– ”Is there always a “sweet spot” on the fretboard where you should play a bass figure or part”? – ”The answer is yes” (in my opinion!)
I have played ubasses since 2010 (and electric basses since the early 80s) but during my years as a ubassist it has been ~90% focus on fretless ubass models.
Well, one reason is that my first ubass was fretless and I played it almost exclusively for the first three years. I guess I choose the fretless model because I wanted to emulate the upright bass and as you probably know it doesn’t have frets.
In 2013 I started to play fretted solid body ubasses too but I have been playing fretless acoustic/electric ubasses a lot more.
So why did I tell you this?
In July (2019) I bought my first fretted acoustic/electric ubass. I have been looking for an early model without the built in preamp to compliment my 2010 spruce fretless that also i ”pre-amp-less”.
I have of course been playing fretted acoustic/electric UBasses but never owned one until now.
It came with the original black synthetic polyurethane Pahoehoe strings. These strings has such a nice tone and it’s not hard to understand why they are loved by many ubassists.
…BUT…those Pahoehoe strings are actually harder to play on a fretted then a fretless ubass, at least in my opinion! I have written about this before in my 2019 Buyers Guide post […and also here: Post 1, Post 2]
If you mis-fret, playing on the fret-wire, using the Pahoehoe strings on a fretted ubass you will probably get a strange not-so-pleasant sound. If you “mis-fret” on a fretless ubass you will play out of tune.
So why is ”out of tune” not as bad as the fret noise on a fretted ubass?
It all comes down to the nature of the polyurethane strings. These strings have a warm tone and because they are made from “solid” synthetic rubber they tend to have a quite short decay; you play a note and it fades away quite fast. If you play a little out of tune the “mistake” will quickly disappear!
You need, of course, to be “in-the-ballpark” of the desired note but you will quickly be “forgiven” if you don’t hit the note spot on! On a fretted ubass everyone will hear if you “mis-fret”…
This is why it is very important to have a clean playing technique and also know where a bass part or riff will sound the best on your particular ubass.
These suggestions are good for all ubass players, both fretted and fretless!
First up – map the fretboard
The goal here is to map out where the different notes are located on the fretboard so you can move around easy and navigate through chord progressions and riffs. This also makes it easy to move a bass riff or shape to different locations/boxes on the fretboard.
Count your options – How many notes of the same pitch (and octave) are they on the fretboard?
1. Start with an open G-string
2. The next available G is on the fifth fret of the D-string
3. The third G is on the 10th fret of the A string
4. The forth G is on the 15th fret of the E string
Can you see the pattern here?
Rule of thumb
If you take any note on the G-string, move to the D-string and five frets higher you will find the same pitch and octave. Continue to the A-string and five frets higher…
How many notes you’ll find will differ a bit depending of what note (what octave of the chosen pitch) you choose to map out. It also depends on how many frets you have. Typically the acoustic/electric ubasses have 16 frets (and most solid body ubasses 24).
We will focus on 16 fret models here.
[Cue drum roll…] The right answers for G pitch is:
G (1), g (4), g1 (1), g2* (1) (For info on the different octaves please check out the movie below!)*) Harmonic ”over the sound hole”
This gives you quite a few options, especially with g!
Knowing the above will help move bass parts and riffs around the fretboard.
But how can you tell where a bass part or riff will sound/work best on the fretboard?
This is where your work and ears come in!
I can explain how I think and work out where to play different parts but it’s really up to you to map your fretboard and find a workable plan for your ubass playing!
Example Bass Part
Here’s a simple bass part that I have mapped out on different places on the fretboard. Where you choose to play it should come down to two main things:
Where on the fretboard the bass part/riff sounds the best (in my opinion the most important thing to keep in mind!) In the included example there are, in my opinion, definitely notes that don’t sound perfect in some of the positions. I would probably discard that position ”in real life” for the sake of getting the most consistent tone as possible. All three positions are however included so you can hear, compare and find out what you think is best for you!
Where on the fretboard the bass part/riff is most convenient to play regarding what you played before and what you will play after the bass part/riff
This will of course require some work but here’s some suggestions how what to do:
Listen to a song that you thing has a great bass part and sound
Try to figure out where the bass part or riff was played on the fretboard
If possible see if you can find a YouTube video of a live performance of the song. This can be hard especially since bass player probably isn’t going to be featured as much as the singer or lead instrumentalist… Try to choose a singing bass player since this will probably give you more ”bass-playing-in-view” time!
Try to play the bass part the way you believe (or saw) it was played
Does it sound good there or can you find a place where it better?
I will explore this further in upcoming lessons and ebooks!
In a series of four short blog posts I will write about the different lessons in my first Lesson Pack: ”Learn to play the Ubass – basic techniques” (One lesson at the time every Sunday for four weeks!)
Lesson 1 – How to hold the Ubass
The first lesson gives you suggestions about different ways to hold the Ubass.
Since the body and over all length is so much shorter than a regular electric or acoustic bass guitar you really need to find a way to accommodate this.
In the lesson I go through different ways I hold the ubass. I have found out a couple of alternatives that can be nice to switch between or at least use as a starting point when you develop your own ”holding style”. I will let you know what has worked best for me and why.
Even though you have been playing regular bass for a long time I think this lesson will help you to get a good ”grip” on your ubass playing regarding how you can hold it to get the most out of your ubass music making!
Stay tuned: Next Sunday [September 3rd] it’s time for ”Lesson 2 – basic plucking/picking hand technique”
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My parents bought my first ubass at a music store in Honolulu, Hawaii while visiting the islands back in 2010. I had not been able to try one beforehand. It only took me a few moments to get acquainted with the short scale length and rubbery strings. After that I got more and more in love with the feel and sound of the ubass. Hope you have or will get the same feeling for these amazing instruments! Read more about my first encounter here!
Long overdue here’s finally a short travel log about my trip to the 2017 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA
I have been to a couple of music trade shows in Europe as a visitor but this was my first trip to the Winter NAMM show in Los Angeles. It was also the first time working closely with Kala. My main focus was to release and letting people know about my first Ebook/ePub in my Learn to play the Ubass series.
I started working on the ebook back in 2013 and it has slowly taken its form. The basic idea and the text was ready after about a year but working on how to present it, all the movies and the graphics and navigation took quite a while to finalize. You can read more about the Ebook/ePub and where to find it here.
After a +10 hour flight from Stockholm ARN I landed at LAX and took a bus to Anaheim where I met staff from Kala. I settled in and started to plan the next coming days.
I arrived on Monday, January 17 with the show starting on Thursday that week. I helped out a bit loading in some stuff and setting up the booth. The booth was fantastic with a really well throughout design that got a lot of compliments from many visitors and booth neighbors.
Load in and set up of the Kala Booth
Once the show started I met a lot of great people, both visitors, other companies and press. Besides talking to some online magazines myself I was also fortunate to get help to set up some meetings and interviews both from Kala and other friends in the music business. It was, for example, crazy to see Nathan East being interviewed in the exact same spot a day before I got an interview from the same online community! 🙂
You can find the news coverage and interviews here.
The Ubass got a lot of attention at this Winter NAMM show. 8 years after the first Kala Ubass was released its still a ”show stopper”! Many musicians, including lots of bass players of course, came by and was floored by the small footprint bass with the huge sound. It’s so great to see the happy smiles on the faces of the first time players
The California solid body Ubasses was revamped with slightly bigger and rounder bodies as one of the main differences. Check them out here.
I also got to try out the prototype Paddle Bass by Kala. A great one string bass for a quick and refreshing way into the wourld of bass playing! Link to Bass Musician Magazine article.
All in all my first NAMM show was a very nice experience. And although it’s quite exhausting being on the show floor with the intense sound and constant stream of people I hope to return and continue my ”IRL” networking across the pond as soon as possible!
A big thank you to all the staff at Kala and the wonderful Kala and Ubass artist I got to hang and work with!!!
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I read a Kala Ubass review in Bass player magazine back in 2010. At the same time my parents happened to be on vacation and they helped me to buy my first ubass at a music store in Honolulu while visiting the islands of Hawaii. l had not been able to try one beforehand but it only took me a few minutes getting acquainted with the short scale length and rubbery strings. After that I have gotten more and more in love with the feel and sound of the ubass. Hope you have or will get the same feeling for these amazing instruments! Read more about my first encounter here!
Ok now it’s time for part one of my lesson on the song ”Satellit” by Ted and Kenneth Gardestad. (For a short live clip of this song go to this blog post).
In part 1 we will focus of the music theory side of the song.
Parts Of The Lesson
We will look into triplet/shuffle playing and use the classic Swedish pop song as our ”tool”.
(Read more about the song in this post.)
There are other songs in this shuffle or 12/8 style that you might be more familiar with. One of the most famous might be ”Hold the line” (by Toto).
We will also check out what scales (modes) the different riffs derive from.
Triplets and Shuffle
In the sheet music I use triplets to write down the bass part. (See video – coming soon in Part 2 of this lesson). You can think of an 8th note triplet as three 8th notes evenly spaced where you normally would play just two. One way of describing this could be with the use of the 12/8 time signature. When I describe shuffle rhythm I often use the 12/8 example and the take away the middle 8th note of every group of three 8th’s. For more on shuffle rhythms and a way of playing those see this video.
Either way you should divide the pulse into four beats. In 4/4 it will be four quarter notes and in 12/8 it will be four dotted quarter notes.
Since ”Satellit” is mainly based on triplets (or groups of three 8th notes) I choose to write it in 4/4. Jazz notation: In the case of swing music notation you often use regular 8th notes and write at the top of the score or lead sheet that the 8th notes should be played with swing/shuffle rhythm feeling. That way you don’t have to write out every triplet.
Here’s a pic of the how shuffle notation looks like in 4/4 and 12/8:
Besides the 8th note triplets there are also a couple of quarter note triplets. The same method is used here. You ”squeeze” three quarter notes in the space of two. These triplets are a bit harder to do. But if you play along with the video (in part 2) and maybe the original recording or why not other songs using these triplets I think it can help you get good at this quickly!
Riffs and what scales they are made from
There are two main riffs in ‘Satellit”. The whole song starts with Riff 1. In the chorus it’s time for Riff 2. Riff 1 is also played during the guitar solo and outro.
Okey. What are the scales/modes used in these riffs?
Riff 1 is clearly based on the G minor pentatonic scale. This scale uses five notes from the G minor scale.
G minor scale: G-A-B flat–C–D-E flat-F–G
G minor pentatonic: G-B flat-C-D-F-G.
Riff 1 starts on scale degree 1 moves down to scale degree 7 and then climbes up the scale. Let’s devide the riff into three phrases.
I think this is a nice way to really make the most of this scale. Making up little motifs based on small parts of the scale and the make connections between these motifs using nothing more than notes from the scale!
Riff 2 is really based only on the Bb major scale! And this works really well because the the key of the tune is B flat major. Let’s break it down a little bit.
B flat major: B flat-C-D-E flat-F-G-A-B
If we build chords based on the Bb major scale we get these chords:
Bb major – C minor – D minor – Eb major – F major – G major – A minor b5
In the chorus we have these chords:
Bb major – D minor 7 – Eb major – F11. (F11 is a E flat major triad with F as bass note). As you can see all of these chords derive from the B flat major scale and chords based on that scale. This means the B flat major scale will work throughout the chorus!
On the first chord (B flat major) the riff starts on the 3rd degree (Bb: 3-2-1) and then moves to next chord using the same three notes landing on the D. After this we have a long scalar motion starting on the Eb (the 4th degee of the Bb major scale) moving all the way to the high Bb.
Now we know that Riff 1 is based on G minor pentatonic and the chorus riff is based on the Bb major scale. How come this works? Well it’s because these to keys are related [G minor is the relative minor to Bb major] and use the same notes with different starting points/notes! Check out this picture of the circle of fifth. As you can see B flat major and G minor both have flatted B and E!
Watch the original version with Ted Gärdestad from the Melodifestivalen 1979 (Swedish TV) on YouTube.
Stay tuned for part 2 for a video lesson on how you can play the bass part!