playing along vs. across the strings

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Stefan Boeters, Dec 9, 2000.

  1. These are quotes from the "notation" thread, but the subject has shifted, so I thought I start a new one:
    I don't disagree with David at all as to arco playing. Since I began to do more bowing, I've changed a lot of my fingering in just the way he describes: more along the strings, less across. If I bowed the opening phrase of "So what", I certainly would use the fingering proposed by David: all the notes (except the first one) on the G-string. [Actually I wouldn't use the bow because I really hate bowed bass in any jazz that's in the swing-bop tradition.]

    With respect to pizz, the question seems less clear cut to me. Here I agree with Phil. My impression is that the main problem with across-playing is not intonation but legato. With my (across-)fingering it would be nearly impossible to arrive at a nice legato sound when bowing. But as "So What" normally is plucked, I feel like defending my suggested fingering (at least as a serious alternative).

    It's a pity that we can't hear one another actually playing that tune and using our different fingerings.

  2. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    You know - I changed my mind. All one string (except the first note) is the way to go, I think. I've actually been playing a bunch of Simandl exercises lately, so that may be coloring my judgement, but I think that's the way to go - if you play it across two strings, you are really shifting .5 positions constantly, and it leads to intonation errors. The 1 string method just seems so much more natural - since the highest note is the E on the G string (before the key change, its actually a pretty easy way of doing it.

    --> Lawrence
  3. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    oh by the way - we probably *could* compare fingerings by listening to each other, but for me it would entail carrying a double bass upstairs (very narrow hall), mic'ing it into my multitracker, exporting out to Zip disk, pulling it into my hard drive, and converting to mp3. I guess I'd rather spend the time playing. Either technology is just not there yet to make it easy enough or I'm lazy. You pick.
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Is this the difference between upright fingering and electric bass fingering? When I was reading the previous debate mentioned, I was thinking that well , I probably would play it starting on the A string on electric bass, but didn't say anything as I didn't want to take the debate "off-topic"!

    I quite often find when I'm playing Jazz on electric bass, that I will go for fingerings higher up the lower strings to get a sound that is closer to upright. It also means to me that I can more easily translate ideas, like little melodic phrases, into any key. On electric, I almost always find myself playing high up the neck now, using the B string a lot, for a darker,warmer sound.

    It then feels really strange to pick up books on technique for upright bass where most of the time seems to be spent, either in 1st position or using the upper range of the G string - both places that I unconsciously avoid when playing Jazz on electric bass.

    This is one of the reasons I have wavered for so long about moving over to upright after more than 20 years on electric - although I do find that upright sounds better for Jazz in many ways, it would mean a huge shift in technique/philosophy of playing.
  5. Bruce -- I think you're partly right when you mention the DB-BG difference:

    -- but only partly. It works in one direction: Those coming from the BG certainly tend to play more across. But not in the other: Not everyone defending across-playing is bound to have a BG-history. Myself, I haven't. (Actually I only played on a BG two or three times in my life.)

    Let's once again look at real arguments for playing along the strings. And let's keep in mind that we are talking about plucked swing or bop lines in eighths. (There's little disagreement about arco playing.)

    I think it's no good reason that most books on DB technique favour "along" playing -- because most of these books are about bowing. (Or do you have one book in mind that extends this explicitly to pizz playing?)

    Neither can it be a reason -- Lawrence -- that across playing means more position shifts. Rather it's the other way round. An obvious advantage of across playing is less position shifts. The crucial question is whether there are more serious disadvantages.

    I'm in doubt about intonation. As I said, I tend to agree with Phil that there's not too much a difference. (At least as long as fast played, plucked lines are concerned.)

    In no way can it be a reason that the final note, 'e' is played on the G-string. The question is just about approaching this note along the string or across the strings.

    So what remains are arguments about legato feeling or just drive in playing. I'm still interested in hearing your opinions about that.

  6. Fingering for arco vs pizz: I'm not in the habit of radically altering my left hand technique one way or the other. When playing pizz I might play some notes across
    that I would otherwise shift for, but cetainly no radical change. 99% percent of the time is just sounds better to stay on one string, it's smoother (I don't necessarily mean that in the legato sense); the string is already vibrating, the bass is already vibrating with *that* string. Also, even with a matched and well-balanced set of strings, there are differences in tonal color. The lack of smoothness/evenness and shift in tonal color that are both inherent in playing across the strings, IMO, combine to detract from the musicality of the line.

    Fingerings, regardless of whether the phrase is played arco or pizz, have to support and maintain *the integrity of the phrase*.

    [Edited by David Kaczorowski on 12-10-2000 at 04:51 PM]
  7. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Stefan: I think my thoughts are valid actually, sorry to say. I was trying to explain why that phrase sounded better to me played a certain way. You misinterpreted what I said about changing positions - I think there is much more chance of an error in intonation shifting back and forth between .5 positions than ascending the neck in a Simandlish way - I never said it was because there were more or less positions. At least for me - and it does translate into a difference in the sound of the phrase - if I play it across, I end up with a more mushy legato and less definition/consistency. I am not saying this as an final statement on playing - just my experience playing this phrase. Also - the thing about the "E" - I was trying to explain that you aren't really going that far up the neck, so its not a massive exercise to play it on one string anyway, so I don't see any advantage to playing it across (right now).
  8. 1. I just played the line for the first time; did it both ways. Across was clumsy, indistinct, and more work. The shifts ascending and descending are basically 1 to 4 and 4 to 1, easy to keep in tune.
    2. If there's a point being made that shifting for pizz is different than shifting for arco, I'm not getting it at all.
    3. I had just finished some Simandl exercises in minor keys. Fact is, when I looked at So What, I didn't even think about it. With Simandl on autopilot, I just played it and thought about how later.
    4. Bassists don't have frets to save them their fingering inaccuracies.
  9. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    yeah - I guess I woulda never played it across if I don't go back and forth from the 'lectric so much. However, Stefan, I would say that if you can do it this way and it gives you the tone you like, more power to you. Definitely no final word from me (of all people!) on this issue.
  10. First of all, I'm afraid to admit I have no idea what this "So What" tune is. I'm a bit of a weird cat I suppose - my double bass playing is almost exclusively arco classical playing (which is the bulk of my playing these days) and I also play a lot of rock/blues/country type electric bass. I'm afraid I almost never play jazz.

    So anyway, I guess I maybe come from a different perspective from most of you guys on this thread. For me, I virtually never amplify my double bass so perhaps I'm dealing with slightly different issues some of the time. When playing in a big orchestra and having to slug it out against the percussion and brass sections, we are often required to produce a great deal of acoustic sound. The fact is that using the longest possible string length available (i.e. playing in the lowest possible positions) will tend to give you the most volume. I strongly believe this is one of the big reasons for the fact that many traditional classical methods use this sort of approach.

    The other important factor to playing in the lower positions in an orchestral setting is that we aren't often able to hear ourselves as well as we would like in a big group so often staying in first position and half position offers a certain amount of security intonation-wise rather than fishing around in higher positions.
  11. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Ed: Doesn't the fact that it generates debate mean it's a good topic for this forum? Oh well, just kidding, I see your point. But it is interesting to get perspective, and interesting that there are different preferences for playing the same line. The final answer tho, will undoubtedly be that there is no answer.

    I should go back and listen to the 'fast' version and see if there are any clues to how R.C. plays it. My hunch is that he goes up the neck...

    Just for the sake of (more)argument, for us proponents of going up rather than across for this line, does the same thing apply when the line moves up a half step? Start out on the Ab on the G string?
  12. lerm: The same fingering by the time you're playing the third note in each line. I'm taking the key for granted - the chart I looked at was D A B C D E C D A, same as the record; the key change makes it Eb Bb C Db Eb F Db Eb Bb.

    Rob W: Interesting point about volume/string length, and I kind of agree, but: Every time I'm at my luthier, which is 10-20 times a year, I play on other superb instruments that are there, philharmonic quality. These basses are incredibly even in every respect... tone, volume, etc. no matter where you play. Nevertheless, the players that own these basses accept that the lower you are the better the same note, both pitch and tone. Your point about why intonation is better is implicit in some of the prior posts.
    I think the dirty little secret about jazz pizz playing is that the notes are fleeting and not as clear as bowed notes, therefore inferior intonation is not as easily detected. (I don't have an axe to grind, folks; I play both.)
  13. Now I see that there are some serious reasons to prefer playing along the strings instead of across. (Actually there were some of them already posted before my last message -- sorry, Lawrence, I seem to have totally misunderstood what you wrote about position shifting.)

    Ed -- you're right: there remains a lot even after this discussion that has to be dealt with in a session with my teacher. But I've always thought of this thread as being about collecting ideas, not about deciding which is the "best" way of fingering.

    Rob -- it's a pity that you don't know "So What". Not that it would have made your input in the discussion less valuable. But I think "So What" and also the other tunes on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" are an absolute "must" for anybody with only the sightest interest in jazz. (On the other hand it is definitely *not* a must to hear that piece badly played on every second jam session. Unfortunately it's hard to play, though - or because? - it's simple.) Are you going to have a try?

    I would like know your favorite examples of bowed bass in jazz at the thread bowed bass in jazz.

  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I would agree that "So What" is a "must" - one of the very few standards where the head is played on bass. I also think it must be one of the most heard Jazz tunes ever - it's been on countless "soundtracks" on TV/Films. It was used on a BBC series only last Sunday that I watched and is the defintive "cool" sound for producers.

    As to bowed Jazz solos - if you want the latest "hot" album - how about Christian McBride's "SciFI"? It has something for everyone from artificial harmonics on electric, to some lovely bowed upright solos on the 9th track - "Butterfly Dream" written by Stanley Clarke.
  15. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    I was thinking about picking up sci-fi, I was glancing through...ahem...bass player in the bookstore and noticed that he said he had changed the time sig of the Police's 'Walking on the Moon' - which was enough to pique my interest....

  16. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    I developed a method of practicing scales and arpeggios on both the upright and electric where you first play from low to high across the strings and then up and back down the same route. On the next pass play up the E string one position shift then cross up. Next time go two position shifts, then three etc. till you run out of E string. This gives you all the possible routes from point A to point B, trains yer ears to how the same note sounds in different places (assuming you're listening to yerself) and is helpful to "unstick" the tenancy to play only one set of fingerings. Where you play something is very closely related to how you play something and everything you play needs to serve the music rather than the limitations of your abilities.
  17. merrill_chris


    Nov 23, 2000
    hey all,

    this is a great thread with lots of good points made. But in jazz there is no right way. I believe that paul chambers played "So What" the up the string method. But Ron Carter played it across.
    But everyone needs to check the original recording again 'cause the melody starts on an E natural.

  18. This is essence of the arguement for building as much technique as possible.
  19. What about the rest of the phrase? A-B-C, etc.? Or is that
    wrong to?
  20. Many times the most elegant fingering is something a-la-Rabbath, where any oppotunity to play across the strings is bascially used.
    I would NEVER want to *sound* like Rabbath, but I am familiar now with his edition of the Bach suites, and many of his fingerings sound excellent (when the bow is used well) and play very naturally.