Going Upright (Part 1): Introduction

This series isn’t so much of an ‘Upright Bass vs Bass Guitar” as in which is superior, than considerations for aspiring professionals and serious amateurs when making commitments to either types of basses. In multi-series segment, we will look at the differences and similarities between the two types of basses from different aspects, such as musicianship, technique, function, tone, and perceptions.

For younger musicians and those that are trying to become a professional upright bassists, I would say that it is very beneficial for upright bassists to know how to play the bass guitar. Being able to pick up the bass guitar and site read makes you a more employable upright bass professional. There were times when I was doing shows as an upright bassist, but I still played the bass guitar on a few tunes because the music director arranged it that way or because the audience associates that tune with a Fender P-bass sound. Not having to bring a bass guitarist for a couple of songs each evening is a money and headache saver for directors. There are a few noteworthy bassists that are able to keep playing both at a phenomenal level, so maybe you’re the exception to the norm; your intonation on the upright is impeccable while your technique and tone is so flawless that you can express yourself better than Picasso on canvas. For the other aspiring professionals, there are considerations in trying to be highly proficient at both upright bass and bass guitar. This is especially true for those that play multiple genres such as classical and jazz on the upright bass.

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First, I’d like to give you a little background of myself so that you can understand how my journey took me to where I am. As a performing musician, I used to play both, but gravitated the upright to a point where I where I’ve considered the bass guitar retired. As an instructor, the percentage of students learning upright bassist vs bass guitarists is hard to define, since most of my students are/were transitional bassist; good bass guitarists moving to the upright.

When I first picked up a bass back when I was 14, it was a bass guitar. The only other instrument that I played was as a child, which was the violin. That lasted for a few years until I was 11. It did give me exposure and created a basic appreciation of classical music. I grew to become a big fan of rock music in my teenage years which is why I wanted to learn to play something that I could in a band. I tried guitar, but connected to the bass a whole lot more. I took lessons at the local music shop from a Guitar/Bass teacher and took it seriously for years with the lessons and practice. Outside of lessons, I progressed by playing in bands and improved at a fairly average pace.

A couple years after starting to learn bass guitar, I started playing the upright because I love the way it sounded and the way that it felt. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it yet because of the problem of not being able to transport the upright bass outside the house (sometimes the reasons for certain things in life are the most practical). With a bass guitar, I could just strap the gig bag over my shoulder and hop on my bike. There was also a perception that the upright bass was harder to play, thus too slow to play fast intricate phrases. I will discuss this perception later.

When I went to college the majority of the time that I spent was on the upright bass, since I focused on jazz and classical. Having a car that could transport the bass also meant that I could bring the bass where ever I wanted. This didn’t mean that I immediately stopped playing the bass guitar. While in college, I played and enjoyed all types of music, so I still played both types of basses. For fusion or rock, I still played the bass guitar, because that was the status quo. I considered myself proficient in either, but as I progressed as a bassist, I became to favor the Upright over bass guitar. One of my fellow bassists in college who is a phenomenal musician, went the other direction and favored the bass guitar over the upright. There are several reasons which I will discuss in this series.

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