At Worship Artistry, we adapt album recordings of worship songs to a 5-piece band. Sometimes that means using a 5-string bass to be faithful to the recording.
Choosing to play a 5-string or 4-string is a personal preference, but playing a 4-string doesn't mean you can’t learn the worship songs that use a 5-string.
Read my tips below on how to adjust.
The easy answer to adapting 5-strings to 4-strings is to move notes you can’t play on that low B string to your A string using octaves. An octave is the same note in a higher register. Find it by moving up two frets from the original note and over to the A string.
For example, if your original note is on the second fret of the B string, you would sub in the fourth fret of the A string. See the video below. This works really well if it’s just a single note. If you’ve got a more complex line, you’ll have to think through it a little more.
Staying in Groove
Bass is all about feel. If you have a complicated riff or transition, you may have to substitute more than just the notes on the low B string. Good news! It’s easier because an octave jump can be awkward; I think of it as keeping riffs intact.
Look at the example below. The first section shows the 5 string riff, the second substitutes only the notes on the low B string, and the third shows how the entire second half of the riff gets moved up an octave. Can you hear how that third example flows the best? Rather than disjoining the riff, it's kept together.
Every song requires some level of adaptation and bass players need to adapt. Remember, trust your ears, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Maybe playing a different note in the scale will actually sound better than the original.
You can also go backward! If a song is in the key of Eb or D and is played on a 4-string, it can be a benefit to switch to a 5-string if you have the option. Notes that are on the A string can be played two frets down on the B string. Again, use your ears and see what works.
Nothing will grow your bass guitar confidence like practice. For an easier adjustment, try learning a song like Wake by Hillsong Young and Free. It’s only got four chords so it’s an easy start. Let There Be Light is another easy one. If you really want a challenge, try Never Lost by Elevation Worship; that song is a beast!