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Is it bad to mark positions?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by SottoVoce, Mar 18, 2001.


  1. SottoVoce

    SottoVoce

    Sep 16, 2000
    Canada
    Is it bad to mark the positions on the side of the fingerboard of the bass? The bass we have at school is already marked, so ever since I started learning I depended on those markings to get my intonation right. Now I'm able to play most of the time without looking, but when it gets to high notes or to unfamiliar positions, I still have to look. Is that bad?
     
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Well, bad is whatever you want to call bad I guess, but....ideally you want playing the bass to be about feeling and hearing rather than seeing. Try playing with your eyes closed and notice the difference in the way you aproach higher passages. I find it easier to play with my eyes closed most of the time because it forces me to focus on the sound more than when they're open. Bob Gollihur has posted several times that when he's playing his best, he BECOMES the bass, as if it is a part of his body (or he a part of it). If the bass was a part of you, would you still need to look to find parts of it?
     
  3. That's true,Chris, But first you have to get to that level of playing.My first teacher put stickers on the fingerboard, just so I could learn where to put my fingers, but six months later, he took them off, so I would start using my ears and start practicing the positions as outlined in the Simandl Method.
    Sotto, I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn your entire fingerboard, and know where the notes are in every position. It is just going to take a lot of practice, and looking at markers is not shameful for a beginner, but you have to wean yourself away from that to progress to a higher level of musicianship. Like the infamous quote from Bottesini, "Once I learn where to place my fingers, I shall never again play out of tune" Yeah, I wish...
     
  4. dhosek

    dhosek

    May 25, 2000
    Los Angeles, CA
    Returning to upright after a long hiatus, I found that my intonation *improved* when I didn't look at the fingerboard. Another thing to note is to make sure that you understand every change in position that you make. Practice all 24 scales in 3 octaves. Single screen scales are another useful technical exercise.

    One thing that can't be emphasized enough: Practice practice practice.

    -dh
     
  5. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Something I have done, and you may want to consider if you are playing with a group, is to put a couple stickers on there when formally rehearsing or doing something where you just plain don't want to embarass yourself in front of others, but at the very least ALWAYS practice by yourself without the markers. I don't know where the markers are on your bass, but depending on where they are, they could also affect your playing position, which is bad. Especially when you get higher up on the neck, you shouldn't be looking over at the side of the bass if you are in the correct physical position, and I agree with everyone else, your intonation will be best when you are using your ear more and your eyes less. Lofty goal, but I suggest weaning yourself as outlined above, it seems to have worked for me, although I still have my sloppy moments (heh that's an understatement).
     
  6. rablack

    rablack

    Mar 9, 2000
    Houston, Texas
    Would you mind explaining what you mean by "single screen scales"?
     
  7. I find that as I become familiar with the positions going up the fingerboard I look at it less and less. Further along, where I'm still in murky territory, I have memorized which notes are on the fingerboard where the neck joins the body, as it's an easy place to "eyeball."
    When I played BG, my fretless had line markers where the frets were supposed to be. I found it became a crutch and not only was I looking at the fingerboard a lot but also noticed that my lines didn't flow as well.
     
  8. SottoVoce

    SottoVoce

    Sep 16, 2000
    Canada
    Unfortunately the markers are carved into the neck, made almost necessary by the large number (well not so large) of people in my school that decides to pick it up, then give up after a few sessions. The markers are on the side where the fingerboard joins the neck (where the black meets the wood -- is that correct terminology?). They're actually not very conspicuous.
     
  9. dhosek

    dhosek

    May 25, 2000
    Los Angeles, CA
    Oops, I meant single string scales. I've been very "off" this morning.

    -dh
     
  10. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    SottoVoce: Just try not to look at them, practice with your eyes closed when feasible, etc, I guess. And maybe tell someone at your school that in the future if they buy another bass they should just use stickers for beginners, both to keep the instrument pristine and to move players up to more advanced levels when applicable...
     
  11. I disagree with the use of position markers. Intonation is in the sound, not where you place your fingers. One must be able to judge whether or not he's in tune by the sound, certainly not by where his fingers are. One of the beauties of string ensembles is that they don't have to play in equal tempermant, they are able to play *truly* in tune (the same thing that makes accapella vocal groups sound so good). The doublebass is not a tempered instrument, it shouldn't be learned as one. Learning by position markers teaches the student to place his hand in a fixed position, according to a formula for playing every note equally out of tune, and IMO reinforces *not* having to listen. If your finger's in the right spot, it must be right, regardless of the sound or how it's blending with the ensemble or the other notes you're playing, right? Playing in tune (and being able to shade or color notes through intonation) is part of the art. The exactness of formulaic position markers stands in the way of that. It's like suggesting that art students learn space and dimension or how to paint people by paint-by-numbers.
     
  12. rablack

    rablack

    Mar 9, 2000
    Houston, Texas
    My teacher also teaches young children. He uses stickers on the fingerboard at first as the player is developing muscle/technique/ear. Eventually the stickers fall off and he doesn't replace them. My point is if you use them briefly it's not a big deal but they are like training wheels on a bike - you gotta take them off eventually. Intonation is definitely all in the ears.

    MISTER WHISPER - Your school bass has the marks cut into the neck so it might be a bit hard to ignore, even if you fill the notches. Don't quite know what to suggest other than getting the school to purchase a new high quality instrument (like that's gonna happen in the good ol' US of A, ha)
     
  13. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Its fine to disagree with their use, but as Rablack says, its like training wheels, and I would add that despite what Dave says in his black and white analysis, when I used them I didn't use them as "exact" markers of where I was supposed to play, subtly teaching me to ignore what I heard. They were actually ways for me to start learning some of the muscle memory requisite for DB, showing me roughly where a note would live - I still had to hear the note to get it right, its not like you can stare at freaking stickers while you are trying to play something as mammoth as a double bass. Moreover, I only have ever used a max of 3 stickers up and down the entire fingerboard, and don't use em anymore. I think its common for teachers of many instruments (violin, cello, bass) to use this technique when teaching, and I still haven't been convinced otherwise. But obviously, to each his/her own.
     
  14. I'm new to DB but have been playing BG for 30 years. I have also played fretless for about 25 years. The key is your ears. Forget your eyes and markers. Feel and hear the note. Hear the note before you play it. Do that and you'll get there.
     
  15. BassDude24

    BassDude24

    Sep 12, 2000
    I learned with the markings as well, on a school instrument, but once I got out of middle school, the high school's basses didn't have them, so I was kind of forced into learning.

    Shortly after joining high school I purchased a bass of my own, and I also started to take lessons, my instructor only put on two marks, one for first position, and another so that I could find the harmonics for tuning, @ the high D on the G string.

    So, with those, I learned, and since I only had the two, I didn't have to be too terribally dependant upon them, and now I am sticker free.
     
  16. dhosek

    dhosek

    May 25, 2000
    Los Angeles, CA
    To be a bit of a contrarian here, it's useful learning how to find the sweet spots for harmonics without visual reference. Assuming that you roughly where you're heading, you can feel the lack of vibrations when you're in the right place for any harmonic.

    -dh
     
  17. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    I think that, even for those of us who used them at some point, we all agree that you need to learn to play by ear...though I think that is also misleading because, as I said earlier, there is quite a bit of muscle memory to this instrument. Not only do you have to hear that the note is 'right', but you also have to hit it right immediately, rather than sliding into it.

    So to those who keep emphasizing the aural aspect of intonation, I don't think I have seen anyone here disagree with you.
     
  18. Just so everybody knows, Red very abruptly switched from tuning in 4ths to 5ths, and only practiced a couple of days before going right back out to his high profile gigs.
     
  19. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    That's a similar motivation to someone beginning upright bass and wanting to play a reconizable tune at a gig without embarassing themselves. Except that the person (me) probably embarassed themselves anyway (heh) whereas I am sure Red didn't. My point is that, as was said before, its a temporary crutch, and I don't think anyone advocates it as a permanent thing, although I find it interesting that Red actually had it inlaid(!).
     
  20. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Anyway, back to SottoVoce's question - I think you will find that if you have been playing double bass for a while, even if you have used little helpers like markings, you will be surprised at how much you have learned about intonation, and how much better your intonation suddenly gets, when you allow yourself to just listen. Its kind of scary because all of the sudden you just have to trust yourself and your ears, but its SO liberating. You can't really be one with your instrument until you give up visual cues. However, I have to say that this is often a HUGE challenge for me because in my main band we get quite loud (Hammond B-3, guitar, and drums) and have a very tight practice space, so I can tend to get a little off due to all the sounds going on, and sometimes feel like I have to fixate on my amp to be able to hit notes right, which can negatively impact my interplay with the band. Also I have noticed that I tend to need a good 15-20 warmup before my intonation is worth a damn at all - I think its more a focus building time period than anything. I hope that eventually goes away, but that is where I am at.