Where is this note on the neck

Hello everyone…

I just noticed something about musical notation that I did not pay any attention before.

I have been playing the Jazz Standard “So What” from Miles Davis for some months now. On my bass I find it quite comfortable to put my index finger on D on the E string and move down the scale from there for the “Head” (chorus).

But now looking at the musical notation from the real book
(with my limited reading knowledge) I see that the first “D” somehow should have been lower than my “Open E” since as far as I know the Open E is supposed to be two notes under the staff…

All the bass lessons on youtube seem to use the open D or any other equivalent fretted note on the fretboard… So how was this supposed to be handled?

Should I be transposing everything one octave higher like that ?


1 Like

That D is lower than standard tuning of a 4 string bass. you can either:
a) get a 5 string bass whose lower note is a B and play it on that 5th string;
b) lower the E string to that D which would be a whole step down (accordingly every note on 4th string will have to be played 2 frets up than the usual fret).


Actually that’s not a bass score. That’s the same note as the open D string. Remember, bass is a transposing instrument and its notation is transposed up an octave from where it would be notated on a concert score. So when using a score for another instrument you have to be careful or you’ll be an octave off. In this case that is an octave higher than you think it is.

One of the perils of Standard Notation - some instruments are transposing, and we happen to play one :rofl:

If you take a piano score and play it as if you are reading a bass score, you will be playing an octave lower than the actual note.

Feel lucky that bass is only transposed by an even octave - some instruments are transposed by half steps.

Like the double bass, the bass guitar is a transposing instrument, as it is notated in bass clef an octave higher than it sounds, to reduce the need for ledger lines in music written for the instrument, and simplify reading.


Both @SirJoe and @howard are correct. You are reading from a grand staff, which is meant for the keyboard. Indeed, it is a D as @SirJoe pointed out, but as @howard mentioned, if you’re playing it as a bassline on an electric bass or double bass (as opposed to the left hand while playing piano), it’s an octave higher, which puts it on the 5th fret of the A string.
If you saw that same notation on a normal bass score, you would need a 5 string or a BEAD tuned 4 string bass.


Or Drop D tuning (or lower), yeah.

Luckily in this case he just needs to play the whole song an octave higher than he thought it was written.


This is great stuff actually. Thank you all!

So officially this was supposed to be played on the Open D.

However it is still not such a bad idea to play drop D on this piece in particular. Sometimes I don’t feel so “bassy” going up the D dorian scale. I find myself frequently going down all the way to the open E and back…

It would also work nicely with pieces that has a lot of Eb in them…

Is this a thing on the Double Bass as well?


Yep. And 6-string guitar. And many other instruments.


Well I meant if it was common in the Jazz World…

I know many hard rock and metal bands use drop D or D tuning…


You don’t need to use Drop D for this - it’s an octave higher than that.

1 Like

I am convinced that I don’t need it for the melody… Now I am asking for comping (walking bass) on the lowest end possible…


Ahh. Not being one, I’m guessing most Jazz folks would just use a 5-string here.

1 Like

Interesting opinion on the matter is, my instructor was explaining me thag the low B string is simply too slow to play pizzicato. Indeed all his 5er up rights have C string instead…

(for anyone who is curios why I don’t ask him these things and write it to the forum instead, is because he is usually incredibly slow to answer questions on the fly and my next lesson is two weeks later… :rofl::rofl::rofl:. And also I miss talking to you guys!)


It’s good to see you :slight_smile:


Well technically, lowest you can go is a 10 or 12 string bass, which you can tune the bottom string to C#. They make 7 strings which you see in death metal, but those are tuned to F# to C or B to F. I think Jazz players would do the latter.

But to me that’s getting exotic. You can play crunchy metal just fine on a fiver.

I would expect not, since that bass part is melodic and the low end of a 5 string is way too low for that… and it’s a double bass part which has 4 strings. I’ve seen people play it in different locations on the bass, some at the 10th fret of the E string, but here’s how Paul Chambers played it:

1 Like

Yeah, that particular bassline has no note lower in pitch than D2 (the open D string/10th fret on the E string.) I thought he was asking about improvising a walking bassline over it that goes down to D1.

Wow! This website is amazing… Thanks

Yes that’s exactly what I was thinking. But @sshoihet is actually quite right about in his observation, most jazz baselines are quite melodic in nature…

1 Like

Here is a link link on the same topic you may be interested in. :+1:

1 Like

I’m very bad in music theory but not in alternative tunings. tuning down is always an option, I say.


KISS, Nirvana, Stevie Ray Vaughn just some of the bands off the top of my head that tuned down

1 Like