Playing string quartet cello parts (on bass)

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Adrian Cho, Jul 12, 2005.

  1. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I'm interested in hearing from those that do this and what techniques they use for adapting the parts to bass. I find that it depends so much on the music. Some thoughts:

    Sometimes you can play the cello part as written (sounding 8vb). However sometimes it's better to play it 8va (where it would actually sound on cello). In some cases, it's nice if you have a repeat to play it differently the first and second times.

    Regardless, it is certainly nice to be able to play 8vb (especially with an extension) for certain cadence notes or even just the final note. Too much low stuff (which includes playing too much of it as written which is of course 8vb) reduces the effectiveness of the low notes and can definitely sound inappropriate especially if it is all around notes on the extension.

    You shouldn't necessarily play up the octave even if you can. For me, especially on unwound gut G and D, the G runs out of steam at about high C or D and even before that, the sound is just not right for "bass line" playing. Generally I will try not to play higher than the G harmonic when playing this kind of stuff.
  2. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Do you mean 8vl?.......... I learned to use VL meaning V=Octave and L=Lower.

    Playing Cello stuff can be fun untill you hit the stuff that needs more fingers as the Cello is in 5ths. Also, you can't travel as easily up, down and across on the Bass or play the double stops with our 4th tuning.. But it's fun to try.
  3. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    8va and 8vb are standard music notation for denoting octave up and down. If you're a bass player only, you've probably never seen 8vb but you find it in piano music all the time.

    You're right about some of the more complex cello lines. For simpler stuff, the complexity and double stops are usually not an issue, it's just a case of whether to play it up or down and a lot of times you can't know that either until you hear the other parts. In some cases it sounds better but in other cases not because there's that extra space between the bass and the viola.
  4. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    The correct term is "8vb." It means "ottava bassa," or "the octave below." As opposed to "8va," "all'ottava" or "[at the] octave above." One doesn't see that much "8vb" in bass music because of our transposing parts--we don't have an inordinate number of low ledger lines to deal with. But you see it fairly often in Romantic piano music, or concert-pitch scores. (And in music dictionaries, where questions like this are best anwered...)
  5. rachelcalin


    Sep 13, 2005
    New York
    Hi Adrian-
    I just joined talkbass so I only saw your post now, 2 months after you made it.... hope its ok to reply so late.

    Somehow I end up playing lots of cello parts on the bass too. As you said, it all depends on what piece/composer you're playing, but I find it easier to set about learning the piece if I stick to only one octave or another.

    I personally choose to learn the part in the cello octave (8va) first, just because I like to try to get a handle on the piece and see what the composer was going for in a version that is as close to original as possible when it comes to voicings/octaves. After I feel that I've started to understand the piece a bit better, then I look to see if there are places where I can drop the octave.

    That said, if I am playing in a situation where I am totally replacing the cello in a quartet, quintet, sextet situation, I try to stay in the cello octave the whole time just to keep the voicings in the right place (like what you were saying about the problem of having too much space between the bass & the viola line).

    If I am not totally replacing the cello and I am actually in addition to the cello, thats when I start exercising my options and things can be a lot of fun & challenging when it comes to making these types of decisions. I play alot in small chamber groups that are still bigger than a quartet so we tend to steal a lot of quartet repertoire; I tend to like this type of playing the most. I guess I might also take more liberties when it comes to octave when I am replacing the cello for a continuo part.

    If you want to talk about any pieces in particular I'd be up for that, but I'm not dealing w/ unwrapped gut like you are. Either way it would be interesting.