Practicing with the fixed pitch - pros & cons ?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by zaghy, Apr 30, 2004.

  1. zaghy


    Mar 1, 2003
    Hi to all you guys. This is my first post here.

    Since I bought one pocket MP3 player, it came to my mind how to use it to improve my intonation:

    - I wrote in Finale scales, exercises, and everything that i'm learning, and convert them in MP3 files, in many various tempos.

    - When I'm playing a DB i play it with an headphones or sometime with a speaker and play unison with a "music" that I'm listening.
    I even have an option to set one interval of music to repeat over and over, so I can isolate harder places. After a little while I turn down the volume more and more, and gradually speed up tempo a bit.

    After some time my intonation is really good, but I also feel that i am not so sure when it comes to practicing without my pre-"recorded" music.

    Since I am so new to instrument, I am not sure are there any "side effects" or bad things about this way of practicing. I just wonder what do you think about it?

    I play DB about two years, german bow, Streicher method, and a teacher (i go to school). Offcourse, I play mostly classical music.
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    That's pretty good practice, but imcomplete, I have come to think. It's even more important to get your ears really strong. To do this I recommend that you practice really playing in tune with no accompaniment. Then play what you've practiced with accompaniment. Then without out. Then with and record it, play back, stave off suicidal thought. Wash, rinse, repeat. I recommend that you spend some time at each level of this cycle -- say a week or so. Practice many things and in different keys.

    I really do think that you get good pitch by really learning to hear what it is that you're wanting to play without a guide. Same goes for timefeel. You can do much to strengthen your feel by learning to play and make it feel good.

    A pitch guide and the metronome can actually be destructive if they come to be relied upon...
  3. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I have to agree with Ray about the "incompleteness" of practicing with a fixed pitch for each note you are playing. The exercise of playing in tune is not really about learning to match something you hear outside, it's more about letting your ear tell your fingers what the next note you are "expecting" to hear is located. Plus, just like walking with a crutch, you never gain strength in the muscles of the leg that the crutch is supporting.
    The problem with playing the notes of (for example) a major scale in tune has more to do with clearly hearing what those notes are, maintaining a clear idea of what the tonic is throughout the scale. The reason that (for example) the 6th and 7th go out of tune isn't because of a positional issue, it's because you lost the sound of the tonic in your ear as you went up the scale. This may be an area where work away from the bass could be beneficial, work on your ear training. Being able to sing these scales etc in tune will help build the "expectation of pitch" so that, when you put your hand on the instrument, your ear is in charge, telling your fingers where to go. Even the best classical musicians "hear" the composition they are playing. They aren't just putting their fingers down in geographical positions specified by spots on the page.

    Ray outlines a great approach for working with and without your aural aid. If i might add a couple of things:
    1. play against the tonic drone - and futz with that, program it so that the tonic will come in and out as you go up and down the 2 octaves
    2. program your "scale" so that different notes will play in different places - rather than matching each and every pitch in time, program spaces: you play the tonic in unison, then you have the 2,3,4 then you both have the 5th etc. Break it up, all up and down the scale.
  4. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    I don't know about playing with scales, I don't think that helps your ear as much as playing scales against a fixed drone. Playing with a fixed drone enables you to hear how each note in the scale sounds against the tonic, one of the many tools you'll need in transcribing and hearing things in general.
  5. I practice with a fixed pitch quite often when I'm warming up, playing scales, things like that. I think it's a good excercise because it helps you hear the intervals and work them into tune. IMO, learning to play intervalically (sp?) is one of the most important things you can do to improve your intonation and overall mastery of the instrument. So I say yeah, use the drone, just don't let it become a crutch or anything.
  6. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire

    Your method of learning good intonation is excellent. I have taught many double bass students to play with excellent intonation using very much the same procedures as you have outlined.

    As stated in prior posts, you ultimately want to "hear" music before you play it. However at your level we must put the music (good pitch) in our heads before we can hear it.

    Right ON!
  7. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Just wanted to touch on this thread again since I've been messing around with practicing to a fixed drone and to share my experiences.

    To start, this is completely subjective since I am a DB novice but my ears are so-so because of so much music I've played in the past that is non-jazz. I'm doing this PIZZ-ONLY. My teacher hasn't had a chance to teach me any arco technique yet. I'm looking forward to it to compare with these experiences.

    Anyways, I took one of Ed's suggestions and tried changed the droned pitches from time to time as I work on my Simandl etudes, instead of droning the root or in unison with a scale. I'm too lazy to program something to keep changing the drone tones while I'm playing. Instead, I've been using this little quirk (or maybe it's a feature) in Band In A Box. All you have to do is click on one of the notes on the virtual keyboard and drag up to the top of the screen. This will keep the note playing until I hit the keyboard again with the mouse.

    I'm still running a chromatic tuner while I'm doing this and look at it sometimes to check how close I get, if the tuner can register quick enough. I'll notice that I'll be really off with one particular note. I'll change the drone to that weak note and keep practicing to hopefully improve my intonation on that particular note, sometimes stopping to check and adjust until I get the right intonation using the tuner to help me. A couple things I've noticed:

    1. My intonation on those weak notes are improving with practice (only to be expected). This morning I noticed that I was the closest ever (maybe 5 cents off or dead on) when practicing in half-position.

    2. Droning on the root really doesn't help all that much. I'm still off on other tones, especially 4ths. Similar with 5ths. I prefer drones on the 3rd and 4th (is that strange?) where it seems to help my intonation the most.

    3. Playing an etude and droning on other tones is interesting experience. I still keep the sound of the root in my head but I seem to feel more 'comfortable' with these other tones. 7th's have a tendency to throw me off initially. Seems to be the hardest one to feel comfortable with, maybe because it's so close to the root.

    4. Seems like my intonation is the best when I go with 'the force' and don't look at the tuner or fingers. For example, if I first strike the note and it's off, I dont' depend on the tuner to slide into the right place... I go by my ears and 'feeling'. When I look up to verify, I'm nearly on it so it's good to know that my ears are really helping to correct my fingers if I miss the right spot from the beginning. But my ears aren't always consistent if I'm really close at first. If i'm far off on first strike then everything works well and I slide into place just fine.

    So far the results are pretty good. I only do this type of thing when practicing simandl most of the time. When I'm practicing other stuff, I focus on that and turn the tuner off. I've been using BinaB just for a drum track, and maybe some piano/guitar comping to practice walking. The soloing/strings comping gets annoying and I tend to ignore it after a while so I turn it off.

    During last weeks lesson, my teacher was pleased and told me that my intonation was very good. :eek: I totally wasn't expecting that at all and thought it wasn't all that great. Looks like i'm doing something right. :hyper:

    Comments or suggestions?