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Jazz Bass Lessons: Tuning the Bass

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Now we come to one of the most important
aspects of playing the bass, and
that's getting in tune.
It's a challenging instrument, we don't
have any fret markers, and we have to
learn how to hear the difference between
when we're out of tune and in tune.
There are two words that
we use to describe that.
We're either under the pitch,
which we call flat, or
over the pitch, which we call sharp.
When we tune our instrument, there are
several different ways to tune the bass.
You can tune using a piano,
or you can use a tuner,
an electronic machine that helps to
tell you when you're flat and sharp.
You can tune the open strings, and you
can also use harmonics to tune the bass.
We're going to start first with the open
strings on the bass, using a piano
to help us to learn the difference between
when we're in tune and we're not in tune.
So we're gonna start by listening
to the note G from the piano.
And we're gonna play it.
Now we're gonna play it on the bass.
Now, notice what I just did.
I played what they call a harmonic.
Harmonic on the bass is when you rest
your finger lightly over the string, but
you don't press it down.
There are certain places on the instrument
where you can get harmonics.
We're gonna deal more in
depth with that later.
So for now
this harmonic which is where the neck
meets the body of the bass,
is the most reliable harmonic
we have on the bass for tuning.
I recommend you use an open string
or the harmonic to tune by.
Especially when you're beginning playing
the instrument, it's very important
because that's the most reliable harmonic
and that's the easiest thing to hear.
Now what I'm gonna do is we're gonna tune
that G again, but I'm gonna pretend that
I just got the bass out of the bag and
I'm gonna take the G string down.
We're gonna make it flat.
So it's under pitch, now you're gonna
hear that when he strikes the piano now.
You hear the beats, something's not
right and now we're gonna correct it.
Sounds better, right?
Okay now.
Hit it again please.
Okay, now let's try it with the D string.
Okay now, what I'm going to do is make
my D string a little sharp, just so
you get the idea of hearing it
when your string is a little high.
Now, hit the D again.
Okay, so, now we're there.
You notice how when we're a little
sharp or flat you can hear beats?
A little vibration between the things
because they're not equal.
Now we're gonna do the A string.
Again I'm gonna go lower.
>> Let's see, that's good.
Checking myself, too.
One technique you can use is
check yourself with the electronic
tuner after you've done it by ear.
What you want to develop is the habit
of learning how to hear pitch
without a tuner, and
then checking yourself using the tuner.
Use the technology to help you
develop your natural skills.
So finally, we're gonna do the E string.
I'm gonna make it lower again.
Okay, there I used the harmonic as well.
I'd like to hear that E one more time.
Okay, thank you.
Okay, now we're gonna discuss
how to use the chromatic tuner.
When you have an electronic tuner
there's a light in the middle,
which will flash green when
you have the note in tune, and
then there are red lights on
either side of the green,
which will show you whether you're flat
on the left or sharp on the right.
What you want to do is
develop the skill of
again trying to tune by ear at first, and
then checking yourself with the tuner.
Although I have to say, certain times
in noisy environments, it really helps
to have an electronic tuner because it's
not possible to hear yourself clearly.
And that's when the electronic tuner
really comes in handy because you
can visually tune the instrument even when
you're in an environment where things
are too loud or people are making too
much noise and you can't hear clearly.
What you want to avoid is
becoming too dependent
on the visual aid of an electronic
tuner when tuning your instrument.
You have to develop your ear because later
on, as we start to place our hands on
the instrument and play closed notes,
where you actually have to press your
finger down, you want to have the skill
in your ears of being able to adjust.
If you hit a note and it's a little
flat that you can hear that and
move it and
make it a little higher to match pitch.
So, my advice is use
the technology of a tuner and
use it to help bolster your ear,
the power of your ear.
So as I look at the tuner now and
I play an open G,
[SOUND] I check it with the harmonic.
You'll notice it's flashing green.
Say I was to tune it down a little
bit again just to give you an idea,
and you see it's flat.
There's a little flat note and
a red light.
[SOUND] I see that?
So I'm just gonna crank the string up
until I get green.
There we go.
Later on we'll be using the tuner on
occasion to test our measurement as we
move up and down the neck in our positions
on the bass to see if we actually
are playing the positions in
a balanced and in tune manner.