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Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Jan 10, 2018.
If you mean the wider, more exaggerated movement, it’s only natural, given the scale of the instrument, compared to its shorter counterparts.
If you mean the far too frequent use of vibrato, I would agree. I tend to think that vibrato just muddies up the low register in orchestral voicings. It is better reserved for solo instruments and high treble sections.
I agree about overuse, particularly on the E string where clarity of articulation and accuracy of intonation are so difficult to achieve. More broadly speaking vibrato is one of the only two tools available for the LH to add to our range of expression. The other is tasteful use of glissando. My starting point is to create the best possible tone with the bow and then add extra beauty with vibrato when it is called for. Overdoing a fast wide vibrato in lower passages with slower moving strings risks unsettling intonation and can become a distraction, both visually and aurally, from the music.
In orchestra each player's vibrato is different in width, speed and shape. It only requires a small amount of pitch movement from each to create extra warmth and character in the section sound. If the intent is to create one great collective bass section sound then each player should think constructively about their contribution as they listen to each other and themselves as well as other sections. The best orchestras' approaches are often likened to playing chamber music but on a bigger scale.
Not only bassplayers!
I believe that the higher a pitch is, the more ornamentation (shakes on a trill, vibrato) the ear will tolerate. That's why a violinist playing a concerto can play a million shakes on a trill, and vibrate at a mile a minute. That being said, nobody wants to hear somebody vibrating a low G like they're playing a violin concerto, and often people do.
As the pitch of the note drops, I would tend to use a slower, more relaxed and shallower vibrato, if I use it at all. I tend to use it sparingly anyway, I think too many players use it to hide slightly dodgy intonation (doesn't work, I've tried)
Most memorable thing I heard from a principal (back in school): "Everybody use vibrato; It'll help mask the intonation problems."
It doesn't. In a section it sometimes makes it worse. Solve intonation problems, don't try to mask them. Then you can use vibrato for colour, as you should
Vibrato is a great technique to apply to your playing. However, just because you can do it doesn't mean you should use it all the time. In faster passages, vibrato will slow you down quite a lot. Also, you have to be very careful when using vibrato in the upper register, high G up. It is harder to stay in tune and vibrato should be used less. Despite this, vibrato is an amazing tool. It can help you to play expressively and really shape phrases. The trick with vibrato is to use it wisely.
Was trying this this week. I noticed that I find vibrating the low G fast is pretty hard for me when using the pinky. I don’t have any problem with pinky vibrato anywhere else on the neck but these low notes on the E string are somehow much harder. Doing them with other fingers is no problem either. Is that normal? Any suggestions?
Thanks all for the thoughtful responses, I enjoyed them. I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra just last week (the Schumann cello and then B-5) and watched the basses a bit. I did not see Hal Robinson in the Principal's chair btw. By and large it seemed the six older players used little to no vibrato and the two relatively younger guys had nice looking vibratos, like a slowed down lower-position cello motion originating from the shoulder, that came very naturally. Perhaps that disparity reflected changes in how they learned in each era? Or perhaps the older guys hewed more to the thoughts expressed in this thread about intonation and a clean sound down low? Of course they sounded wonderful together, as all the Philly strings always do imo. The cellos as expected vibrated almost all of the time, but the players seemed to have pretty synchronized speeds among them.
I think if you had seen Hal playing principal you would have noticed a lot more vibrato coming from him than the other members (Nate and Joe being exceptions as they were Hal's students). In my experience as a sub, there is no discussion of vibrato but the priority is always on intonation in the section and as a result the default is little vibrato. When the basses have the melody, there tends to be more vibrato. I do think the tradition in the section among members who studied with Roger Scott tends towards not using vibrato as the role of the basses was viewed more harmonically (as in, the basses provide the foundation upon which the rest of the strings can ride).
In other orchestras where I have played, there is a variety of tastes on vibrato. I have yet to be told by a principal bass anywhere that I should vibrate or not vibrate anything (individual notes or whole passages), and conductors usually only intervene to ask for less or no vibrato.