Multilingual Bass Talk

Shoutout to all the non-native English speakers out there (or anybody learning in a different language),

I’m very interested in language matters and would love to hear what it’s like for you to learn playing bass in a different language than your mother tongue.

I speak a lot of English with friends, at work, etc. and when I started searching for courses and videos on how to learn bass, I searched in English without giving it much thought. (Also, had started on Fender Play, so that set me on the English path.) There is also so much more out there.
I didn’t really know much of the music-related vocabulary before I picked up my bass, so I directly learned most of it in English, sometimes later checking the German translation. I realise that I sometimes have trouble finding the right German word when communicating with other Germans.

I wonder if the internal translation process slows you down sometimes or if you just got fluent in both languages. Or if English is sufficient.

Some curious observations I’ve recently made:

So we all know the musical alphabet: ABCDEFG
In German, however, it is: AHCDEFG
I’m happy to learn in English, for obvious reasons (logic), never had trouble with this, but when Josh taught the C-major scale I automatically went into German pronunciation mode, going: CDEFGAHC, because that’s how I had learned it in school ages ago.

I watched a German bass tutorial and the teacher said something like: “Wir greifen im fünften Bund.” (literally: We grip in the fifth fret.) And although the words are easy in themselves, I was completely thrown by the “in” and had to make a conscious effort to understand where she wants me to fret. I’m just so used to a simple “fret the fifth fret”.

Also, I’m not sure if I’d ever want to use the German names for sharps and flats. (such as: ges - as - b / fis - gis - ais). :laughing:

I’m considering signing up for a German bass course after B2B or buying a German music theory book, but not sure if it adds more complication or if it might make things actually easier, or if it’s even a necessity.

What are your experiences with this? Any curious/funny/frustrating language-related stories and observations to share?


I didn’t even know these differences existed. Thanks for educating me. I only speak English though so can’t help with your question. I always just assumed music was a common language. At least when you are jamming it is and obviously some other elements like sheet music and tabs.


I guess that most of the vocabulary is pretty international but then pronunciation might differ, so even that can feel like a minor translation effort.

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For the last 2 decades I’ve lived most of my life in English, so it’s not an issue, however my mother tongue is Spanish, and like you from hearing it the name of the notes so many times they are tattooed in my brain, but we don’t have an alphabet instead is do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si (from C to B) so at times I translate to Spanish to find notes on the fretboard quickly, not sure why it just comes that way… I never do it for chords when playing guitar, only to find single notes on the fretboard :man_shrugging:t4:
Regarding taking a course in your language, I guess that if you want to communicate in musical circles about theory and such then it would help, or just if you want to do it, but when we play it doesn’t matter really, the music is the same


Slovak checking in!

I’m surrounded( some might say besieged) by english speaking folk ,as my whole clan is British born and at best they can muster a swear word in slovak that they’ve overheard when I stub my toe…or step on their damn lego!

After years of living in a “foreign” land I went through distinct stages of dealing with language.
At first I translated every thought I had into English before I spoke and conversely tried to find an equivalent phrase, idiom or analogy from Slovak when someone was telling me something that was new to me.

Later on I have gradually split my personality into two- I have a slightly different personality in English than I do in Slovak.
I use phrases that are non- interchangeable and sayings that only make sense in one half of my existence.

I dream in english , often think in english and generally need an adjustment period when switching environments.

When visiting home I’ll feel out of place for a couple of evenings,even around my mates, because I revert to what it was like when I moved to the UK- I’ll think about the phrase I want to use, mix and match words from english to slovak( often syntax too) and by the time I settle on what I wanted to add to the conversation it has moved on!

With how I discovered the interwebs,english just became the default language when I’m trying to learn something new as it is often much quicker to find a website in english.

When it comes to music theory- we have the same musical alphabet as you ( german I mean) do- so the B is an H. I suspect it’s something to do with the pronunciation of an english alphabet H ,compared to say german or slovak .
We do however have a “B” and that’s the sharp A…or the flat B( english music one)

Another difference is that we use a short from for sharps and flats…so an F# is “Fis” a G# is “Gis”…that’s where the “B” comes in ,in our musical alphabet ,as A# would have to be “Ais” and that really sounds odd in slovak . So we have a B and an H !

Also major and minor notes,chords etc. are called “dur” and “mol” respectively, as in: Fdur and Fmol…yet we keep the “maj” in seventh chords- Fmaj7 ,rather then Fdur7…

That’s all I can think of as of right now, I too find language fascinating. …learned german for years( one of my main subjects at school) ,but having not had to use it, unfortunately,it all sort of oozed out of my brain slowly over the years


I find this fascinating how the language centres in our brains work. Do you have specific names for sharps and flats in Spanish and do you use them for this purpose too?

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I learned the latin note notation as well in my youth, same as @Reo. It makes things a bit tricky as musicians I know will often refer to that system as well. I’m trying to get my brain to translate notes, but I’m not there yet :sweat_smile:

Language wise, I’m at four languages, but I somehow opted for an English course for bass. Probably thought there was more choice and quality :sweat_smile:


Yes, sharp is sostenido, flat is bemol…but those I don’t consciously translate, like Stando explained we go through stages when it comes to the bilingual brain, also ABCDEFG just doesn’t ring musically to me


I don’t like translating back and forth between Hungarian and English while I’m learning something. If I learn something new in English, then I’m going to know it in English only. This is true for all the hobbies I’ve picked up abroad, not just music. I learned sailing in English, and I have no idea what most of that stuff is called in Hungarian, so I can only sail in English. Same with working out: I only started being a gym goer a couple of years ago, and have no idea what most of the equipment or workouts are called in Hungarian.

The only part that I’m a bit conflicted about is that I even count the beats and spell the notes in English. This is ok when I am communicating with a teacher, or just counting along with Josh in a lesson, but I even do it when I’m on my own, and then it feels a bit awkward and pretentious. Sometimes I try to do it in Hungarian, but unfortunately I’ve done it so much in English that it just feels easier in English. Translating things just distracts me, and that’s not good in the middle of a song.


Hey @Stando,
I went to Slovakia for my summer holiday last year. :smiley:

I can totally relate to that. Although I didn’t actually live abroad, I was in a long relationship with a Brit and can say that this happened to me too.

Sounds like you are using the exact same system as we do. Also with the Dur and Moll. Probably has some historical reasons. I think I read somewhere that the B-H confusion has to do with the way it was written. Also we call the little flat-sign a B, so that was taken already. Or something. To be honest, when we learned all that back in school, this was probably the moment I switched off and thought music theory wa too screwed up for me.


Maybe numbers are snappier in English and therefore actually more useful for counting beats? So nothing pretentious about that. Just perfectly reasonable.


Hi. Beyond a three-split personality because yes, every language relates to a culture in itself, my first encounters with music writing and theory were in german speaking countries/schools. As soon as I see five lines I think CDEFGAHC. But learning to play bass in English (like the rest of computer related tasks) make CDEFGABC seem natural. No problem with it although I sometimes have to go twice over some of Josh’s sentences. But it’s the theory, not Josh or the language. And I live in a Spanish speaking country… which makes no difference in a lockdown situation learning by myself. The day I encounter a living musician in person and pretend to talk about bass or music the problem will start, or perhaps not. But at least for now notes in Spanish sound very alien to me and I have made no effort to change it. In English no mental translation takes place.


Well, it comes naturally for me, either in English, Dutch, Frisian, German or Danish. I don’t have to think in which language I’m learning, reading, writing or speaking. What I do find is that the music theory use in non English is often more familiar. Might be 'cause I learn that as a child in Dutch first playing piano.
In regards to an english bass course, that came back to the way Josh teaches: that clicked with me. And not with the Dutch, German and Danish teachers I had found online.


Exactly! I think that’s also a cultural thing, like Josh’s great humour.

I found this German guy’s videos quite good although he comes across as a bit of an over-motivated music school teacher. :wink:

If I do another online course in German I might go for him but I’m not sure if he’d get on my nerves after a while.


Ach ja, die Florian, der macht es eben ganz viel zu viel :rofl:

I know what you mean, indeed not my style either. I like Alex a lot more from
He’s more down to earth.
In dutch I sometime have a look at Mart Jeninga (he used basslab as name in the past)


Thanks for the tip! He is definitely more pleasant. A bit more your friendly social worker type.


Yeah and Alex knows his stuff as well. It’s easier after a few lessons from Josh to follow Alex explanation. Shows you just that little extra to understand it all a bit faster. And therefor get more fun out of playing and practising.


English speaker in Poland here. Actually a lot of the music vocab in Polish isn’t too difficult to follow and a number of terms are either taken directly from English (e.g. pickup) or or adapted (muzyka rockowa).

The one difference I’ve found is the music culture. Back in the UK I kind of taught myself to play by buying a bass and trying to learn Metallica songs. Here, most of the musicians I know here went to music college or did music degrees. My wife went to music school and learned the flute. As a result she’s really good at reading music and explaining keys but she’s not so comfortable with improvising.

Like they say - How do you stop a flute player? Take away her music. How do you stop a bass player? Give him some music :slight_smile:


@Regina something simular
Just in case you need some reference, I tend to do that myself switching between teacher and languages.

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I’ve actually signed up for his free mini groove & rhythm course. Haven’t had the time yet but I really quite like him.

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