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Thread: Open strings or not?

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    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    Open strings or not?

    I have some thoughts on this & will share more about why I use open strings on bass (& guitar as well)
    But first just kind of as an introduction.

    There are people out there who believe that the proper way to play bass is to NEVER play an open string (or maybe with the exception of the low E)
    One reason pointed out (other than some adherence to some sort of tradition or rules) is that fretted notes sound different than open strings--and yes there is a difference n tone--although I will wager most people wouldn't pick it out--but some can. (I've played bass with someone who can)
    This is one reason why some players like zero frets on bass & guitar--there isn't an open string in the same way as all notes get stopped by a fret.

    So what do any of you say?
    Even if you don't play bass--what is your preference for a bass player you are playing with? (If you have one)

    And I will add my tips on how I use open strings (Things that I later found out that some well known & respected bass players do as well)


    It's about time we had some more discussion in the bass section here.
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

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    Super Moderator die Bullen's Avatar
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    On guitar I never play open strings.

    As far as bass is concerned, I have no preference to whether he is playing open strings or not- it is his instrument and as long as he is playing in time and in tune, I'm happy.

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    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by die Bullen View Post
    On guitar I never play open strings.

    As far as bass is concerned, I have no preference to whether he is playing open strings or not- it is his instrument and as long as he is playing in time and in tune, I'm happy.
    Interesting...so you never play open chords nor the low E by itself?
    Meaning in standard tuning the lowest note you ever place is an F?
    Or are those exceptions?

    And how do harmonics fit in?

    Really wondering about that--hen I will present my tips & stuff...
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

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    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    While we await dB's reply, some comments...


    I have read & heard comments that playing open strings is just wrong but for no other reason--just that it is.
    At least those who comment on the difference in sound have a reason--and it has some merit.
    But does that mean we shouldn't ever use open strings?

    I believe the answer is no.
    If an open string is there--why not use it?
    If it has a different sound, why not take advantage of that & use it?

    For me, yes there are musical rules--but they aren't like laws, they are more like guidelines of what has been done in the past & they codify & share the experience & wisdom of those who went before us.
    We would be wise to listen to that .
    But we shouldn't feel compelled to never break those rules.
    But as I told students back when I taught--learn the rules & then break them, so you know why you are breaking them.
    And when I play I don't think about rules--I just play.
    But having learned rules--and what rules to break & when to break them--if I just play it comes out better than just sticking to the rules.

    Any questions?

    So next how I like to use open strings (Primarily on bass--but this applies to guitar as well)
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

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    Super Moderator die Bullen's Avatar
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    In my case there are too many chords per measure and too many keys we're playing in to even try to play open chords. I guess if I really wanted to I could try to play the occasional E7 open but then I'd be jumping from fret 7 or 5 to open and back to 7 (abstract example). Playing voicings that cluster make these changes much easier. For the key of F I'd be playing the root on the A string at 8, not on the E at 1.

    Harmonics I have no real practical use for in our music- I like the sound of harmonics but there is just no call for them on a gig.

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    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by die Bullen View Post
    In my case there are too many chords per measure and too many keys we're playing in to even try to play open chords. I guess if I really wanted to I could try to play the occasional E7 open but then I'd be jumping from fret 7 or 5 to open and back to 7 (abstract example). Playing voicings that cluster make these changes much easier. For the key of F I'd be playing the root on the A string at 8, not on the E at 1.

    Harmonics I have no real practical use for in our music- I like the sound of harmonics but there is just no call for them on a gig.
    So what about when you are just playing for fun?
    Not for a gig or project that way--but just sitting around playing for fun?
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator die Bullen's Avatar
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    Sure, when I am noodling I fool around with harmonics. I guess I hit the occasional open chord while noodling but it is a very low % of my playing

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    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by die Bullen View Post
    Sure, when I am noodling I fool around with harmonics. I guess I hit the occasional open chord while noodling but it is a very low % of my playing
    Fair enough--just wondering.

    Any way--back to bass as this the bass section...
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

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    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    So finally--what I like to do with open strings on a bass (Although these things will work with a guitar as well)

    With a bass in standard tuning there are at least 2 places you can play the same note as three of the open strings--so some will say to not use open strings--but then you miss out on some cool stuff I cam across myself and then found out a lot of bass players use these things--and why not?

    So what I referring to is taking advantage of the A, D & G strings having the same note in at least one other place on the bass.

    So play the 4th string 5th fret--that's an A--alternate that (or play them together) with the open A string--so what you say?
    Well if you have a bass line that repeats that A, but you just play it in one spot --then every time you hit the A string the previous note ends--for some stuff that works okay.
    But if you alternate you get the two A's overlapping and that can give you a bigger sound--the overlaps add depth.
    Or you can pick (or strum them together.)
    Some rhythms make that tough to do--but others lend themselves to doing that.

    As well if you play both together then let the A continue to ring and play a different note on the 4th string you can get some harmony going.
    This can also work using the A as a pedal tone while playing other stuff over the A...

    This also works with the D & G.

    I don't use it much for the G as I usually like a lower G--but it's still there to use.

    It sounds greta in songs that go from A to D or D to A to do that for both.

    Of course there are other variations on this--and if you drop the 4th string down to a D you can get three Ds going--although you have to adjust the A by playing the fretted not on the 7th fret. (Which isn't that tricky--at least with practice)

    Next post I'll go over the E--which is similar, but a bit different.
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

  10. #10
    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    Okay--now for how this works for the E--as I mentioned it is similar to what I do for the A, D & sometimes G, btu a bit different.
    the main difference is that with the other three the notes are the same pitch--so they are unisons.
    In the case of the E it is an octave difference.
    Since I can't go to a lower E (Without using an Octave pedal) I go up.
    So it is played at a different place on the neck as well.
    with the A,D & G I fret the lower string with the next higher string being open.
    In this case it's the open string that is lower & the fretted one is on a higher string.
    And I fret the 7th fret of the string.
    This gives it a bit of a different dimension than the unisons.

    And even cooler, after I started doing this I discovered some well known bass players who also do this --especially John Paul Jones who does this on the classic rockers-Whole Lotta Love & Communication Breakdown--both real cool riffs.
    That doubling of the E gives it more power and it really helps make the song.
    It also works with the guitar parts--and I play them with that open E as well...

    Anybody else have any input or insight into open strings? --especially on bass.
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

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