Is it possible to use double bass fingerings on the bass guitar? Actually, forget possible, is it even useful? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that including…
Is it possible to use double bass fingerings on the bass guitar? Actually, forget possible, is it even useful? The short answer is yes.
The long answer is that including left hand principles from double bass method books resulted in the most significant improvements to my playing in many years: better tone, more consistency and less fatigue, especially on longer gigs.
Long-term followers of this site will be well acquainted with my frequent touting of the Simandl double bass method book; I wrote about its virtues at some length in the original 2015 Unorthodox Instructionals book review series. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from John Goldsby informing me that said blog post was getting a shout-out in Bass Player magazine (clang!) – I’m very flattered to think that anybody reads the things that I hurl at the Internet, let alone people who write bass magazine columns.
Enough bragging and back to the point… The last two Bass Player’s Book Club episodes led to lots of people asking questions about how and why I use Simandl on the electric bass, so here goes:
What Did I Get From Simandl?
The main reason that I found Simandl to be so beneficial for my electric bass playing is that it made me rethink what technique actually is. For many players, saying that they are “working on technique” or “getting their technique together” simply means that they’re concentrating on being able to wiggle their fingers more quickly: technique is about much more than speed.
The focus here is on quality rather than quantity – does every note sound as good as it possibly can? If not, what can you do to fix it?
Practising the Simandl etudes gave me insight into alternative (and unusual) ways of playing major scale ideas – which, let’s face it, form the bulk of the material that we’re required to play on mainstream gigs – that are never introduced by bass guitar method books. Single string shifting is just one of the areas that electric bassists tend to neglect, but those who pursue it will find that it does wonders for fretting hand technique.
Simandl is not without its detractors; many accuse the etudes of being too boring and repetitive. To them, I say: “What did you expect?!” It’s a bass method book, and those expecting white-knuckle excitement will be disappointed; those of us who understand the virtues of taking the path of most resistance will get years of enjoyment.
Get out more, get more out of it Confessions of a working bassist #37: I’m terrible at getting out to hear gigs. Maybe 3 times a year I’ll get my…
Get out more, get more out of it
Confessions of a working bassist #37: I’m terrible at getting out to hear gigs. Maybe 3 times a year I’ll get my act together, check listings, book tickets and go and enjoy being in the audience rather than on the stage.
This post comes from one such occasion this time last year, when I saw that Mark Giuliana was coming to town – I’d heard lots of buzz about him from other musicians and was vaguely aware of his Beat Music project (featuring bass hero Tim LeFebvre) but had never actually bothered to listen to much of his output.
One of the most memorable moments of the gig involved a tune with a lengthy bass and drum intro that consisted of nothing but horribly syncopated unison stabs and didn’t appear to feature any repeating figures. After some Spotify surfing the following morning, it turned out that the song in question was ‘One Month’ from 2015’s Family First album – I realised yesterday that it had been on my transcription ‘to-do’ list for almost an entire year, and my brain was repeatedly nagging me to sit down and decipher what was going on:
It’s 2 notes in 4/4 time – how hard could it be?! Try sight reading this at 130bpm:
It’s a roast-up, right? Now, if you want a real challenge, attempt to memorise it.
Dealing with flyshit
I still vividly remember my first lecture at music college – I was 19 years old and had come from a small town with very little in the way of a music scene, so I thought I was pretty good. As soon as this was put in front of me I quickly realised that I knew nothing:
Having grown up on a solid diet of internet TABs and Hot Licks videos, my reading ability was somewhat lacking. I was determined not to be beaten by the little black dots, and by the end of the year I was one of the best readers in the class. How did I do it?
From zero to (reading) hero
My lectures didn’t start until 11am, so I resolved to get up at 7.30 every day and do a couple of hour’s work on my weaknesses – there were (and still are) many – with a particular focus on reading. I worked on rhythm separately from pitch and slogged my way through this riveting tome:
If you can read this book, you can read (almost) anything. And, if you can read it then you can also hear rhythmic figures elsewhere and write them down quickly There’s an entire blog post on it here.
In the 2nd post on unusual instructional books for electric bassists (part 1 can be found here) we’re examining the benefits of Franz Simandl’s ‘New Method For The Double Bass’….
In the 2nd post on unusual instructional books for electric bassists (part 1 can be found here) we’re examining the benefits of Franz Simandl’s ‘New Method For The Double Bass’.
I discovered this book while studying with Austrian bass titan (and ibassmag contributor Stefan Redtenbacher and spent a long time working through it on electric bass years before I ever touched a double bass.
What’s it about?
Way back in the early 1900s, Austrian double bass virtuoso and renowned educator Franz Simandl published his method for double bass, which offered bassists with a logical, incremental approach to mastering the instrument.
How is a 100-year-old double bass method relevant to modern electric bassists?
Many bass players have borrowed the ‘1 finger per fret’ technique from the guitar, which in certain playing situations makes a lot of sense. The problem comes when trying to apply this concept in the lower positions of the bass where the frets are further apart – the popular ‘1234’ chromatic finger exercises that are still prescribed by instructional books, bass magazines and some teachers place unnecessary strain on the left hand and wrist when applied in the lower portion of the fretboard.
I’m not alone in my hatred of these exercises – Dave Marks has made a couple of excellent videos on the subject:
Renowned bass educator Joe Hubbard also makes the point that these exercises also make no musical sense in this blog post. If you’re not aware of Joe, his list of past students includes Pino Palladino, Paul Turner (Jamiroquai) and Dave Swift (Jools Holland). Not too shabby.
The alternative is to use the approach adopted by Simandl and other similar double bass methods – dividing the bass into a series of 3-fret positions and using position shifts rather than left hand stretching to reach notes that fall out of position. Horizontal shifting is one of the most fundamental aspects of bass playing but also one of the most awkward.
Being able to execute a horizontal position shift whilst maintaining a legato sound requires a great deal of attention to detail, and Simandl’s etudes offer plenty of practice in this area.
Using Simandl’s approach, the 3rd finger isn’t used for fretting notes and instead supports the 4th finger. Applying this ‘supportive fingering‘ concept to the electric bass leads to a more secure left-hand technique that reduces physical strain and (to my ears, at least) results in smoother, more effortlessplaying.
Benefit #1: adopting double bass technique reduces tension in the left hand, making your playing sound effortless and reducing the risk of injury.
Feel the benefit right now:
Let’s compare 1fpf with the 3-fret span concept using an F major scale:
1fpf means that I have to stretch my 3rd finger out to reach the notes at the 3rd fret, which results in a sharp bend in my left wrist which decreases blood flow and increases strain on the hand:
Adopting the idea of a 3-fret position allows me to reach all of the notes without stretching or straining my left hand:
The Lost Art of Articulation Studying Simandl’s classical etudes also directs our attention towards two areas that electric bassists often neglect: articulation and dynamics.
Since the exercises are rhythmically simple, the entire focus is on producing a smooth, consistent sound from the instrument. Directing your attention towards note length can reveal a lot about your left-hand technique and force you to reevaluate your approach – playing a passage of crotchets with seamless transitions between notes might seem like an easy exercise but the reality is surprisingly difficult.
Benefit #2: paying attention to your note length and articulation will give you greater control over the sound of the bass and enable you to adapt your sound to suit a variety of musical situations.
In addition to solidifying my technique and improving my ability to articulate notes in a variety of ways, Simandl helped me to really understand how to play in a variety of keys across the entire range of the bass.
Benefit #3: Working through the positional etudes will help to solidify your knowledge of key signatures and how each key ‘sits’ in different areas of the neck.
The fact that the entire book deals exclusively with standard notation means that studying the etudes will automatically bolster your reading abilities and improve your knowledge of the fretboard. The bass is a surprisingly difficult instrument to read on due to the fact that a single pitch can be played in a variety of locations. Play this G:
Where is on the bass? Open G string? 5th fret D string? 10th fret A string? 15th fret E string?? It’s all of them, and the deciding factors for a position are the notes that come before and after it.
Of course, you need to have a decent knowledge of the fretboard in order to know that these options are available to you, and some of them may be more appropriate than others. Reading music and having a working knowledge of the entire fretboard allows you the freedom to play music in the most appropriate way for you, rather than having positions and fingerings dictated by someone else. This is one of my main gripes with TAB – it’s someone else’s opinion of how I should play a line.
Benefit #4: Working with standard notation improves your fretboard knowledge, increases your familiarity with different key signatures and allows you to easily access music written for other instruments.
I think you get the point, so I’ll leave it there. You can get your copy of Simandl by clicking the links below:
Franz Simandl – New Method for the Double Bass book 1 (US Link | UK Link)
Do you have a favourite instructional book? Tell me about it!
I’m always interested to hear about different methods that have helped people develop musically. If there’s a book that you love and feel deserves a wider audience then let me know by commenting on this post.
Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to one and all. My one and only resolution for 2011 is to keep this blog updated with fresh material – my annual stats…
Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to one and all. My one and only resolution for 2011 is to keep this blog updated with fresh material – my annual stats email from WordPress tells me I got something in the region of 14,000 views last year, which shows that I should really pull my finger out and reward visitors with something more than a bi-yearly update!
Part of the reason for the lack of pre-Christmas posts was that in mid-November I got a call offering me a series of gigs with a pop/classical artist that required me to play both electric and upright bass… Now, although I’ve been dabbling with double bass ever since I left university I’d never really ‘taken the plunge’ and this seemed like the perfect excuse to begin studying the instrument seriously.
Initially, I thought the gig would be a roughly a 50/50 split between upright and electric, but once I got the charts it became clear that I’d be playing a lot of double bass, including some bowing which was completely new territory for me. I had roughly 3 weeks to get my playing in shape, so I locked myself away in a rehearsal studio. Here’s how my November looked:
As might be expected, it was a tough few weeks. Getting to grips with the bow (awful pun intended) was probably the biggest challenge, as my first attempts resulted in a sound I can only liken to a whale being abused… After a few days, I gradually began to get the hang of things and found that my sound improved a little every day.
Spending that amount of time and effort on such a fundamental aspect of the instrument was a hugely humbling experience; I’ve been playing electric bass for over a decade, so I tend to take the process of playing for granted, but on upright I found myself having to learn a completely new set of skills in order to make the most basic pieces sound passable.
Once I’d started to get over the initial issue of handling the instrument, I found myself totally absorbed by the double bass. Although it’s a much more physically intensive instrument than the electric bass the effort is worth it – the sound and feel of the instrument make it rewarding to play, especially for certain styles of music (playing walking lines on an electric bass now feels wrong).
On a practical note, the following things made moving into the world of doubling easier:
Resources for the novice doubler
-There are some excellent instructional videos around. I found Andrew Anderson’s series on bow technique massively helpful:
– In terms of method books, I sought advice from Franz Simandl (UK link | US link) and Rufus Reid (UK | US) – When it came to the actual gigs, my trusty Radial Bassbone saved my life on a nightly basis by letting me maintain control over the switching, output levels and EQ of both instruments.
Here’s how the setup looked (due to snow-based travel complications the double bass and the speaker cabinet were both hired for some of the gigs):
I’d like to leave you with a final thought- every time I think my arco playing is improving, I listen to Edgar Meyer and remind myself of the mountain I still have to climb. Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that you suck.