Tag Archives: practice

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! ๐Ÿ˜€ 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? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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! ๐Ÿ˜€

Some things for the future

Well, so far this year has been tough at best, so it is time to look forward.

As I sit here suffering a thankfully rare but severe reaction to gluten that will undoubtedly keep me awake the rest of this evening, I am contemplating what things I need to do to get life looking up again:

  • First of all, I think the basics are covered. I’m getting excellent grades in my masters program, and I’m exercising regularly. We bought a recumbent exercise cycle and I found that a laptop perched on my nice wooden music stand allows us to use the computer while we pedal. Watching DVDs, doing homework, reading papers, surfing the web, or listening to podcasts all make it very productive time, which was the main reason why I wasn’t exercising before. I have found the auto-scroll feature in Acrobat Reader to be particularly handy for reading while exercising. But I certainly could be eating a bit more healthy – less chips and beer, more fruit and wild rice.
  • I decided finally that, given my career as a web geek, playing ensemble with my double bass just isn’t going to happen anymore. I don’t have time. I will never have time. I might have time for a few people to come over and jam on Dvorak and Schubert, but the reality is that I know very few good string players out here in the burbs. However, what I do have time for is practice – late nights, weekends, whenever I can get a few minutes. The whole reason I got into the double bass in the first place was to play solo music, so it’s time to get back to my roots and string that thing up with some solo gauge Thomastiks. Heck, this is how Yingwen and I hooked up in the first place: She was a pianist that played the double bass; I was a bassist in need of a good and willing accompanist; one late night rehearsal after another and… ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • I will never apologize for not blogging, but I do intend to write more. And by the way, I am sick of being hosted on a non-PHP5 server. Looking for new digs for this site. And I really should start learning Ruby.
  • “But what about Ajax?” I can hear some of you saying… Well it is true that every single damn job posting out there these days asks for someone who is god of Ajax and all things server-side. Great – you know, I read Jeremy Keith’s book on DOM Scripting, played around with some of the frameworks, and for whatever reason I’m still not digging it. There are too many hacks, failovers, workarounds, and the rest of it for me to fall in love with this language. In most cases when I come across a deep and serious problem in my web team with an application, it is because of an over-reliance on Javascript. So I’ve decided to keep it in the utilitarian mode for now until such time as I can further dive down properly into it later this year.
  • Finally, the guitar deserves a little attention since that has actually improved dramatically over the past half year or so. I really should firm up my technique and stop slouching that instrument over my right leg all the time.

How does one find the time to practice two instruments, go to school, work full time and have a family? Simple: Give up television.

Your own hard-assed training coach

I still practice my music on a daily basis. Sometimes I have a few hours, most times I have less than one, but I still try to pick up the guitar and the double bass for at least a little bit each day.

When I was in college, I would create detailed lists of the exercises and pieces that I had to practice every day. When the list began to get incredibly long, I had to start budgeting my time and assigning a time limit to each activity, just to make sure that I’d get to it and still have time for everything else. I would sometimes create sessions that would span up to an eight hour period if I could afford the time, and would mix up my routines with breaks and stretching, studying, and even how much time I was allowed to eat. It kind of went over the top there for a while, but the basic idea of creating a structured practice plan has always stuck with me.

Lately as I get more and more into my daily music activities, I have found myself again starting to work off practice schedules. Time could not be more limited. Between working full time, hanging out with my wife and kids, and taking care of all the other daily needs of modern life, I find my available practice time becoming shorter and shorter. That’s why it is even more important to ensure that I have an efficient, timed schedule for everything I need to cover. If you just flop around on the instrument for a half hour, you’re going to go nowhere.

One thing that I had always hoped for was an integrated practice coach sort of software application. Something that would let me list a series of tasks with timed intervals, and it would be oh-so-cool if it would turn into a Dr. Beat or something.

Well thankfully someone has come up with the task/time component. Enter FlexTime. The developer describes it thusly:

FlexTime turns your Mac into a hard-assed training coach for whatever it is that you do.

This is exactly what I needed. I had actually been trying to scrap together something for myself in a more web-2.0-ey vein by incorporating some of this functionality in a PHP/MySQL/JavaScript/Ajax sort of thing, but really this is almost exactly what I need to maximize my practice efficiency, and it’s pretty much ready to go here and now.

Why aren’t you practicing?