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Musical theater pit survival?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by tornadobass, Sep 28, 2009.

  1. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    I just finished a week of playing in the pit for a community theater production of Camelot. Full 28-piece orchestra, just one bass. It felt like on the louder parts, I'd be playing full out (either arco or pizz) and not really hearing myself. My bass is an American Standard, a brand that is known for a big sound.

    What are the survival tricks for intonation in this situation? About all I could do was feel the vibration of the bow and the bass and know that I was producing some kind of pitch :meh:

    I should add that the musical director didn't want me to use an amp, which, if placed behind me would be at least one solution to hearing what's going out the front of my bass.
  2. Arnold

    Arnold Supporting Member

    I would stay away from the amp. Put your ear on the neck about where your left hand is. And I do mean on.
    Good luck.
  3. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    Play open strings and stay in the money note range (1/2 and 1st position).
  4. One thing to try: since you seem to have a p/u on your bass is to get a 'headphone-practice amp' to plug into, and use 1 headphone earbud to listen to the signal. They don't sound fantastic, but they amplify the electric signal. If you have earbud headphones that can block out external sound, then one earbud in an ear can be a good help.

    Brands to research: Dean Bass-in-the-Box, Rockman, Smith 'PAPA' etc.

    Actually, if you have an amp with a headphone out, you could turn the external speaker off and use the PHONES out of your amp without buying anything new. Then experiment with headphones that work for this situation, earbuds, vs -on-the-ear, vs. over-the-ear-cans. Can the audience see you well?
  5. dodgy_ian


    Apr 9, 2001
    Newcastle, UK
    I had a similar experience this last week (and of recent months too) of not being able to hear myself esp in a pit against a drummer etc. So I rigged up a little Behringer headphone amp and a pair of good headphones. Plugged my Realist into the headphone amplifier and there we go - beautifully clear in-ear monitoring and could hear the band too (one ear on, one ear off).

    No amp, no stressy soundman or MD and no grumpy string section.

    Give it a go - it was a revelation for my playing! It's good for a pit where no-one can see you - I'm still trying to figure out if I could use it in an orchestra!!!!
  6. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    I don't like to use an amp in pit situations either, but here you are just plain outgunned. In a situation like this I bring an amp and also a volume pedal. This way I can be totally acoustic for the softer stuff, and press on the gas when I need to pass. If you do this sensitively, the conductor and the other musicians will probably prefer it to what they're getting now. Being able to hear you makes their jobs easier, don't forget.

    As far as playing in tune, there will always be situations when you can't hear yourself as well as you would like, so you've just gotta practice fundamentals all the time so you can be confident you're getting it right even when your ears aren't much help!
  7. JoeyNaeger

    JoeyNaeger Guest Commercial User

    Jun 24, 2005
    Houston, TX
    Bass Specialist, Lisle Violin Shop
    Sticking your ear on the neck is a good method.
  8. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    When I played cello in pit orchestras, I'd jam one of the tuning pegs behind my left ear, and the tone would plenty loud thanks to bone conduction. I suppose with hat peg tuners...

    The only other advice is to make sure you know several good cynical stories, especially about the conductor and first violinist.
  9. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario

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