You’ve got to try this!
By Jon Liebman
September 15, 2023
I don’t know about you, but when I was first learning bass, I had my “familiar places” and my “unfamiliar” places on the instrument’s fingerboard.
My comfort zone was usually limited to frets zero to five. On a good day, it may have gone all the way to seven. Woo-hoo!
Once I got north of those spots, though, I felt totally lost.
One reason the bass is so cool
When I look back, it seems odd that that should have been the case. After all, the bass is tuned consistently up and down, all in fourths. It’s not like a guitar with that B string, or a piano with all those black keys.
The bass is cool that way. In fact, if you can play something anywhere on the bass, in most cases you can play it everywhere on the bass.
So why all that unfamiliarity?
I was talking with Dan Lutz a couple weeks ago, a veteran of the LA session scene, in a conversation published as this week’s FBPO interview.
During our talk, Dan shared an exercise his teacher used to have him do that helped his fingerboard knowledge tremendously.
There’s more than one play to play that note
“I remember,” says Dan, “my early bass teacher would tell me that before I could do anything I had to find a note in three different places on the bass. Not octaves, but the same note in the same register in three different places.”
Have you ever tried that? It’s a very handy skill to have. Once you get it down, the end results are amazing.
“And then he would make me play scales using a pattern,” Dan continues, “and he would make me move that pattern somewhere else. As I played, I had to say every note out loud. I would watch my hand and watch where those (notes) are. Eventually I could train myself.”
Here’s how you start
When you think about it, the relationships between the notes are the same no matter where you are on the bass. You start by meticulously finding the right places to put your fingers, then memorizing the names of the notes.
Dan remembers going through that process very well.
“It’s monotonous at first,” he says, “but you memorize where that F# is on the A string versus the D string versus the G string, and you know where those octaves are.”
Once you get that system down, you can transfer that skill anywhere on the bass.
“I had to do that in all 12 keys,” Dan remembers, “in two different places every time, saying every note.”
It works like a charm
Dan says this advice can do wonders for anyone learning bass and it will get you very familiar with the entire bass fingerboard.
“Say the notes as you’re playing them,” he advises, “because if you can get familiar with that middle part of the bass, specifically across the strings, like 4th, 5th fret all the way across, you can really open up your vocabulary.”
Not only that, but it will strengthen your grasp of some basic music theory concepts too.
“After playing for 20-some years,” Dan says, “I have a lot of muscle memory, so I know where (the) notes are and I don’t have to look. I know what a minor third feels like, I know what a fifth feels like and all that.”
How about you?
Do you ever have that, Whoa, where am I? feeling when you move up the bass fingerboard? Leave a comment below and let me know what’s helped you. And by all means, give this method a try. The results can be startling!
Be sure to check out my interview with Dan too. You’ll find it here.
Special announcement: Navigating the bass fingerboard is one of the areas thoroughly covered in my brand new digital course, Bass Guitar for the Rocker in You, coming in October. Watch for details.