anybody tune in Fifths?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by nicklloyd, Apr 16, 2002.

  1. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Does anybody on this site tune in fifths? I play mainly traditional American music (swing, blues, western, hot jazz) and am thinking of making the switch. Thought I'd ask around...
  2. Well, Joel Qarrington tunes in fifths and sounds amazing, but I don't think it's for everyone. I believe Red Mitchell did as well. For one, there is a lot more shifting envolved and getting the proper string gauges can be troublesome. There is also the matter of existing bass literature laying well on the instrument. Since you are not playing classical literature though, that shouldn't be a problem.

  3. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
  4. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    Thomastik offers Spirocores in fifth tuning sets.
    They developped these strings with the late Red Mitchell.
    Quarrington plays on Dominants, and uses a solo-tuning F# to get the G I think. He once told me he was still trying to convince Thomastik to produce a fifth tuning set in Dominant quality. :)
    etorgerson likes this.
  5. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    What a great response! I'll look into more Red Mitchell cds....
    Here's the kicker- Has anybody seen a gut "C" string? Ever since I switched to gut years ago, my life hasn't been better. I could go to half steel-half gut, but I'd rather not...
  6. mizmaggie


    Sep 26, 2001
    Virginia USA
    I've used CGDA tuning for about two years now. Initially, I made the switch from fourths tuning in order to extend the lower range [music written for concert band "basses" always seems to want a low E-flat...(!)] I found the Thomastik medium-tension fifths-tuning (CGDA) Spirocore set to be excellent for pizz; but when I started serious-classical-type lessons this past autumn, I really had to try something more "bow-friendly." After a couple of missteps that I won't belabor here, I ended up with a combination of solo and orchestra Thomastik Superflexibles: BF#DA tuned to CGDA.

    As for the tuning itself, I really prefer fifths to fourths! I think maybe because there is more redundancy in the resulting harmonics that the instrument resonates better when tuned in fifths...but then, I'm no physicist; so I could be imagining things!! [And of course, I now cannot play some pieces written to exploit the fourths-tuned bass harmonics!!] The Rabbath method I am currently studying, especially the use of "pivoting," works really well for fifths-tuned fingerings.

    The major drawback to fifths tuning emerges when trying to play in bass ensemble or orchestra section, where the dissimilar fingerings and string crossings stick out to bad effect...(!) But if you are the only double bass in your band, I can highly recommend giving the tuning a try.

    --Maggie Kelly
  7. I took lessons with Glenn for a long time (stopped because I moved about a year ago). He wasn't using the fifths tuning for most of the period I was taking lessons with him (2 years or so). Last winter he was just starting to get back in to it, but he had been using standard tuning for a while (a few years I think). Also, for some reason I thought he used some wierd ass tuning, not quite fifths. But it's all hazy now. For folks in the pacific NW area (particularly Portland, OR), he gives lessons, is an excellent human being and a mind blowing bass player.
  8. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    There are some guys who make gut strings custom like Damian Dlugolecki and AquilaUSA who could probably do this.

  9. I think Velvet makes a 5th's tuning set of Animas. Pirastro might do a special order.
  10. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    i tune in 5ths when playing the Bach Suites.
  11. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    I've considered the tuning as a passing thought, but honestly can't imagine traversing the *entire* length of the neck before doing a string crossing... each note would have only one really logical place and only on one string. Think about it - you're increasing the range of the instrument without actually increasing the number of notes possible on any one string or in any position. Logistically, you're whacking fingering options with a machete. Take G# for example. It ain't in half position anymore, and you'd have to go almost to the octave on the A string. It's that one on the D string and none other. Then if the line went to B or C you'd either have to keep climbing the D string or jump back to first position because the minor third that once fell easily in a single position no longer does so. Harmonics or no, I couldn't imagine forcing myself to make major shifts for *every* scale, every time. The logistics of fifths tuning works much better on instruments that can take a semitone per finger spread (*without* pivots), and can even extend to a whole tone between the first and second fingers (again, without pivots). It almost makes sense for thumb position, but even still... not a price I'm willing to pay any time soon.

    And as always, I can quote Bottesini:

    "Tuning in fifths, as is done in some countries, is absurd. It causes a harshness of tone and a continual changing of position, which renders the execution difficult, uncertain, and disconnected."
  12. On the Glen Moore note; I also studied with him for a while. At the time he was playing a CADC tuning, not fifths.
  13. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Maggie Kelly,

    I'm working through George Vance's books now too and really enjoy them. My teacher introduced pivoting and dividing up the fingerboard with harmonics when I began working through the Simandl books with him, but Vance's books provide me with piano accompaniments to double the fun.

    I can see how pivoting would give you an advantage in maneuvering around the 5ths tuning and minimizing intonation problems. Did you begin working in 5ths cold-turkey, or did you get there gradually by, say, tuning the E string to D, finding satisfaction, and then dropping the D to C and the A to G, etc., and get there over a period of time?

    I read that Joel Quarrington auditioned for orchestra(s?) in 4ths and switched to 5ths after he won a spot. I hope that if his bow is going in the same general direction as everyone else's in his section and he can play the music, he has a chance to keep the spot he won fair and square.
  14. sean p

    sean p

    Mar 7, 2002
    eugene, oregon
    i've been tuning in fifths (spiro red mitchells) for a couple of months now and really like it. the overtones are a little richer, the low notes are really low, and the upper register is a bit easier to get to. playing the cello suites (suite - i've only worked on #1) is a treat in this tuning.

    it requires a bit more shifting, but my vocabulary is changing to accommodate the scale degrees that fall under the hands (across the strings) more naturally, and pivoting has become a standard technique for me, with great results.

    i mostly play original alt-rock stuff, so my parts are basically written already (with improvisation during performance). trying to play the same parts tuned in fifths is sometimes quite easy, sometimes quite a challenge. i understand now that many of my parts were created with vocabularly that was convenient (under the hands) in fourths, and now would require much more effort to execute. sometimes the part is worthwhile enough to keep and adapt to, sometimes i rewrite the part to keep it easy.

    the drag on my bass is that the bottom string doesn't sound rich and loud through the Ab-B section. since on a C string this is the E-G section, those notes (essential in fourths tuning as the lowest on the bass) get a bit lost and are frustrating to play. but the G string is a beautiful, beautiful thing. :)

    sean p
  15. mizmaggie


    Sep 26, 2001
    Virginia USA
    Hey, Johnny!

    If you like George Vance's books with piano accompaniment, you should try the play-along bass/piano CDs that go with them [featuring Francois Rabbath himself]...(!)

    I went straight from all-fourths to all-fifths tuning, which I guess would be "cold-turkey" except for the fact that I also play viola [CGDA]; so the "mental-transition" went pretty quickly for me.

    I agree completely with Sean's description of the "convenient-(or inconvenient)-under-the-hands" issue. At first I stuck to cello methods [e.g. Suzuki] because the arrangements were "convenient" for fifths tuning; but as I am taking lessons from George Vance directly and want to participate in his group sessions, I'm now using the more "fourths-friendly" arrangements of his bass method books. Fortunately, the most "inconvenient" selections usually have duet parts that work well on my instrument!

    As for Joel Quarrington, it is my understanding that after serving for more than a decade as the principle double bassist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, he is now the principle double bassist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra [Ottawa] under Pinchas Zukerman, Music Director. So I don't think that fifths-tuning has impeded his progress at all...(!) [Although he would likely be the first to admit that his experience is the unique exception!!]

  16. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    That's cool that you are studying with George Vance. My teacher, David Neubert, tells me he's a really nice guy.

    I haven't neglected Rabbath's performances on CD, but not only do I play the piano too, I am also lucky to work on occasion with a much better pianist in my practice who also plays the cello and bass. So the accompaniments were a must for me. I craved for performances to compare myself to with the Simandl material and would record my teacher playing my favorite etudes during my lessons...the paper world only reveals so much to a beginner getting to hear his teacher play with such control over dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and vibrato. Needless to say, when I got Vance's books last month at my teacher's urging and found the CDs with Francois playing I was very happy.

    I'm completely with you on your ideas and efforts to leverage all you can from your experiences with the viola to the bass. I am able to leverage my own experiences playing the guitar, electric bass, and piano to articulate some lines with a 4 finger per half-step approach to great personal advantage. But I rarely do such a thing for my teacher, as I'm still greedy make music sing on the bass as my teacher does it.