My Double Bass Text Book
petertambroni Remember students are putting it on the line every time they show up. At school they are constantly asked to do things they cannot yet do.
Part II – What makes a good warm up?
In part one I discussed whether we should even do warm up excercises at all. To be obvious yet vague: If you need to then you should! But that critical time at the beginning of the practice session needs to be approached with a mindset of utility not mindless motions.
Here we will talk about what constitutes a quality warm up.
Characteristics of Quality Warm Ups
- Somewhat Challenging. Starts within comfort zone / sphere of competence then quickly moves slightly outside that circle
- Useful. Related to current goals
- Something for each hand / arm
- Not too long. Does not subtract from energy needed for core practice session.
- Promotes proper technique and posture.
- Start with warm ups within your skill zone but quickly move to warm ups just a bit outside of that zone. This does not necessarily mean fast. This way you benefit from the warm ups physically and mentally.
- If you do something completely with in your comfort zone (or sphere of ability) then it is not warming you up. A warm up that is too easy or already in your sphere doesn’t warm you up as you were already warm enough! For example, athletes do some form of their activity as a warm up before the main session. Runners often do an easy jog at the beginning of their run. Walking isn’t enough because it’s too easy for the muscles.
Useful. Related to current goals
The warm up must have value and meaning to you and your current goals. I don’t warm up with a French bow as I play German style.
An obvious example is playing the scales that relate to the keys of pieces you’re working on. Working on B major when your solo is in C probably is the most effective approach.
Get creative! Don’t be afraid to design your own warm ups. This will get you thinking more
deeply and forge true meaning with your playing. It’s also lots of fun, challenging, and not boring!
For example, while working on a Bach cello suite I needed to work on the two opening chords. Here’s the exercise I cooked up to address strength and intonation. It also helps build my thumb callous.
A simple yet useful example warmup is to do bow strokes to make sure the down and up sound the same and use the same amount of bow.
If string crossings need attention then Frederick Zimmerman’s “A Contemporary Concept of Bowing Technique for the Double Bass” should be in your warmups.
Revisit beginner / intermediate etudes and change fingerings, bowings, dynamics, etc to make them fresh, challenging, and related to your current skill goals. Try fingerings you would never use. Reverse the bowings. This pushes and expands your boundaries.
Something for each hand / arm
Each hand provides a critical component to our playing and both need to be considered and included. String players are notorious for favoring the left hand but the bow is at least as important as the left hand.
You may loathe Sevcik but it works. Sort of like running and weightlifting. 🙂
Sevcik is heavy squats for the bow.
Our minds and bodies freshest early on in our routine and at the beginning of practice sessions. We don’t want to burn through our entire reserve of alertness and mental agility before we even get to our solos and excerpts.
Promotes proper technique and posture
Thanks for reading and please send me any suggestions or warm ups YOU have!
Next time in part 3 we’ll move from the warm up time to the main practice event to explore routines and plans effective learning.
Have fun and keep practicing!
There’s a blog post over at the SmartMusic site with tips for band directors that teach orchestra. Check it out here. Anything to help strings in the public schools is a good thing but I have some comments on the article.
from the article:
Open seams- Using a bent knuckle, lightly rap around the entire perimeter of the top and back of the instrument. If you hear a ‘slap’ sound, there is an open seam that will get worse if not repaired right away. Do not repair this on your own; special type of glue is required. An open seam is usually an inexpensive fix at a reputable repair shop.
Sound post- Peer inside the right F-hole, and make sure the sound post is present and standing. If not, a repair shop will set it for you, often free of charge. You can purchase a tool and learn to set a sound post yourself, by watching videos on YouTube, from an experienced repair tech, or an experienced teacher.
Why not just say what the ‘special glue’ is? It’s hide glue. It’s also interesting that the author suggests trying to set a soundpost when glueing a seam is MUCH easier. He also says nothing about the LOCATION of the soundpost which is critical!
Holding the instrument
To determine the proper endpin length, the nut (base of the scroll) should be near the top of the student’s forehead when the student is standing. Proper bass position requires a slight rotation so that the right edge of the back of the instrument contacts the player’s left stomach and groin. The instrument should balance without the student’s hands.
First, the nut is the piece of wood that the strings go over. Yes, it is located at the base of the scroll.
Second, “the nut (base of the scroll) should be near the top of the student’s forehead when the student is standing”, IS MUCH TOO HIGH. (Well, I suppose it’s fine if you’re spending all your time in thumb position.) At this height you will see the left arm and shoulder raise higher than the left causing the spine to misalign and leading to fatigue, pain, and injury.
Align the nut a little lower – right about at the eyebrow.
And the whole premise of the article just shows how band oriented SmartMusic is. They rarely have the music I use and I’ve seen their scales / exercises notated with the text, “Lip Slurs”.
Part 1 – Should You Warm Up?
Do you ever feel like you’re practicing and practicing but just not getting better? Or perhaps you’re seeing some improvement but it’s taking too long to learn all your stuff. Of course – we all have! But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I’ve been having that feeling a lot and that I should be getting better – and better sooner – with the time I’m putting in.
So why am I not making more progress? I kept asking that question over and over. The teacher voice in my head kept repeating, “Something needs to change. I have to do something different to get different results.”
I found myself spending too much time at the start of each practice session doing familiar warm ups comprising scales, arpeggios, and bowing. The problem was I didn’t need to. I was playing but I was just running out the clock. I needed to calibrate my mind and muscles to my bass and move on.
But what to do differently? I still gotta practice. Us string players always need to hone our shifts, intonation, and bowing skills. And as we move through our career we get busier and practice time gets smaller.
What’s the answer? Stop warming up and start eating frogs!
“EAT YOUR FROG”
“Eating Your Frog” refers to tackling the most difficult or least desirable task first. I go to my gym every morning at 4:30 when they open. A friend is always there at the same time and does cardio which he referred to as eating a frog since he hates cardio.
We all know what our frogs are. They gnaw at us. The best players attack the frogs while the rest just let them continue to hop around and plague our playing.
But traditionally, the first part of a practice session is devoted to warming up. How can we start with the most difficult tasks if we’re warming up? Great question and I’m going to offer a controversial strategy. DON’T WARM UP!
In this first post I examine whether you need to warm up at all.
Warming Up vs. Calibrating
Some days you just plain don’t need to warm up. Many times all you need to do is calibrate. Other sessions your mind and body call for both.
Let me be clear – beginner to intermediate players need to spend time on fundamentals such as long tones, scales & arpeggios, finger exercises, shifting & intonation work, and so on. This article is aimed at the more seasoned player that has already spent years laying this groundwork. Musicians with injuries or other circumstances will of course need to do what is best for their health and playing.
If you’re playing every day you may not need to warm-up, especially if you’re practicing later in the day when your muscles are already loose.
At this point we need working definitions of warm ups and calibrations.
Exercises and movements that physically and mentally prepare the musician, prevent injury, and contribute to a better playing session.
“To make adjustments based on external factors or data”
“To check accuracy”
You recalibrate your mind and muscles to the current instrument or situation.
Which do you need?
Let’s look at the purpose for each to determine the answer.
What is the purpose of a warmup?
– improve circulation
– enhance performance of muscles
– reduce muscle stiffness
– prevent injury
What is the purpose of a calibration?
– acclimate to instrument or current environment
– attune & prepare oneself
Examples when a calibration is needed:
– using a different instrument, bow, or rosin
– switching from bass guitar (something I do often)
– before a gig when you’re getting used to the space and sound…
Calibrating doesn’t take long but it takes as long as it needs to take. Probably between 1 and 10 minutes.
Once you’re calibrated, it’s time to start the warm up process if it’s needed.
How do you know if you need to warm up?
Listen to your body:
- Are you playing early in the day?
- Do you muscles feel tight or stiff?
- Are you recovering from or dealing with an injury?
- Do you feel groggy?
- Does your mind or body need to wake up?
- Does your initial playing calibrations still feel inaccurate?
If any of these are a ‘yes’ then it’s definitely time to warm up.
A warmup should contribute to and improve an aspect of your playing. And to do this they need to be just slightly outside of your comfort zone. Otherwise they are already within your current sphere of readiness. They are mindless, automatic gestures that are too easy – they are just us calibrating and we don’t need much of it.
How long do you need to warm up? It depends but I find it is almost always less than 20 minutes. If you’re spending longer than that on a task then you need to move it out of your warm up category and in to your main practice and skill acquisition block.
I recently had a 6 month hiatus from double bass playing. My bass was in the shop and I was traveling during the summer months. I knew that when I got back to playing I’d have three obvious frogs to eat:
– Strength and endurance. Especially in the left hand and even more to the point, in thumb position.
- Left thumb callous. This was the most obvious deficiency as my crown jewel of a callous was no more. My thumb position callous needed serious attention asI needed to build it back up.
– Fast bowing. I had always done long bows and scales as a warmup but I don’t need to. My long bows and scales are fine. But very fast bowing is a personal deficiency. I’m not saying don’t practice scales and such but make sure you are doing them for a reason, not just because that’s what you’ve always started with.
So the first thing I did every practice session was rub my thumb up and down the G & D strings. Then some scalar passages with just my thumb then the artificial harmonic section to the Monti Czardas. But the callous developed more quickly than it ever had in the past.
Then I did finger and dexterity work in thumb position. And finally I did finger and scale work with triplets and sixteenth notes in first position.
These all seem like ‘no-brainer’ warm ups but they were much more than that. Yes they got me warmed up but they also attacked my deficiencies right at the outset of my practice session.
Now go grab your bass, fry up some frogs and watch your playing skyrocket!
In part 2 I’ll look at more ways to warm up while cooking up tasty treats and frying those playing problem areas.
The mind of a musician is a bizarre place. Notes, melodies, bass lines, and viola off beats bounce around in a maze of funhouse audio mirrors. This morning while running my aging iPod shuffle gracefully transitioned from Anthrax to Demi Lovato.
Then it occurred to me. Eureka! Wait…
Could this be America’s true hidden conspiracy? Who is behind these octaves?
The Safety Dance. Hmmm, interesting.
Octaves. Put them in the funhouse mirror and throw in an inversion and we have:
Speed and pitch are unaltered.
(Click to the left of 00:00 to play – I don’t know why the play button is black.)
Here’s my experience with different low B strings on my 5 string Carvin Icon bass. I’ve been compiling this for a while.
Rating scale 1 (low) – 3 (high).
It happens to all of us. We practice. We have our routine (which is good!). We have our allotted practice time and organized it into a balance diet of exercises and music for an efficient route to progress.
And then after a few months, stagnation sets in. We’re zoning out, tuning out, and feeling generally flat.
What can you do to get you out of this artistic rut?
Take up an artistic hobby that you’ve never formally studied – and don’t intend to! I took up photography several years ago – by accident. I acquire a digital through my school’s technology buying program. At first I used it just to take pictures of my classroom and events but it quickly turned fun. I took pictures of students and instruments at different angles, perspectives, and in black and white. I consciously decided to not take a photography class. I did subscribe to some photo magazines and joined the local photography club which out to be rather dull. But above all, I took lots and lots of pictures. Thousands. And why not? It was digital so I could delete as many as I wanted. I played with all the knobs, buttons and settings. I experimented and took more pictures – and tons of ‘bad’ ones. Who cared? I wasn’t a photographer so all of this was just fun! There was no pressure; just like when I was a teenager in a garage band with no formal musical training. Just a cheap guitar with a Guitar Player or Guitar World magazine. Ah pure, uninhibited creativity! Give it a shot!
I then noticed many parallels to music – the rule of thirds relating to phrasing and the golden mean. Learning what should be the focus and what’s the background. I learned to selectively focus on a subject – or not. My musicianship definitely improved after I picked up that camera.
Another idea is to try playing a genre that you’ve never worked in before. And it doesn’t even have to be a ‘real’ genre. Pickup a jazz real book but play the melody, or try your hand at comping the chord progression. Turn on a heavy metal or alternative music station and play along or try to transcribe a modern rock tune. Sit in on a bluegrass jam – odds are they’ll be happy to have an upright bassist and they generally have lead sheets (but come, use your ears, it’s just I, IV, V!)
Pickup your instrument and doodle, let your fingers wander and play anything. Improvise! Sing along with crazy lyrics or even a commercial. Chill out with your bass. Grab a beer, turn on the TV and try to figure out whatever theme song or jingles are playing.
Play a different style, improvise, transcribe (especially something different!). Bow along to that dusty Bon Jovi album!
Meditate with the bass. One of the things I really enjoy about playing is the tactile aspect of playing. I like how the bass feels. Just sit or stand with your bass and feel the weight of it. Notice the neck and feel the strings and wood. This isn’t something ‘out there’, just another way to connect with your instrument. When I first started playing the bass in high school, I marveled at it. I touched the bridge full of rosin. The neck with its lack of finish just called to be held.
Go ahead and experiment, there are no rules. Just play around.
I think you’ll be amazed at the results – mentally and physically. Hopefully you’ll reconnect with your instrument and discover why you chose the bass.
A huge thank you to Jason Heath for having me on again!
From ContrabassConversations.com on what we discuss:
Today’s podcast features an in-depth conversation with Peter Tambroni. This is a “round two” conversation that builds upon the topics that we covered in our previous talk on episode 204. Today we dig into fallacies surrounding public school teaching, instrument setup, life planning, instrument insurance, practicing ideas, teaching philosophies, and much more. This episode is a gold mine for anyone interested in taking their teaching game to the next level!
Pete is the author of An Introduction to Bass Playing, which is now in its seventh edition, and is an active bass performer, teacher, and author. You can learn more about Pete on his website petertambroni.com.
Fallacies Surrounding Public School Teaching
- you don’t want to get too well-educated or you won’t be hired
- Pete has never found that to be true in the various districts in which he has worked
- everyone wants the best person for the position
- most districts will do what they can to give you credit for your past experience
- the right person for the job is the right person or the department philosophy-wise and personality-wise
- people tend to focus too much on the nitty-gritty skills – it’s more about fit than anything
- you should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you
- you don’t want to get too well-educated or you won’t be hired
- replacing people that are:
- good and well-liked
- good and not well-liked
- not good and well-liked
- not good and not well-liked
- Skills are easy to teach – personality and philosophy are not
- people tend to not ask enough questions in job interviews
- Pete always want to be somewhere where the administration supported fine arts performers practicing their craft – this was a question he posed in his interviews
- look at the distribution of music teacher positions – are people full-time orchestra, part orchestra and part general music, etc?
- what degree does fundraising play in the school? this can turn into a nightmare
- learning the other instruments as a music teacher
- Pete took two extra semesters of violin and viola
- music ed programs are not all requiring bass for music ed majors
- the condition that many school basses are in – so easy to totally neglect them
- a bass with action that is too high is a catastrophically worse situation for a young player than a violin with action too high
- setup considerations for school instruments
- bridge shaping
- the need for a proper luthier
- the extreme difficulty created for younger bass students by basses that are poorly set up
- the advances that D’Addario has made in strings recently for students
- investing vs. saving
- index funds
- Apps and programs
- Robin Hood
- Roth IRAs
- 403b investment programs for educators
- get a separate policy apart from your homeowners or renters insurance – these may not cover your instrument at a paying gig
- teaching replacement fingerings
- the challenge for bass players of heterogeneous string teaching (starting in D major, for example)
- nothing beats Simandl for mapping out the fingerboard
- Thomas Gale’s book Practical Studies for Double Bass is great for younger students
- starts in 1st and 4th positions – allows for physical anchor point of thumb against the neck block
- helps eliminate the “old-school bass vertigo”
- teaching shifting
- finding the goal note should not be a fishing expedition!
- Mathias Wexler article about shifting in American String Teacher journal: “Throwing The Dart and Other Reflections on Intonation” from the November 2004 issue of American String Teacher.
- this is a link to the shifting exercise Pete describes
- shifting practice
- play correct note if not in tune
- repeat above procedure until shift lands right on
General Teaching Philosophies
- try to teach for 10 years down the road
- try to teach for the student’s next teacher
- set people up so that things don’t need to be fixed in the future
- having students nail a simpler piece versus struggle through a more difficult piece
- empathizing with your students
- don’t ask questions to “put students in their place”
- it’s never strings versus band versus choir – though there are doubles, there are “string kids,” “choir kids,” and “band kids” – offering all programs brings music to a larger portion of the student body
- we remember the emotion of experiences – emotion drives attention drives learning
How Gigging Helps You to be a Better Teacher
- helps with empathy
- opportunity to observe other players
- opportunity to observe conductors
- being respectful of the student’s time
Jason is good friend of mine. We’ve played together in many orchestras over the years and he student taught with me when he was getting his education degree. He’s moving out to California and he did wrote What I’ll Miss About Chicago on his blog. So I just had to write a response post!
Feel free to add yours in the comments.
1. Parts of his melted car are still on the highway.
2. We know the people he blogged about.
3. He always finds the bright side.
4. His positive energy.
5. Even the Chicago wind doesn’t mess the hair.
6. He made every gig better both for the audience and the section.
7. If you were even remotely related to bass playing he would track you down for an interview!
8. He knows the best beer spots.
9. The hand gestures.
10. The low B extension.
11. Having a bad gig? Cheer up – he’s had worse!
12. You never know where in Chicago he’ll show up.
13. We love betting on whether his car will explode.
14. Cats in a stroller.
15. Does anyone do better hand and facial gestures than Jason?
16. He’s improved the lives of thousands of students.
17. He’s increased the bass community while reducing musical and geographic distances.
18. We’ve met many new bassists!
I recently bought the Le Bass preamp from Two Notes Audio Engineering from Sweetwater Music. I was looking for a tube based preamp that actually used the tube. Many amps and preamps have a ‘token’ 12AX7 tube in them but the tube isn’t supplied with enough current to really do anything. Not so with Le Bass.
The Two notes preamplifiers are a True High Voltage Design running internally at 200 volts to preserve the interaction between you and your guitar while working perfectly with your other effect pedals.
Dual independent tube preamps
The heart and soul of the Le Bass are the two fully independent and footswitchable tube preamps. These preamps are voiced to give you the character of clean and driven bass amplifier tones. Preamp A is clean, clear, and extremely fast, while preamp B adds more grit to the sound, maintaining a tight low end. The two footswitches let you select either sound or blend them together to taste in Fusion mode to pile on even more gain that can take you into high-gain and fuzz territory.
I’ve had it for years and it’s a great tone shaping device. But it never seemed to get along with my low B string.
It would distort a little too early for me on the low notes. So I found myself adjusting things between songs. This is a minor fault and I still love this pedal. It can get a thick, tubey sound and then provide plenty of grit and edge. Then tweak the knobs and you’ve got 1970s Rickenbacker edge. And at their price point, they’re hard to beat.
The newer ones have most (if not all) of the mods I had done but I haven’t used the newer versions. When I have a student ask about which pedal to buy first, I always recommend the VT Bass.
But I was looking for something more. Something that could provide me with an ultra clean sound throughout the register of the instrument but still give me grit when I wanted it.
Le Bass totally provides the cleans down to a low B and grit or distortion / fuzz as needed!
The tube in Le Bass is very easy to replace. They stock tube is a Ruby brand – which is a great tube! I was curious to see what difference other tubes would make.
Here’s what I found:
Ruby 12AX7AC5 HG+ – no noticeable difference
Electro-Harmonix 12AX7 – meh.. little flat sounding
Tung-Sol 12AX7 re-issue – favorite in Le Bass
Electro-Harmonix 12AY7EH – TONS of low end even on channel B. Very low noise. Louder on Channel B. Sounds much less full on A. Do NOT like channel A sound.
Ruby 12AT7C – Very clear and articulate. Nice open sound. Plenty of low end on both channels. Low noise.
My favorite so far.
Hey everyone! I was on Jason’s Contrabass Conversations this week. Check it out! Thanks Jason! Here’s his release info:
In keeping with the thematic weeks of episode releases in 2016, I’m calling this week Finding Your Path. We are highlighting two longtime colleagues of mine that are working in diverse niches within the music industry.
On Monday, we release an episode featuring double bassist, educator, and author Peter Tambroni. Pete is the author of An Introduction to Double Bass Playing. He appeared on the podcast back in the early years, and he continues to work on interesting projects. Pete has worked in education for two decades, and we talk extensively about the advantages and challenges about this career path.
**UDPATE 4/7/16 I just bought a 2.5″ wide strap. Not only is it absolutely perfect it’s very comfortable. I thought I would notice a big difference from my 4″ wide strap.
**UDPATE 12/06/15 These are such a good strap I’m updating the post 🙂
I was recently in the market for a new strap for my bass guitar – a walnut 5 string by Carvin. It’s a bit on the heavy side so I knew I wanted a wide (4″) strap. There are a lot of choices out there with a
quality go for nice leather straps (including the guitarist in my band). So the hunt began for a quality, 4″ strap that didn’t require a bank loan.
Enter Italia Leather Straps.
I am never going back to a regular tailpiece! My excerpts are so much easier thanks to the more even response – think of the Ginastera excerpt…I no longer have to finesse and coax certain notes. Figaro Overture is a breeze now. I realize your mileage may vary but this is exactly what my bass needed!
I feel my bass now plays and sounds like an instrument twice its value. I’ve had new bridges, the top re-graduated, soundpost adjusted, bought new bows… This tailpiece should be the first thing you try when searching for a new sound.
And – full disclosure – I paid full price for mine and have no affiliation with Marvin USA. As a matter of fact I’m still waiting for a response to an email I sent. UPDATE 12/20/09 – Kevin Marvin responded to all my emails (he was away) and has been really great answering all my questions. This tailpiece RULES!!
Pizzicato is much more even across strings and register.
My dreaded Ab on the D string wolf tone is gone.
Strings definitely speak easier.
Thumb position register is much louder! Still a nice tone.
Harmonics are clearer and speak easier.
Sometime in the 90s I saw an advertisement from Disney looking for musicians and other performers. My mind raced to create all sorts of magical situations and wonderful fantasies – if I could just win it.
In 2002 I was fortunate to be able to travel to Germany. One of my stops was Leipzig where Bach work at the St. Thomas Church.
It was a moving experience to be there and know you are a few meters away from one of (if not THE) greatest composers of all time.
2/15/16 UPDATED – Corrected some incorrect chords / notes. AND now has 2 versions of the accompaniment – one with the solo in tenor clef (with some treble) and one with all treble clef.
I was recently interviewed by a graduate student in Switzerland about teaching the bow to beginning bassists. Here are the questions and my responses.
First, I am in a Master of Pedagogy. I played with french bow during 17 years and one year ago I changed to German bow and it’s a good choice to me. However, I’m French and I would like to return in France to teach…
So, this my thesis’s subject : “French bow, German bow : Which bow propose to an adult beginner?”
The interviewees are professors who teach both types of bows to their students.
1. Some of your students play bow French , other German bow.
How do you explain this diversity in your class?
(How do you explain the diversity to an outside observer?)
I teach each student whichever style bow works best for them. We go through a process (explained in a later question) to determine this.
I also feel that French and German bow are more similar than people often think. Instrument position and technique is based on proper body mechanics, posture, and alignment.
Therefore, if we take a relaxed bow arm – that is the arm hanging naturally at the side of the body – the palm of the hand is generally facing the body. This is close to the German hold. For a relaxed French bow hand all we have to do is rotate the hand slightly counter-clockwise.
2. For you, this plurality in your class is an advantage or disadvantage ?
3. Why ?
While it would definitely be easier to teach a class of one bow style, a mixed class allows students to see each style in action. This helps me and the students find the best bow style for them.