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studying bass without learning arco

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by lin fung, Nov 17, 2002.

  1. lin fung

    lin fung Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2002
    Taipei, Taiwan
    I've been learning bass on my own for less than a year and am going to begin to take lessons very soon. There are no jazz teachers available to me; only classical. Although I am only interested in playing jazz (pizz), I think it is probably better to study with a classical teacher anyways. This is because I'm not looking for someone to tell me which notes to play, but rather how to play them most effectively (proper body mechanics and technique) and I assume that a classical teacher is likely the best for that. However, I really have no interest at all in arco playing. And seeing as arco technique seems to be fairly deep and demanding, it would be a drain on my time and energy to learn. Is it possible to go about studying bass from a classical teacher without learning arco? Are there advantages to learning arco for my overall playing development that will make it worth doing despite my lack of interest?
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Yes, it's possible to study from a classical teacher without playing arco, but you have to find an openminded teacher. I've been fortunate enough to have two, and I don't even own a bow. The course of study has still been in classical materials in my case - Simandl and Rabbath. I've found both enormously helpful.

    Soon, a group of grumpy bassists with bows are going to descend into this thread and rag us both mercilessly: you, for asking the question, and me, for being a living example of one type of answer to said question. We can but accept their curmudgeonly derision, as they're probably right.

    But yes, it's possible.
  3. lin fung

    lin fung Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2002
    Taipei, Taiwan
    I've been playing DB for less than a year and I'm going to begin studying with a teacher very soon. I'm really only interested in playing jazz (pizz), but I will be studying with a classical teacher because that is all that is available to me and I also assume that a classical teacher can help me to develop the best technique. I really have no interest in arco, and seeing as learning it is likely very challenging and time consuming I'm turned off by the idea of spending time and energy on it that could be used working on other areas that directly interest me.

    Is it possible to study with a classical teacher without doing arco?

    Are there significant advantages to learning arco for my general playing development that would make it worthwhile anyways?

    Seeing as I don't want to devote lots of time to arco, is there a difference in ease of learning between the german and french bow? Would one require me to devote less time?
  4. kip


    Sep 11, 2002
    Sausalito, Ca
    I have a nearly new bass and the bow has been abslolute tremendous influence on the "opening up" of this instrument. Just bowing open strings "slow and low" has an impact. $50.00 glass bow works ok.
    Plus, it just sounds so big. To me, playing just pizz or just arco is like buying a convertible and never putting the top down.

    Aside from Chris, by the way, my wife, my dog and my teacher's neighbors also subscribe to the pizz only approach.

    Even if you study w/ a classical teacher I suggest you consider "Ray Brown's Bass Method". It should be readily available. If, by some simple twist of fate, you end up sounding like HIM, just roll with it.
  5. Klimbim


    Mar 3, 2001
    Seeing as Chris has already replied in the bow section of the forum, I'll address the only extra portion you have here - I think the German bow in general is a little easier on the hand if you're just starting. I'm not saying it's easy to pick up, but it just might be a little bit more natural.

    Having said that - you might really want to give arco playing a chance and go in with an open mind. Learning to bow is difficult enough without feeling reluctant about it. I actually picked up the bass because I wanted to play jazz - but now I only play classical because the sound of a bowed bass is just gorgeous!

    Now to wait for the threads to merge.
  6. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur GollihurMusic.com

    Mar 22, 2000
    Cape of New Jersey
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music (retired)
    Arco often exposes your intonation faults much more than pizz does, and for that reason is a good practice aid. I would think any teacher would let you influence the lesson goals, but arco is a worthwhile skill, and you ought to at least get a taste.
  7. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    May I suggest (without being a curmudgeon) that you rethink your approach? (You too, DURRL) Like Bob said, the only real way to get your intonation together is with a bow. Plus, once you've heard a really good jazz player with a bow (Lynn Seaton, Christian McBride, Chambers, etc, etc) you'll realize how much music there is to be made with one.

    Come on in, PIZZ FITSHEROLD, the water's fine. ;)
  8. I have two teachers - one for jazz and one for classical. I'm amazed at how little the classical teacher knows about jazz. He doesn't know how to get a good pizz sound, he doesn't know how to walk, he doesn't know how to improvise, he doesn't know any of the great jazz bassists... need I go on.

    I find that the classical teacher teaches me amazing things about the bow and about interpreting written classical music. Using a bow makes pizz seem easy. As other have said, the bow builds intonation and opens you up to other sounds in the instrument. I can't recommend it enough.

    however, if you want to study jazz and walk bass lines, you won't get it from a classical teacher unless he is very unusual.

    Good luck!
  9. Your intonation will be a lot better if you practice with a bow. Also, you might discover that you actually dig it. I wasn't interested in arco at all until after I experienced what it's really like to play it.
  10. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada

    I started DB with the intent that I would only play jazz and therefore only pizz. Bottom line for me now is:

    Arco will improve your left hand technique much quicker including your sound and your endurance.

    IMHO jazz arco is great

    As Bob said, arco will reveal deficiencies in your left hand very quickly but also if you listen to some pizz players with not so great sound and technique, you can guess that they never play arco.

  11. Arco is also a good way to develop a practice regimine, I have found. Since even the easiest passages are difficult with the bow, it forces you to play things much slower (at least at first) which develops intonation and left hand strength. The right hand also get a huge workout, and I haven't noticed any diminshment in my pizz right hand technique even though I have been practicing almost solely with the bow of late. As long as you keep improvisational exercises and listening drills in your regimine, you won't be wasting your time, even if your intention is to never perform with a bow.
  12. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    If your goal is just to be a jazz bass player, you certainly can travel a long road without using the bow.

    I respectfully suggest that your goal is to become a musician who focuses on the bass, and on jazz music. Any musical endeavor which broadens your ears will have a positive effect on your jazz playing.

    This is a slippery slope. Learning to play bossas or fast tempos or 3/4 or thumb position or free improvisation may be deep and demanding, but you have to do it to master the instrument and the music. Besides, what is difficult for some may be easy for you: You may be, or may become, a natural on the bow.
  13. I've been playing db for about 12 years and just now really practicing arco. I can tell you that it does make a huge difference in terms of helping develop better intonation.

    I can also tell you that in my case, I could not enjoy or even tollerate practicing arco until I listened to arco music that I really liked.

    Once I started getting some arco music in my head, I then really wanted to do it and now I enjoy practicing it.

    I would listen to some good bow players and see if it inspires you. I started listening to Edgar Meyer about 15 years ago and as is albums became more arco prominant, so did my interest.

    If you're not an avid fan of classical music, you might want to start with some of Edgar's earlier stuff (unfolding, Dreams of Flight, Love of a Lifetime) or some of the more bluegrass influenced stuff like Appalacian Journey or Long Trip Home)

    Actually, I think a thread on non classical arco music would be cool if it doesn't already exist.

  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Whoops! I missed this one somehow. Anyway, threads merged. Hey, BIG FUN, this is a good topic for a thread...are you going to come back and visit it some time?
  15. I find that for jazz, it is so important to spend sufficient time trying to find one's own best individual "sound" in pizzicato playing. The majority of method books on bass are all focused on the left hand or on bowing. Even the important method books of Ray Brown and Rufus Reid spend little, if any attention to describing how to obtain the most beautiful and swinging pizzicato sound for jazz playing. The biggest problem is that it is not a simple action of plucking the string in the place that you find to be the most comfortable. It is rather an issue of location on the string for pulling the string, the manner of pulling the string, how you hold down the left fingers for the notes, how long you hold down the left hand fingers on the notes, how you approach playing the "E" string so that it sounds even and consistent with the other 3 strings, how you pull the string so that it vibrates sideways rather than vertically, and so many other factors.

    From listening to the best jazz players and comparing their sound with many others, as well as my own, it seems that a key factor is to have a beautiful pizzicato sound with wonderful sustain, even when you are playing fast, swinging lines. Think of Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Rufus Reid, or others of that level. Hence, there should be jazz method books with pages and pages on description and exercises for developing a pizzicato sound that is large, warm, acoustic sounding even when amplified, with wonderful long, sustaining tones. In Ray Brown's instructional videotape, he stresses working on "getting a good sound out of the instrument", "playing in tune", "playing with good time," and "giving each note its full value."

    Of course, everyone, including my teacher, stresses practicing with the bow to improve intonation, since you can hear the notes so much more clearly with the bow than pizzicato. However, a great deal of time needs to be spent developing a good pizzicato sound, when practice time is always so limited.:(
  16. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    You want sustain? You want left hand strength?
    Practice arco.
  17. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    You MUST play arco if you are going to play bass!

  18. Aren


    Jul 18, 2003
    Fort Wayne, Indiana
    If the sound you make makes you happy then you have achieved what is important.
  19. delbass


    Sep 9, 2003
    Albany, NY
    I too fell in love with the arco sound after I thought I'd only play Pizz. It took a long time to get a decent tone though and I'm still working on it. Even if you don't use it on gigs, it still helps to practice with it. Once I realized the benefits of practicing with the bow, I got serious with it pretty quickly. Even if you still think you aren't going to play a lot of arco, at least practice your scales 3 octaves with the bow, and play long tones as a start to your practice routine. As others have said, it will help a lot.
  20. koricancowboy

    koricancowboy Supporting Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    I was wondering if you are learning jazz or not. If you are I think it would be a shame to rob yourself of great solos by Slam Stewart, Paul Chambers, Charles Mingus, Dave Holland etc. Not to mention the impact it has on intonation and solid postioning on the fingerboard, which incidentally is also elemental to intonation. Also how old is your bass?
    Playing arco harmonics really helps to open up the sound of a new bass, even a plywood one. Playing arco does not mean you are doomed to a life of orchestral reportoire, but the fundamentals involved in classical bow technique are IMHO essential to becoming a well rounded player. If you decide not to I guess you can succeed and become as out of tune as Michael Formanek! Just my two cents. Feel free to slam me for my dislike of Michael Formanek.

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