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Spicing up the Bach

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by stephanie, Dec 17, 2004.

  1. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I'm at a point now in which I'm hungry to get out and play some Bach (along with some other solo stuff) in public, and I'm looking for some performance tips.

    In other words, how can I captivate the audience with these Bach pieces? My playing is ok, and I'm sure (at least I hope lol) impressive to other bass players like my bass teacher but how 'bout the non-bass players that will be in the audience? I get as emotional as I can with these pieces and I would hope that the audience can pick up on that, but do you think they'd like the idea of a straightforward classical piece with no accompaniment, no gadgets or gizmos, just the bass?

    Anyone who has played Bach in public care to share any wisdom or experience?

    Thanks. :)
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    My first big big big recommendation would be spend a long time soaking up Bach as played by Cellists, violinists, organists etc... listen to phrasing, dynamics, bowing etc... see if you can map the emotion of the piece to the way they play it, and try and do the same across the range of tones that you can get from your bass...


  3. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Cool. :)

    Another thing is memorization. Man, these pieces are hard to remember! My teacher gave me a hint, maybe seeing if knowing all the chords of the piece would help. So I've been going through one of these suites trying to figure out the chords (or maybe he just wants to give me work to do haha :D).
  4. Edit and Disclaimer: I am not a pro and perhaps shouldn't post here, but. . . .

    I say go for it! People will love it. Bass guitar is a full range instrument and I think J.S. would play one if he was here.

    I bought that Josquin des Pres book "J.S. Bach for Bass." I think these transcriptions don't really sound that faithful to the cello pieces. But it is still very cool. But De Pres' tone on the cd is horrible! I play down a little and use my B string. His book is written for 4, which makes it harder, IMO.

    I also have "classical masterpieces for bass."

    When I am on stage warming up, I play Prelude #1 in C major for about a minute or so(all I have comitted to memory).

    It literally will silence the place in about 30 seconds! And this is not excactly a classically-trained audience. Try it. But I would use a warm tone, not the metallic/active or hartke kind of tone, but a warm, midrangy articulate tone.

    I think that would be an excellent solo act. I would use a passive jazz bass or even an ABG strung with either tapewounds or TI Acousticores. The advantage of tapewounds is no finger noise. Bach requires a lot of movement up and down the board, as you know.

    Bach's music, much like Vivaldi and Beethoven, is cool because the music is logical. No matter how complex a few of the passages get, it always resolves itself. So everyone likes it becasue they can understand it, so to speak.
  5. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I have des Pres' book as well. While I'm awed at his ability to play these pieces I agree about his tone. Also his failure to use dynamics (I mean they're used in the book but it doesn't sound like he plays them, his sound is just straight and rather dull).
  6. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I’m glad you’re up for taking some Bach out for a spin, Stephanie, and I think you’re asking some good questions about it. At the risk of yet again offering the hippie/New Age-sounding advice that Steve and I both seem to regularly dish out here, I’d like encourage you to make sure that your interpretations are, first and foremost, appealing to you. If you really believe in what you’re doing I think it will be easier for your audience to. Of course there will always be folks who just aren’t interested, especially with music as deep an complex Bach, but don’t let that deter you from pursuing your goals.
  7. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks Michael. I think, practicing these pieces several times daily, becoming familiar to them, that I've found a certain "voice" with them. To me, it's like reading a poem that I wrote (I hope that makes sense lol) or telling a story. The first Bach piece I learned I haven't pursued practicing it for a live setting. I learned it well and all but I couldn't get it to speak to me and so I couldn't speak through it. And if I couldn't do that, I would never be able to communicate with the audience. Maybe some other time I'll try that one again, but for now these 2 others that I've been practicing need my attention. :D
  8. Heya. Sounds like you have a good handle on how to play these works. Which pieces are you working on? I've been working on a bunch of Bach for about 10 years now. More info at http://www.jsbach.net/bass/

    If I knew what you were working on, I might have some advice for ya.

    - Dave
  9. Dave, I have listened to your recordings and have ripped a few of them to CD. Your playing is most excellent.

    And you woke up my old Velodyne sub (and probably my neighbors).
  10. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Hi Dave. It's funny, I was just on my brother's computer just a little while ago and listened to a few of your Bach pieces (I can't play MP3s on my WebTV :( so this is my first time I have heard your stuff...your playing is so passionate...). And you had on there the one that I have actually been polishing for presentation: the prelude to Suite #1 in G Major (I just love your interpretation! :)). Next up is the prelude to Suite #2 in D Minor. I was also looking at Sonata #1 in G Minor but it's beyond my grasp at the moment so I'm saving that for another time. I'm used to the recordings from des Pres' book and I never even realized his lack of "breathing space" with the pieces.
  11. The second suite is excellent. I remember about killing myself learning the prelude at pitch on upright :)

    I think you have the right idea about things and shouldn't have any problem performing this stuff. Just make sure you're phrasing things correctly and remember it's okay to stretch the time a little in the unaccompanied works. Concerning phrasing, the big thing to be mindful of is the implied polyphony that Bach used. Try to point that out as much as possible.

    If all else fails you can usually 'play the line' so to speak. If the phrase rises then you'll want to increase dynamics but say on a cadence he goes from D down to G, you'd want to make the G atleast one dynamic marking softer than the D.

    You should record yourself playing some of these pieces I'd like to hear what other bassists are doing with them
  12. Thanks! I'm really hoping to get a CD going soon. It will likely include the 5th Cello Suite, the 2nd Partita for Solo Violin (including the 15 minute long Chaconne) and perhaps a few Goldberg Variations (multitracked). If there's room, the first Contrapunctus from the Art of Fugue.

    - Dave
  13. Thank you very much. I'm glad you liked them. I love Suite #2, that's one of the first ones I started working on. Perhaps I'll do a recording of the Prelude for ya.

    The Sonata in G minor was one of the first solo violin works I attempted. I'm still trying to get it down. :)

    A lot of people play Bach as if they were just sight reading it. Playing Bach really requires that you try and really understand every phrase and find ways to play them that bring out the spirit in the music. From what you've said, I believe that you understand this too. Best of luck on your solo projects!

    - Dave
  14. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks Dave. :)

    Well I played some Bach at my lesson yesterday and have made notes of some things I need to work on. One thing is tempo: without even realizing it I seem to speed up on more intense sections. I need to play with a more even tempo (I guess it sounds like I'm hurrying to finish the piece and I wouldn't want to give that impression).
  15. Don't be too afraid of tempo changes. Those are part of the dynamics too. Just make sure that you are playing faster because you feel that's what the music needs.

    Play with a metronome with these works and get them down at perfect tempo. Then play them without the metronome and use your own judgment as to what the tempi of the phrases should be.

    Also, compare how the works sound, musically, between the perfect time and rubato versions. I think you'll find that they're much more intimate and enjoyable in rubato. Though, perfect time versions are also very enjoyable too.

    And, make sure you get your ornamentation down. Listen to some recorded versions get a feel for what trills, mordents, and turns should sound like and emulate those to your own taste.

    Here's a good reference site for Bach's ornamentation:


    Hope to hear you play someday.

    - Dave
  16. Hi Dave,

    Love your recordings. Just wondering for those pieces where there is counterpoint going on, whether you played those in two passes, wheter you use tapping, or whether you have some kind of otherworldly fretting / picking technique.

  17. Thanks! Only the Variation in G minor is multitracked. The two separate voices were recorded separately. I don't do much tapping in the Bach stuff except for in the Preludio from the 3rd Partita for Solo Violin. Mostly in the sections with the open string pedals that are often in unison with the melody line. Playing the pedal on a tapped string makes it sound more like a separate voice.

    Jean Baudin does two-handed tapping on some Bach on his 9-string. Same with Garry Goodman. You can find links to their material here somewhere.

    - Dave