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Fingering and position questions for those familiar with Bach's Cello Suite #1...

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Geekydad, Dec 17, 2015.


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  1. Trying to challenge myself by learning Bach's Cello Suite No.1 (or at least the Prelude) on my bass. My fret hand's a bit sore after some practice, and I'm wondering if, perhaps, I'm playing too low down the neck.

    I'm playing it on a 5-string (tuned BEADG) and, as an example, for the first measure, was using the third fret on the E string for the low G, then going up to the A-string to play the D, then off to the G-string for the B and A. It occurs to me I could also be using the B-string and starting at the 8th fret to put the frets closer together for less stretching. I've also seen it played up an octave, on the E-string's 15th fret, but I'm worried I'll run out of room on the fretboard playing up that high.

    Thoughts? I know part of this process is limbering up my fingers, but I don't want to strain anything. (I'm using three-finger technique for fretting.)
     
    Alik likes this.
  2. bfields

    bfields

    Apr 9, 2015
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Compared to that first G, the lowest note is the C a fifth below in the middle of the piece, and highest is the final G two octaves up. I believe you're playing it an octave lower than it would be on the cello, so starting at the E-string's 15th fret would be playing it as written. That will fit *if* your bass has 24 frets, not otherwise, since the high G will then be the last fret on the G string.

    Personally I've been trying it on a four-string transposed to C (so I start on C2 (E string 8th fret), and the range goes from F1 to C4, which fits on any bass pretty easily). I'm finding that open strings can save my left hand a little effort in some spots. (So, for example, why not use an open D instead of the A-string 5th fret for the second note?)

    Great piece, isn't it? My rendition is pretty rough, but I love attempting it anyway. The part I'm most frustrated by is the passage starting around bar 31 where the melody alternates with a repeating A--I have trouble making the melody stand out from the repeated notes, instead they all get muddled together where they cross over.
     
    Reg Braithwaite, IamGroot and hintz like this.
  3. Thanks- yeah, I've only got 22 frets (custom Warmoth- maybe I should have gone for the full 24) so I'll stick with one octave lower. I've been learning it a measure at a time. I should probably grit my teeth and play through it end to end to get a feel for the whole thing; would certainly help me read the music faster. I'm using it for both bass skills and general music reading skills- been years since I played piano as a kid, though I'm surprised how much knowledge I retained.
     
    bfields likes this.
  4. hintz

    hintz

    Jun 5, 2014
    wahiawa, HI(Oahu)
    Get that pinky involved!! I've had a Bach cello suites book for years and I quickly found that *I needed* to get my 4th finger involved to play most of these pieces!

    My favorite is Suite #2 in D minor, I gotta dig that book out again!;)
     
    Martin Lauzé and bfields like this.
  5. Three finger uses the pinky! It's index, middle, and pinky- only the ring finger gets left out. My teacher had me learn things that way; it helps prevent tendonitis from repeatitive use.

    But as long as I'm not overly stretching the ring finger, it can come in handy to just go up or down a string on the same fret. Still working out the best fingering and teaching myself.
     
    hintz likes this.
  6. hintz

    hintz

    Jun 5, 2014
    wahiawa, HI(Oahu)
    It will help your reading going start to finish, but the ones I learned years ago I worked one measure at a time and id try to memorize the whole piece!!

    I think doing it this way is better for working technique, plus I find some of the Berkeley bass books better for sight reading as most are more bass oriented (more rhythmic) where these cello suites aren't typical for most bass lines you'd ever have to read in the real world situations!!

    Another benefit of working one measure a time and memorizing: You can transpose these to 12 keys and learn the fretboard much better...at least this is where I found most of the benefits in learning these:)
     
  7. hintz

    hintz

    Jun 5, 2014
    wahiawa, HI(Oahu)
    Oh,, I misunderstood what you meant, yeah that's how I play 90% of the time as well!! I'm not pro 4 finger for fretting hand *most* of the time, but for some of these you might wanna look into it a little, I remember one part in Suite #1 where you jump from a low G to a high F# where id use my ring finger for ease, but I'm assuming your playing electric right!? On upright I *wouldn't* do this in lower registers...
     
  8. hintz

    hintz

    Jun 5, 2014
    wahiawa, HI(Oahu)
    You have a good teacher though it sounds like!!
     
  9. hintz

    hintz

    Jun 5, 2014
    wahiawa, HI(Oahu)
    Here's an interesting looking Bach for bass book WP_20151219_09_43_20_Pro.jpg
    I sorta forgot about this, but recently found this copy of an excerpt from "great instrumental works of js Bach" for bass!! I should hunt down a copy...
     
  10. Bass is a "transposing instrument" meaning it sounds 1 octave lower than written. So, if we bassists want to play the Cello Suites at the same pitch as a cellist, we should play up an octave. So a cello's low G (lowest line of the staff) is the open G string on our basses (or G at the 15th fret of the E string, etc.), not our low G at the 3rd fret of the E string.

    When I am playing Bach Cello on the bass, I prefer to tune my bass in 5ths CGDA just like a cello. This makes certain fingerings MUCH easier. Sometimes I tune CGDA and put a capo at the 12th fret, which means I am playing at the same pitch as a cellist. (Only 22 frets are necessary if you raise the G string to A.) Other times I will move the capo down to another fret, for example I can put the capo at the 5th fret to play in C, or the 7th fret to play in D, etc. Rarely I will not use a capo at all, and play the music down an octave, in un-capo'd CGDA tuning. The music can sound muddy in the lower octave, but it can also sound very powerful and beautiful if played slowly and with precision.

    There is definitely lots of technical/practice benefits to working through Bach in EADG standard tuning, without a capo, and this is something I have spent many hours of practice. But if I were going to perform the music in public for an audience, I would definitely use CGDA tuning with a capo. This gives me the most musical sound that I would enjoy sitting down to hear someone else play. Prelude in G is one of the more standard-tuning-friendly movements of the Suites. Some of the later Suites have three- and four-note chords that just sound so much better in 5ths (CGDA) tuning, to my ear.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
    bfields likes this.
  11. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    There is no particular reason to play the any of the Cello Suites in the same octave or key that Bach composed them. A short study of Bach's work will show that he transposed and re-arranged a lot of his own works to fit musical needs of the moment. And as a side note he'd probably be fairly surprised to know that his music was still being played and he was considered to be a big deal 300 years after his birth.

    As far as the Prelude to the 1st Suite is concerned. Why not play it in A? Your first note would then be open A (which would correspond the next to the lowest open note on cello. The fingerings are not difficult. Towards the end there is a part with a repeated note, in our transposed version that is an E, and you could play it down an octave and use the open E on your bass.

    To those who think that changing the work of such a great master is some kind of sacrilege, fear not. J.S. Bach's place in music history is well established and secure. Whatever you do with your bass guitar will not change that. Do what you need to play some great music. Have fun, the Cellos Suites offer some wonderful musical lessons. It would be a shame to exclude them from your musical life just because some fingering hassle, or some need to play in a certain key or octave.
     
    edwardthewave and Mushroo like this.
  12. bfields

    bfields

    Apr 9, 2015
    Ann Arbor, MI
    The range of the piece is two and a half octaves from the fifth below the initial root to two octaves above, so to fit that prelude transposed to A you could either drop the E string down to D1 or tune the G string up so until its last fret reaches the high A4. I guess the latter would be the choice if you want to keep the open E? Or you could tune in fifths to get an open E on what's normally the D string, and then you'd basically be following Mushroo's suggestion but a whole step up (DAEB instead of CGDA). Anyway.

    Definitely agreed on the general sentiment--people have been successfully adapting Bach in all sorts of ways for centuries, no need to stop now!
     
    Mushroo likes this.
  13. Edgar664

    Edgar664

    Mar 12, 2009
    Mexico
    A teacher I used to have made the transciption for bass guitar. He made it in the key of C major, so the first note that I play is in the 8th fret of the fourth string, then the first string open, etc. It fits perfectly in that key, specialy for the final part. Give it a try!
     
  14. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    This is what I'm talking about with the Prelude in and key of A.
    Keeps all the notes in the 'money' part of the neck.
    You don't have to re-tune the bass.
    And, as Duck Dunn says, "A", that's a good country key.
     

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  15. bfields

    bfields

    Apr 9, 2015
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Oh, so you're shifting the low D#'s and D's in bars 20-22 up by an octave. That means you lead into bar 20 with a major seventh jump instead of just continuing down to the D#, which I don't like as much--but it might have other advantages, sure.

    (The bigger problem I have with that version is that it's missing six bars--bars 31-36 in the original. Which is a part I love, though it's also the part I have the most trouble getting right....)
     
  16. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    Yea, I took them out as they seemed to be more of a bowing exercise and a 'filler' section. It's all subjective. Everyone has a different reason for even attempting to play these pieces. I just wanted to get the music under my fingers. Since most of my musical life I've transcribed music from one medium to another, making the changes in the Prelude didn't seem like a big deal.
     
    bfields likes this.
  17. There's a version I hear sometimes in car commercials and the like, that eliminates an arbitrary section in the middle to fit into the time slot. Kind of jarring to this listener.
     
  18. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    People actually play the Bach cello suites up an octave on bass? Why? Just to make it incredibly difficult? OK, I guess I get that.

    Anyway, Geekydad, I just tried it your way, and I found that the cutting down on stretching was greatly offset by the higher string height. Sure, my 5 could use its seasonal truss rod adjustment that I never do because I hardly ever play it anymore :D but I totally didn't enjoy playing it up there. I also didn't enjoy the climbing down to the low notes that comes up later. So I'll stick to the 3rd fret E string myself, but I thought it was a hoot to give it a try up there, and I don't see a thing wrong with trying it.

    What I DO see wrong is the pain you're having. Playing bass should be pain-free at all times, and you really shouldn't have soreness from it, even if you play a lot. This tells me that you're straining when you shouldn't have to.
     
  19. I can't speak for anyone else. For myself, there are two main reasons I often practice the Cello Suites with a capo at the 12th fret in their original/intended/notated octave. (It is incorrect to call this "up an octave"! Remember, bass is a transposing instrument, so we need to mentally adapt when reading music for cello, piano, or any other non-transposing bass-clef instrument. So it is not "up an octave" but rather "as written."):

    1. Cello octave sounds better to me (especially 3- and 4-note chords, which sound muddy to me transposed down an octave into bass range).
    2. I can play along with recordings of cello masters, and/or with other musicians, and be in the same octave instead of doubling an octave down.

    If it is easier for you to transpose down an octave (maybe it is a more useful practice/reading exercise for you that way, to be playing down in the "money notes" register of the bass), then I totally get that, and it sounds exactly like what Geekdad is looking for. I myself practice the suites in that octave all the time; it's great! I'm just saying, this particular music doesn't sound good to me down there. I would use the suites down an octave as a fingering exercise in the privacy of my home, but I wouldn't go to a concert or buy a CD of someone playing Bach Cello Suites down a whole octave. (Down a 4th or 5th sounds really nice, though, and is a great compromise if you haven't tried it yet.)

    I'm willing to be educated if anyone has a Youtube link of someone rockin' the Cello Suites down an octave on bass, particularly during the chordal passages, that sounds good by cellist's standards.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2016
  20. For what it's worth, I did figure out the fingering problem- was stretching to try and play between two notes, four frets apart, when I should have been shifting my hand down a fret. Doing it the right way took care of the finger strain issues.

    And now that Christmas season's over and I don't have to learn a bunch of new songs every week, I can go back to practicing this again... After the service I'm playing in this morning, of course... :)
     

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