Learning to Play a New Instrument: What’s a UBass?
I like to think of myself as a musician.
When I was 10 years old, I was in my first musical and the following year my mother made me take piano lessons. Loved to sing in the musical, hated to play the piano. I hated it, so much. I used to sit by the front door and pray that my piano teacher would forget to come (which, sometimes she would).
She was really patient with me, considering that I would memorize the music I was assigned that week instead of actually reading the music and then playing that. She taught me so much…and I retained…what I wanted to.
I was so young! How was I or anyone to know that I would go on to make a living as a professional singer? Who would have thought that, at the time, I would be learning the foundation of music theory and harmony that I would need to carry throughout my career!
The next formal music instruction that I got wasn’t until college. If I didn’t have such an amazing vocal coach (Sabrina Learman, sorcerous of unleashing the voice) I wouldn’t know anything.
In addition to vocal lessons, I was also in a chorus and an acapella group on campus, so I got to practice my sight-reading skills. This would be very important for my future as a professional singer and musician. Understanding relative or perfect pitch…mwah! The crème de la crème and foundation of a career in music.
Which brings me to the Ubass, which, dare I say, is the most natural progression for a vocalist into the world of instruments. Okay, yes, bass is my favorite instrument, so this statement is extremely bias.
Bass, in general, is an instrument that enhances a musical arrangment.
Think about your favorite movie. Think about it’s soundtrack. In a horror movie, the bass is what drives the tension (that, and some high-pitched, dissonant tones). In a comedy, you got a funky base line. In a romance, the bass is what fills out the orchestration, so the music envelopes your heart center! (Alright, it’s a stretch)
A bass line is probably as essential to a hit song as a vocalist’s lyrics. It needs to be catchy. And usually, the simpler something is, the more catchy. Which means learning an instrument like the bass can allow for an amateur to learn famous music rather quickly. What I’m trying to say is, mastering an instrument like the bass will come much more quickly than, say, spending 8 years attempting to learn the piano.
Naturally, as a songwriter myself, who is stuck in quarantine, her piano in a far away music studio, in search for a new way to enhance her music and be a self-sufficient artist…I wanted to learn how to play the upright bass.
It’s a beautiful instrument. It is also so unbelievably expensive. And huge. And I live in a small New York City apartment.
So I began to do some research. Could I find an instrument that is similar to the upright bass? Then I stumbled upon it.
A Ubass is an instrument that comes from the Ukulele family. Now, ukuleles are an instrument, which, I would argue is the “little girl gateway” into music. And I don’t mean this in a bad way. Most bands that I love are, unfortunately, a boys club. It’s really hard to get girls into music without them being a singer. So, I’m on the ukulele bandwagon (I love a pun).
The UBass is not only user-friendly like the soprano ukulele, but has that upright bass sound quality that I’m totally about.
So let’s break it down.
What are the specs? Well, you can purchase a decent Ubass off a site like Amazon for around $200. A decent electric bass could be upwards of $500 and the most basic upright would cost well of $1,000. My Ubass is acoustic-electric. And the best part is it sounds just like an upright bass. The even better news is that it has an audio jack, which can be used for an amp or to plug in for recording. The only downfall is that the strings are rubber and feel really strange. If you are familiar with other string instruments, these may not be your favorite. However, there are many tutorials online for switching the strings to more classic metal bass strings.
Now, I still haven’t really gone into depth about why the bass, in particular, is such a great instrument to teach yourself how to play if you are already a vocalist. It’s simple. The bass line is so often the counter melody to the vocal line. It’s also rhythmic and percussive. If you are a vocalist with good rhythm, learning the Ubass just becomes a matter of “rub your belly, tap your head”. Similar to playing the piano, when you sing and play bass, you are multitasking by actively thinking in two patterns. It takes practice, but eventually it becomes quite natural.
And some of the most famous rockstars, like my personal favorite, Sting, play the bass and sing.
Also, you don’t need to read music to play the UBass,
Now, bassists everywhere are going to come and read this and be very upset that I am saying this…I should clarify, I do think a true musician should read music. However, you don’t have to when you are first starting out. In fact, when you first start and you want to learn fast, listen to your favorite bass players. Better yet, watch them. Then try to play the bass lines by ear.
Eventually, you could even start to teach yourself how to read music through ear training. You can play the melody that you memorized and start reading the music. Try to associate what you are playing to what is written on the page.
The Ubass is magical. I’m so happy I invested in it. In fact, I even wrote and recorded a few songs with it. Check out my website, robyonkers.com/music, if you want to hear the instrument in action.
If you are looking for a user-friendly instrument, the Ubass is the way to go!