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bach cello suites?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by peglegmeg, Mar 6, 2006.

  1. peglegmeg


    Mar 6, 2006
    Hey, I'm new here. I've been playing DB for about 3/4 year, and I started the suite 2 prelude just for fun a couple of days ago. Er, some bg: I've been playing cello for the last 7 years or so (but I find the DB so. much. cooler. like, infinitely more interesting), so I guess I'm pretty familiar with the bach suites already.

    I've read here that people view them as marginally difficult, though technically speaking, they seem manageable to me (besides the chords). Since I'm a beginner, I wonder if I'm just playing the piece wrong i.e. should it be an octave higher, different technique, etc? Maybe it's just that the one I chose was "easier"? God, I really need a teacher.

    Anyway, I appreciate any opinions/advice. Thanks!
  2. If you've been playing cello for a long time, then you've already got a grasp on how the suites should sound. That's a good thing. As far as pitch goes, it depends on which arrangement of the suites you are reading when you play them on bass. If you're reading from the cello version you probably used in the past, then you're going to need to take them up an octave when you read them for bass. In other words, play them at the same pitch and octave as on cello. This means that while much of the suites rest in the first position on cello (as far as I know anyway), the majority of the notes on bass will be played in thumb position. The 1st, 2nd, and 5th suites are supposed to be played at pitch, while the 3rd suite is generally played down a fourth (in G instead of C). I'm not quite sure about the rest, to be honest.

    As far as your question about which suite to play, it is my opinion that the 2nd suite is very difficult. While the Prelude is manageable, the rest of the movements are ridiculously advanced. Personally, I would hate to play only one movement of a suite (especially since the 2nd is my personal favorite). The first suite is not nearly as difficult, though it should still prove to be technically demanding. If you're looking for a good recording, check out Edgar Meyer's recording, that's my favorite. Unfortunately he only plays the 2nd, 1st, and 5th suite (in that order).
  3. Peg, congratulations on making the switch. I played cello myself for about 10 years before I switched to bass, and that's where a lot of great players started. Mingus, for one ... others can probably name off a bunch more. The cello background will give you a lot of advantages, but - I can tell you this because I learned it the hard way - you'll have to unlearn a lot of cello technique to get the most out of the bass. Mostly about bowing, even if you do play French stick. Yes, you do need a teacher - leave it at that.

    The cello suites are possibly the greatest music you can practice on any stringed instrument. There's so much to get out of them in terms of musicianship, ear training, technique, interpretation, et cetera - you can learn and practice them in any register or transposition and get a lot out of the music. For example I sometimes use the G major prelude as a warmup, out of tempo, to practice long tones and string crossings in first position. ClassicalB, I beg to differ with you - unless you're playing the cello, there's no "supposed to" pitch. Violinists, violists, and guitarists all transpose this material as needed. Hey, if memory serves me right, Gary Karr recorded the D minor suite in E minor - that's a whole tone _above_ the cello pitch. There's absolutely no musical reason for that, it's just because he only plays in solo tuning. My favourite recordings, incidentally are Casals and Rostropovich - the bass recordings are impressive and interesting to 'reverse engineer' but I personally wouldn't use them as a reference point. Just my opinion.

    For a beginning or intermediate player I'd use Robert Rohe's edition of the suites - it's available from Lemur and transposes and revoices the music so you can use the full range of the bass, as well as harmonics, and don't have to stay up in thumb position all the time. That's the one I worked from when I first played the suites on the bass. I think suite 1 is in D, suite 2 is in G, I forget the rest. By the time you get those down cold, you can write your own fingerings at cello pitch, ha.

    I've got to the point - after playing bass for 12 years - where I can hack through the first 3 at cello pitch acceptably badly. You can never get tired of this stuff.
  4. You're absolutely right; there is no "supposed to" pitch. I guess what I meant was that I think the majority of bass players play the suites at cello pitch. Of course, I may be wrong about that as well. I can only speak from my own experience on this matter, which is that I do play them at pitch. I would never frown on a good performance of the suites, at whatever pitch they're played at.
  5. peglegmeg


    Mar 6, 2006
    So you definitely aren't allowed to play the suites an octave lower than the given cello key?
  6. I wouldn't say "not allowed". I think they are a great bowing and intonation exercise played at the written cello pitch, but for performance, they need to be played an octave higher or at least a 4th higher.
  7. if you play the cello part at written pitch, ie sounding an octave lower, you'd have to jump up an octave for any notes below the open E. It would sort of kill the flow of the melodic line, which I guess is why you wouldn't perform the suites that way. Although I believe there's an old edition for bass, published by Peters, that does exactly this, hunt around for it if you like.

    But sure, for practice anything goes.
  8. peglegmeg


    Mar 6, 2006
    And 'cuz I'm too lazy to make another thread, I just got the Nanny etudish/technique book. Does anyone know whether if it's any good or not? My weakness is an unflexible right wrist (seriously. My whole arm is like a piece of stiff wood when bowing), and sometimes my left thumb hurts if I play for too long.
  9. I don't know about the Nanny book, but as for your wrist problem, try playing scales on one string, and play each note 4 times (16th notes) semi fast. Keep most, if not all of your attention on your bow arm, and get that wrist moving. Then speed it up slowly, until you no longer need to remind your bow wrist to be flexible. Then try doing the same thing, but with some kind of string crossing excercize. Maybe playing a D major scale on the G string, while coming back to the open D every other note and slowly working up the speed, while (again), focusing on having your wrist to do most of the work for you.

    I find this to be a decent solution to many technical problems: if you can't find an etude, can't afford an etude book, or are just too lazy to go out and get one....then make one up.
  10. NickyBass

    NickyBass Supporting Member

    Nov 28, 2005
    Southern New Jersey
    I think the first Bach Cello Suite is great for working on thumb position. Personally, I don't think it matters where you play it, but I prefer to practice it at the written pitch since I need to work on my upper register intonation. Of course, I do bring it down an octave to help work on string crossing. I even use it as a warm up when I'm playing electric. I guess Bach would be upset at my use of his beloved peice, but it just works so perfectly.
  11. JayR


    Nov 9, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    I heard a jazzer friend of mine play the first suite prelude on plank for a recital a few years ago, and he played it beautifully with a very musical (albeit inevitably unconventional) intepretation. Frankly, I think Bach would jump for joy to know that his music survived and is loved so universally that in an age of electric instruments with voodoo-magic amplification, people still play his music for warm ups.
  12. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Get the Rabbath art of the bow dvd or the cd rom. You will see how flexible you can be and do something about it.

    I have seen really well known bassists who just don't have any flexibility at all, I don't think they all sound very good without it.
  13. :eek: You really,REALLY need to find a teacher. Fill out your profile
    please. Maybe there is a good teacher in your area that you don't know about, and someone here possibly does.
  14. PCPlod


    Sep 30, 2005
    I started with the Simmandl and when we (my teacher and I) got through the first part of that we moved on to Nanny because, although the technique of the first is probably more solid, Nanny's etudes are much more interesting (or just plain nicer).

    I like Nanny but he doesn't give you very much material so it's good to fill in with other stuff.

    At the risk of sounding prejudiced with Simmandl you get German technique and Nanny a French heart.

    Anyway my teacher recommends it and he's brilliant!
  15. peglegmeg


    Mar 6, 2006
    Yea, I've gotten a teacher now (apparently he's the best in the area?), but my general right arm/hand/wrist/finger inflexibility seems to be incurable. Seriously, Pinocchio's got better bow technique than I do, and I'm not lyin', folks (HA HA HA HA! ......) No matter I do, those fingers just will not loosen up under a bow!

    And I'm not sure how to even start changing my ungracefulness, and especially with 13 years of piano and 7 years of cello and still no change, how do I fix what has already been fixed for 3/4th of my life?
  16. crazywoman


    Mar 16, 2006
    I had a similar problem to you when I changed my tutor. Different schools have a different method of bowing so maybe you can do research and pick one that you are comfortable with.

    Also, you could try switching bows. (Before, I used to play a French bow but now I play a German bow.)

    About your arm: I think you should try and RELAX!!

    -: [I'm just giving suggestions, not that I'm really good or anything. But I made this changes to acheive a rather perfect bowing technique}
  17. I would definitely seek out recrudings by Mark (Markus?) Bernat and the editions by Sander Ostlund. Or you could studi with
    Sander. The Bach Chaconnee for violino by Rodeo Azharkin is undoubtedly the best Bach that has ever entered my ear canals.

    I wishing you the best of luck on your switcharroo!
  18. Stan Haskins

    Stan Haskins

    Nov 17, 2005
    NY and Miami
    How do you guys feel about the harmonic and open string marked in Simandl's version of the bourre from Cello suite 3 (?). The one near the end of the major section , where you have to play high A slurred together with an A in the bass clef, then followed by a G - I found after a while that it's the only way I can technically play that line (using the harmonic at the fifth of the D string, then stopping the string, then playing open G) but it sounds incredibly uneven and is still hard to control. Has anyone found a better way?
  19. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    you can try 4 on the harmonic, 4 on the stopped a and 1 on g, but probably the problems you are having can be lessened by moving your bow the right speed and higher on the harmonic, then lower on the stopper note. Keep in mind the bow should go about twice as fast on the harmonic than on the stopped note. I would experiment with each note trying to get the speed and sound and position right, then put it together and compromise a little.
  20. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Where can you get Sandor Ostlund's editions?

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