From Frets to Bows

Day 227 Week 33 Q3 Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Although many children are taught to play stringed instruments in school at early ages, there are far more people who as adults either start or continue to play fretted instruments. In terms of musical self-sufficiency, the guitar blows away the violin.  In terms of expressiveness, the violin blows away the guitar.

To play a solo gig on either a violin, viola, cello, or bass, is practically impossible unless you are a world-class virtuoso, and even then most non-classical audiences would fall asleep. This is because predominantly single notes are rarely as compelling as chords, supporting a vocal line.  In other words, to strum a few chords on the guitar and sing a song is an awful lot easier and that is why an adult is far more likely to move from Frets to Bows and the other way around.

 I am hypothesizing a surprisingly possible path that can be taken. It turns out that the cello, the baritone guitar and the short-scale bass guitar, all have string scales (length) between 27 and 28 inches.  This means that the muscle memory required to accurately play intervals between notes is very close. Guitar players can very easily move from conventional guitars to baritone guitars and basses because of this.  What is much more surprising is that the cello also uses strings of a similar length.

Of course, there is quite a difference between picking, plucking, and bowing as the means to excite a string. There are many guitar players, who dabble at bass, and there are many finger-style guitar players, who do not play with a pick, so the move from picks to fingers is not that uncommon. But the move from picks to bows are relatively rare.

This is why I spent six months learning how to bow a cello.  The left-hand fingering was much more transferable, as was plucking pizzicato cello, which more resembled playing bass. Now the five-string bass cello I have been working on with a professional cello luthier is about to arrive.

This five-string instrument has a pickup like a guitar, can play deep notes like a bass, and can also be bowed like a cello.  I am hoping to use it, as though it were some combination of cello, bass and guitar. Since cellos can also play high notes, sounding very much like violas and violins, I am assuming this instrument will be able to cover a lot of musical territory.

Now I just have to learn how to play it.  Its final assembly is underway. Soon, I will be able to test the hypothesis that I can move from Frets to Bows.  And we will see what kind of music comes out of this.