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Thread: Transitioning from 4 to 5 string, a long term thread

  1. #1

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    Transitioning from 4 to 5 string, a long term thread

    Howdy Folks,

    I recently swapped a 25th 4HH for a 5HH. This means I have to spend some time getting my head around doin' this 5 string thing. I though I will make this a blog, posting at regular intervals. This means you will read me try some things that help, and maybe others the don't.

    Before I start I think it would be best I give everyone a brief Bio of myself so you know my experience level and what I play. I started playing Bass 2 years ago after sitting behind the drum set for a while. I play in a pop/rock cover band. I moved to bass after we lost our bassist and could not find a replacement (I've never looked back since). We cover a wide spectrum from the 60's to modern stuff. If we like a song then we'll play it. We all do this as a hobby and currently have only have one gig a year planned.

    When you read this, one thing to bear in mind is that the main reason I decided to switch to a 5 string is so I can practice a song to the original, and then play it in the band without problems when we transpose it down a step or two. About half our songs are transposed at least one tone lower than the original. The ability to easily transpose forms the basis for how I am approaching the transition. This may be a mistake... we will see

    I play mostly finger style but use a pick on only one song (German: Dein ist Mein Ganzes Herz) and (attempt) to slap only on Like I Do from Melissa Etheridge.

    Another thing to note is that up until 2 years ago my knowledge of harmonics and musical theory was extremely limited. Some things I try might be obvious to the more experienced players but they may be monumental to me.

    So, enough said now I'll start.

    Day 1 - First impressions, Baby steps:

    The 25th 5HH has arrived... I will not go into what an incredible instrument this is... I think you've heard it all before (See the quote in my signature).

    The first time playing it I'm surprised that I can do a half way decent job of playing some songs. I though it would be harder. I do notice Its more difficult to get the groove or feeling right. For example the first time playing "Sweet home Alabama" it just did not sound right. My timing on some of the fingering, for example the A-B-D tap in the refrain just did not want to work. The Interlude felt and sounded a little weird. I decided to forget playing songs and I practiced scales for a while. Now I really don't like practicing scales. I only know 2: Blues and Major (that is enough to get me by for now)

    I spent some time learning to do scales across 2 octaves That is something I never did well on my 4 string and it is surprisingly easy on the 5. I also did a lot of chromatic fingering using one finger per fret over 4 frets on every string. I did all these exercises slowly, not only concentrating on getting my fingers accustomed to the fretboard, but also on muting the open un-played strings with both my right and left hand.

    After about 3 hours of scales and songs I feel pretty comfortable with it. Sweet Home is sounding a bit more normal I'm getting the hang of it.

    July 18, 2010 - Learning everything all over again:

    I did not have any time to spend with the bass until this morning. I've taken Grand Wazoo's suggestion and I am re-learning my songs, them while keeping my hand pretty much planted at the 5th fret postion. I am fortunate enough to be blessed with long fingers so spaning 4 frets, using the pinky finger on the B string, 8th fret (G) is working well. The one thing the really popped into my head is that the patterns of the chord progression seem to make more sense now Maybe its because I did not learn to play the 4 string correctly but I have the feeling the B string makes the fret board more logical and fall into place better. I can now cover 2 octaves on the C Major scale from E to E with only having to move my hand slightly on the D and G strings... this is awesome! Songs that previously required a lot of hand movement (Thats because I tried to avoid to playing open strings when possible) can almost all be comfortably played while on the 5th fret.

    The greatest thing about I like about not having to move my hand as much is I now don't have to concentrate on my fretting as much. I can focus a bit more the sound and muting. Muting is not as big of an issue as I though it would be... I think mainly because I learned to mute correctly on the 4 string using both hands (Left mutes the the higher strings, the right thumb the lower strings). If you play finger style and are thinking about switching to a 5 string do yourself a favor and concentrate on muting the A string with the right thumb when playing the G string. Scales really help learn this.

    Also I personally like having the B string to anchor on. I anchored on the pickup on the 4 string and always felt uncomfortable when I shifted my hand forward. Anchoring on the B allows me to move forward and back more comfortably. Also the position my hand naturally moves to is actually about 1cm closer to the neck than the pickup anchored position. I actualy like the sound better there so thats another win/win.

    I'll be taking the advice below... and simply play, play play and not switching between a 4 and 5 string. My 4 string fretless beater has been packed away in the basement and the 25th 5HH is all I have to play (until my "new bass fund" has been sufficiently stocked)

    July 23, 2010 - First Band practice:

    Band practice was moved from Monday to Thursday this week. This gave me a few more days to practice. It went well enough but I still am not at a comfort level for a gig. Did few of the errors mentioned below, I started on the wrong string, got C und F mixed up or completely forgot the pattern that uses the B string and had to go back to 4 string mode.

    What really intrigued my was how different the sound of he E, F, F# and G's compares between the E and B strings. Those notes on the E have more midrange and really cut though the mix. The same notes on the B have a bit less bite and blend into the mix nicely without getting lost. It was fun switching to the E string during the chorus or solo on some songs to get a little more presence and then step back for the refrain by playing on the B string.

    Not having to move my hand so much is proving to be a huge help for the songs I dont have memorized. I can concentrate more on reading and les on where my left hand needs to go next. I am now starting to think more in position and scales than in individual notes. This musical theory stuff is actually starting to make sense I was actually able to improvise a small fill on one song that positively surprised our lead guitarist.

    Next up: I'll post again in a couple of weeks after getting more practice time in.
    Last edited by MadMatt; 07-23-2010 at 12:54 AM. Reason: Add new entry
    .
    Bongo 4H, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Ebony
    Reflex
    4HSS, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Fretless Ebony

    25th Ann. 4HSS, Ven. Red, Rosewood

  2. #2

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    Matt, try to work over some 2 oct scales from string to string with minimun position shifting.

    Then try this trick just for excercise purpose: use a guitar capo at the 4th fret, so that 5th fret is your fret no.1 (this trick is just so you can mentally stop yourself from going below the 4th fret.) Once you are confident, remove the capo and try to play along an easy bassline like Hotel California for example, and use your 5th string as much as possible like your life depended on it. You will find that in due course the 5th becomes indeed your life saver and the new position adopted will help you playing your bass more evenly across the whole fretboard, and believe it or not this will improve your dexterity and stamina too.

    God bless the B string.

  3. #3

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    Thanks GW, This is exactly how I am doing the scales. I am trying to think vertically on the fretboard not horizontally. I'll try your trick. Thanks!

    -M@
    .
    Bongo 4H, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Ebony
    Reflex
    4HSS, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Fretless Ebony

    25th Ann. 4HSS, Ven. Red, Rosewood

  4. #4

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    Matt,

    Congrats on the 5!

    Take your time...that's for sure. When I got my first SR5..waayyyyy back in '89....it was 2 years before it 'felt like home'.

    By 'home' I mean, I was on stage..and CLICK, I wasn't thinking, I was just playing, not thinking, "am I on the B or the E' and it felt natural like the 4.

    You're totally on track by putting on the music you really know and don't need to think about..and play with the songs. Once you're comfy, get a song you're not so sure of...

    Rinse - Lather - Repeat...

    Have big LOW Fun!

    Michael Kelly
    StingRay 5 HH
    BONGO 6 H
    BONGO 4 H

    Bassist for:
    The Femmes of Rock
    Google Dat.

  5. #5

    User Info Menu

    The biggest thing for me when I made the switch to the 5 (in '93) was stopping the B-string from ringing when I wasn't playing it. I had to adjust my technique from anchoring my thumb on the pickup to placing it on the B-string. Now I use a semi-floating technique, where I will place it on either the B or E-string (while always touching the B) to ensure the sympathetic ring is muted.

    SR5 H, SR4 H (x2)

  6. #6

    User Info Menu

    I got my first 5 string in 1998. It was quite disorienting for a while but you got to plug away at it. I described it to the keyboard player like “Imagine all your black keys were now white and vs-vs” Of course I had been playing for 24 years and had some habits to overcome while you are new enough that not every move you make is ingrained muscle memory.

    What I can suggest is what I did:
    • Every new song I learn – I do it on a 5 regardless of needing it for the tune or not. I may not always play it live on a 5 – but I learn it that way
    • Every practice I take a 5
    • Most of the time I am sitting about unplugged and maybe just doing scales while watching TV – I use a 5

    I have heard of some people to use the B string as a thumb rest and play it like a 4. I don’t though.

    I am still more comfortable on a 4 – especially when playing live. The more standard string spacing helps to. I change basses every set so that I have a chance to play with more of my toys. Sometimes I make what I call “Five string errors” which is having your positioning off a string when you start a song and thus in the wrong key. You only do that at most once a set :-> It is almost always the left hand that is wrong though last week it was the right - that really threw me!!

    I tend to do more sets with 4 bangers but that is gradually changing. Every time I buy a bass I get a 5. Somehow I just feel like I am “Missing Something”. Silly me.

  7. #7

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    I made the switch back in 89 as well. And it took me a couple of years to get use to playing a 5. But now I can't go back to a 4 even though I own one of the new classic 4 strings. Just be patient.
    Do scales. If you slap do slap exercises. Try to use the low B as much as possible. It might not happen overnight but you will get under your hands. Once you get it down you might never go back to a 4.
    Stingray Classic 4 String Shell Pink

  8. #8

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    I started using a 5 string a few years ago. Like everyone is saying, take your time. I remember being at a gig with the 5 string shortly after I started asking the other guys "what key is the song". They answered "D". I'd then ask "which string". It sounds like most of us 4 stringers that convert have the same issues, like the B string making noise because of using a 4 string hand position. I forced myself to go back and forth between 4 and 5 strings during sets until I didn't "think" about which one I was using. But that took at least a year. For me, playing a 5er still requires more thinking because of the extended scales that are available, but that's not a bad thing, is it?
    Buncha Rays and Bongos

  9. #9

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    Just play.

    Easiest way to transition.
    -Tom
    Fret more, worry less.

    Bongo only bass in Tom's life.

    Blank-Plank Egyptian Smoke Bongo4H "Nefertiti"

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by maddog View Post
    Just play.

    Easiest way to transition.

    Yup, I think it boils down to that... tried rolling a B sting and putting it under my pillow but that did not help.

    I'll be posting more tomorrow.

    -M@
    .
    Bongo 4H, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Ebony
    Reflex
    4HSS, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Fretless Ebony

    25th Ann. 4HSS, Ven. Red, Rosewood

  11. #11

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    I was thinking about the "Just Play" answer - it is a good one.

    But - you need to also be aware. Be quick to check yourself for the wrong hand position. As the night goes on and the crowd gets more into it and nuts - the band does to. This is when you tend to focus on the show and much of the playing goes into robot muscle memory mode. That is when being a string out of key or suddenly getting lost can feel a bit crushing. So, stay aware of how you sound and adjust quick.

    And remember - if you are going to f**k *p - then do it "With Authority" ----- but transition to the right groove "With Cool".

  12. #12
    sitonmybass Guest

    Dive right in!

    Play just 5-string, don't go back and forth between 4 and 5.

    Just think...you could end up like me: I find a 4-string disorienting now.
    Last edited by sitonmybass; 07-18-2010 at 01:38 AM.

  13. #13

    User Info Menu

    Posted a new entry in the original post.
    .
    Bongo 4H, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Ebony
    Reflex
    4HSS, Black Sugar, Roasted Neck, Fretless Ebony

    25th Ann. 4HSS, Ven. Red, Rosewood

  14. #14

    User Info Menu

    Play your B,C,Db,D, Eb and E scales using the lower notes so you don't end up using the 5er as a 4+1.

    ====================================
    141-DD-76-01 Bongo
    111-L5-5M-01 SR

  15. #15

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    I took up playing a 5 in 1993 (an SR5, in fact!) after having played 4-strings previously for over 20 years.

    This might not apply to the OP's situation, but one thing that helped me make the transition: I learned how to sight-read and navigate a chord chart after I started playing a 5, and the muscle memory/economy of motion that goes along with that discipline solidified the change.

    If you ever play in a band that plays in "flat" keys (horns are notorious for this), IMO you'll find the low Eb indispensable.

    I still play 4 on occasion but prefer a 5.
    Last edited by R Upsomegrub; 07-18-2010 at 08:59 AM. Reason: semantics

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