Mel Bay Publications has released a new instructional book for upright bass, geared to bluegrass players, written by Mile Twelve bassist Nate Sabat.
Titled Dirt Simple Upright Bass, the 45 page book offers an excellent introduction to the instrument for those new to acoustic bass, tips on creating a bass line for familiar songs, and a thoughtful section on using the bass to support the melody as you play. Like many Mel Bay books these days, there is online audio of the various exercises and songs available upon purchase.
Nate is a part of the new breed of bluegrass bassists who are conservatory trained and who play the bass as their primary instrument. Coming from New York to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music, he discovered bluegrass through the school’s American Roots Music program, and fell in love with the sound. He has found a passion for teaching bluegrass bassists to becoming better players, and to use more than just the basic root-five pattern to keep the music interesting.
During the pandemic shutdowns last year, Nate began teaching in earnest, creating a Patreon page for bass instruction, and working with students online. Much of the insight he has cultivated through that experience is included in the book, especially as it regards playing behind a vocalist.
Sabat tells us that he hears from so many students that they get tired of playing the same simple pattern over and over, and he has presented many solutions in Dirt Simple Upright Bass.
“These are things that I have developed in my own playing over the last couple of years. The moments transitioning from chord to chord helps keep the bass line from feeling stagnant. It’s all about the transitions.
I’m into the details and the intricacy. If you’re bored playing bluegrass bass you’re not paying attention!”
Things get started with a basic diagram with the parts of the bass, and a discussion of simple music notation. Don’t be put off if you don’t read music. The lines are quite simple to start, and with the online audio, you can hear exactly what is being shown.
After a few pages about posture and hand positioning, some basic scales in bluegrass keys are introduced. Experienced players can skip by this, but new students should definitely spend time with these. From there he goes to a lesson on triads, something that Nate says he finds many bass players don’t think about in choosing notes. Using Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, he demonstrates the basic root-five approach, with suggestions for transitioning to each chord as it comes.
During the song section, five more songs are presented – Rabbit In The Log, Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky, Long Journey Home, I Am A Pilgrim, and Angel Band – with four different bass lines shown for each. The keys used for the songs are F, A, B, G, and C.
If you already play a bluegrass instrument, you could be playing authentic sounding bluegrass bass in a very short time by following the lessons in this book.
Nate said that he recorded all the audio samples in his own home studio, and sings the songs as he plays to help you keep your place. For each song, he also includes a guitar and vocal track for you to play along with. Reiterating what all instructors will tell you, he says, “Listening is the best way to learnt especially for people that don’t read well.”
He also expressed his gratitude to Mel Bay editor, Stephen Rekas, for his valuable input.
You can purchase Dirt Simple Upright Bass directly from Nate’s web site, or from Mel Bay in either a print or ebook format. The link to obtain the online audio is presented in the book.
On the Mile Twelve front, when we caught up with Nate this morning, he was in Boston rehearsing with the band. He said that they are working up material now for a new album, and expect to be back on tour full time in August. They will also be at RockyGrass in July, both performing at the festival and teaching at the RockyGrass Academy during the week.
Below are sample pages from the book.