Is it hard to learn 5- or 6-string bass with 4-string instruction?

I always tell students to start on 4-string bass… unless they really want to not follow my advice, in which case I say go with that. :slight_smile:

So I’m curious for any of you who forgo my advice and start on 5 or 6 strings - is it ever confusing to watch teachers (like me) who teach on 4 string? Anything in particular about it that throws you?

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I taught 4 string players for years using my 5 string. It’s not ideal, but it worked. I can’t speak to the opposite approach so much.

…but you DID remind me of a GREAT bass story. I’ll post it in its proper place. It speaks to the dangers of switching between 4-string and more-string… A wonderful cautionary tale.

Coming soon to a forum thread near you…

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Well, I was given a bass and it’s a 5er. So I can’t see buying another just to learn on right now.

It is a little confusing when it comes to resting my thumb or knowing how to control the vibration on that B string. I’d love to see a one-off video or extra to the course where you discuss the technique needed to learn on a 5 so that in the future we won’t have to relearn things in another way. (If that’s the case.)

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Yeah that can be tricky, which of course is the main reason I recommend learning on 4-string.

I might be able to help with some brief comments though - any time I say “rest your thumb on the pickup,” rest your thumb on the B string. And when you’re resting it on the E string, make sure you angle it so it’s catching the B string as well.

Other than that, muting is a tricky beast. If you can’t cover it with just the right thumb (which is the simplest/easiest method, but doesn’t always work contextually), you’ll need to find a spare finger or piece of finger on your fretting hand. Here’s an example:

I’m fretting a G on the 3rd fret of the E string with my index finger, but my middle finger is reaching over the E string to lightly touch the B string to keep it muted.

It takes a lot of work to develop fretting hand muting habits, because they change depending on which fingers you need for fretting in a given passage of music. But you can start playing with it in little bits, just looking for a free finger to mute with any time you hear ringing you don’t want.

Does that help?

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Thank you! It does help. I’ll give this a try this evening or tomorrow. Having house guests is annoying when you want to keep learning and practice! haha

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I’m currently using a 5 string because I was interested in gospel play. I’m honestly not having any issues controlling the b string. I rest my thumb on it during the courses and in my spare practice time, I “experiment” with that low b! I also implement an anchor method I using my ring finger. Loving these courses!!

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Well that’s a good reason to learn on a 5 string! That low B is a big part of that sound (as you know). And I’m glad the muting is working okay for you! I do that same kind of thing with my ring finger, and sometimes my pinky, especially on 5 string. I do it on 4 string too, but it’s not really necessary 90% of the time (which is why I don’t talk about it in Beginner to Badass).

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where is the story???

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Duuuude!! Sorry for the delay. Here it is:

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I completed the course on a four-string but by the time I was nearing the end I got the five-string itch. I want to make those really low notes, but at the same time I didn’t want to switch over to BEAD on the four-string because then I’m so locked in. At least with the five-string I still have EADG.

Anyway, I’ve recently started going back to some of the course with the five-string in order to get myself comfortable with it (and I can definitely still get something from the course, even the second time around).

I don’t think it’s hard to learn five-string with four-string instruction, from my experience. The only caveat is that learning about muting with the five-string (I watched some videos on YouTube about floating thumb technique specific to five/six-string) is a good first step. After that, it’s no problem following the instruction.

Also, I found some of the general concepts in the course really helpful when I applied them to the five-string. For example, when you teach about learning just a few essential notes on the E and A strings, I did the same with the B string. I immediately know where C, D, and E are on the B string and from there I can easily get around on the B string.

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I’m having no problem learning on 6, but I have some musical knowledge from playing my cigar box guitars and bouzouki. I just take it as you’re teaching me my middle 4 strings and, since I know I’m tuned in 4ths, figuring out the B and C strings isn’t difficult. When I get into chords I might change that C to a B though. :slight_smile:

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Good to hear that @lucas9000 and @Korrigan! I usually tell people not to learn on 5- or 6- strings because of the muting issue, but if you’re making it work and you need to hear those extra notes to be happy, then good for you! :+1:

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@JoshFossgreen I know this is an old post, before I even joined the forum, but I’ll answer anyway.

I started learning bass a year ago, and with the exception of the first couple of weeks, have always learned and played on a 5 string. I’ve taken lessons elsewhere as well, and the same thing applies.
It wasn’t that difficult for me to take lessons in which the instructor is using a 4 string. During the lessons, I could just pretend the B string is a thumb rest and play with the other 4 strings. On my own, I was able to adapt what I had learned to 5 string.
I don’t know if everyone can do this, but it sure worked for me.

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I started out on a 5-string. It hasn’t been a big deal switching between it and my 4-strings. Now, I only use the 5-string when the music dictates it.

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I know this is old, but here’s my two cents.

I started B2B on a 4-string and then transitioned to my 6-string on Day 10 or so of the Hardcore plan. It has hardly been a problem for me, if anything it’s been a small help. Like when we did the C Major scale and end on that middle finger C, I can go to the index and make it a two octave scale, now :smiley:

Also, the 6-string has much nicer and clearer pickups, which highlighted some poor playing I think the other bass was covering up >_> Or it was just me adjusting :woman_shrugging:t2:

But yeah, as a whole, it hasn’t been a big problem for me. The only time it’s been a problem is trying to play, as an example, The Wall, but not tune the 5th/E string down to D, relying on the 6th/B string to play that D on the 3rd fret. I can’t follow the tabs, but it does give me practice on reading sheet music which I think is a win anyway :smiley:

I guess it really just boils down to the confidence I had in muting, plucking, and fretting techniques at the time.

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I learnt on a 4 string but picked up 5 and 6 within the last 2 years, and I switch between them daily. The 4 string feels like a sports car, being quick and nippy, and the 6 string feels more like a campervan, with everything included.

Learning to play 6 string can help greatly with both 4 and 5 string, especially in terms of technique and posture. I would still recommend that someone start on the 4 string though because there are very few songs that don’t require a 4 string, learning the extra notes of a 5 or 6 string may not ever come in useful, it’s the most lightweight, it’s less likely to put off beginners than 5 or 6 string, and most instruction is based around the 4 string.

If someone has a burning desire to only play 5 or 6 string then they should go with their passion and learn from the experience.

Still, learning on a 6 string is a bit like training to be be the world’s strongest man just to lose a few pounds for summer. Much of the experience and the techniques learnt will be useful, but much of it will be a waste, will never end up being useful, and it will take longer and more stressful to achieve what you want to do

I think that 4, 5 and 6 string are all different instruments that each have their own strengths and weaknesses and applications.

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Think I’ll throw in my 2cents as someone who’s half-way through the course and started on a 5 string. I had my 5 string before I started this miracle of a course. Granted, this is all personal experience from someone still really learning to play cleanly. I got a 5 string because I wanted the lower notes for Gospel and Stevie Wonder, haha. Honestly, it probably would be easier learning on a 4 string. Technique is probably the biggest thing.

B string-
So, muting that extra B string really isn’t hard at all. It’s actually more comfortable for me to rest my thumb on the B string than it is the pickup. Sometimes muting the A string is tough if I’m playing every string around it since it’s smack dab in the middle. So, sometimes I use the floating thumb technique to mute, but it’s a lot of practice for me to play cleanly when shifting between all the strings. Minor problem since we’re usually playing on the A string.

I take into account that the spacing between the string is a hair different than on a 4 string, so notes right next to each other on different strings are a bit challenging, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. That, and the thicker neck.

All in all, no, it’s not really confusing to me since the major C is on the middle A string. I only have to make minor adjustments to compensate or maximize. If anything, I always feel like I’m never using the B string for everything it can be used for. I rarely see lessons that maximize what a 5 string can do, but some lessons here are a bit easier on a 5 string since I don’t have to shift higher for some things.

4 and 5 have their strengths and weaknesses. I love my 5 string, but for as many bass lessons as I see with 4 strings, my next one will probably be a 4 string (though I’m not getting rid of my 5).

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My experience owning a 5 string:

  • Muting was not really harder fingerstyle. It is a little more so with pick but still good practice. Certainly not something to worry about, you will adapt fast.
  • The string spacing drove me crazy - so much that in the end I decided I just didn’t like 5’s. YMMV here, this is a personal thing.
  • Going back and forth, once used to both , is a non-issue.
  • The flatter neck is very, very nice.
  • It is easier to reach EADG on a 5 than it is on a 4, so if you are worried about small hands, don’t be. This is not likely true of a 6, though.

I sold my 5 after about six months. Just wasn’t for me.

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I just joined B2B. I have both a 4 and a 5 string but I really want to start the course on 5 string. My plan is to master the 5 string fretboard to the point I know where everything is first. Then I think going through the course would be easier maybe. Just an idea.

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Others have done this with ease here.
I actually wish I had.

My only tip - think about the G string as your ‘anchor’ or ‘grounding’ string. and work down. Then you only need to add a string in your mind on the ‘other end’ vs. your brain trying to move all 4 strings ‘up a string’. A subtle difference but it helps me.