Earlier this week I did some recording towards the forthcoming String Project EP (preview sampler available on Soundcloud). I contributed some vocals but the main job was laying down some bowed lines on double bass. I’m pretty good at nailing lines on my electric bass and not too bad at getting there with plucked upright bass but bowing? Let’s just say that I know why some people call the bow the stick of pain!
Although it could be called cheating, I freely admit that it helped a lot to have clearly marked note positions on the side of the neck, especially since so much of the line was on the E string. Getting my fingers to the right position became a lot easier, letting me focus more on tone from the bowing and hitting the timing.
I also had a bright idea about timing. Listening back to the first few takes, I realised that even my best takes were consistently behind the beat. That E string is quite a mass and takes some energy to get moving. On the electric bass I sometimes use a slow attack effect when I’m trying to mimic bowing and use the trick of playing the note a bit early to get it sounding clearly on the beat; we tried a few more takes on the double bass with me attacking the note ahead of the beat and, sure enough, it brought the timing back to where it ought to sit. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I’m playing in a live ensemble too.
The other trick we tried was to double the bowed line with a plucked version. That also worked well – the sounds blended together but it put more energy into the front of the note, improving the rhythm of the piece. I don’t think I can replicate that one live!