Tag Archives: Double Bass

Stars and Stripes Forever and Ever

I made this double bass part for John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” to help out the Berkeley Youth Orchestra’s bass section. Could come in handy for young bass players who might be having a bit of trouble transposing tuba parts. Since this is a common piece of music that often winds up on student bassist’s stands, I’m making this freely available:

The Stars and Stripes Forever by sanbeiji

The Fons

Excellent performance by Renaud Garcia-Fons for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert series:

For my students and for students of the double bass from anywhere who might be reading, pay attention to the left hand – how he is holding the bow. Very flexible, relaxed, agile. Also note the right hand and arm position – how it is angled for the most part at 90º to the neck of the bass, and the hand and wrist is never over-extended. Enjoy!

Are you a stander or a sitter?

This is a follow-up to Jason Heath’s excellent post on the various seated vs. standing positions when playing the double bass:

With non-standardized instrument sizes, string lengths, and instrument shapes, it’s no wonder that players and teachers have developed such a dizzying array of stances and postures to cope with this large instrument. But with such a bevy of options, what is the poor music educator to do? Throw a dart at a list of options and go with whichever they hit? Ask their local bass teacher (ask two or three teachers, and you’re likely to get two or three completely different responses)? How can students and teachers make an informed decision on such a slippery topic?

The debate is primarily about practicing the bass standing up vs. sitting. Then within that, we have the various parameters of endpin length, angle of the bass to the body, angle of the body to the floor, height and shape of the stool if you use one, and all the other peripheral gadgetry to keep things in line – rockstops, bent endpin shafts, etc.

And the winner is: Mac! No wait, wrong thread….

I used to be a cello-style sitter, but I became an upright bass practicer when studying with Don Palma. His argument was that you should be able to play accurately and comfortably while standing, and then you’re free to sit as needed in orchestra or just for comfort’s sake.

I’d certainly say that in performance for solo music, it is a lot more comfortable to be able to not have to sit for me. And, it’s one less thing to have to lug around. Another thing I notice is that standing is psychologically liberating – bassists who stand tend to be fairly confident either way when they play. Bassists that are only comfortable playing while seated tend to get somewhat uncomfortable when in situations where they must stand.

However, I’ll still admit that there are a couple of things that for me at least are slightly easier to do when seated in a medium to low stool – stratospheric thumb position, and the more articulate aspects of bowing. Gravity provides a bit of added support in both cases.

Here’s a thought: I think French bow is more naturally attuned to seated position, while German bow lends itself more to the upright brigade. When I look at the other violin-family instruments for which the French bow players (myself included) share a general bow design, the direction of pressure is downward towards the pull of gravity. The gamba family of bows, for which the German bow design resembles, is more often played with the instrument in a vertical aspect and the bow pressure directed in a plane horizontal to the pull of gravity.

So ultimately my philosophy is: Practice the double bass while standing so you have the capability and posture taken care of. Sit as needed, especially during ensemble rehearsals, or just to take a break, but don’t rely on the chair. It is far easier to switch to a seated position if you are comfortable standing than it is to switch to standing if you are always practicing the bass while seated.

Last.fm

I am a recent convert to Last.fm, but know that this has been a long time coming.

I have hit Last.fm many times since they launched. But I always found it, well, kind of useless in the past. I wasn’t grabbing very useful recommendations, and the usability of the software client and the website were lacking in my opinion. Cut to many months later, and something appears to have changed. The content of this site appears to have improved since last I checked – more music of the type I was looking for. Probably the root cause of my problems before was that I have a masters in music performance on a bizarre instrument known as the double bass, with tastes that includes baroque lute music, north Indian classical music, Charles Mingus, and Nine Inch Nails. Suddenly where before things appeared kind of barren in the eclectic world, some critical mass has been reached to the point where I am finding music I am interested in, and the mind of this thing is able to make reasonable recommendations to feed my insatiable consumption of new things to hear. This is the good part.

However, there is a bad part. Their widgets are a hideous bluk of code. I so wish they would just make ’em 100% Flash or something so I could do some sort of standards-compliant embed mode that had a bit more architectural beauty than this behemoth:

(Note – the widget that was here has been redacted because I couldn’t stand looking at the HTML validation errors that appeared here every single time I visited my own website. Please visit my playlist on last.fm instead.)

It pained me to post that. Sure it looks and works great in a nice big browser, but I’m sure this is going to suck on my iPhone and embedding all that inline design cruft and HTML table junk was heartburn-inducing. 100% Flash would have been nice. Or better, just an MP3 stream URL. Well, it is a cool widget and all, but it just seemed like a lot of code…

In addition, the site itself seems to be a bit much. I think less features would make it more usable, but it’s hard to take things back once they’re out there. There should be an add to playlist button or something in the player when viewing a single track web page rather than leaving it in the left column. Recommending tracks to others in my network should be easier – a select menu or type-ahead autocomplete feature rather than having to go look up or memorize everyone’s user IDs.

But on the whole, this is the most interesting music-related website I’ve seen yet. I’ve been addicted to it for the past few days now and really think this one is a hit.

Reverse Psychology

This is how I get Max to practice:

Get my bass and his violin out. Ask Max to help me learn his pieces on the bass (i.e. Suzuki book 1, ABCs of Violin, Fiddle Magic, etc…) Play the piece he’s working on and ask him to point out any mistakes. Intentionally make many mistakes. He points ’em out, with much giggling. Ask him to play it for me so I can hear it. And voilà – he’s playing it just fine. Repeat, simply making mistakes where he needs to work on it.

Bonus points: I get to work on my thumb position technique and treble clef reading at the same time.