But I’ve always played it like this!

In many cases, there’s a better way to lay down that bass line

By Jon Liebman
Week of February 1, 2021

When you’re playing a passage on the bass, do you find yourself automatically reverting to the same area on the bass fingerboard every time? 

Do you avoid certain parts of the bass because you’re unfamiliar with them? Or even afraid of them?

It’s quite possible that there are more efficient ways you could be playing those bass lines, grooves, solos, and more by becoming familiar with other parts of the fingerboard you seldom go near. 

The subject came up in this week’s interview with virtuoso doubler Marco Panascia. Given his vast experience as an in-demand bass player, Marco knows his way around the instrument better than most, and he offered some really good advice.

Born and raised in Italy, schooled in Boston and New York, and having played with a list of jazz greats a mile long, not to mention countless Broadway shows, Marco discovered some very efficient ways for approaching just about any bass line.

“I realized how important it is to play vertically across the neck,” Marco says. “If I’m playing a D, it’s important to know that you can play that D on the 10th fret of the E string. And so you can go vertically and do a whole scale, an octave and-a-half without shifting, as you would have to, if you played that D on the fifth fret of the A string.”

Marco’s point is right on. As I always tell my students, one of the things that’s so great about the bass is its consistency. Traditionally, a bass is tuned in 4ths, regardless of how many strings it has. Generally speaking, that means if you can play something anywhere on the bass, you can pretty much play it everywhere on the bass!

In learning bass, chances are you’re doing some unnecessary shifting that’s causing you problems. Playing a G on the fifth fret of the D string, for example, is not always the best choice. Similarly, if you need to play an F, maybe the 8th fret of the A string is your best bet, depending on where that note lies in the context of the line, rather than always going to the 3rd fret on the D string.

“If you have good technique and good knowledge of the fingerboard of the instrument,” Marco says, “you can immediately translate it into notes as opposed to fumbling and trying to figure out where to play the stuff.”

My advice to you is to take some time and learn the areas on the bass that are unfamiliar to you. It will open up a whole new world. Big thanks to Marco for raising such a practical and helpful point.

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Marco here.

Comments on But I’ve always played it like this!

  1. Simon Rodan says:

    Relatedly, I’ve been trying to play bass parts I know well in different positions with if possible no shifting or at most a semitone. So a line like “Once upon a time in the West” (Dire Straits) that starts with a I III V arpeggio, I start either with my second finger for the I and II and V with fingers 1 and 4 on the next string; or I with finger 4, II on the next string up with finger 2 and the V up another string with finger 1. It’s been a very helpful exercise, playing familiar lines in different positions.

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