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How should a beginner sound?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by ThomClaire, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. ThomClaire


    Dec 31, 2012
    Asheville, NC
    Well, there are two purposes for me posting this thread. The first, is to find answers to my question; the second, is to have a discussion on the importance of this question (a question that I did not find anywhere else on the forums).

    So, how should a beginner sound? It matters to me, because currently I have no teacher (though I am working on finding one, it's just that, there is no way I could sit around and NOT want to practice). There are many videos on youtube, and dvds you can buy, that will tell you everything you need to know about how to hold the bass, how to hold the bow, how to strike the string with the bow, how to stop the string with your left-hand, etcetc. But the issue is, all of these videos are professionals and therefore, when they demonstrate the exercises they are telling you to do, they sound really good. On the other hand, a beginner is not going to sound good, even if they do everything that video told them to do. But how does the beginner know if they are sounding like they are because of incorrect technique or because they simply haven't done it long enough, if they have no in-person instruction?

    I hope you all see that this is an important thing to know. Without this knowledge, it is very likely for the beginner to go on practicing with incorrect technique, and thus, learning some things (perhaps a lot of things) that they will later have to unlearn and start over.

    This is all, of course, assuming that the beginning player does not have an instructor, and I'm sure some of the responses on here will be to get an instructor. That's all well, but let's just ignore that part for now. So, how should a beginner sound?

    EDIT: I should also add this: When I am talking about how the beginner sounds, I am thinking of a beginner just learning how to use the bow, and practicing by playing long notes, the full length of the bow, on open strings. Striving for a steady, clear sound, right from the strike of the bow, to the end of the bow.
  2. worxforme

    worxforme Self Actualized Bad Speller

    Dec 10, 2009
    LAnsing MI
  3. ThomClaire


    Dec 31, 2012
    Asheville, NC
    Right. Thank you. Let me be more specific.

    There are certain sounds that come from a beginner due to incorrect technique, and there are sounds that come from a beginner that are due to lack of practice of correct technique. So, a beginner's sound should be consistent of "bad" sounds coming from a lack of practice of correct technique and not sounds coming from incorrect technique.

    Incorrect technique should be corrected; correct technique should be practiced. The question is, what are the differences between correct and incorrect technique in sound, from a beginner.
  4. APeck


    Sep 1, 2012
    Clarksville, TN
    There really is no simple way to answer this question. And furthermore, what do you define as "beginner?"

    I will say the one thing about not having a teacher that I think affects sound quality negatively is the issue of tracking. Tracking is when the contact point of the bow on the string changes (normally due to bow position/bow hand/bow angle being incorrect), and causes the tone to suffer. If you have no teacher, I would suggest practicing in front of a mirror EVERY time you practice, so that you know whether or not you look like those YouTube videos, and whether or not you are tracking. It's almost impossible to tell otherwise.
  5. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    an absolute +1 for me. Another thing to keep in mind is when you hold your bow (french or german irrelevant) you need to ensure that you are not playing with pain or tension. One exercise that helped me a lot is to get into playing position, put the bow on the string... then do nothing. just wait for your muscles to tell you where they're holding tension (a sense of body awareness is very important in my opinion), and let that tension go.

    I'm glad you're looking for a teacher. It's the most valuable investment you'll ever make in your playing. Any of us here could say a multitude of things, but 1 on 1 face time with a qualified teacher is going to be a great decision.

  6. worxforme

    worxforme Self Actualized Bad Speller

    Dec 10, 2009
    LAnsing MI
    Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

    Yet seriously, and everyone has posted this already, find a qualified, passionate teacher and you'll be so happy you did.
  7. Ron Plichta

    Ron Plichta Supporting Member

    May 19, 2007
    Fairfax, VA
    Join the club! I've been heavily involved in double bass for the past 10 months and still consider myself very much a beginner. I think the term "inconsistent" is a better term to use than "bad" because there are times I can get a drill to sound decently and there are days when my playing sounds like a meadow full of cows farting. The trick is not get too upset when things go wrong and try to find fixes. And trust me, the double bass is an exercise in patience.

    I recently changed instructors and it's always interesting to find different perspectives. My new instructor uses a French grip while my previous one used a German. I use French and the new guy has done a lot to tweak how I hold the bow. He's also changed the way I position the bass and has me doing a ton of intonation drills.

    Bottom line - the online info is good, but a quality instructor will pinpoint flaws and correct right away. Get one as soon as you can.
  8. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    The fact that you don't know how a beginner should sound is probably a tell-tale sign that you need a lesson with a qualified teacher. It's like a blind person teaching themselves how to read braille.
  9. ThomClaire


    Dec 31, 2012
    Asheville, NC
    Thanks for all the responses, but I think my question has been slight misunderstood. My question was not "should I get a teacher?" Everyone knows the answer to that. My question was also not "should a beginner sound good or bad?"

    A bad sound can be caused by a number of things. The question is: how can a beginner know whether that bad sound is produced by incorrect technique or not...assuming the beginner does not have a teacher. Also, I'm hoping it is clear that I'm looking for more than, "Well, the teacher will tell them."

    Thanks for defining tracking. I did not realize that was an issue to be concerned with, though I am confident that that has not been a problem yet. I've been practicing in front of a mirror to be sure that the bow stays relatively parallel to the bridge, and being sure to look at the mirror and down at the bow (so that I can become aware of what a straight bow looks like from the player's perspective).

    I've also been doing my best to keep a relaxed bow hand, and this has definitely been a challenge. Would anyone care to elaborate, to a possibly rediculous extent, on the concept of using the weight of the bow? I think this is a hard concept to grasp (without a teacher showing and correcting you), but I do think with the large amount of reading I've been doing I am getting closer to understanding it in a way that I can put it to practical use.
  10. Ron Plichta

    Ron Plichta Supporting Member

    May 19, 2007
    Fairfax, VA

    To reiterate what's been said before, the only real way to tell where your errors are being made and why is to work with a teacher. There's really no other way around it. He can point out why the error's being made much quicker than you can figure it out on your own.

    And practice goes hand in hand to reinforce what's taught. Only then can you recognize what's going on and make changes.

    My instructor tells me that there are three factors that affect bow tone - pressure, speed and location. Change one and the tone changes. The trick is to know how to blend all three factors.
  11. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    This the same backward mentality I see alot of people who try to take on certain sports - specifically skiing. Yes you can teach yourself, but you have no idea how to identify bad form by someone describing it to you. You have no idea how it feels or looks like. You can see other people demonstrate it that works for their particular body type, but you have no experience in analyzing how it should work for you. You have no idea what they heck you're looking at.

    It's really learning the hard way and being cheap or lazy about it in a really stubborn way. Even a Skype lesson will work, just anything that you're in front of someone and they know how to teach because they've done it dozens of times.

    So good luck with that and have a blessed day.
  12. JDBassist51


    Sep 30, 2012
    Sherman NY
    One good way to check your own sound is to record yourself while practicing. By doing this, and using a mirror as stated before, it may give you a better insight in the matter as to how it sounds to you when actually playing. Then compare with the recording. Hopefully, this will help you out initially.

  13. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Besides practicing before a mirror are there any more exercises or tips for tracking issues? especially on the higher notes.
  14. The question really is how do YOU want to sound. Are you trying for loud, soft, warm, harsh, projected or muffled, clear or fuzzy, etc? Let's say you are aiming for a large warm earthy projected sound with a slight edge. This is my default sound I aim for when I warm up with long bows.

    Your sound not only depends on the interplay between Bow Speed, Bow Weight and Distance from the Bridge. There are other variables such as the quality of instrument and bow, angle of hair ribbon to the string, hair tension, brand of strings, brand of rosin and how much you use, etc,etc. Examining the effect of each of these is like conducting a lot of careful science experiments.

    The best sounding note on most basses is open D, plucked or bowed. Rest the middle of the bow on the string about 6 inches from the bridge. Wrap your fist right around the frog and stick and jam the bow hard down on the strings so that the hair bends and hits the stick. This is past the most pressure/weight you will ever use. When you draw/drag the bow sideways you will produce a horrible scratchy noise because you have killed/squashed the note completely yet you can make that noise and movement continuous and even (like dragging your fingernails down a blackboard!!). With each successive down bow reduce the pressure slightly and you will hear the note start to sound even thought the string vibrations are being crushed. You reach a point where the note has that warm earthy tone and the string is vibrating relatively freely even though the bow hair is still bent gently around the string. Turn your hand over and find this same sound using the proper bow hold. You are in control of the string movement and tone. The edge in the sound comes from the interplay between the bow hair,rosin and string. If you speed up or slow down the bow, at the same time adding or taking off a little weight, the string will go with you. This is how you can start to study producing a range of dynamics, controlling crescendo and diminuendo and creating nuances in your sound and phrasing. If you continued to lighten the bow weight the hair would finally lose its grip on, and control of, the string. In between there is a narrow band of opportunity to create the sounds that you want. That YOU want. That you WANT.

    So, back to the beginning. Try to strongly visualize the sound that you WANT to make and go for it. This applies as much to professionals as to beginners IMO.

    Good luck and enjoy the journey!

  15. MostlyBass


    Mar 3, 2002
    Oak Park, IL
    As good as possible. Starting pizzicato is a great idea to isolate the left hand. But at the same time, I do short right hand exercises a month or so before introducing the bow.
  16. Hi. Mr Potts gave good advice. As regards the 'weight of the bow' , I am also a beginner, much more so than you- only three weeks with DB. I have however played electric bass and violin for many years. Due to the violin I have opted for the French bowhold. The same physical principles apply in regards to distance from the bridge, bow speed and pressure etc. As a beginner all I can advise is find a study book, eg Simandl (recommended to me by this site) and work through the exercises, but try to find with the bow on each note, the place on the string where the note is pure. Then play the note using only the weight of the bow on the string. Your volume will probably be quite low, but that is a good thing as you can always play louder, with more pressure/ closer to the bridge etc. It's also a good opportunity to maintain a straight bow, as the French bowhold will allow the right hand to adjust the angle by the use of the little finger ( I hope I'm not talking too much from a Franco Belgian violin bowhold standpoint!). As I said, I'm a beginner too and have been strongly advised to get a teacher before I train myself into bad habits. My issue at the moment is tendon discomfort when playing 1/2/4 on the E string. I too don't know any bass teachers in the area I live, though I do know of a player who I am going to contact, and I also get the majority of knowledge from YouTube and this site, as well as study books. But you can find the optimum place to get a pure note just with bow weight, and no extra finger pressure. As for tone, that is for you to work out. I find I enjoy getting some feedback from the bass through my thigh, ESP if I'm unable to hear myself, but I know that the bass is robbed of any ability to project sound, so that's a habit that needs to be stopped immediately!
  17. Tom Gale

    Tom Gale

    May 16, 2009
    I found out a great way to establish in a beginner the sense of 'the sound', without long, not understood explanations, is to use simple duets. The students will always try to imitate you in the sound. It also works well past the beginner stage!
    Tom Gale
  18. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    EDIT: I should also add this: When I am talking about how the beginner sounds, I am thinking of a beginner just learning how to use the bow, and practicing by playing long notes, the full length of the bow, on open strings. Striving for a steady, clear sound, right from the strike of the bow, to the end of the bow.[/QUOTE]

    There are plenty of knowledgeable folks here and having a teacher is the correct advice - however, you may want to post a video / sound file so that by visualizing or hearing what you are doing, folks here may be able to formulate an appropriate response..? My 2c worth... You could then do agin in 6 months time and see how you are progressing.
  19. I apologise for the lengthy comment above. I think it strayed away from 'How should a beginner sound?'. It's easy to forget sometimes how hard it was to get used to holding and using a bow. I'll leave any further comment to those who are more experienced and able to focus on the question and subject matter.
  20. Go to any school and listen to the class where students learn instruments. You'll most likely hear out of tune notes, thin/whiny tone, etc.
    As you get better, you'll be able to tell who is a beginner or not.

    Go find a reputable teacher.

    About "unlearning", everyone will learn something and "unlearn" it. That's what practicing is about, you play for countless hours, then realize, "oh snap, maybe if I hold my hand like this, I'll play more relaxed!" Then you change your hand angle, you get better a bit, and find more things to get better at.

    It's those self realizations accumulated from countless hours of practicing, and following up on those realizations that make you better.