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stance and the holy grail - please read!

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by mike_odonovan, Jul 4, 2003.

  1. after spending a month of soul searching regarding my stance :confused: (no really, i have been losing sleep over this) i have come to some conclusions.

    first here is what i have been up to.
    i did some research:

    - went to three prominent teachers in as many weeks to get their thoughts
    - read every post i could find on here regarding this issue (thanks guys)
    - bought and studied videos by Gary Karr, Dave Holland, Ray Brown, Francious Rabbath, and John Clayton.
    - went to see as many bass players playing around my local area (London)

    a lot of time and a fair bit of expense.

    my gut feeling is that stance is a bit of a compromise. anyone who tells you "this is the correct way", without it really making sense - i am immediately suspicious of. sure there are very important general principles (me and my body kind of found out the hard way) but i think the compromise idea still holds (or is it stands ;) ).

    take Gary Karrs stance. with the bass positioned upright the body is not having the carry the weight of this very big instrument. also the bass can be used to lean into the left hand fingers for the thumb position. handy. weight is distributed on both legs evenly with the bass being stopped from spinning by the left leg/knee. all good.
    except i realised that he hardly ever plays on the E string. this is a bread and butter area for my walking lines and community orchestra bowing techique/role. indeed when i tried bowing on the E string with the Karr stance my right hip seems to be always getting in the way. :eek:

    recently i have been using David Kaczorowski stance that he mentioned in a post here:
    "I have the back edge of the upper bout in my lower gut around my belly button."

    this stance seems to keep the body out of the way when bowing the E string and has all the advantges of the Karr approach. EXCEPT I can't use my left leg to stop the bass spinning and that worrys me a bit. it doesn't seem to affect my playing noticably so maybe it will become more steady as i continue. also the bass is moved slightly by the stomach when breathing. whatmore i aint gonna get any slimmer in my old beer drinking age!

    so is there something i am not doing when i bow on the E string using the Karr stance that would fix this minor flaw in an otherwise completely sensical approach?

    or have i found my stance with this diagnal approach and will become more accostomed to the balance on my stomach. and maybe get down the gym!

    really really really appreciate any thoughts.

    thanks so much guys, i couldn't have got thru this month without this site.

  2. have you tried playing seated? I know there are a lot of players here who will tell you that using a stool is bad, but there are a lot of great bassists who do. I think it can be helpful when you're playing a lot of orchestra stuff that uses the lower strings, because it really opens up your ability to play around the istrument without having to worry about balancing or supporting it. Especially if you have a large or funky shaped bass. Anyway, try it for a while. If nothing else it might give you some insight into what you can do to improve your standing position.

    I personally have found that either standing or sitting, I like to have my instrument as close to vertical as possible. I find that this allows me to have the bass much lower, which makes things easier on my left hand. It also allows me to draw my bow straighter, and I feel like the instrument is a lot more stable so I can 'dig in' more with less energy. Hope this helps...
  3. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    here are some suggestions:

    -your stance is not a fixed thing, when you play you should move, it takes a long time to figure out how to do that, if it is really freaking you out I would encourage study of the Alexander technique.

    -that being said, you do need a starting point.
    It sounds like you are dealing with the where should the weight of my bass go? question

    I would first ask myself where does the "weight" of my bass come from?

    It is obviously a large instrument, but when balanced properly does not need to be overwhelming.

    A lot of people have an issues with the weight being on their thumb. I get around this with a bent endpin sometimes or other times I hold my bass nu conventionally low, with the nut about equal to my nose.

    I put the upper corner of the bass into my side, where my leg meets my torso. This adds a lot of stability. I also angle the bass slightly away from my head, so the endpin is right of center, and the neck moves out as the pitch gets lower.

    There is a really good article in one of the isb magazines in a section called body and bass that might really help out. they have some of that stuff online.

    good luck. feel free to ask questions if I wasn't clear enough.
  4. To be alive, we must move. You can't play a note unless you do. Position, stance, et al, are dynamic and fluid, not rigid. So if you have to turn out in order to play on the E, turn out like the rest of us. Remember, for a long time the DB was a 3 string instrument, strings, bridges, and bows were different, etc.
    Basses and people vary in size and shape. What works for one may not work for you.
    No instrument, let alone DB, was designed with ergonomics as top priority.
    As for stools, what I've said here is not that playing on a stool is "bad" per se, only that many of the bassists I've observed using a stool use themselves dysfunctionally.
    What matters more than our position is our use of ourselves. This is a phrase from the Alexander Technique, which Alex mentioned; I'm studying for certification as a teacher of it. In fact, AT started in London, and some fine teachers are there today. AT is not a condition-specific therapy. However, therapeutic benefits invariably accrue. Stress is revieved, "posture" improves, and much, much more. It is best known in the performing arts, but its priciples apply to every human being. If you want to know more, contact me.
    Meanwhile, consider these thoughts:
    First, understand that your own kinesthetic sense has been debauched. What seems right is most likely wrong use; what is good use will feel wrong.
    Second, more important than any specific "position" is the fluid balance of head, neck and the rest of the spine (But this is the beginning of a long discussion of AT).
    In order to reach higher notes, try lowering the bass, as did Alex, instead of raising it. This allows you to hinge at the pelvis to lean forward instead of rounding your spine and neck or contacting your trapezius muscles.
    Watch yourself in a full length mirror. Compromises might be required, e.g., lowering the bass for your back might put your bow on the string further from the bridge than you want.
    I know Alexander can fix all of this, but it requires time and money, and absolutely cannot be self-taught.
    Check out www.isbworldoffice.com
    There's a section called Body and Bass with some helpful info. Unfortunately, it doesn't have most of the superb articles that have appeared in its magazine.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Far Side Caption: In his 1606th post, DONOSAUR used more words than in the previous 1605 combined.

    Which to me means that this Alexander technique must be some pretty interesting stuff...
  6. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Not too hard to get past that obstacle, and it's worth every penny for me. My better half has been trying to get me to take a hit of her Pilates roll, and I just might do it now...
  7. This forum isn't big enough for both Bruce Lindfield and me.
    In contrast to other disciplines I have experienced, the Alexander Technique forever changed the course of my life.
  8. Pilates is a good complement to, but not a substitute for, Alexander. They teach different things.
  9. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Like Margarine?
  10. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    Remember also that Gary Karr and Francois Rabbath have entirely different builds and are polar opposites of body and hand size - their positions accomodate their unique physiologies. While you are right in observing the strengths of Karr's body position, ultimately he uses it to accomodate his shorter arms and smaller hands, being a person of somewhat smaller stature. Francois "the Gorilla" Rabbath has all the reach in the world and would be rather cramped by holding the instrument in the same method as Karr, just as Karr couldn't reach the end of the fingerboard holding the bass as Rabbath does.

    Ultimately, you should learn to maintain integrity of the spine away from the instrument. When you are aware of proper alignment you'll know when you move out of it, with or without the instrument and can adjust yourself accordingly. Pilates to me looks like some strange cross of yoga (without the proper meditative aspects), aerobics, and toned-down gymnastics training. But such things have their benefits and if it works for you, who am I to judge? Personally, I just study ashtanga yoga and get the psychosomatic benefits as well as the alignment and exercise.

    In addition to Alexander Technique, there are other kinetic reconditioning techniques available - Feldenkrais and Ortho-Bionomy to name two of them. Look for what's available to you.
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Excellent post, especially the comments about differences in stature and how this affects playing position. In addition to Alexander and Yoga, there are also some forms of martial art which focus on centeredness and posture. Whenever I catch myself in bad posture when playing, I always go home and try to revisit my Aikido training and stretching exercises. Life is too short to spend it with a gnarled spine if you can avoid it.
  12. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Rabbath claims that to reach the end of his fingerboard he simply bends at the waist. Perhaps Gary Karr hasn't been paying attention?
  13. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    ummm, no. You missed my point entirely. Rabbath has longer arms not only than Karr, but most folk. What gets him to the end of the fingerboard wouldn't get Karr there, or my 5'2" wife for example (who doesn't play bass, but if she did and people her size do). So if you're looking for insight into stance, look to someone basically built the same. A small, short person doesn't have much to learn about stance from watching Rabbath (we're not talking right/left hand technique, just stance) because his size accomdates things a smaller person couldn't do. And vice versa with Karr. What helps even better is to become as aware as possible of your own alignment so you can come to your own decisions.
  14. If you bend at the waist, or anywhere other than the pelvis, you are misusing your spine, no matter who you are.
    People and basses come in different sizes. Not everyone can play a particular bass without misusing one's body. There's a difference between merely being "able" to play and using the body properly, which includes efficiently, which ultimately means playing better.
    In my case, I found that shortening the end pin allowed me to go over the instrument shoulder without distorting my own skeleton, and it allows me to reach the upper positions by bending at the pelvis. There are photos of this in past issues of the ISB MainLine.
    There are beautiful sounding instruments out there that are unfit for playing by anyone. Instrument design has always been in a state of evolution and experiment within broad parameters, with only a perfunctory nod toward ergonomics.
    For the record, Alexander is not a kinetic reconditioning technique.
  15. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    To be fair, I think Rabbath's language more closely resembled "bringing the bust forward".

    It may be that I'm in a real jam after all with this standing while playing business and seeking stance models to emulate, as I am of tall stature, possess no gorilla arms, nor do I know anything about Alexander technique.
  16. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    Really? Seeing as how kinetics deals with the use of force (in this case muscular) within and upon a system (the body), and it certainly involves reconditioning, I always thought of this as perfectly acceptable language to describe it.
  17. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I think I've got gorilla arms now!

    Oops, my mistake. I was just bending over.
  18. AT is a psychophysical learning method, assuming, among other things, that mind and body are not separate components but are the same thing. It is about reaction to stimuli, conscious vs. unconscious behavior, objective and experiential learning, and foremost, primary control, which is the relationship of the spine and the head. It is not physical or mental therapy. Although most students come to it with physical problems they want solved, the therapeutic benefits which invariably come are indirect consequences which are never the point of the teaching. To an equal degree, changes occur in the thinking and emotional processes. The teaching changed the course of my life, not just the manner in which I play bass.
    Alexander recognized the catch-22 of "explaining" the technique: the thing that is used to comprehend the technique is the very thing that must be changed.
  19. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    I have done some minor work with a teacher of Alexander technique and have also read a book compiling Alexander's own descriptions and talks of it, so I am more or less aware of what it is and how it works, particularly in his own terms. My question was more of the pedantic matter of why it cannot or should not be termed kinetic reconditioning. Is it the missing psychological element? Or does the term imply something else to you that AT isn't? In other words, how did I get it wrong? It is rather pedantic, but I want to be sure I understand the matter properly, particularly with someone who has obviously studied the technique much further than I have.
  20. If you have not had the experience of 6 months of lessons, I say you are not at all aware of what it is; and if you have, you only scratched the surface of what it is. Alexander himself repeatedly observes the futility of using words alone to obtain any understanding of the technique.
    I doubt you have read more than I had between my 6th and 12th months of study, and the words brought me nowhere near the level of understanding I have reached after a year of training for certification, and I still regard myself now as just beginning to get it. The joke among Alexander people is you only have to buy one book: read it every 6 months and it will have all new meaning each time.
    Because that is not what it is. There is no way I or anyone else is going to satisfactorily explain the technique to you, because experiential learning is so essential to it.
    Now this generally pisses off people with exceptional objective learning skills, but here it is: It's like discussing the color red with Ray Charles.
    Our experiences are the grounds for choosing the words we use. If you haven't yet had the experience, how can you know what words to use? How can my words convey to you a sensory experience you haven't had? Which is my way of saying I'm not going to debate with you whether or not AT is "kinetic reconditioning."

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