Transitioning from 4 to 6 Strings on Bass

If you are transiting to 6 string bass guitars, from the standard 4, or even 5 string model gives you more range which means being able to play more lower pitched notes and/or higher pitched notes. The more strings, the more notes and with more strings you don’t have to shift around the neck of the bass as much.

The popularity of 5- and 6-string basses exploded in the 80’s. A couple of things caused this to happen. First, bassists in the 80’s were competing with electronic keyboards. Many bassists were being replaced by computers and keyboards because they could play lower bass notes than a standard 4-string bass. To compensate, some bassists began playing 5-string basses that added 5 lower-pitched notes to their arsenal. And a number of signed bass players in the 70’s took the electric bass to new heights:  Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and Jeff Berlin.  They showed the world that electric bass players could solo and play a melodic role.  Bass players then began wanting more range to play solos in. By adding another string, a 6th string, on the high end of the bass, bassists could reach higher notes more comfortably.

Beginners don’t often realize there is a lot of work in keeping the bass strings quiet in addition to getting the notes to ring out. The more strings there are, the more there is to keep quiet. Also, the strings are together making some playing styles a little trickier. You have to be more accurate. And, the neck gets wider. That means more reaching and stretching on the neck of the bass. Regardless of what you choose, there’s going to be work and practice involved. And, you can always switch later on. It’s not that hard to go from one to another.

Here are some recommended steps for the transition:

  1. Re-learn all of your scales and arpeggios, chord shapes, and so on, utilizing the extended range of your new bass
  2. Practice playing tunes you already know on the instrument (utilizing the extended range)
  3. Practice tunes out of the Real Book and work out chord shapes
  4. Practice soloing (to let the stream of ideas take over and work on the instrument in a less conscious but, equally “present” he’d space)
  5. Read, read, read

Really, it’s all about muscle-memory and automatic recall of information. As a result, you really just need to play it a lot.  Get fairly comfortable with it and then start easing it into use as a primary instrument for a while to really get acquainted with it. You’ll be playing both your 4 and 6 string better than ever in no time.