Tag Archives: Double Bass

Judging a book by it’s cover…

Sharks patrol these waters...

Or in this case, judging a candidate by their web design! Let’s face it – I am no political wag, and politics is something best left to other demagogues and zealotous pundits across the spectrum.

However, I can claim passable knowledge in double bass, and claim a rudimentary knowledge of web development design and development practices. Obviously I certainly can’t use my bass chops to judge this year’s candidates for president, although if one were to bust out a contrabass and wail out a rendition of oh, say the Koussevitsky Concerto in solo tuning, then I’d have vote for them just on principle.

But I sure as hell can embrace my inner fashion slave and get all up in their web design business! If nothing else, I can at least engage in the purely superficial practice of candidate analysis by using their primary online web presences as the basis:

  • http://www.barackobama.com/ – PHP backend, which says to me: “I’m an open format, flexible, and I like to get things done.” Title tag reads “Barack Obama | Change we can believe in.” Great design, usable. Very ‘web 2.0’-ish design. What stands out: Quote that says “I’M ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours.” First line of quote in all caps which we will see is overused later on, but here provides appropriate emphasis in the context of the quotation. While I generally don’t like to see drop-down primary navigation menus, these are done well and seem to server the text that is within. Only criticism is the most recent blog post in which they inserted 14 full-size images that were subsequently shrunken down in the display using HTML attributes. This is generally considered a bad idea. Please cut them down to an appropriate pixel dimension for the thumbnail versions and link back to the high-resolution copies. But that is more of a content management issue…
  • http://www.hillaryclinton.com/ – ASP.NET, with a slightly disturbing marionette-like picture of Hillary, and the words in bold “MAKE HISTORY.” In all caps. For emphasis I suppose. Kind of a weak message if you ask me. It’s saying: “Vote for me, just because I’ll be the first woman president.” Drop-down menus seem a bit boxy and compartmentalized – I don’t find them to be as readable as Obama’s. Update: I check back the next day to find that they updated Hillary’s site with a new, vastly improved photo. Airbrush is your friend. Seriously – I have no problem with the airbrush tool in Photoshop and intend to wipe away each wrinkle in my own photo history as they occur…
  • http://www.johnedwards.com/ – Appears to be static HTML. Design looks dated. Message says “Thank You, South Carolina.” Color theme is not your typical palette. Here we have a sort of ochre/green/maroon/blue thing going on – a wider gamut than your usual red, white and blue political site.
  • http://www.johnmccain.com/ – Running on an IIS server. Interestingly, trying any file extension other than .aspx yields the default IIS 404 error page, but when using a .aspx, we get the “intended” 404 page with the site chrome. Noticed this problem on Hillary’s site too. I’m a fan of monochrome color schemes, so I had a soft spot for the site when I hit their splash page. (Why do all these sites insist, in 2008, on using splash pages still?) But the soft spot faded quick when I came to the home page and got overwhelmed with boxes, sliding pictures, a scattering of instances of “click here!” and “learn more” buttons, and a giant smiling McCain holding a mic. Message: “Best Prepared to Lead on Day One.” (Using smallcaps, for slightly less emphasis than all caps I suppose.) But for a minute I thought the site message was “click here.” This page has some nice b/w treatment. Overall I find this site to have an overabundance of head shots – maybe scale it back 50% or so? I get saturated by it – front, left side, right side, repeat.
  • http://www.mittromney.com/ – Server is running Apache Tomcat and appears to be servlet-driven. Slogan: TRUE STRENGTH FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE. You alpha male you. Center image advertises “Limited Edition Mitt Romney T-Shirt Designs” that suspiciously look like André has a Posse stencils. Right action box has the heading “TEAM MITT,” which I subconsciously took to read “dammit” for a minute there. Like the Five Brothers section overall, although they really need a sharper JPEG for the banner.
  • http://www.mikehuckabee.com/ – IIS server. Same 404 problem as McCain and Clinton. Not sure why this is hard on Microsoft web servers – should not all not found pages get the same treatment. Site uses Scriptaculous and Prototype, although I didn’t see any use of these in my cursory glance. Overall not a bad design. Oops – just saw the tagline in the right banner: “FAITH. FAMILY. FREEDOM.” I smell erosion of the 1st amendment separation of church and state and must flee far away from this site…
  • http://www.joinrudy2008.com/ – PHP, and overall not a bad site design. His site doesn’t use his first and last name. The site rudygiuliani.com appears to be controlled by a domain squatter. Anyway, the home page renders an embedded Flash video with Rudy’s portrait in the still image, and I’m immediately reminded of something: Rudy looks like a mortician from one of those wild west flicks – the gaunt, hunchbacked undertaker in a long coat and stove-pipe hat. By now I’ve noticed the ubiquitous box in the lower right of each candidate’s home page that is used for linking to their MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, and whatever presences. Looking at the home page, I don’t immediately have a message to take away. Every other candidate seemed to have one engraved in text somehow. I was shocked there was no typographical mention of 9/11 mentioned. To get Rudy’s message, you need Flash and have to run the home page video (a feature he relies upon site-wide). OK, once we run this, I see the familiar harping on terrorists and 9/11 that we all know and love from Rudy’s talking points. Rudy’s blog is all video posts, which is kind of odd and probably not that friendly to search engines or people scanning for messages.
  • http://www.ronpaul2008.com/ – PHP, and not a bad first impression for the site design. In fact, we get a meta tag generator attribute that tells us they use Moon PHP MVC framework. Has a Web 2.0 feel to it, although we feel a bit cluttered on the home page. Ron’s tagline is “HOPE FOR AMERICA.” Glad to see at least one candidate on the Republican side has moved beyond wrapping themselves in a flag and thumping on a bible. Join Campaign page has appropriate use of fieldsets which is a nice touch. But what’s this? Under the “The issues that most concern me in this election are:” fieldset, we have a checkbox entitled “Pro-Life.” Obviously this campaign is prepared to exclude the pro-choice camp from having a voice here. Pro-life is not an issue, it is a position on an issue.

Well that was an eye-opener. It is mind-numbing when you have to pay attention to these wingnuts for only a few minutes. It is interesting to note the similarities between many of the sites – the general layout, the features they all place in their sites and on the home page, and how they treat color and typography. The quality of the various sites overall was good, but not really that great. I have to say, for my tastes Obama’s site is by far the best of the crop. The design is there, the usability is there, it nails the design trends of 2007 on into the present, and has the best treatment for features, typography, and messaging. On the Republican side, I have to say that Ron Paul’s site is best, but I’m still having trouble getting past the semantics for that one checkbox issue. Of the three main democratic candidates, I noticed a sense of overall inclusion and positive attitude. On the Republican side, with the exception of Paul’s and somewhat on Romney’s site, I got the feeling that they were trying to convey a sense of “this is what we believe and how we’re going to do things – end of discussion.”

Interestingly, I was surprised to see that all of the ASP.NET/IIS websites failed to have a good 404 error page behavior. And overall, the PHP sites seemed to be coupled with the highest-quality page designs and content structures, although correlation does not equal causation as the whole pirate to global warming trend so effectively illustrates.

Intonation

Over at the Peabody Double Bass blog I just noticed this excellent post on a technique to practice good intonation. This is like the double bassist’s version of Twister, and I bet would make an entertaining drinking game! 😀 Seriously though, it looks very helpful and I highly recommend giving it a whirl.

I often use reference pitches when practicing as well. I usually don’t have the luxury of being able to work out on such things with others, so I came up with a couple of items on my own:

One is to practice a couple of Petracchi-like shifting and position exercises that I use with a reference pitch soundtrack that I made that ascends chromatically. I added this to my iPhone which is itself turning into a handy practice tool. I added the metronome track right in and modded the tempos so I can practice these exercises at a couple of different rates. I’ll try to post some of these at a later date if anyone thinks these would be useful.

Another thing I do when practicing repertoire is to test my pitch against an open string with a left hand pizzicato using whatever free finger is available – the trick with that one is knowing which open string fits best harmonically with the note or passage I’m playing, which makes it an added bit of fun.

Finally, sometimes I go for the brute force method and play long tones against a three octave scale with the electronic tuner. Interesting where my finger tries to go in the middle of the upper registers, but the tuner keeps me honest.

Good intonation can seem challenging on double bass, but I think some good practice tips like the one from the Peabody folks and such can help develop a good ear and good pitch strategies. Above all, start with an instrument that is in tune!

What to practice when time is limited?

I’ve often thought much about efficiency when practicing music. I used to park myself in a practice room from dawn until midnight back at NEC and even before then. I would break my practice routines down into 15 minute increments, and have it all laid out on a schedule. Practice would occur for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours per day, including breaks of course. I was nuts, and obsessed. What can I say? 😉

Nowadays time is limited. I have a day job. I have a family. I have classes that I take at night. But I remain obsessed. After the homework is done and the kids are in bed, I might have anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to practice on any given weekday. What do you practice when time is limited?

Some things I try to cover are maintenance. With the double bass, shifting positions and pushing the strings down to the fingerboard is always kind of an athletic event. So one must maintain a level of strength, dexterity, and muscle memory with exercises. I use Petracchi’s Simplified Higher Technique book, sometimes hit up Ludwig Streicher’s methods, and have a few exercises I’ve worked up myself to stay in shape.

Another technical maintenance issue I encounter is bowing issues. Unlike my left hand technique where I’m fairly comfortable with everything and don’t feel like I have any major challenges, my bowing arm often feels foreign, even detached from my body at times. Only after regular practice with the Zimmerman book do I feel like I have this thing working properly. It is funny – there’s only four strings and two directions your bow can go, but an infinite number of possible patterns and subtleties that occur in these four planes of existence. OK seven planes if you count double stops…

So I am wondering for all you bassists out there: What do you practice when you don’t have much time? What is the first thing you practice? What does a typical practice session look like to you?

Repose

Let me just say that it is really relaxing to not be practicing the double bass for a few days here. I’ve been shedding on that thing for the past couple of months on a daily basis, mostly in anticipation of the concert that occurred last Sunday. The concert is done and I’ve been taking a breather and tending to things neglected – oh such as this blog and the fact that it has been down for a few days. Welcome back to the living, sanbeiji.com…

The performance last weekend was spectacular – an amazing group of talent out there in the Bay Area Taiwanese community. I had the honor and privilege of playing the Rossini Duetto with Shu-Yi Pai whom recently joined the San Francisco Symphony, and the Chanson Triste by Koussevitsky with the incomparable Yingwen. Really an honor to play with such talented and accomplished musicians.

So now it is back to a little guitar, which I’ve been neglecting, and thinking about the next phase in practicing for me over the coming months. I have been focusing lately on developing technique in the upper thumb position regions on my bass, a lot of bowing drills, and intend to get back into expanding my Bach repertoire on the guitar. I still consider if I should just bag the orchestral strings once and for all and finally focus on solo playing exclusively. It is obvious I’m never going to have the time to play orchestra, but there is always the occasional chamber music event that I just can’t resist. Maybe I need two basses! 😀

Play Misty For Me

Come and see the show:

Benefit Concert Nov. 7 at 1 PM at 1755 Sunnyvale Ave in Walnut Creek, California, featuring members of the Taiwanese Bay Area community.

As of this writing, my pieces appear to be the Rossini Duetto for cello and bass, Koussevitsky’s Chanson Triste for bass and piano, and the last two or three movements from the Dvorak quintet. Yingwen is working on a Brahms Rhapsody, will accompany me on the Koussevitsky, and is accompanying a soprano soloist, a tenor soloist, and her choir. Should be fun!