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Joel Quarrington left hand technique concepts

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Jun 19, 2017.


  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    One of the highlights of the ISB convention for me last week was getting to see Joel Quarrington play from the 3rd row. The music was incredible to hear, but being in full "bass nerd" mode I was also able to watch a lot of aspects of his left hand technique. I saw quite a few things there that seem similar to what I've been headed toward for the past number of years, which was interesting. He tunes in 5ths, but that's not what I would like this thread to be about; rather, I would like to discuss several of his concepts and how they might apply on a more global scale to players from any tuning system or genre.

    I'll start by throwing out a few short statements from his iBook and a few observations from watching his performance. Hopefully others will chime in with their own thoughts and observations:

    On vibrato, which he credits as being the way he came to much of his left hand technique in the first place:

    "What is vibrato? Good question! Here is MY answer: vibrato is the sound of going FROM the note and BELOW it, and back up to it. In other words, vibrato is only going flat of the note, not vibrating sharp of the note. Why? I believe that the ear perceives the highest part of the frequency to identify the pitch, and you need this "horizon" of the pitch in order to hear the pitch

    If you have no horizon, you don't know where the land ends and the sky begins, or in our case, what the note is. You just have a confused warble. All the color, all the fluctuation in the frequency, has to be below the pitch. My entire left hand technique is based on that one premise."


    On left hand relation to the fingerboard in terms of angle:

    "The fingers should work in the same direction as the strings empirically speaking, not sideways to them.

    The way this translates to the double bass is that I take my hand, and instead of holding it up to the string at a right angle, I rotate my wrist upwards to that my first finger is at maybe a 45 degree angle to the string. Getting the first finger set is where all one's attention should be focused. The other fingers will fall into place very readily once the 1st is set. The exact same angle is used also used in thumb position and on every note, in every range of the bass. The angle of the thumb to be at the same angle; if you start off with it already at a right angle, you can't move anywhere. So when playing with the 1st finger, the thumb will also be at the same 45 degree angle; it will be pointing down."


    On playing on the pads instead of the tips:

    "The part of the finger that closes the string is actually much larger than would normally be allowed approaching the string at a 90 degree angle and a wider and more expressive vibrato in enabled. The angle and amount of finger pad that touches the string is really important! It should really cut through the whole central pad of the finger. The 2nd finger is rotated down somewhat via the slight wrist rotation until it meets the string, same with the 3rd, and by the time the 4th finger meets the string you are finally at a 90 degree angle that Herr Simandl might have even appreciated!"

    A few personal observations from the 3rd row of that concert:

    - In terms of posture, he sat on a lower stool with the bass at a relatively steep angle that allowed him to really get out over the instrument.

    - His left hand was pretty much relaxed around the finger that was actually pressing down the string rather than spread out around it.

    - Despite his concept of vibrato stated above, when his missed a note slightly and adjusted, he always came in high and settled down to the pitch quickly.

    - His vibrato was wonderful in that he tended to let the pitch settle before beginning it, then let the note express itself in the middle and tail of the note. It really allowed the pitch of the note to be clear.


    Enough for now. I look forward to hearing from others interested in this great player's playing and concepts!
     
  2. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Thanks for this post, Chris. I got lots of work to get done at school right now, but all that you quoted reminded me of what's Joel talks about in this video, where you get to see him demonstrate and talk through a lot of these concepts, using Botesini's "Elegy" as the vehicle.

     
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  3. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I saw him at an ISB several years ago, when I gave a talk on "Non-resonant bass playing". He played a Brahms violin sonata and it was incredible.
    I think where we need to be is incorporating ideas like pads or tips into our work and use the one that works best for the task at hand. When I want a big full sound I use pads, when I want laser clarity, especially arco, I use tips.
    What I would have a problem with is when a bassist has not learned to play on the tips and uses someone like this to defend their position.
    In cases like this, we need to learn both techniques and see for ourselves. We all have different basses and different repertoire and we our technique to serve that.
     
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    What I love most about that video is the way he talks about choosing fingerings and shifts as a function of musical intention rather than convention. There's a whole world to explore just in that concept alone.
     
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Agree that both are useful and that a player should have all the tools at their disposal, then decide which one to use. In my case, going for the "big full sound" that the pads produce is the norm, and the laser clarity of the tips is more the exception. I could see how this could be different for different players, though. For me, the tips come into play when there is a passage in the lower register that I want to speak more clearly when my bass' normal voice in that register is a beastly growl; I love that sound much of the time, but sometimes it's too much and eats up too much sonic space or sounds too aggressive for the music happening at that moment.

    About the pads, though, they do require a more weighty stop to speak, and he addresses this several times in his book when he talks about the weight of the arm being focused on the note that is playing rather than holding down the fort for other fingers higher that "1". When he plays with 4, he'll either be in a completely relaxed/collapsed natural resting hand position (usually when passing upward through a note in a scalar passage):

    Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 9.44.29 AM.

    Or he'll support 4 with 3 and lay weight into both of the weaker fingers while letting the others float during vibrato with 4:

    Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 9.45.07 AM.

    Either way, I like this approach, which allows the left hand to be relaxed and allows the leverage to go where the force is needed rather than spending it a whole step down.

    Watching his relaxed technique in motion was like a form of poetry, and was a great reminder to me to personally continue to explore this path.
     
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  6. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I agree with this, especially pizz. I have a harder time getting pads in TP without collapsing. I would say we do want our fingers arched. One of the huge issues I have with Rabbath pedagogy is the collapsed fingers - which I view as an idiosyncratic bad habit that works for him.
    I can get pads with arched fingers now, I imagine a beginner would still need to go for tips for a while to get the arch.
     
  7. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Interesting note: My primary bass teacher, Lisle Ellis stressed being able to use both in my lessons. He is also Canadian.
     
  8. the_Ryan

    the_Ryan

    Jul 10, 2015
    Ithaca/Seattle
    In my experience, regardless of playing with pads or tips, arched and a collapsed first knuckle provide different sounds. Sometimes I like the sound of a collapsed finger sometimes I like the sound an arched finger. For me it's easier to transfer the weight of my arm into the string using a collapsed knuckle, but for music that sings more I prefer a more vertical hand shape a la JQ because I like the vibrato more. The sound and the phrasing I want serve the technique.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  9. s van order

    s van order Supporting Member

    Oct 4, 2012
    Delaware
    As a cellist as well as e-bassist (ex-DB, too big for room) the three things you mentioned, to vibrate below and then up to pitch, use somewhat slanted fingers, and more finger pad has cello-world roots and the debates continue today. The first two techniques are more like violin/viola playing I think. Janos Starker, my fave on cello, discussed and used this method. Paul Katz Cellobello videos go into these techniques. For me, on arco legato type playing it works, vibrato is not wobbly and fatter this way. It also even makes a decent fretted e-bass vibrato up high. But, one may have to deal with getting intonated properly when adopting this because the squared hand more naturally lends itself to playing in tune. It is easy to lose one's intonation for a bit, at least it was for me. A seamless hybrid of more squared hand for scalar quick stuff and the Starkeresqe approach seems to be it for me. Now I get to spend the rest of my life trying to get it all tight :).
     
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  10. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I'll die thinking collapsing is bad habit that should be avoided. I suppose I admire your intention, though. If it do it is only heat of the moment and without intent. I think the amount of finger to string contact changes the sound, not the shape of the knuckle. I suspect there is something else going on to explain what is going on for you. The shape of the knuckle is more about strength and the longevity of your technique.
     
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  11. neilG

    neilG

    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    To me, Quarrington's playing is like sausage making: I love the end product but don't want to see how it's done.

    As for collapsing fingers, Quarrington states in his book that he doesn't recommend it. Top of page 5: "For example I would never encourage collapsed knuckles or joints."
     
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  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Another trick I picked up from watching Quarrington had to do with finding faraway notes "cold" after a pause or during a rest. In concert, he would place his finger on the spot of the upcoming entrance, then brush the string lightly with a finger above the stop so that only he could hear it to check the intonation. After watching him do this, I've started experimenting with an offshoot of it: sliding up to the note on a string that hasn't been activated with the right hand so that only I can faintly hear it. The results are promising so far. On listening to a lot of the master players during ISB, I hear a lot of these "hidden slides". The trick seemed to be be to make them discreet enough that only the player hears them. It's a fine line, but a nice extra little tool in the toolbox.
     
  13. neilG

    neilG

    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    ^^Every string player I've ever heard did that.
     
  14. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    +1. Not too long ago I played Tchaik 6, and played the opening, which is a rather exposed passage that starts on a closed E natural by playing it on the A string, which allowed me to check to make absolutely sure I was in there right spot by playing the E harmonic super lightly with my ear up against the neck. Yes, I could have just as easily found E on the D string, but I felt more comfortable shifting down the A string, keeping all notes closed, etc. I sneak in a "pitch check" every time there's an entrance to a particularly exposed part, or as you mentioned, when a large shift is involved.

    Tchaik 6.
     
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  15. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    A subtle left hand "hammer-on" is another way to refine the placement of the finger on the correct pitch.
    IME.
     
  16. gnypp45

    gnypp45

    Apr 21, 2014
    Stockholm, Sweden
    I don't get this. How can you check your intonation by first playing a harmonic? The nice thing with harmonics is that they are NOT sensitive to the exact position, whereas stopped notes are. Hearing that harmonic tells you that your finger is in the general neighborhood of where it ought to be, but you may end up very sharp or flat when you stop the note.
     
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  17. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    All I can say is, it worked for me in my situation. So, YMMV, IME.
     
  18. the_Ryan

    the_Ryan

    Jul 10, 2015
    Ithaca/Seattle
    I try not to do this because I've heard many bassists do it as almost a nervous habit and in some ways it's almost like you're not trusting that your body knows where the notes are.

    However, I do have dots on my bass. I like to think I don't use them as a crutch (I only started using them last year after having never used them), more as a visual way to understand what I'm hearing/feeling; whether people consider that "cheating" or a "crutch" I'm not sure, but it seems to work for me.
     
  19. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    I don't mean to harsh your post, but...
    Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts.[1] Doublethink is related to, but differs from, hypocrisy and neutrality. Also related is cognitive dissonance, in which contradictory beliefs cause conflict in one's mind. Doublethink is notable due to a lack of cognitive dissonance—thus the person is completely unaware of any conflict or contradiction.
    George Orwell created the word doublethink in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949);

    Thanks for your interest.
     
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I've struggled with the issue of things like what I saw Quarrington and McDonald do even though I know that great players have their own tricks for landing cold notes. It never occurred to me to try most of these in a jazz ensemble context because I'd never hear them with all the extraneous noise. But in playing the Bach suites, there are a number of places where I'm working a few of these subtle "sonar pings" in because it really does help me land where i want to be, and being as though it's a "heard" thing, it doesn't feel dishonest... especially not after seeing a couple of masters doing something very like it.

    I don't have dots, but I have come to know the feel of the back of the bass neck and even the little irregularities in the feel of the G string, which is kind of like some abstract kinesthetic "dots" on the bass. I guess in the end my feeling is anything that helps bassists play in tune is fair game. God knows it's hard enough even with a lot of tools in the box!