It was a handy instructional tool, and it, I suppose, helps you stretch out your hand and become more flexible, but really isn’t actually a necessary enough component to be drilled as it is.

      I’m poking at scales on and off. Usually I’ll run through the ones in the bass for dummies book a few times whenever I plug the bass in, but I wouldn’t precisely say I’ve committed them to memory. I keep reading the diagrams backward. I have to keep reminding myself which side of the charts are the low notes, an which are the high ones. I think that might be a lefty thing – my brain keeps trying to say ‘it should be the other way around!’. I don’t know that I even believe that it should be, but I do the same with the guitar and ukulele. It hinders memorizing scales a bit, because every time I look at them, I have to re-inform my head ‘stop that. you’re reading it backward.’ Eventually I’ll get the hang of them just by exposure, but for now I’m still more on learning to read than I am on actively trying to remember the minutiae. I don’t have any problems playing them, but I can’t crank one out without the reference material in front of me, basically, because half the time I end up doing it upside down when I try. lol.


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