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orchestral sound

Discussion in 'Ask Patrick Neher [Archive]' started by ekspain, Mar 12, 2008.

  1. ekspain


    Feb 22, 2008
    Dear Patrick

    I have a complex question, which may be difficult to answer.
    I've been working professionally in a full time orchestra for a year and a half- Its my first job, and I'm actually in the process of taking auditions for other parts of Europe, as I write this. In all, I've taken about 6 pro-auditions. My last audition was in Amsterdam, and I got to the finals, but the comment I recieved, mainly from the bassists was that I didn't have enough sound. this is a comment I've recieved for sometime.
    I had an audition for the Israel Phil, and they basically told me the same thing..i.e. Great playing, not enough sound. It was recommended to me that I play closer to the bridge, etc.
    I had studied with Francois in Paris for 4 years, so the idea of playing on the bridge always seemed odious to me. Well..normally I play with the nut eye level, but I've tried lowereing my chair, so that my bow falls naturally in the center, a bit closer to the bridge. Initially the heavy spiccatto was a bit difficult, but has improved.
    Since Paris, I've studied with Boston symphony players, also
    1 year at IU with Mr Hurst, and with Dennis Trembly in LA. My orchestral playing has come a long way... But sound...?!!!
    I've had to really be aware of changes to my bow arm when playing heavy orchestral strokes- espeacially the flexibility with Francois
    often stressed in the bow arm. I've tried not to lose it, but in the context of the section, it doesn't seem applicable.
    So..what I'm trying to ask is... what else can I do to bring out
    more sound? Its one of the most frustrating aspect for me. To get a large sound while maintaining rythmic and tonal integrity. I'm examining everything from position while sitting to bow placement/ weight/ bow hold...etc. I've noticed alot of players hold the bow, more in the frog- I've find that while the bow is controled easier, its more difficult to get an off the string stroke- it seems better for more in the string strokes.
    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks a million-
  2. PNeher


    Mar 31, 2005
    Bellingham, WA
    I agree, you have presented a complex problem/question. The answer is also complex, and really is in the hands of you and your private teacher. Many bits of advise have been from Hurst and others, likely along the lines of "play everything closer to the bridge." This is in fact true, and Rabbath professes that "each note has its place" (on the string in relationship to the string length of the pitch). Both of these points are true in my experience. Loudness is the quality of the sound... in timbre... often associated with dynamics. Whereas volume is the true amplitude and depth of the sound with all harmonics and fundamental sounding. You can have loud dynamics and not produce a huge volume by playing very near the bridge. And likewise, you can create a pianissimo dynamic by playing close to or on the fingerboard with lots of bow and "air" in the sound. The volume being great but the timbre being dark. THIS is what orchestra auditions are about. You need to BE HEARD in the audition. Therefore, play as close to the bridge as possible in all "forte" passages and close to the fb with lots of bow in "piano" passages. This will allow you to always be heard/project in the audition. In actual playing in the orchestra, your sound is compounded by the section and these issues are not as critical. In fact, using a lot of bow in the section for "piano" is often frowned upon by the conductor and section leader. But an audition is another animal. You MUST be heard and indicate dynamics. Do it with timbre.
    Finally, you likely have a soft-sounding bass, one that may not have a lot of low frequency production or one that has little high frequency production. This can, of course, make your sound "small." Perhaps borrow someone's bass that is known to be "loud" and do the above technique. I suspect you will find that noone will say you are not loud enough. I studied with many teachers, including Rabbath, and I have little problem projecting over an orchestra. Our last Arizona Bass Players Festival (this past weekend) attested to this (everyone was amazed that to sound loud did not depend on whether you play Germ or Fren bow, but how you USE YOUR WEIGHT, and whether you play in the correct spot for the range of notes). Beware the "Rabbathian" sound for orchestra. Even his sound was not always appreciated in the Paris opera. American orchestras are especially concerned with this, but in Europe, most orchestras have their own basses. See if you can audition on one of those basses!
    Best to you!
  3. Patrick,

    Can I add two words, resonance and projection, to the above discussion without sounding like I'm on an ego trip?

    I'm currently waking up a bass that I have hardly used for six years and am taking the following advice of a visiting violin pedagogue.

    Divide the distance from the bridge to the end of the fingerboard into 5 contact points. Explore the relationship between bow speed and weight at each point, first on open strings. Slow the bow down (especially on the lower strings), until you feel the vibrating string resist you but the sound is full (not choked) and the string is vibrating widely.

    The bow hair will be bent over the string, controlling the tone by possibly capping off some of the bright upper partials. You feel hooked onto the sound. There is a set of conditions that produce the largest, most resonant sound for the least amount of effort, not necessarily using much weight. If you speed the bow up, adding a little more weight, the vibrating strings and the resonance will go with you. Conversely, as you slow the bow lighten the weight to control tone and volume to a whisper.

    I find the open D string is usually the easiest to project a huge warm resonant sound. I then try to copy this sound to other notes all over the bass, like a scientific experiment.

    I remember Gary Karr saying something like "Basses are too often lazy instruments played by lazy musicians." He produced a wonderful solo sound from his small bass that could project through a large accompaniment, at the point of cracking the sound as he bent the bow hair (savagely) around the strings close to the bridge. And, from memory, used a powdery rosin very sparingly. Very scary !! ( I like Nymans).

    Orchestral players can't push that hard - as tutti players we have to have good manners and fit into the section sound. However we do have to think like ventriloquists, projecting meaningful sounds to the back seats of the auditorium, especially in auditions!

    Before giving up on his present bass, perhaps "ekspain" could test the projection of his sound in a large auditorium by playing to a respected colleague (or tape recorder) at a distance while experimenting as above with the three variables - bow speed, weight and contact point. Then ask his colleague to do the same while he listens from the same place. Play his colleague's bass, etc, too. He might find that he has to get out of his (and the instrument's) comfort zone and adopt a new "tougher, perhaps dirtier" sound in order to project, confident that that bass sound sweetens with distance.

    My old mentor, now deceased, could play extremely heavily on my E string between A and G, up and down in 1/2 tone steps, for ten minutes and hand me back a different freer- sounding instrument - proof of Gary Karr's advice above? "ekspain" could try this daily and see if his bass has been asleep.

    After two weeks of the above treatment my bass and I are ready for our next gig!!

    I feel for "ekspain" and all those who are auditioning and wish them the very best. It gives me the courage to enter this discussion.

    David Potts

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