Like all “lead-guitarists” during a guitar-solo, the guitarist of The Roots romances his fretboard and consequently ignores the audience.
|The Singing-Bassist plays without looking at the guitar.|
One of the largest impediments to playing bass while singing is the necessity to slide large distances on the fretboard, while looking at the crowd and not at the guitar. If the singing-bassist stares at the bass-guitar, he/she is no longer a lead-singer, but a mere bass-guitarist. Visually ignoring the bass-guitar can lead to mistakes. The singing-bassist is faced with a choice:
- either look at the bass-guitar to land on the correct position and ignore the crowd and potentially not sing into the microphone, or
- not look at the bass-guitar and potentially land on an incorrect position, needing to rectify and look at the bass-guitar!
Fretboard-landing a very frustrating reality for singing-bassists, especially when one realizes that the key to singing while playing bass is to transfer bass-playing skills from the conscious thinking brain to the fingers. (Some people mention transferring skills from the neo-cortex brain to the limbic brain but this explanation loses itself in academic abstraction).
Can the back of the neck of the bass-guitar be textured to give quick indications to the singing-bassist of the fret where the fretboard-hand is? A static haptic perceptive device, like the Braille-reading system for the visually impaired, installed on the back of the bass-guitar’s neck, could be the answer to the singing-bassist’s woe. This system could also assist visually impaired musicians to play any guitar. First, we must observe where installing this system would be most effective, and second, what would this system consist of.
|A typical fret-hand position. We see here that the guitar-neck is supported by the major knuckle of the index-finger, as well as by the thumb, which leers out over the top of the fretboard.|
|These are the contact surfaces, in the image on the left are those on the hand, in the image on the right are those on the neck of the guitar. The surfaces on the guitar’s neck are those available for a haptic system of communicating the fretboard position to the guitarist in a non-visual way.|
The open questions are the following:
- Are the small contact surfaces on the hand, the ridge of the thumb and the major knuckle of the index finger, are they sensitive enough, or can they be sensitized enough, to collect information about fretboard position on their own? (“The hand is now at the 12th fret of the guitar…”).
- Can this information be retrieved and transmitted quickly? For instance, for a song whose tempo is 180 beats per minute, the information must be retrieved, transmitted and processed in (60seconds/180beats=) 0.33 seconds. Braille reading speeds can attain 200-400 words per minute. Assuming an average word length in English of five-letters, this implies that Braille readers can obtain 1000 letters per minute.
- Mitigating factors in Braille reading speed include plasticized surfaces and heavy contact, both features of the contact between the fretboard-hand and the guitar-neck. So we can expect that non-visual fretboard-position recognition speed will be less than 1000 notes per minute. But how much slower?
- Are indentations or raised-relief marks more effective for tactile recognition?
- What is the best way to mark wood for tactile recognition?
- Is the fret-spacing lengthwise on the guitar neck too compact to achieve granularity in the perception of location, or high-resolution in the positioning?
Correlating touch and location has been investigated by Dr. Lederman at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.
It may be that sufficient tactile fretboard positioning can be achieved by simply notching the back of the guitar neck at one-place, at the octave-position for instance. But a more elaborate notching system may indeed increase visual independence and ease playing bass while singing. The superlative tactile positioning system would be so intuitive and comfortable that the singing-bassist starts “playing blindly” with no other coaxing or goading or training.
Check out the Bass-Aid as a prototype Haptic Location Device.
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