The Frontline: Stewart McKinsey

Hello, fellow explorers at the fringes of bass. This month I would like to look at one aspect of playing in the higher register of your extended range: melody. This is one of the most under appreciated elements of music for  rhythm section and support players  As you are likely to be called on to solo or may be considering performing as a solo act, I strongly recommend investigating this aspect of your playing. The extended range bass offers a unique opportunity for us to step away from the low range of the sonic spectrum. Most listeners are drawn to the highest notes in a given piece of music, and we are afforded the chance to play those parts and reach an audience in a different way. as we are trained to lock with the drums and tie all the parts in a song together, this may be unfamiliar territory for many of us.

stewart mckinsey picIf you listen to your favourite melodies, you will notice that the parts do not adhere to the same rhythmic and dynamic guidelines that we follow as bassist. Long notes are juxtaposed with short ones, and there may be long silences or unusual phrasing to our way of thinking. To really play melodies you need to focus your ears in new ways and you need to step away from what you are used to doing as a player. Listen to several different melody instruments: if you’re used to hearing guitarists, find sax players and trumpeters. If you know vocal parts, seek out pianist. If you are a jazzer, listen to some pop singers. No matter what style you favour, listen to vocalists. The inflections of the human voice are some of the most challenging for any instrumentalist.

Find a tune that you connect with in some way and figured out its melody. first the notes, and then the range in which it is delivered, but most importantly start to hear the phrasing. If you can play it comfortable in one place on the neck, move it to the same range on a different part of the neck. Listen to the different character of the notes in this place. Move it to a third spot in the same range and hear the difference here from the other places where you’ve played the part. And this is only the beginning.

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2 comments on “The Frontline: Stewart McKinsey
  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks a lot for your insight on this. It really helped me understand why different players choose to explore extended range basses. Do you not think however, that in adding range it takes away from the simplicity of the instrument? From what I have heard of bassists playing 4, 5, 6+ string basses it naturally invokes a different style or approach to playing (mostly after 6+ string basses). Do you think it should or would ever be classes as, on merit, it’s own instrument due to these differences?

  2. Mike says:

    Definitely not. It’s a bass.
    Following your logic, should we class a piano with more than the standard 88 keys (like the 97-key Bösendorfer Imperial) as something different? What about bigger-than-6-piece drum kits? Do you honestly believe that Bernard Purdie, sitting down at Terry Bozzio’s kit, is going to be incapable of playing a simple funk groove because it’s a different instrument?
    Adding the extra range encourages the player to explore new territory, that’s all. And the only thing that keeps people in their comfort zones and prevents them from exploring outside those boundaries is fear. Which leads to prejudice.

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