By: James Duclos
There are many benefits to being bilingual; besides being able to speak to people of different nationalities, you can compare the two languages and possibly even incorporate them into each other. The same holds true when you are able to use multiple instruments; a compass or laser level will most likely not help you play better music. However, being both a bassist and guitarist, I find myself playing lead guitar lines as baselines periodically, with quick 4–note fills, slides, or double stops.
When you learn to play an instrument, you learn how scales, arpeggios, and technique fit that particular instrument. If you are accustomed to playing only a bass guitar, find some time to pick up an acoustic guitar and see what happens! Most likely, you will pick up the second instrument and play it with your fingers like you would play a bass guitar. One thing you should remember is that there is no wrong way to play an instrument, unless of course it is physically harming you or some other object. For example, lighting a guitar on fire may be a good way to express yourself, but it is not really the correct way to play a guitar.
On the other hand, many great techniques are created by people who have physical limitations or have just picked up an instrument the “wrong way.” They find out that it was easier for them to play it the “wrong” way instead of re–learning to play the “correct” way. Raul Midon is the Stevie Wonder of the acoustic guitar, and he has developed a very unique right-hand slapping technique. Acoustic guitarists often hold their guitars on their laps with the sound hole facing up. They play by fretting the notes, pushing down from the top with their fret hand. Eric Mongrain uses this style in his song “Airtap.” Yngwie Malmsteen has a large interest in classical composers and frequently plays arpeggios and scales that resemble classical music. John Myung (Bassist – Dream Theater) grew up playing the violin. This helped launch his interest in music and eventually the bass guitar.
If you are a bassist, it may be beneficial for you to learn to play the drums, jug (middle left), or the washbasin bass (middle). The drums and bass are both very rhythmic instruments. If you know how to play both, it will be easier for you to create that great bass line and kicking drum connection when you are playing with a group. If you are a guitarist, you may try picking up a violin or saxophone. Each one has a different tone and can inspire you in different ways. A saxophone makes it more difficult for you to visualize the notes since there is no fingerboard. This can help you to express yourself without the limitations of a fretboard. Sometimes, it is also good to just get away from your regular instrument. After playing an instrument that you normally would not play, coming back to your regular “weapon of choice” may help you to feel refreshed, and you should have some new ideas and techniques to practice.