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Intonation Troubles While Descending

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Christopher, Jan 23, 2001.

  1. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I've recently observed that my intonation while ascending is noticeably better than my intonation while descending. I think my shifting accuracy suffers while travelling from higher to lower positions, but I'm not sure why this is. Any thoughts on how to correct this?
  2. I am not sure why, but to state the obvious, you are usually using different fingerings as you descend than when you ascended, correct? So in a sense its like climbing a mountain - just because you get up there safely doesn't mean you are coming down without falling.
  3. So the more I think I suck, the better I am?
  4. Yep. I´ve noticed that.

  5. Chris: There's a concept called "explain the shift" which my teacher uses. She got it from Fred Zimmerman. Before I do a long treatise, have you heard of it?
  6. This is not about what kind of shift to make, but how to think about whatever shift you choose. Waiting for Chris.
  7. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Don: Haven't heard of this technique. I think, though, that my problem stems from the fact that in descending I use 1-4 shifts or 2-4 shifts (shifting from the strongest to the weakest finger) whereas ascending I use 4-1 or 4-2 shifts.
  8. I'm waiting to hear about "explain the shift," but in the mean time I'll chime in.

    Chris, you say you know what the problem is, shifting from 1 to 4 and from 2 to 4. If you spend five minutes a day for a few days practicing those shifts your problem will be solved. Make up some quick easy exercises that mimic the problem. For example, play C on the G string with 1, shift
    to play Bb w/4, w/2. With a metronome, start slow, maybe half note equals 50. When you can play it in tune, increase the tempo to half note equals 52, etc. Proceed until you reach half note equals 100, knock the metronome back down to 50, but this time it's quarter note equals 50. Work up to 100.

    When shifting from playing C w/1 to Bb w/4, your first finger is really shifting down a major third, to Bb w/2 your first finger moves a minor third. So another exercise would be to practice 1-1 shifts in descending thirds. If you can shift from 1 on C to 1 on Ab in tune, you should be able to put 4 down and Bb is in tune. If not, you're not maintaining good hand shape.
  9. "Explain the shift" means that regardless of what finger is currently holding the string, and regardless of what finger will hold the string after the shift, on an upshift you must know in advance where 1 will land in relation to the current position. E.g. 1 is on Ab, and you're going to play C with 4. The explanation is "1 goes to 4", i.e., 1 goes from Ab to Bb, and 4 lands on C. Or, playing Bb with 4, shifting to play D with 2 and Eb with 4, you say "1 goes 1 and a half over 4", i.e., 1 will land on Db - 1 1/2 over Bb. On DOWNSHIFTS, you must be able to say where 4 will go in relation to the current position, e.g. "4 goes to 2" or "4 goes 1 under 1".
    When Linda McKnight first pulled this on me, I said "This is nuts." (NOT out loud). I didn't believe I could do it. Wrong. I can, you can. It's complicated, and having a teacher present is very helpful, but it works. Any time my intonation goes off, Linda yells "explain the shift", I rethink my hand position, and intonation self-corrects. This keeps the 1-2-4 "frame" intact, makes you aware of where notes are. At first, you're focusing and thinking deeply, but after a while it becomes second nature. You may question how the hell you can handle "1 goes 2 1/2 over 4" with accuracy, but you'd be surprised. Think about it. Won't it be easier to tune the finger nearest the current position rather than the one furthest away?
    OK,it's not easy to be reading a passage and thinking of notes you're not going to play. And it can be tricky, such as when the notes are descending but your hand is shifting up be cause you're crossing strings. Like I said, she got this from Fred Zimmerman, and it should be done with a teacher to minimize confusion. But it absolutely works, even though I suspect I've sewn alot of confusion.

    [Edited by Don Higdon on 01-24-2001 at 09:35 AM]
  10. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Thanks. The "explain the shift" technique seems to help, insofar as it employs the placement of the stronger finger (1 or 2) as a reference point for descending shifts.
  11. Using Special K's examples:
    On the G string
    1. From C with 1 to Bb with 4: "4 goes 1 under 1"
    2. From C with 1 to Bb with 2: "4 goes half under 1"
  12. Chris, the downshift reference is always 4. Where is it going?
  13. Jeez, it looks like you were all waiting for me.
  14. Don, why not use 1 as the reference since regardless of what finger is stopping the note (except thumb pos.) 1 is down? Because the first finger never leaves the string, it makes sense to me to explain every shift, ascending and descending, as 1-1.

    Is there an advantage to using 4 as the downshift reference?
  15. In a down shift where the new frame is beyond the prior frame, 4 is closest to the prior frame, therefore easier to calibrate and keep in tune, so it's easier to consistently refer to 1 going up and 4 going down. E.g, going down, it's easier to envision "4 is half under 1" than "1 is 1 1/2 under 1".
  16. Head heavy and confused. I gotta try this, I am a sucker for this sorta stuff.
  17. I was sure I'd have to defend myself today. What gives?
  18. But if 4 was the reference of the prior "frame" (which I take to mean position), and is the reference for the new "frame", the intervallic size of the shift is the same regardless of which finger you think of as the reference. In the example of playing C with 1 then Bb with 4 your hand moves a major third.

    I think the reason why you've been waiting all day, Don, is because, I for one, still don't understand the jargon (4 under 1 etc.), and there isn't much to dispute. The feeling has to be in your hand one way or another. I'm sure that if I had a better understanding of the concept (read: if you had explained it better :) ) I'd see why it makes more sense. But I have to admit I was thinking about this this morning while I was letting Nanny Etude de Virtuosite #2 knock me around a bit. That one is all thirds. I think the feeling in my hand is exactly the opposite from Zimmerman's concept. When I shift up, I think it feels like the 4th finger side of my hand does the measuring, and the first finger on the way down. Maybe that's why I play the notes between the notes so often.
  19. When Linda McKnight tells me to do something, I do it and think about it later. And since the system works so well, I just do it without analyzing why. Therefore, my explanation is my reading of why it works, not hers. And, I was taught to explain upshifts in terms of where 1 goes, and downshifts in terms of where 4 goes.
    Re terminology: Assume downshift on G string
    from 1-C, 2-Db, 4-D
    to 1-Ab, 2-A, 4-Bb
    In this case 4 goes to Bb, which is 1 whole step below where 1 was (C). I was taught to think "4 goes 1 under 1".

    from 1-Eb, 2-E, 4-F
    to 1-D, 2-Eb, 4-E is described as "4 goes to 2" (from F to E)
    from 1-Eb, 2-E, 4-F
    to 1-C, 2-Db, 4-D is described as "4 goes half under 1", i.e., D (4) is a half step under Eb (1)

    So in every downshift, I must say where 4 goes in comparison to the prior position. All the above applies no matter what finger is being bowed in either position.

    To repeat: initially, this is slow and confusing, and is best started with a teacher explaining and watching. Working your way through a Marcello sonata movement can take 4-5 times as long. But sooner than you expect, the fog lifts and you can analyze the shift on the fly, in an instant. Also to repeat: When McKnight hears a shift slightly off, she says "explain the shift", and I do, and when I play it again, intonation self-corrects. Every time. Finally, I see it as one more way to take total command of the instrument.
  20. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    I completely endorse Don's explanations, and find it especially useful when shifting and crossing string. Another important point to good intonation is to maintain that space between fingers 1 and 2. Very often the intonation improves when you concentrate on achieving proper finger spacing, which has to be increased when descending. This goes in addition to practicing a good "landing" when shifting.

    [Edited by olivier on 01-26-2001 at 08:07 AM]

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