Making the Shift: from 4- to 6-String Bass
Q: Do you have any advice for those looking to make the leap from a 4 string to a 6 string bass?
A: I made the leap directly from a 4 to a 6 string bass, and had the advantage of making the switch while I was attending music school, at Berklee. This is an advantage because you are 1) playing a lot and 2) reading a lot.
Simple, but that’s the best advice: 1) practice on the new bass, a lot, and 2) read a lot of music.
Reading music serves a musicians in so many ways. Not least of which is learning your fretboard.
Here are some books I like for reading:
- Bach Cello Suites
- Slama “66 études in all Major and minor keys for bass”
- Storch-Hrabe “57 Studies in Two Volumes for String Bass”
- J. Hrabe “86 Etudes for String Bass”
Having to hunt and peck on the fretboard while working a specific piece of music is one of the best ways I’ve found to get better acquainted with the fretboard. You can try to keep yourself in one position or another to specifically target a chunk of fretboard.
Some recommended steps:
- Re-learn all of your scales and arpeggios, chord shapes, and so on, utilizing the extended range of your new bass
- Practice playing tunes you already know on the instrument (utilizing the extended range)
- Practice tunes out of the Real Book and work out chord shapes
- Practice soloing (to let the stream of ideas take over and work on the instrument in a less conscious but, equally “present” he’d space)
- Read, read, read
Really, it’s all about muscle-memory and automatic recall of information. As a result, you really just need to play it a lot. I personally gave myself a few weeks of study on the bass before using it on a gig. I wouldn’t wait until you’ve “got it” entirely, but you don’t want to blow a performance because you can’t remember what string your on all night long.
Get fairly comfortable with it and then start easing it into use as a primary instrument for a while to really get acquainted with it. You’ll be playing both your 4 and 6 string better than ever in no time.
As a point of reference, it took me two weeks to get fairly comfortable and two months to feel at home on the instrument.
As they say, your mileage may vary. Good luck!