As Jeff: additional strings and musical ability

Hi Jeff, I’m enjoying your column very much and I thought I’d throw a question at you that has bothered me all my bass-playing life. How much does musical ability come from within and how much is it gained from experience and hard work? Are we all parcelled into non-musicians and ‘proper musicians’, or is there hope for me yet?
Ray Matthews

Jeff Berlin
Hi Ray. Yours is one of the most interesting questions I have gotten in quite a while, and my answer may surprise you. Most bass players that you listen to acquired their skill through experience and work, not a sense of genius or musical inborn savvy. Only a few players are blessed with the musical spark, that ‘something’ in their DNA that makes them become the musician that they become. Genius, or even a spark of musical inspiration, like Jaco Pastorius had, is rare. Usually, bass players simply like to play and figure out what is needed to function on their instrument. From here, they can use these skills learned over time and their love of music to make a pretty decent musical career. The majority of well-known bass players fit this category. The solution to everybody’s problems as a player is to learn factual bass. Your instrument was designed to do something specific and musical content offers you the right information for you to learn what that is. I hope that helps.

Hi Jeff, what is the purpose of five-string and active basses? I have read most of your articles and see that you prefer passive, four-string basses. Am I missing something?
Ian Box

jeff-berlin-low-standardsHi Ian. Thank you for writing. The kind of bass that one chooses to play is a personal choice. My preference is four strings and passive, but many bassists prefer active and/or a five-string instrument. If I am extremely narrow in my educational preferences, I am quite liberal regarding all things artistic, and choosing a bass is an artistic choice. Whatever instrument you enjoy should be played. Some players enjoy a low B or a high C string or even go to a six-string bass guitar. For me, the four-string bass is an instrument that I am still figuring out, and so I don’t want to complicate my musical life by adding strings that have little impact in the musical styles that I play, although that low B can sound quite heavy and warm. I notice that more people are going back to passive four-strings, perhaps discovering that a passive bass can sound warm and clear. Amps and pedals can always affect one’s passive bass tone and I like the idea of having a tone strong and centred before I put any pedals on it. Passive basses do this for me. Also, a passive bass seems to give a recording engineer a lot more pure tone to create a great recorded bass sound. Choose what gives you pleasure, because you can always change your instrument somewhere down the road if you wish to. This is the beauty of trying things out in music. You can always change your mind later about it. Regards and thanks.

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