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Introducing rhythmic/bowing excercises earlier on in Simandl

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by stringedonbass, Jan 21, 2018.

  1. The Simandl etude book introduces bowing exercises quite late: Pg. 68 has the first discussion about staccato, legato, and portamento/appagiato; Pg. 69 has the first discussion of various bowing activities. In addition, the following page is where the first collection of sixteenth notes are introduced (save one example I could find on Pg. 47). The preceding pages include a thorough regimen of fingering for the fingerboard covering up to a two octave A (major or minor) scale, but most of the exercises focus on quarter notes. I expect that the primary focus here is on intonation and learning different fingering options - the latter of which is something that can really only be worked out in an etude book.

    For those of you who have had (or are) teachers, how do you go about including bowing/rhythmic exercises earlier on in your studies? I am still scratching my head over why Simandl is laid out the way it is. What I would view as a more natural approach would be: i) introduce new position ii) including simple rhythms in the new position iii) include bowing exercises in the new position that include previous positions. Rinse and repeat. (This is the way the classical violin/viola books are laid out.) I can of course try to implement this myself by including the bowing exercises on any etude that's chalk full of quarter notes. I can also practice playing fast by upping the tempo but I wonder if that wouldn't defeat the purpose of working on intonation. Another option I have is to supplement (or replace) Simandl with a different etude book. For example, I had started working on Edouard Nanny's book with my last bass teacher, but I think I might have difficulty pacing the two side by side.

    Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated. I know the canned response here is "get a bass teacher." I'm working on it so no need to humor me with that one.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2018
  2. Pages 69 and 70 from Simandl. This is the first spot where bowing exercises are introduced.

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  3. Here's an example of an etude from Nanny's book (pg. 32). The directions at the top of the page include two options for practising this etude: i) with detached notes ii) with the indicated bowing. This gives the student a chance to first practice intonation, and then include more complicated bowing. This means that experience with bowing techniques can then be started before "mastering" the higher parts of the neck before thumb position.

    Edit: Adding another sample (pg. 15) from Nanny's book. This is an example of starting some bowing exercises as early as first (full) position. This is something I did not have the opportunity to do when I first picked up a bow way back in high school because we just didn't have anyone that could teach bass technique in my school.

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    Last edited: Jan 21, 2018
  4. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    The first while on double bass is all about intonation - that means long clear, full tones. Some rhythm is fine early on but producing a nice strong, full tone in tune is the first order of business and it takes a good while. There is a saying a teacher I had said, "All notes are just some part of a long tone" - this may have been William Parker, a great master of rhythm. Working on the slower, longer tones actually make the different bow techniques easier later on - though they do have to be worked on. A bass major would get to them sooner, an adult taking lessons would take much, much longer in general.
    stringedonbass and LM Bass like this.
  5. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Also, Nanny is cool book to have, but, I'd stick with Simandl for self study as well for higher odds your next teacher will teach out of it.
    I think it is still the best option for "bass lessons" meaning outside the university setting. It is the most common and most potent.
  6. I jokingly refer to the Simandl Tutor Book 1 as "pick up zee bass, pick up zee bow und play". So much is left to the teacher. How to stand/ sit to play. RH bow hold, arm movements, note starts/stops, bow contact point,etc, etc. LH finger shapes and spacings, elbow height, thumb placement, etc, etc. All these begin fairly early and in small amounts during each lesson, especially if this is the first time beginner who is also trying to absorb basic concepts about reading music, learning some simple theory and hearing scales and intervals by themselves between lessons.

    I prefer to start absolute beginners in simple class-system books that begin with notes in 1st Position on the D and G strings and end up 50 pages later having built the D major scale note by note, along the way using familiar nursery tunes like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star that (almost) everyone knows. I am happy to see the "Suzuki" bow hold, thumb under the ferrule, so long as the bow is drawn at 90 degrees with a steady contact point and is making a nice sound. At this time I am establishing the LH shapes and finger spacings using white-out dots on 2nd, 4th, 7th and octave "frets". A second book then uses the same simple tunes but without fingerings and begins reading notes across the lower two strings. From there I go into Simandl in the order of 1st, 1/2, 2nd, 3rd, 5th Positions for their simple numbers of sharps and flats (2 1/2, 3 1/2 and 4th are left until later). More serious bow work starts around 2nd Position and the relatively easy Wohlfahrt 25 Studies (now out of print) break the boredom of Simandl by adding more speed with shorter strokes, broken chords and lots of rythmic patterns and string crossings that consolidate note reading too. I also add in my own material, including Basic LH/RH/bowing exercises to teach shifting and prepare for speed to come. Tunes (with accompaniments) usually begin earlier with simple Bach pieces followed by Rags and Boogies in 1/2 and 1st Positions. Then tunes like Saint Saens "Elephant", Galliard Sonata, Bull Steps Out and Capuzzi Concerto can start to build in difficulty towards Thumb Position, the Eccles Sonata and beyond. At this level I find that the Sturm 110 Studies (Book 1), Slama 66 Studies and Lee 12 Studies are very useful. Of course there are lots of other books of studies but those three satisfy my needs to keep in trim as an orchestral player during my "twilight" years.

    All my teaching distills down to the simple acronym HEE. Hands learn to find and create the notes, Eyes read the notes and Ears are quality control, guiding the use of hands. I am only trying to be the first teacher, happy later to pass students up to a higher level of tuition if they are keen to go further. Along the way I ask them to always be very clear about where their hands are on the fingerboard and the fingering possibilities that are available. Simandl is still relevant in this process but is too boring by itself. Other material in parallel is a must IMO.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  7. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    @David Potts I wish you had been my first bass teacher because I`m sure I would have learned a great deal more.
    gerry grable and JeffKissell like this.
  8. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    My instinct is always to focus more attention on the bow hand. The right hand makes the sound, after all. There are many bass players I have met whose left hand can find and finger the notes, but their right hand can't keep up. The mark of a great bass player - string player in general - to me, is great bow control and tone production. Long tones, then chopping up the long tones, different rhythmic patterns, bow speed, positioning, contact points, arm weight etc etc. All this stuff is more important early on than intonation, in my opinion
    stringedonbass and Lee Moses like this.
  9. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I agree with @David Potts - you get to the rhythms in other studies (the ones he mentions are great) solos and for jazz players in tunes.
    Even though I consider my playing and teaching grounded in Simandl, I mainly value the very early Simandl exercises and the 30 etudes. "Real life" bass teaching involves a lot of sources and experiences.
  10. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    I wish he had been my teacher, period. I'm self taught. Otherwise, I wish I had read his post when I was "studying."
    Tom Lane likes this.
  11. How and when to teach tuning the bass has not been mentioned so far. For me part of a beginner's kit is a small clip-on tuner, here costing about $11. I do not usually teach tuning by harmonics until about Simandl 3rd Position although the student sees me using harmonics. If they are really interested I will explain the reasons and show them how earlier. At least I know that the bass can be tuned at home, often where no one else in the family has any musical experience or instrument.

    Our AMEB examining system says that candidates are not expected to tune by themselves until our 5th Grade (we have Preliminary - 8th Grade, the levels that I examine for violin, viola, cello and bass. There are a further two higher advanced grades beyond my status). Because teachers often can't/won't attend the exams we often have to help candidates tune, which can be lots of "fun" if pegs are slipping or jamming, or a string is broken without having a replacement in the case.

    Very broadly speaking I have observed that there are two sorts of students, those who want to know the reason why and those who just want to get on and play. The trick is to gauge the personality and adjust the teaching to suit IMO.
    BrotherMister and Tom Lane like this.
  12. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    I agree with Tom. You do sound like a great teacher.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  13. Tom, you and I are about the same age. We have both been keeping our minds active and eyes and ears open for a long time. Thanks for your support.

    Tom Lane likes this.
  14. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    Students need to tune their own bass from the first day they bring it home. As David says, they're inexpensive and simple to use. Before we had tuners, I remember my first teacher tuning a student's bass over the phone.
  15. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Reminds me of some other threads where the use of a drones is considered a "crutch" - is a tuner best used early on, and then occasionally or at all times, regardless of level of playing experience?
    damonsmith likes this.
  16. Just my personal thoughts. If you cannot rely on your own ability to tune then the tuner is a crutch. If the situation, a quiet space, allows you to tune accurately after hearing the A from a tuner or instrument then use harmonics. If you are trying to cope with the tuba warming up beside you then the small clip-on tuner is a godsend. Fine tuning with harmonics is like keeping your pencil point sharp. It is an important part of your regular quality maintenance schedule, ie warming up.
  17. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I tuned to the metronome A for years. Now I use a tuner at concerts for speed. If I forget my tuner I am fine and that is what is important.
    I used not be into drones and I recently added them into a section of my practice after Lauren Pierce recommended in one of her videos. I am getting a great result - I do think it is best to fine tune a well functioning left hand and not a great use of time for beginners.
  18. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    All my students eventually learn to tune to a reference "A". That usually requires the use and understanding of harmonics and the positions they lie in, so tuners are easier in the beginning.
    As for drones being a crutch, I don't buy that. All musicians have to learn to play in tune with something. That something can be a piano, a better player, or a drone.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  19. Thank you all for the thoughtful comments. If I may summarize what has been said here, it would seem the answer to my original question is that the first half of Simandl is indeed an exercise in bowing. The goal there is to not simply focus on pitch and learning the fingerboard, but rather it is to work on developing a full sound by learning how bow position, weight, attack angle, etc. affects the tone and quality of the sound that comes out of your instrument. For our instruments, this is one of the more difficult items to develop, which is why Simandl focuses on slower rhythms and puts of further bowing exercises until later. Does that sound about right?

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