If we were to learn any subject, and we began with an exception to the rule – without even knowing there was a rule – do you think that we would learn that subject very well? Of course not! So, let’s begin this lesson by stating a simple rule: all sounds on your bass may be played by using a left-hand finger, even if that sound is at the nut. For example, on string four, the letter E is at the nut, which may be played by using a finger, that’s the rule. Let’s think about this.
If you were asked to play fret seven of string four, you would use a finger without even being told to. In other words, you realize that you can not make a fretted sound without using a finger. That’s a given, or in Latin, a priori, which means: existing in the mind before it is actually experienced in the real world. Here’s another way to think about the rule: to play a fret is to use a finger, even when that fret is the nut!
Here’s the important part. When you play a sound at the nut and use a finger, you call the nut: fret zero. Said another way, when you think fret, you think finger. This fret and finger association is the rule. However, you may play the sound at the nut by not using a left-hand finger. In this case, you would call the nut: open. Open is the exception to the rule!
Ask any six year old what is this symbol: O. The answer will probably be: a circle! Remember, a symbol is something that represents something else and when a circle symbolizes a number it is called zero and when the circle is a symbol for a letter it is O, as in Open. Let’s read this telephone number: 555-1230. Did you read five-five-five-one-two-three and the number zero, or did you read: five-five-five-one-two-three and the letter O? Most read the letter O. Now why is that? One of my students said, O represents Operator on the telephone key pad. Good answer. However, notice that zero ends with the letter O, and many, instead of saying the whole word zero, have shortened it to just the letter O. This is interesting, calling a number a letter, because it also happens with TAB.
We have previously learned the simple definition of TAB: four horizontal lines symbolizing four strings, with fret numbers on those lines to indicate which fret on that string is to be to fingered and played. Let’s read the following TAB.
Did you read the fret numbers: one-two-two and the number zero or did you read: one-two- two and the letter O, as in Open! As Dr. Seuss might have said it: say what you mean and mean what you say. Now, let’s explore the sound at the nut.
When a sound is at the nut, and only at the nut, you may play this sound in two different ways. 1) by thinking of the nut as fret zero and applying the rule by using a left-hand a finger, or, 2) thinking of the nut as Open and applying the exception to the rule by not using a finger.
Now, here’s a trick question: How many frets are there on a 24 fret guitar? Sounds easy, but surprisingly, there are 25, 24 frets plus 1 fret zero! Here’s another way to think about it. There are 100 sounds on a 24 fret bass. Here’s the math: 4 strings X 24 frets + 4 sounds at fret zero, the nut = 100 sounds. Said another way, 4 strings X 25 frets = 100 sounds. What do you think about that – there are 25 frets on a 24 fret guitar!
Now, let’s illustrate the rule with a movable major chord. Notice that the movable form “circle four-one” major chord can play all 21 letter name major chords!
And the exception to the rule. Notice that the non-movable Open major chord can only play one major chord – E major!
Let’s end this lesson by applying these two major chord fingerings, fret zero and Open, to Johnny Smith’s: Walk, Don’t Run, made famous by The Ventures, in 1960.
As we can see, the rule is faster because it’s more efficient because all the chords have the same fingering. In contrast, the exception to the rule, Open, is less efficient and slower because you change your left-hand fingering to play Open. But remember, one fingering is not better than the other, they’re just different, and both have their unique benefits. Viva la Difference!
’til next time, have some fun at the Nut, no matter how you play it…I’ll be listening!