Good tone

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Tim Workman, Apr 5, 2003.

  1. Tim Workman

    Tim Workman

    Apr 5, 2003
    Hi all, I'm fifteen and I am the principle trombonist in the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra, and I study with Steve Gamble and Mike Becker, the latter who often freelances with the Chicago Symphony, and for all you string players, recently had a two week long stint with Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project. I have been playing the trombone for three years and am preparing to audition for a conservatory (Julliard, Curtis, etc.). Since I often practice upwards of 4 hours a day often for more than two hours at a stretch I happen to have acquired Satchmo syndrome, also known as orbicularus dehisence, or the fraying and herniation of the orbicularis muscle in my lip. Surgery is an option, and while searching for a surgeon who will do this procedure (and do it well :meh: ) I have decided that just in case I don't have this procedure done and for the betterment of the musician in me, I will take up a new instrument. I have already decided and have rented out my instrument of choice and it is the double bass, one because cellists are a dime a dozen, violin is too flitty, and the viola just plain sucks, and number two I come from an instrument that is very versatile, and the bass is just as versatile.

    My main question for you today is the tone quality one can achieve on the bass. I am and always will be a brass player, and to me, everything is about the music, the music being second only to tone. I know there are things sound depend on, i.e., the instrument, strings, etc., but aside from all this is there a specfic technique for achieving a good tone on double bass (pardon my stupidity). For instance for brass it involves lots of air (genetics and the shape of the mouth and a good ear matter too) and a wide open space in the mouth (there actually is no real written in stone way to get a good tone, certain things are just understood and the player uses his ear from there). Once again, if in the midst of my babbling you've lost sight of the question: Does tone play an important role in the world of the double bass or do you just draw the bow across the string and get whatever comes out? I know all is not that simple, but I couldn't help but wonder if good tone is very sought after and practiced in bassland, and if so how does one go about it?

    Thanks in advance for your replies. :bag:
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Hi REGGIE,

    Tone is incredibly important to what we do. I won't go into any monologues about pizz tone unless asked, but if you're interested in talking about arco tone, just be patient, and folks like KAPOW and SLOWMOTIONBARF will show up in a bit and expound on the subject. In order to help them, you might try asking some more specific questions, though. Welcome to TB.
  3. No, tone isn't important at all, like on the trombone when you blow into it and you sound like an elk being raped. I suggest you get some bass CD's by cats like Jeff Bradetich, Thomas Martin, and Edgar Meyer and decide for yourself.
  4. You write and express yourself exceptionally well for a 15 year old.
    As stated, tone is important. It is also arguably more subjective for bass players. Both instruments rely on both physiological and equipment factors, albeit very different physics and muscle groups. Both require a degree of relaxation for pleasing tone.
    Hang in there with your lip. Bass playing has its own set of associated physical issues too.
  5. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Tone production and projection is particularly important on bass, since it sounds in a register that is difficult for people to hear. Also, the length, diameter and mass of bass strings require some counterintuitive approaches to tone production. For example, a slow bow speed (glacial in comparison to other string instruments) typically results in a better sound the lower strings. Ditto slow vibrato.

    A bass string is difficult to get moving, so you will have to pay attention to pressure and bow hold in order to achive the proper amount of "bite." You should use the passive weight of the bow and the forearm to draw the sound out, rather than applying pressure by muscle. Using lots of brute force isn't the proper way to achieve good tone, though--as with brass instruments--it's common for beginners to do so.

    String choice, in addition to the instrument and the player, can have a huge effect on tone. You may have to go through a couple of sets in order to find a type that is suitable for your bass and your personal preference.
  6. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I don't know anything about the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra, but if you have double bass players in your group that are as dedicated as you are then I'd say your best first start is to ask these same questions to them.

    If you can get answers this way, you won't do any harm sharing them with the folks who surf this board. As an adult double bass beginner, I must still practice to develop; but I'm much more sensitive to issues I wouldn't have dreamed of sweating over as a teenager. It would be fun to read the answers...
  7. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    Wow, I feel like I'm part of the crowd now...

    Tim, what utterly fascinates me is that this question of tone is the first thing that you'd ask bassists about. Honestly, it's very interesting, and I think your head is in the right place. Best of luck with the lip, but if that doesn't work out, I think you'd probably make a good bassist. You certainly have the capacity and the discipline for it, and if a good, deep tone are of primary concern to you, I think you also have the proper frame of mind.

    In answer to your question, really all acoustic musicians as a rule *should* be concerned about tone. I know you're probably most familiar with high school/youth orchestra situations, and oftentimes even well meaning and talented bassists (and other musicians as well) have to make some sacrifices to hit the right notes, but there's no reason why a bassist should be any less interested in good tone than any other musician. Sometimes even more so, since we don't often get the big solos, we have to make what we do play sound good.

    As interesting of a question as this is, I'm sure this isn't your *only* question. Feel free to bring up others here, we don't bite. Well, except for Mr. Catsarelousy but we'll muzzle him next time. You're also welcome to email me directly. It doesn't look like Tucson is *that* far from Phoenix... see if you can get in touch with Daniel Swaim. I know he retired from teaching at Brevard, but he might still teach at Arizona U, and would be the first person I'd think of contacting in your area if you're looking at taking up the bass.
  8. markr


    Mar 1, 2002
    Like bone, bass is a continuously variable pitch approximater! (did i get that right?)
    I moved from bone to bass a year ago and am happy (tho' I'm a little older than u, like 30 yrs., and am probably a worse bone player. Elk getting raped indeed!)
    This forum has been incredibly helpful (second to my good teacher). Check out the beginner links; i believe i single-handedly caused this development by one too many stupid questions (seriously!)
    One thing that has been difficult for me: I play with a few jazz piano students, and despite this exposed setting its really hard to hear my intonation at times. (especially when they drop those roots in there!)
    Good luck and welcome to this forum. There are plenty of bonists who double on bass to get gigs, i'm told. (whats the difference between a dead squirrel in the road and a dead trombonist in the road: the squirrel might have been on his way to a gig). ---Mark
  9. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    Hey K:

    You must have some bad-assed, gang bangin' elk in Philly. Probably watchin' too much of the Sixers.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Nice! At first I thought you were busting on my avatar, but later I realized that you were talking about Dave KACZHFSOZXCFWDIFXUBVZKFPDI. Even though the Fuquism was nice, I wouldn't hold out too much hope in muzzling the guy.... he's known for speaking his mind.
  11. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Jason that's a great list of samples there - but do put Mingus on the end, he's got a tone all of his own!

    And for the fellow who started this thread asking is tone important - take one look at the setup and repair section of this BB! A blind man on a galloping horse can see that getting the right tone is THE devil that possesses most contrabassists!
  12. Dondi


    May 3, 2003
    In my studies with the recently departed Julius Levine, I was led to the path of what "my" tone is by being "simple." I was taught to breathe from deep inside and to "envelope" the instrument almost in a bear hug. Our tone comes from deep within us. It is not applied from the outside (the fingers and wrists) which causes the cramped, constipated, or restricted sound that many players make. We students of Prof. Levine called it "primal bass playing." It took me months of practicing my bow grip over my couch (flipping the bow inside my hand) so I wouldn't hurt my bow during the many times I dropped it. This is how I learned to draw the bow without choking off my sound, which happens when applying pressure from the fingers as opposed to using your forearm and achieving an easy going power when you play. I hope my descrption of this method does some justice to my teacher's legacy.
  13. What happened to REGGAE?
    It would be nice to hear your opinion about the tone now, after a couple of months, if ya still around, mister. Did you ever get to playing the Bass? How´s your tone developing?

  14. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Maybe the orbicularus dehisence cleared up ...
  15. ...or DAVE CATSARELOUSY scared him off right away?